Reading for Sunday 4th June 2023
Matthew 28: 16 - end - The Great Commission
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Reflections on Matthew 28: 16 - end
As a lot of you know, I have been studying at Sarum College, in Salisbury, for the last 22 months, for a Certificate in Theology, Mission and Ministry, to be able to be licenced as a reader in the Church of England. On Friday, I submitted my final assignment. Over these last 22 months, I have produced 14 assignments, a video and a podcast!
I thought that that was going to be it for assignments. However, last week I was talking to Derby Diocese’s Director of Studies. I had sent her the titles of all the modules and after reviewing them, she said that I needed to do a module in Lay Pastoral Skills, which starts in September and runs to December. This has the advantage of giving me the opportunity to getting to know the cohort of readers in training with whom I will be licenced. This is going to happen on April 20th next year, which is just after the obligatory six month wait when a new reader moves to a new parish before they are licenced. This is so they can get to know the parish and the PCC are happy with asking the reader to minister in the parish. It also gives time for the reader and the incumbent to get to know each other, but as Anne and I are married, I don’t think that that will be a problem!
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. My penultimate module for Sarum was on church history and doctrine. For one of the two assignments at the end of the module, we had a choice of subjects. They were:
1. Did Nicaea and Chalcedon resolve the question, 'who is Jesus Christ?', for the church of yesterday, today and tomorrow?
2. The doctrine of the Trinity 'has no practical relevance at all' (Immanuel Kant). Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
3. Is there one right way to speak about salvation? Explain your answer with reference to a range of theories of the atonement.
4. 'If Christianity is not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ.' (Karl Barth) How does the doctrine of eschatology contribute to Christian faith and practice today?
After reading them, the only one which excited me was entitled ‘The doctrine of the Trinity 'has no practical relevance at all' (Immanuel Kant). Do you agree or disagree with this statement?’ At my next zoom tutorial group, it transpired that I was the only one to pick the assignment about the Trinity. This sermon is based on my assignment.
The doctrine of the Trinity aims to describe the relationship betweeen God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and how God, in their single united three faceted form, relates to and can be understood by humans.
In the New Testament, there are references to God the: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but no description of them being called ‘The Trinity’. Tertullian (150 – 240) was the first to use this word, coming from the Latin trinitas or trinus, meaning triad or three-fold. I believe that the triune God can be seen as active in the Gospels as follows: At Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove and the Father’s voice from heaven saying ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16-17). At the Transfiguration, with the Holy Spirit as being the bright cloud and the voice of the Father saying ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ (Matthew 17:5). At part of Jesus’ upper room discourse where he talks about the Holy Spirit imparting Godly information and the intimate mutuality he has with his heavenly Father (John 16:13-15) and at The Great Commission, where the disciples are sent out to baptise ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). It could also be suggested that John 11:41-43, the death of Lazarus, is an example of Father, Son and Spirit all working together, as Jesus prays to the Father and the Spirit raises Lazarus back to life.
In the Epistles, the Trinity can be infered in: Paul signing off his second letter to the Corinthians ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.’ (2 Corinthians 13:13) and in Peter’s first letter, which starts with ‘who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). This shows some examples of triune description in the New Testament.
Many have tried to adequately describe the Trinity. It’s bee said that ‘God exceeds our designations, even our wildest imaginings’. The first major attempt was the Council of Nicea in 325, where the discussion ranged around: The relationship between the Father and the Son, where they equal? Subordinate? Was Jesus man, God, was he selected by the Father to be the Son on earth? However, in my opinion, it can be seen that the Holy Spirit almost feels like a forgotten addendum because the creed finishes with the words ‘And in the Holy Spirit.’ The Council of Nicea was followed by the First Council of Constantinople in 381, where the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son was defined, but stopped short of calling the Holy Spirit ‘God’. However, this definition raised the importance of the Holy Spirit to that equal to the Father and the Son.
Discussions also revolved around the origins of the Holy Spirit. Was it from the Father, or the Father and the Son? The Greek or Eastern idea of defining the Trinity was that the Father begat the Son and the Father breathes the Spirit, so that God the Father is the source of the two other parts of the Godhead. However, the Latin or Western idea was to say that the Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son. This slight amendment to the creed produced in Constantinople, was by Augustine of Hippo and caused a debate known as ‘The Filioque Controversy’, which ended up leading to the split of the Catholic West from the Orthodox East in approximately 1054.
The writer wonders if, in John 20:22, where Jesus breathes on the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, showing the Spirit being sent from the Son, along with Jesus baptism already mentioned above, where the Spirit descended from heaven, so sent by the Father, that this is good enough evidence to illustrate that the Spirit can emanate from both Father and Son. One is also mindful of the passage in John (14:16) where Jesus says that he will ask the Father to send the Spirit, and also John 15:26 (and John 16:7), where Jesus will send the Spirit from the Father, both of which seem to back up the theory of the Spirit being sent from the Father and the Son.
It feels that all this discussion is somewhat technical and cold. There is one theme which I believe is missing, or if not missing, then somewhat hidden from sight, which is that of love, the love that the Father has for the Son. This is evident in John 16:14-15 where Jesus says ‘[The Spirit] will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.’ In these two verses, it shows the love and mutuality that the three parts of the Godhead have for each other. This seems to be lost in the filioque (meaning ‘and from the Son’) controversy and it is all the poorer for this. The love shown by the Trinity is strongly evident though in the writings of Julian of Norwich. She was an English mystic and anchoress, born around 1342. She had revelations, or ‘showings’ of God, of which this is part of her fourth one:
For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity;
the Trinity is our Maker,
the Trinity is our Keeper,
the Trinity is our everlasting Lover,
the Trinity is our endless Joy and Bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ.
(And this was shown in the first revelation and in all of them, for when Jesus appears, the blessed Trinity is understood, as I see it.).
Julian of Norwich’s revelation and love for the Trinity is not coldly philosophical or something which needs to be wrestled with, but one which ‘is endless bliss [...and...]the Trinity is God and is indivisible’. I would like to suggest that this is a complete and most welcome contrast to the earlier discussion about Filioque and is a breath of fresh air to the somewhat lengthy and dry debates.
Pictorially, the painting by Rublev called Trinity is a fine example of a representation of the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. It was painted in the early 15th century. In the West, beliefs are formulated mostly by discussion and thought, so this suggests head knowledge alone. The heart needs to be brought into equation, which leads to a deeper understanding of God. I believe that this is where art is most useful. Rublev’s pictorial icon of the Trinity was initially about the three angels appearing to Abraham at the oaks at Mamre (Genesis 18). However, it has been developed to be picture of the Trinity. They are, from right to left, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For me, there are two important features shown in this picture. The first one is the relationship between all three persons, how they are looking at and positioned with each other. It feels as if there is a strong bond of love, acceptance and trust. There is a gentleness generated between and among them. The second important feature is this; in the centre of the painting below the chalice is a square, on which art historians have found traces of glue. It is believed that this might have been where a mirror could have been attached, so that the observer of the picture becomes the fourth person in the icon, drawn into the dynamic dance of love and relationship of the trinity.
For this assignment, I had to agree or disagree with the statement by Immanuel Kant ‘The doctrine of the Trinity 'has no practical relevance at all'’
I disagree with Kant’s statement. I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity has a supremely practical relevance for today’s world with regards to the experience and practice in the context of: discipleship, mission and ministry. In today’s postmodern world, the metanarrative is one of ‘difference, plurality, fragmentation and complexity’, where one is trying to make sense of life from one’s own perspective, which, is most likely to fail. However, God made humans with an inbuilt desire to seek and find him (Jeremiah 29:13). When God is found, all three members of the Trinity are active, working in harmony with each other inviting the person seeking God and a fuller experience of life into the dance of the Trinity. A more modern definition of this Trinitarian dance can be found in the fictional book The Shack, where Mack, having suffered the abduction of his daughter, receives a note from God inviting him back to the place where she was found and where he subsequently meets with the three different but united parts of God. This is one alternative approach learning about God’s love and presence, which could be appropriate to those who view church with apprehension and who might not want to read the gospels in the New Testament.
Richard Rohr paints a picture of the Trinity, not as a God who is ‘an old man with a white beard on a throne’ but as a triune God being the ‘Ultimate Participant – in everything – both the good and the painful.’ It is, I believe, this God whom the world (and also the church) are seeking and once found, have total practical relevance to: discipleship, mission and ministry because we are all invited into the loving divine dance as part of the ‘divine and loving actions of the three.’ Yes, we are all invited into this dance, this loving divine relationship, on the one hand believing this invitation and enjoinment is available and possible, but on the other hand, knowing that there is also an air of mystery, as God is never fully understandable, but, as the dance with the divine God matures, even though God is never totally understood individual and corporate faith and trust in God will grow, so that areas of: discipleship, mission and ministry will subsequently flourish.
By being part of this divine dance, I suggest that this will provide a springboard to be able to overcome the biggest obstacles faced by humanity today, which are ones of disconnection and polarisation. We are disconnected from God, our selves, others and the physical world, but also, the writer believes, we are often polarised into disagreeing factions with those around us. One only has to look at Trump’s American followers, the war in Ukraine, the results of Brexit in this country and even the recent discussions within the Church of England about Living in Love and Faith. The Trinity is not like this. If God was a single entity, God would be lonely, if God was just two, then there would be an attraction towards one or the other, but because there are three, this leads to something which is ‘inherently moving, dynamic and generative’.
There have been attempts to describe the Trinity, such as: three leaved clover, three legged stool, ice, water and steam, St Patrick’s shield etc, but the most descriptive one the writer found, is that of an atom, which is the building block of all matter. The proton, neutron and electron are three elements all bound together by their attraction and relationship to each other. There is space and energy between them. This mirrors the Trinity, where the Father and Son are bound together by the love of the Holy Spirit, where even though they are one God, there is space and energy within and between them and from here emanates ‘all the power for infinite renewal.’ God invites us into this divine energy and flow, which is similar to the picture from Ezekiel 47:1-12, of a river flowing from God’s temple, showing God’s love and life giving presence affecting everything it flows through. How deep do we let ourselves be drawn into and carried away by the flow of his love? This is letting go of the control of our lives and entering into the freedom only available from God through the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17).
The apostle John writes that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), God has to love, because that is his nature; he can’t not love. The Father showed his love to the world by sending his son Jesus to atone for our wrongdoings (1 John 4:9-10), so those who know this love of God, which is in them through the power and will of the Holy Spirit, are able to show this love to others and also talk about God (1 John 4:13-14) which energises and forms a basis of our: discipleship, mission and ministry. These are all the three parts of the triune God at work showing their interconnectedness which is then mirrored in those who believe in God, because by having the same Spirit within each one of us, God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14) and ushered in a new one-ness between all who believe (Ephesians 4:4-6). This has the effect of removing the disconnection from God and others and also the negative polarisation between people. There will still be differing views, which is healthy, but I believe that there will not be the animosity previously present, as the Holy Spirit part of the Trinity will be present in each person, bringing: liberation, love, peace and reconciliation to all.
To sum up, some poetry from Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:
Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.
So going back to the reading from Matthew, Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Therefore go and make disciples says Jesus. So brothers and sisters, lets go and make disciples and in doing so we take the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit with us to extend the Kindom and enable God’s love and desire for all of his creation to be realised, which is to have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 14th May 2023
John 14: 15 - 21 - Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Reflections on John 14: 15 - 21
INTRODUCTION: Famous last words.
Spike Milligan: I told you I was ill. Epitaph on gravestone.
Stockland Church, East Devon Epitaph –‘Remember friend as you pass by, as you are now so once was I. As I am now you soon will be. Prepare for death and follow me’. Underneath someone wrote in chalk ‘To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went!’
David Watson (through whose ministry I came to faith in 1971 at Sussex University) said to his wife Anne shortly before dying ‘ It’s time now to go home’
But what were Jesus’ last words before His death? John 14-16 give us Jesus’ parting words to His disciples, after the Last Supper, which included the footwashing mentioned in John 13. Of course, the most famous last words are on the cross just before He died… father forgive, today you will be with me in Paradise, I thirst, My God, my God why? It is finished….
In the first part of this chapter, Jesus comforts and reassures his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them and that there are many rooms in His father’s house. He also answers Thomas’ question about knowing the way to this place. Jesus Himself is the True and Living Way to know God as Father. He then also responds to Philip’s question about seeing the Father. Jesus and the Father are One. Whoever sees Jesus also sees the Father. And Jesus also gives amazing promises of ‘greater works’ (probably in extent and location rather than quality) and promises answers to prayer in His name.
But now, Jesus moves on to talk about three related subjects – Love, Obedience and the Spirit.
DISCIPLES IN NEED OF ENCOURAGEMENT.
These disciples of Jesus are about to lose their leader, their Shepherd, their teacher, their friend and companion. He is about to surrender His life on their behalf and to show His love for them to the end by dying in their place.
‘He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’ Mark 10v45. The first part of this verse was referred to several times during the King’s Coronation, but it originally refers to the sacrificial death of Christ to free us from sin and to buy us back from our slavery to the Evil One.
LOVE AND OBEDIENCE.
In our passage today, there are two bookends in v.15 and 21 which both refer to love and obedience. Jesus’ message is not just about love, but he qualifies this love by saying that it will lead to obedience and keeping his commands, which are many in John’s gospel…. There is an echo here of the Torah in Deuteronomy 6v4-9 which gives the famous Shema ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…’ and the New Commandment of John 13v34,35. Love one another … as I have loved you (that is sacrificially).
Impossible, none of us can love like Jesus by our own strength. Our love will always fall short and so that is why Jesus goes on to ask the Father for the Spirit of Truth, another Counsellor, Friend, Advocate, Paraclete, to be with and in them. V.16,17
Another Counsellor etc. uses the word alia = another of the same kind (not hetero – different kind). So, just as Jesus loves, cares, guides, guards, provides, teaches and comes alongside his disciples, so the Spirit of Truth will do the same. And He does the same for us 21st Century disciples also.
Illustration: Two week’s ago we were on grandparent duty in London. Our daughter was going to a Clergy Wives’ retreat at Swanwick for two nights and three days. She left us very detailed instructions of what to do when each hour of the day for our three grandchildren ages 2,4,6 years. We kept to these commands closely and our three granddaughters felt secure. Their Dad helped before and after his work at the Cornhill Trust at Elephant and Castle. Because we love our daughter, we kept her ‘commands’ and we became ‘ another of the same kind alongside’ her children.
We NEED the Spirit to help us to keep God’s commandments and to love Jesus.
The Spirit has both a formal role as our legal counsel, defending us from the false accusations of the enemy but also an informal role as encourager, guide and to reassure us. In I John 2v1 John also refers to Jesus as our Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the Propitiation for our sins (Comfortable Words in BCP HC).
It is the Spirit who inspires our affectionate love for Jesus, often expressed in songs of worship. Nigerian chorus ‘How excellent is your name O Lord….’ How beautiful, wonderful, powerful, faithful…. The more we worship and adore Jesus, the more we want to do what He tells us to do and are given the inner strength by the Holy Spirit to do so. The Holy Spirit is WITH us as we go into situations where we need a companion and supporter but He is also IN us to give us inner strength and resolve.
At his coronation, the King was anointed with special oil flown in from Jerusalem, but we can all experience the same anointing as God’s royal priesthood and know the same inner strength, resilience and joy as we serve others and face trials and difficulties and share the good news.
However, the ‘world’ cannot know, understand, see or experience the Spirit in this way. God loves the world and gave His Son so that all who believe will not perish (have a wasted life) but have eternal life. But the ‘World’ in this context is the system of this fading world in rebellion against God. John in his letter refers to the world this way:
‘Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever.’ 1 John 2v15-17
PROMISES. NEVER WALK ALONE.
But Jesus promises that the Spirit will live with them and be IN them. He then goes on to promise his ongoing presence v.18 ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ And later, in response to the other Judas’ question, Jesus promises that ‘My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ Again the promise is conditional on loving and obeying Jesus, which we can only do as the Spirit enables us.
‘You’ll never walk alone….’ Famous Liverpool anthem. Sir Tom Moore No.1 hit with Michael Ball. However, only with Jesus by your side will you truly never walk alone!
Twice in this chapter, Jesus refers to HOME. Coming home to the Father’s house, where there are many rooms prepared, a place of eternal security and belonging. Never alone.
What do orphans need? Love, care, guarding, provision, guiding… and much more as any good parent (or grandparent) knows. Jesus promises all that by the presence of His Spirit within and alongside us and with His people also who become Jesus to us.
Later in this chapter, Jesus promises a few more things which the Holy Spirit will give to his disciples:
V26. The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything that I have said to you.
V27 ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’
In a troubled and confused world, Jesus’s gift of the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor just like Him, will be there to give us the right words and the inner peace and strength to face whatever fearful and dangerous situations we may meet.
How can we face the future with hope and assurance that God is with us?
Love Jesus, know His inner strength and presence by the blessed Holy Spirit. Rely upon His words to guide and support you, so that you can know that you will never walk alone.
And if you have not yet experienced that anointing of the Spirit or need perhaps a refill, then after the service there is an opportunity to receive pray and anointing yourselves for your own life of Royal Service for the King of Kings!
‘I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today
I know that He is living whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives: He lives within my heart.
Rev Simon Holloway
Reading for Sunday 16th April 2023
John 10: 1 - 10 - The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Reflections on John 10: 1 - 10
I wonder what having life to the full means to you? I guess it means different things to different people. Being happy, healthy, having enough money to pay the bills and also go out socially, having good friends or a lovely family. One person who has really inspired me is the late Dame Deborah James who died from bowel cancer last June. Facing death and all the treatment she had to keep the cancer at bay, she had a remarkable attitude to life. No wonder she was called Bowel babe with her dancing and dressing up. Her situation caused her to see life and what was important in a new way “I was on autopilot – my career took precedence, my relationships came last,” she said. “Never did I realise more that the life I had been taking for granted would be the one thing I now desired above all else.” Such inspiring and wise words. It sometimes takes crisis times in our lives to wake us up to what is important in life. This resonates with Jesus’ words ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. As followers of Jesus what does this mean for us as sometimes life can be a real struggle? The answer lies in Jesus talking about sheep and the shepherd.
In the reading from John 10 there are 3 images – the gate, the shepherd and the sheep. The picture is of a sheepfold – a place where the sheep are kept together and kept safe. In this part of the world there was no made sheep pens – like on One man and his dog – no instead the shepherd will make a sheep pen from rocks leaving an entrance for the sheep to get in. At night – time he would get the sheep inside and then he would lay in the entrance. So when Jesus is talking about the gate he is talking about this. He says ‘I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate (he says it twice) whoever enters through me will be saved.’ It was essential that the shepherd lay in the entrance to the sheep fold as he needed to protect his sheep. At night if a wolf or other animal came along it would be the shepherd who came face to face with that animal first – he was putting his life in danger for the sheep. This is what Jesus means in verse 11 ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ The gate is the only way that you can get into the sheepfold. What Jesus is saying is that you can only know salvation, life to the full and eternal life through him – John 14: 6 ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.’ It’s about knowing that we are safe with Jesus the Good Shepherd – He will protect us, give us security by His presence with us – because He has laid down His life for us on the cross. It is that relationship with Him that will get us through the tough times and storms of life. Jesus mentions the thief who climbs in and who comes to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus was talking about the religious leaders, but for us today there are many thieves who would want to do us harm and take us away from Jesus. What things in your life do harm to your relationship with Jesus – what thieves prowl around?
As well as being the gate Jesus is the good shepherd – in fact the word good means beautiful or excellent – he is the best shepherd ever. The shepherd’s job is to do all he can to care for the sheep. Ten years ago we had terrible snow and all the sheep were caught in drifts that were 3- 4 metres high – that’s 12 feet in old money. The shepherd did everything he could to save them – his dog found 80 of the buried sheep. It was in March lambing time and many of the lambs were found dead. That man would not give up though to rescue and save them. That is a picture of the good shepherd – he loves and cares deeply for you. Do we really know that deep in our hearts – he died for you. One thing that the shepherd does is shout and call. He tells them where to go, he calls them so that they can be rounded up, he knows each of them by name and leads them. A friend of mine was a shepherd at Lee Abbey in Devon and he looked after his flock – they were Jacob sheep with huge horns. To me they all looked the same but he knew each one by name and what their temperament was like. He knows your name and what you are like. Like in the Narnia stories the 4 children each have their name and their character that Aslan (who is Jesus) calls them. Lucy the Valient, Peter the Magnificent, Edmund the just, Susan the gentle. What does the good shepherd call you? Jesus talks about other voices that are not his and says that these are from strangers who the sheep run away from. I wonder what voices shout at us – or whisper maybe – the voice of friends, the media, family, neighbours, advertising, politicians – all trying to tell us what to do. All trying to influence our decisions and the way we live our lives. Our inner voice also can be very loud or voices from the past – words that have been said to us what don’t go away.
We need to learn to know the voice of the good shepherd which will be different from that of friends, politicians and of our inner self. We hear that voice through prayer, we also hear it through the Bible. We need to know our Bibles by reading them every day. So finally the sheep who are us – I love sheep – they are cute and woolly – but they also like to do things their way. 1 Peter 2: 25 ‘For you were like sheep gone astray’ and in Isaiah 53: 6 ‘We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.’ Sheep get lost easily and get detached from the rest of the flock – they wander off looking for better food or they get spooked and scared or they are just nosey. But there is no such thing as a solitary sheep – if a sheep is on its own its probably lost. Same with Christians really – no such thing as a solitary Christian – they have probably lost their way or they soon will. To stay safe a sheep needs to listen and stay close to the shepherd. When a sheep does things his way then they are in danger. When we make decisions either as individuals or as a church based on what we want then we are in danger. If we don’t keep listening to the voice of the shepherd we will get lost. We need to keep asking ‘what would Jesus want’ what would he say about this – what does his word say. We need to remember that Jesus wants the best for us – he wants us to have life and have it to the full. Jesus is not mean but generous – he wants to bless us, to feed us, to protect us, for us to enjoy life fully and for others to join that flock, so that they may enjoy too. Having life to the full is not about what we own, or what is happening in our lives, but it is knowing that we are in the sheepfold, safe with the best shepherd ever, that he will bring us to good pasture, that He will be there for us always – today, tomorrow and always. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 16th April 2023
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 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
It’s Sunday April 16th, 33 A.D. early in the evening at a location somewhere in Jerusalem. The 11 disciples, not including Thomas, have been there in this upper room all day, having locked themselves in. It is now nearly 12 hours since Mary came back with the news that she had seen Jesus alive, added to which both Peter and John were able to confirm that the tomb in which Jesus had been laid was empty. So imagine what kind of 12 hours it had been for them. Lots of ………..Discussion……Debate……Silence…….Expressions of fear and confusion…….Disappointment………Speculation…..Argument even.
Q.What were they to believe ? Could the concept let alone the fact of a resurrection actually be true? They may even have questioned as to whether Mary, Peter and John were telling the truth anyway? Confusion reigned, and if you put yourself in that situation it’s not difficult to see why. And maybe even for some folk today a reaction to this story might be challenging, with some dismissing it as just a story, others not sure and doubting, and yet others accepting it as fact and the foundation of our faith. Maybe there are even some here who have yet to be convinced like some of the disciples.
Can you ever recall having heard some news about someone you knew well and was highly respected and yet has apparently done something utterly appalling? “You must be joking, it can’t be true” you might say. And because of this person’s reputation, you may not actually believe it until you hear it from another witness. In fact, that’s exactly what the disciples were going through. Jesus would have understood their dilemma.
Consequently, for the disciples, everything was about to change. V19 Jesus appeared to them, despite the locked door. After pronouncing Peace, he showed them his hands and side. They were, not surprisingly, totally convinced and overjoyed. This was great, except for one thing. Thomas had not been there! When he eventually turned up they were full of it. “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas would have none of it, and laid down his conditions for him to be able to believe. Unless I also see and touch (he added) what you saw, I will not believe. This would have been a huge disappointment to the disciples. They wanted Thomas to share in their joy. I have no doubt that they didn’t get much sleep after Jesus left the evening before and wanted him to share in the joy.
I wonder why he didn’t? It is understandable that Thomas might have felt a bit left out because Jesus appeared when he wasn’t around and maybe his reaction is not so much disbelief as a bit of a tantrum ? He was left out and despite the testimony of 11 of his really good friends who he had lived close to, for 3 years, he wanted to see for himself.
I suggest that we can see a human trait here can’t we ? A tendency to be a bit awkward about something if you feel that you might have been slighted or left out.
A simple illustration might be that from your personal contacts, all except you, get a wedding invitation. Yours does arrive eventually but you then aren’t sure that you are free.
Feeling left out, sidelined, ignored or simply forgotten, can lead us to react in a less than helpful way and just maybe Thomas’s reaction was because of that. We call him doubting Thomas but I suspect that he was not so much doubting as feeling the odd one out, so accepting the testimony of the other 11 was never going to be enough. He knew they were telling him the truth !!
What we need to do now as we consider Thomas, is to take hold of the wonder of the fact that Jesus, WHO IS GOD, graciously allows Thomas to satisfy his unreasonable criteria for believing, BUT v26……….. He does make him wait for a whole week !! We can speculate, not unreasonably, that it would have been a miserable week for Thomas. He would have known that his reaction was not right. Surely he knew deep down that the other 11 would not lie about something so serious? So while the 11 spent a week rejoicing, Thomas remained miserable and unable to join the others in their joy.
Now if we apply Thomas’s reaction, to the world in which we live and the people we meet who do not share our faith, we can ask “What is disbelief?” Perhaps it is like Thomas, ‘An unwillingness to accept something they have not personally experienced or tested’. But there are a multitude of reasons why folk don’t seem to want to listen let alone believe. Being honest if you or I made the same demand as Thomas, we would still be waiting to believe, because we haven’t experienced what Thomas was asking for. Our belief stems from the testimony of others, the testimony of Scripture and perhaps some events in our lives. Thomas had the unique privilege of a physical revelation from Jesus himself. That’s the kind of God we have ! So this part of the story is an example of the generosity of God’s nature in meeting Thomas’s demand. From V 29 however, we also receive confirmation from Jesus himself that for those of us who believe without the experience of Thomas are blessed indeed.
Jesus says to Thomas “ Because you have seen me you have believed; BLESSED are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
I want to draw to an end by highlighting two main points that come from this well known story of doubting Thomas.
My first point is that Jesus met the unreasonable demand of a petulant Thomas. He didn’t have to. He could have left Thomas to stew until he came to his senses, as he would have done eventually. But there was a delay and I think a necessary delay, but we can trust God not to leave us indefinitely to stew when our reactions are a little less than positive at times. Are our reactions to other people and situations always as holy as they should be ? The fact is that there can’t be too many people who don’t have some sharp edges, which annoy us and others at times. Maybe even we have that effect sometimes dare I suggest ? But God isn’t put off by our sharp edges and loves to help us through as Jesus helped Thomas.
My second point, again from V29 is the huge reassurance to us that because our faith has not come through a physical revelation of the fact of the resurrection, we are indeed Blessed by God. Whatever we may think of ourselves and the weakness of our faith, as far as God is concerned, He is out to Bless us. Every time someone becomes a Christian the Bible tells us that there is much rejoicing in Heaven and that’s when we remember that ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. This is important stuff because it means that every single Christian can live out and serve knowing that God wants to bless with His love, patience and guidance through the Holy Spirit. God does not set out to pick up our faults. He is not out to trip us up, criticise and find fault. That’s not what we do as parents and neither does he. He is not looking down at us through half eye glasses with a withering look of disapproval. On the contrary, He oozes love and support because he knows how hard it is to believe without seeing the evidence for ourselves.
This well known story has very relevant teaching for us all, and we are all, without exception, in the same boat.
The God who created the world, who raised Jesus from the dead and forgives when we say sorry, that same God responded to Thomas and is still full of love for the whole of his creation, and especially for those who have not seen but still believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Be encouraged and bask in the certainty of your future. But if you have yet to believe, ask God to help you. Human life has no better way to live than with God’s blessing and eternal promise.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 12th March 2023
Romans 5: 1 - 11 - Peace, Dreams and Hope
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Reflections on Romans 5: 1 - 11
I wonder if you remember this song by Andy Williams :- 'To dream the impossible dream..The fight the unbeatable foe…To bear with unbearable sorrow…To run where the brave dare not go…' ending with:- 'This is my quest that my heart will be peaceful and calm when I’m laid to rest.'
Having dreams that take us beyond what we know and experience is quite difficult. We tend to dream within the context of what we know. When Aladdin rubbed the lamp he could only think in terms of wealth and fame for his wishes. There are those who are given the ability to go beyond our limitations, to have a hope which seems impossible. On Aug 28th, 1963 Martin Luther King spoke to a massive crowd of what he described as negros but including some white people, exploring his dream of something beyond their experience. That meant civil and economic rights for all and an end to racism in the U.S. His dream was for a symphony of brotherhood for freedom. His dream was in 5 sections all based on equality. It was an inspirational speech. I have a dream…. For freedom to reign across the U.S. Has it happened yet?
Others have had dreams, others have explored and invented and as a result moved everyone forward. But for example, someone who lived in the stoneage could not possibly conceive of what we take for granted. I heard the story of a young Amish mother who belongs to a religious sect who live quite separately from society. They live in large groups who don’t have contact with the world outside. This mum however was at the entrance to a large shopping mall. She saw an old bent man standing facing a metal wall. With his finger he pressed a button and the wall opened up. He stepped inside and it closed. Intrigued, she watched and waited and soon the door opened again and out walked a young fit man. She turns to her son and says “Quick, go and get your father”.
Some things are just beyond our wildest dreams because we can’t see beyond where we are now. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we are given sight of something beyond, something out of sight and yet something attainable which is being held out to us as attainable ie. a genuine hope. In those 11 verses we heard earlier from chapter 5, we have the core essence of what God has done and what he offers us. Imagine, if all the rest of Scripture had been lost to us except these 11 verses, we would still have enough to hope in God and his promises. These verses spell out the prospect of something which really is beyond the wildest dreams of any human being. These verses spell out the Easter hope and point us to the possibility of something which, for us, is impossible. These really are the original words to the Andy Williams impossible dream song, words which can encourage us as Christians so that we genuinely can, in the words of the song, have hearts that will lie peaceful and calm when we are laid to rest.
So what is this Impossible dream? I suggest 3 stages. Impossible dream number one for us is, that being acutely aware of God’s perfection that we, as sinners can actually be forgiven. What do I mean by that ? Lets look backat the dealings God had with the Israelite nation as they were travelling through the desert. This often involved punishment and death for those who opposed them which shows us a God who can have no truck with evil. It can all come across as being very black and white because God’s standard is so high, that all evil must be dealt with. So in reality it’s more than we could hope for, that our sins could be forgiven. Is it really possible that God is willing to forgive our sinfulness?
v.8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
To be forgiven is to be justified in God’s sight. V.1 We are justified by faith and v9, that we are justified by Christs blood and saved from God’s wrath. The magnificent Christian truth is that through the death of Jesus, God has created the possibility of the impossible, that is, that we can be forgiven, justified and saved. Now we know that forgiving others can be hard at times. God found it hard sending Jesus to die, but he did. V6 At just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. That’s us.
Impossible dream number two is reconciliation. V11 We also rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”
I think you will know what I mean when I say that forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation. It is so easy to hold onto the original hurt and the relationship is not restored. It is a hard step beyond forgiveness. We may forgive someone but never want to see the person again. That for me is a measure of the degree of difficulty involved for us as humans in embracing reconciliation after a deep hurt. For God, forgiveness includes reconciliation. With God it’ s automatic that when we genuinely repent and ask for forgiveness that God’s response is…. not only to say YES ,….. not only to say I Love you,…… not only to go on forgiving,……. not only to say you have a place in Heaven,……. but also to say, you are a child adopted into my family. How could we possibly dream that there could be a God who will do this? Not in our wildest dreams. With reconciliation comes peace and joy. V1 Justified through faith we have peace with God” and v11. We also rejoice in God.
As Christians, we know the reality of this impossible dream for ourselves and we can be led to dream it for our world. Martin Luther King dreamed something that seemed impossible, and so can we as Christians, as people who know justification, forgiveness and reconciliation, we can dare to dream what seems impossible to us, that others may find that peace and joy which is so desperately needed.
We need to move on to Paul’s impossible dream number 3. We have considered already both justification and forgiveness with reconciliation but then v.3-5 gives us another impossibility, that of rejoicing in our struggles. How on earth do we do that ? V5 Because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The fact is that we , even as Christians, face sufferings, disappointments and sorrow. Life can get difficult with old age, death, upsets and there is a clear indication that God doesn’t simply intervene to stop or protect us from these things. We would like all our prayers to be answered in the way we want. But God doesn’t leave us on our own. Through the gift of His Spirit he gives us His presence and strength to be able to cope. So from V3 we can have access to perseverance, character and hope which can come as the result of suffering V3 .
Jesus said, I will not leave you comfortless. Scripture tells us that the Spirit is our helper and strength. He is a channel of God’s gifts and fruit. He encourages and prompts us. He convicts us of sin, he reveals and inspires. So God has provided not only for our past with forgiveness, not only for the future with reconciliation and adoption, but specifically for the now, in living out our lives every day. God is God beyond our wildest dreams, beyond what we could dream of or deserve.
Within the context of God in his generous love opening up for us these impossible dreams, we nevertheless have to live in the reality and squalor of both our and others sins. And it can be challenging and painful. To be a Christian is to have taken hold of these impossible dreams, of forgiveness, reconciliation, adoption and the Holy Spirit We need to learn to trust Gods love and power, to live for Him now, and demonstrate to the world that despite on the one hand our frailty and on the other hand the eagerness of others to put us down and crow about statistics of falling numbers in church, we know who holds the future don’t we?
The Amish lady left the shopping mall disappointed. We shall not !!!
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 5th March 2023
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 - Truth and Trust
“What is truth?” Uttered by a politician, Pontius Pilate. Was he being sarcastic? Did he actually not know? Perhaps more importantly, did he want to know the answer? And, to protect his own position, he transfers a difficult decision and the consequent blame onto other people…… And the phrase “to wash ones hands of the matter” is born.
Has much changed over 2000 years? In the world of politics we have had Partygate? We have had lockdown trips to Barnard Castle to have an eye test….. How have we gone so wrong?
Well, let me suggest that, in part, its down to Frank Sinatra; and if you’ve read Rev Annes REFLECTION in the latest Stay Connected, so does she. As his song about self-importance – sadly played all too often at life celebrations – reaches its crescendo, he sings these words…”What is a man? What has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels, AND NOT THE WORDS OF ONE WHO KNEELS. The record shows I TOOK THE BLOWS, and did it MY WAY! Don’t think he’d be in our congregation this morning…..far too much kneeling already!
Frank started it……the American rock star Jon Bon Jovi continued it in his song “Its my life, its now or never, I aint going to live forever, I just wanna live while I’m alive…….like Frankie said I did it my way….”
Then to the Welsh rock group, interestingly called the Manic Street Preachers, with one of their song collections entitled “This is my truth; tell me yours” Its actually a quote from Nye Bevan, but not with the same context. Its saying I’m happy to listen to what makes you tick, but don’t put it on ME. And as you see from the phrase, “MY TRUTH” comes first.
My Way. My Truth. The me society. And then you have the truth and the way explained in our passage today by Jesus, the Radical Street Preacher from Nazareth. Let me suggest that if you compare most of the current “wisdom” with the words of Jesus, you realise either how shallow it is or that, in fact, Jesus has already said it and mankind has chosen to ignore it.
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in our Bible passage just read to us by Jo is extraordinary in many ways – and would have been considered even more so by Jews listening to or reading it at the time. Here we have a senior Jewish religious leader – a guardian and teacher of the Jewish faith, the cornerstone of life in Roman-occupied Judaea – starting a respectful discussion about faith with a young itinerant preacher from an ordinary family based up North in Galilee, and being told by Jesus bluntly that Nicodemus doesn’t know what he’s talking about! But what if Jesus is right? What if its not about debating religion, its about ABSOLUTE TRUTH? And what if that ABSOLUTE TRUTH is embodied not in all the religious teachers before and since, but in the person and words of one man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth?
Lets be clear, in this well-known passage, Jesus is describing himself in both Divine and Messianic terms. In calling Himself The Son Of Man in Vses 13/14 he was saying he was FULLY HUMAN, but he was also using a term that Jews of the time knew very well – the term for the Messiah, the one who was to be the Saviour of the Jewish nation. But Jesus goes much further. In v16 He describes Himself as Gods one and only Son – therefore claiming to be FULLY DIVINE as well; a claim he continues over the next few chapters with the 7 “I am” sayings eg I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world. And in v17 He goes further again, saying that God had sent His Son into the world, that THE WORLD would be saved – not just the Jewish people, who considered ONLY THEMSELVES to be Gods chosen people.
If you were with us a couple of weeks ago, Anne quoted in her sermon the well-known observation by CSLewis – the Narnia man – that (and I paraphrase) you cannot claim that Jesus was JUST a first rate moral teacher. In making the claims he consistently did about Himself, you can only come to 3 conclusions – he was mad, he was bad, or He was and is, God in human form. And if you conclude he was and is, God, then His words have ABSOLUTE, not relative, TRUTH.
Another astonishing thing about the Nicodemus encounter, is that after Jesus has made these statements about Himself, the conversation ends and Nicodemus goes away……… but later in Johns gospel Nicodemus appears at 2 crucial points, and it is clear that Jesus words had sunk in and increasingly he came to believe that Jesus really was who He claimed to be.
Nicodemus had initially come to Jesus both literally in the dark and spiritually in the dark, but God had been stirring something in his Spirit that he needed to examine Jesus face to face. And he took a big risk – if he was seen in contact with Jesus and it got back to the Jewish Ruling Council………….; the sort of risk that many Muslims and Hindus face today if they seek to know about Jesus. And the decision to find out about Jesus is where, my friends, our faith journeys and that of Nicodemus, intersect.
There are 3 points in the passage – in vses 3, 5 and 11 – where Jesus starts his answers to Nicodemus questions with the words “I tell you the truth”. Not, “This is my take on things; how do you see it?” but THIS IS THE TRUTH; LET ME EXPLAIN IT”. And Jesus lays out the 3 changes that are needed in all those who are spiritual seekers…..and that none can occur without being “born again”.
V3 A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE. Jesus says we cannot even see the kingdom of God ie where and how God is present and at work in the world, nature and the environment and where people and groups are looking to function as God intended, unless we look at things through “God glasses” How can this be? Nicodemus said.
V5 A CHANGE OF RESOURCES. Jesus says we must be born of water and the Spirit. The phrase implies several things, but for me, most importantly, water signifies cleansing us from the mistakes and failures of our old pre-Christian lives – which Jesus did on the Cross – and instead giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us as we seek to live as his followers daily. How can this be? Nicodemus said.
V11 A CHANGE OF ALLEGIANCE. Jesus says that for those who believe in Him and His words – belief not meaning just intellectual agreement but surrendering ones life to Jesus to go forward HIS way – death will NOT be the end. Life the other side of the grave will continue – just as it did for Jesus – but fuller. How can this be? Nicodemus said.
Its all this “born-again” business! Has anyone ever said to you “Are you one of those born-again Christians?” Yes, me too! How do you answer graciously? Sometimes not easy because, as our passage lays out, Jesus is very clear……to be a Christian AT ALL you need to be born again. There is no such thing as a “cultural Christian”, which I’ve heard some in the media and academia say.
Everyone has a different route to faith, to being born again. Some will talk of being aware of Gods presence with them from a very young age, and as they grew in years, so did their awareness of God. That was the way for my Mum and Dad. Some, like me, will say they had no awareness of God at all for years, until the idea of some higher power awakened their interest. But for all of us, there comes a point when – consciously or unconsciously – we acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives. We acknowledge the TRUTH of Jesus words, and because of that we TRUST that all the things he said, like being with us through thick and thin, satisfying all our deepest needs, can be relied on day by day. I know – and by experience as a Christian I’ve proved – that I’d rather have the Jesus way than My way. Just like Nicodemus. Lent is our prime time in the year to reflect on our Christian lives – TRUTH and TRUST are good words to be part of our reflecting.
I’ll finish where I started, with popular music. Last Thursday, Marion and I went to the Playhouse to listen to a concert by the Cornish shanty band, Fishermans Friends. One of their most popular songs talks about lifes journey, and includes these words “Have a little faith in the dream-maker in the sky/Theres glory in believing Him/And its all in the beholders eye.”
Its enough to have a little faith in a big God, who speaks the TRUTH and can be TRUSTED. It opens our eyes to the BEST way of living, both here and hereafter.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 12th February 2023
Romans 8: 18 - 27 - Present Suffering and Future Glory
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Reflections on Romans 8: 18 - 27
Are you feeling confident about the future? There’s a question to ponder over. Let me throw another one at you. Are you feeling positive about the present ? Some may ask in response, what is there to be confident or positive about? It is after all so easy to feel gloom and despondency as we look at the world with the news that seems to get worse by the day, with pictures of death and grieving populations be it Ukraine, Turkey and Northern Syria. Nearer home, there are situations that affect us personally such as strikes in the NHS and ambulance services which bring fear about being ill and delayed appointments. The list could go on with inflation, the threat to the environment, species of various kinds becoming extinct. Old age brings an awareness of our aging bodies. Well ,If you didn’t feel depressed when you arrived you probably do now !!
Depressed that is, until hopefully you were reminded of that fantastic passage we heard read from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The heading for this passage is shown as ‘Future Glory’, which is a clear reference about God’s plans for our futures, but Paul begins with where we are now, that is , struggling with problems. Paul uses words and phrases like, ‘our present sufferings’ and make no mistake, they had them. Paul refers to ‘creations bondage to decay’, which we also recognise. Creation is also ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ and as a result we also ‘ groan inwardly’ . It seems clear that ‘present sufferings’ are a given, but Paul doesn’t leave it there. All this apparent negativity is infused with some huge and essential positives that we as Christians can hold onto. The passage is called ‘Future Glory’ for very good reasons. Firstly we have v18 the anticipation of the glory that will be revealed to us enabling us now to v19 wait in eager expectation for it all to happen. He goes further v21 telling us that creation (which is us) will be liberated from its bondage and experience the glorious freedom as children of God.
What then begins to happen is that Paul reminds them and us of the opening words of this chapter about the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. It is headed ‘Life through the Spirit’, and that same life giving Spirit is an essential element in us being able to cope with the now, and anticipate our future eternity. V26 The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. So we are not on our own because v27 the Spirit intercedes for the saints (believe or not, that’s us) in accordance with God’s will.
‘In the beginning’, so begins the book of Genesis, there were 3 distinctive elements. Firstly the created order of all created matter, including sun, water land trees and animals. Secondly human life with it’s special role to play, and thirdly our creator God. We get to know from the earliest days in the story that things go wrong and that from that moment , both creation and human beings will all be waiting for God to somehow put it all right. The challenge and struggle we face each day has always been there and it affects the whole of creation. Paul is pointing out that all of creation is eagerly waiting for the end, waiting for the freedom that was taken away because of human disobedience. God does have a plan and as we wait we have been given the first fruits of the Spirit to help us.
That is a vital truth because the Spirit gives us a foretaste of heaven. Through the Spirit we know that as disciples of Jesus, that God will accept us and adopt us as His children alongside Jesus. And that is worth waiting for and looking forward to. Not that we are in any hurry to leave loved ones and go to Heaven, but at the same time it’s understandable that we have every reason to anticipate that it’s going to be pretty special. This is what Paul is saying, but he goes on to point out that whilst we are still here confronting the tension we face constantly between the flesh and the Spirit, that there is going to be a bit of groaning. The picture of what lies ahead for us as Christians after death is so tremendous, with it’s total freedom from evil and complete absence of pain it’s not surprising that we may feel a little impatient. Why is God delaying the return of Jesus ? Paul says v 25 ‘If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently’. It’s not always easy to be patient.
As a parent, with a child’s birthday looming, you might decide to buy your them a bike. (I remember my first one !) You see the very one you want advertised at a good price a month in advance. You put in the shed and cover it with a sheet. No child is going to be fooled by that and each day they sneak a peak through the window and imagine what it might be like. Drop handlebars, bright red, 10 gears. The gift is already there but it’s not time until the day arrives.
The period that we are living in now is a bit like that month of waiting for that child. The promise for us is already there, but the time is not yet right. Christ has come, He has resurrected and ascended, He has gone to prepare a place for us but it’s not yet time. The life of Jesus is the promise to us for the future which has yet to happen. Our faith tells us that we are saved. V24 ‘For in this hope we are saved’ but we still await our salvation. Through the guidance and power of the Spirit we already share in the resurrection life of Jesus and yet we wait to live that life to the full. We are in a period of ‘already but not yet’, and the Spirit is the down payment to help us through. The truth that we now have to take hold of, is that the more we allow the Spirit to influence us as individual people and as a consequence the life of the church, the more we experience the future hope now. The life we are going to have with God in the future can begin to be lived in part, even now. This is what Paul is saying in this passage, that the work of the Holy Spirit is to, as it were, draw together the past fact of Jesus’s death and resurrection on the one hand, and the future hope of life in God’s presence on the other, so that they overlap. The years of waiting, now over 2000 years, can become as nothing compared to how it will be. Our patient expectancy of the future can help us through the tests of struggle and disappointment we all live with day by day. Our lives of waiting can be filled with the love, joy, peace etc which is when the already but not yet come together through the influence of the Holy Spirit. When that happens, those outside will sit up and take notice.
The Spirit is the seal of our belief in the Gospel message of Christ’s death that through repentance we can know the certainty of Heaven. The Spirit is the channel for the gifts of the Spirit to infect every aspect of our lives. He helps us in our weakness. He intercedes for us directly with the Father. If we are willing the Spirit will teach us more about the God who loves and created us. The God who wants each of us to become his adopted children. As with everything to do with faith it’s down to us as individuals. We are never forced or cajoled by God, but simply loved and encouraged with promises of an existence without sin. Please be clear as to where you stand with these life changing issues . They are too important to be ignored.
I’ll finish with some words written by Paul and would encourage you to read this passage again in the week to come. V21 ‘The creation itself will be liberated from it’s bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God’. Amen
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 5th February 2023
Matthew 5: 13 – 20 - Salt and Light
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Reflections on Matthew 5: 13 – 20
In Matt 5 verse 13 Jesus says we are the Salt of the Earth. So is that our opinion of ourselves are we living up to Jesus’s expectation of what he wants us to be the salt of the earth?
One of the earliest pieces of evidence of salt processing dates to around 6,000 BC, when people living in the area of present-day Romania boiled spring water to extract salts; a salt-works in China dates to approximately the same period. But our doctors advise us to cut it out of our diet confused? Well, it may seem a silly question, salt of the earth whatever does that mean? Well in our reading from Matthew and as part of the Beatitudes Jesus asks quite clearly of his listeners Are you the salt of the earth and I think we still use a similar saying today have you ever been told that you are the salt of the earth.
Salt in Jesus time on earth was a very precious commodity and we need to understand just how much it was valued. What we take for granted today and can buy in whatever quantity we want in any supermarket was like pure gold to them. As you know, salt is a preservative, and 2,000 years ago people had no means of keeping food cool, no refrigeration. I can remember in my younger days having no fridge using the coldest room in the house to store food, mind there wasn’t much difference in our house between one room and any other room when it came to temperature. Well in my young days keeping things fresh especially meat relied on salt as a preservative.
Did you know Roman soldiers were often paid in salt? Maybe we should go back to those days of payment, your pension or salary will be arriving in a Morrisons packet of salt use sparingly it can be bad for your health. I didn’t know until I researched it that in fact, the word salary is derived from the word for salt. If a Roman soldier didn't do his job, he wouldn't get all of his salt. That's where we get the phrase, "He is not worth his salt," if someone did not do a good days work their salt ration would suffer.
But getting back to our reading from Mathew just what was Jesus saying to his disciples in the sermon on the mount. You are the Salt of the Earth but if salt loses it saltiness its useless and has to be thrown out. What did Jesus mean by this metaphor? In studying for this message, I found there are many references to Salt in the Scriptures – I expect we all know at least one. I am informed that the bible contains 43 references to Salt no I didn’t count them but Mr Google did. We know Lot’s wife was turned into a Pillar of Salt – that’s a sermon on its own.
King David won at least two terrible battles, one in the Valley of Salt, killed 18 thousand, read for yourself the gruesome facts in Samual 8 verse 13 the area was thought to have been a large area of salt marshes in a desert valley in Israel. The Bible also refers to the SALTY SEA several times, better known today as the DEAD SEA. The Dead Sea has the highest concentration of salt of any body of water in the world. In fact, the concentration of salt in the Dead Sea is ten (10x) times greater than any Sea or Lake on earth. Did you know every litre of its water contains an average of 30 grams of Salt and other minerals.
In the ancient biblical world, salt was a precious commodity.
- It gave flavour and zest to Food
- It served as an important preservative
Salt also made people thirst for something more. Jesus wanted his disciples to give flavour and zest to the world through His teaching, and to Preserve the truth, the truth as is proclaimed in the bible today and he wanted them to proclaimed it to the world. He wanted for them to proclaim the truth in order to make the world thirst for more, more of God’s word. And by gum doesn’t the world, more than ever before need to thirst for peace and faith. Jesus takes a simple image – no ambiguity - no hidden meanings - nothing out of the ordinary -- just common, everyday salt. Just as a pinch of salt unlocks the flavour, my mum would never boil Potatoes without a pinch of salt.
So can we a small band of believers here say in Locking help to transform the village or indeed the world around us into the Kingdom of God? God says we can Remember the day of Pentecost when a band of believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. The world needs filling with the power of the Holy Spirit today nothing else will do the trick not right or left of the government not legislation or any other man-made intervention, but only the power of the Holy spirt to make the salt salty again. So are we the salt of the earth and are we the light of the world? If we are then we are told do not hide your light under a Bushell. Does the light of Christ shine out of us his disciples and do we let it shine so that all may see the wonder that God has for us all.
These are not just words of 2 thousand years ago, these words are from Jesus and they are words for us here and now. He’s talking to a crowd that have followed him. They had come from everywhere. They’ve come to see the one they’ve heard about.They’ve come to listen and learn, to be healed, and to have their lives put back together. They’ve come in search of meaning, direction, and purpose. Today there is so much false teaching in our world people are continually being pulled in the wrong direction. Why are we here this morning, is it not for the same reason as the crowd were 2 thousand years ago to learn the truth of God’s word and to live as salt and light to a stricken world a world that is dispirit to be brought back from the edge of destruction. It is the life we long for and the life God desires us to have. Are we a light on a hill a light that all can see many want to experience that light but for whatever reason are unable to make that transition from darkness to light, therefor we must show them the way the way to the real light and we can start doing that by the example of how we live our lives in this broken world
We’ve looked at two paragraphs from Matthew 5. Firstly, the importance of remaining salty when everything in our modern world wants to drain our saltiness away so that we can no longer preach and live and display Gods word. And the importance of shining out so that all can see, remember Jesus said you are the light of the world shinning out to all. If our saltiness is drained away, we can no longer shine so all may see
But we have a final sentence paragraph 17-20. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Many including many Christians believe that Jesus’ came to give us new laws, to do away with the old laws the laws of Moses. This part of Jesus’s sermon is aimed at Teaching us about the law its focus is on teaching us that the Kingdom of God—this new Kingdom which has arrived with Jesus and this kingdom which we now live in —is to be a Kingdom overflowing with a righteousness that is wholly of a different kind than the so-called “righteousness” that the Israel’s scribes and Pharisees lived in.
So then to sum up Christ words to those who were with him on that hill top that day. Jesus say’s to them that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These metaphors represent the impact Christians should strive to have in the world. That's why it matters so much that they and us here this morning understands and do the good works God has given us. I had to look up the exact definition of a metaphor. A word that helps us understand just what Jesus was telling his listeners a word that helps us understand the truth. That's why it matters so much that they and us understand Gods words to us. A metaphor is a figure of speech that helps explain an idea, or make a comparison and that is exactly what Jesus was doing on the hill top. 3 very short sentences but all with so much to say to us
- Keep salty with Christ words so that others will want to read and benefit from its teaching
- Keep shining bright as we should in the power of Gods HS
- Remember the laws if Moses the 10 commandments EXODUS 20 same to day as the day Moses brought them down from Mt Sinai. Nothing given by God has changed his son came to enhance the law to offer himself as a sacrifice for all sins
So this morning each and every one of us I pray goes away from this service remembering and displaying through our Christian faith and beliefs the message of those 3 paragraphs if we do that then we will reap Gods rewards. Amen
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Note: This is Bill's last sermon. He is stepping down from Lay Reader after 43 years of preaching in St Augustine's Church.
Reading for Sunday 29th January 2023
Luke 2: 22 – 40 - Jesus is Presented in the Temple
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”, and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Reflections on Luke 2: 22 – 40
With all the news at the moment being so dark and gloomy the BBC seem to be trying hard to finish the news with a good news story. The one that really touched me a couple of weeks ago was of this elderly gentleman called Peter Davies. He had lost his wife 7 years ago and was now going into school as a reading volunteer. And he is wait for it - 100 years old.
There is something truly wonderful when older people and young children come together. I think of the special relationship that my children had with their grandparents. It’s unique and to be treasured. In this reading we have all ages coming together. We have Simeon and Anna – 2 older people – Simeon must have been old as it says that he feels ready to die. Anna we are told is at least 84 – it says she is very old. Then we have Mary and Joseph – Mary was probably still a teenager and Joseph older than her. Then we have the baby. Now the baby Jesus is 40 days old Mary and Joseph take him to the temple to be presented to God. It was the normal and expected thing to do. To bring your firstborn son to the Lord. It was accompanied with the bringing of animals to be sacrificed. So, in a sense 3 generations all together in this one special moment. A coming together of ages and strangers and the focus was Jesus. So, let’s begin by looking at Simeon and Anna. I have known several Simeon and Anna’s in my time. Age was not a hindrance to their ministry. Simeon was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We read he was righteous and devout. He took his faith seriously – he was faithful in worship; he had a relationship with God and was right with God and his neighbour. Old age had not meant he neglected his faith or devotion to God. And also, it says he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in him spoke to him. And remember this is before Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to all people. Simeon was filled with God’s spirit.
Often, we think the filling of the Spirit is just for the young – those who go to events like New Wine and is accompanied with loud modern music. It’s not for the old and the traditional and certainly not in the Church of England. Wrong! It is for the old, the young and the in – between. Without the Spirit we are not fully functioning as Christians. It says here that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, it revealed to Him he would see the Christ and He was moved by the Spirit. The Spirit spoke and directed him. Because of this he is able to make this declaration – he knows salvation has come for all people, that Jesus is the light. He blesses the young couple and brings a prophetic word to them. He is in no way redundant or on the scrap heap. Never ever think that you are on the scrapheap! Anna is a prophetess – she speaks out God’s word, she is a widow too and has been for many years. She was committed 100% to worship and to prayer. She is also a witness and gossips the good news. Anna never left the temple and worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Simeon and Anna were committed to the Lord and committed to prayer and worship. We don’t need to live in the church building like Anna did, but we are called to be committed.
I need to share with you about the situation in the Diocese that relates to us and our commitment. I’m not going to talk about money today, but the Diocese are facing huge financial difficulties because of the pandemic and how it has affected people’s commitment. Many Deaneries are having to cut paid clergy posts. Locking Deanery, which we belong to, has 15 allocated paid posts (does not include curates or chaplains) and we have 15 paid posts. We are OK at the moment – but this might not be the case in the future. If the situation continues then more paid posts will be cut. Our Deanery is putting together a plan to justify why we need 15 posts and each parish is giving figures of regular worshippers, number of schools, population, new housing and also saying how they intend to grow. The important figure is the one for regular worshippers. That is those who worship once a month or more. For Hutton this is 54 and for Locking this is 45 and 8 children – making 99 for the Benefice. Numbers pre- covid were 55 for Hutton and for Locking 58 and 15 children. For Locking a big drop. What also matters is the number of people worshipping on a Sunday – both churches do not reach 54 and 45. These figures will be looked at. Our commitment (or lack of) may determine the future of our churches.
In Hebrews 10: 24, 25 we read ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ Worshipping regularly is not just about keeping the churches open and keeping the post of Rector – it’s about our Christian discipleship, that we worship together as Christ’s body, that we pray together and for each other, that we are fed by God’s Word, that we encourage each other. When you are not there then the body is incomplete. You are also missing out. We need to act now about this and I want to challenge you to become more committed to prayer and worship like Simeon and Anna. I am setting a goal of 40 worshippers each week. We will put the numbers in Stay Connected to see how it’s going. And let’s aim to raise the number of regular worshippers – I’ve been thinking of the 99 and the parable of the lost sheep. So, thinking of Simeon and Anna is the call to commitment.
Secondly God’s kingdom is for all ages. Simeon and Anna were kingdom people – they had been watching and waiting for the coming of God’s kingdom through the Messiah. Now as the baby is held in Simeon’s arms, he isn’t just holding a baby – but the promise of God’s kingdom that was coming. Simeon and Anna probably would not live to see Jesus grow up and to die and to witness the resurrection. Though here they are part of the kingdom coming. God’s kingdom has also come to Mary and Joseph too – they have witnessed amazing things – seen angels, had dreams, given birth to God’s Son. God was bringing His kingdom to them and also through them. God’s kingdom is for all ages and for all people – not just the old. In Acts 2 when Peter speaks to the crowd, he quotes 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.’ If the church is the instrument by which God brings in God’s kingdom, then we need to be bringing that kingdom to all ages.
Since the pandemic the number of children attending church in England has gone from 95,000 to 55,000. It has been proven that churches who don’t have families will never grow. In the Church of England an initiative called Growing Faith is encouraging churches to put children and young people at the heart of everything we do. That’s not to ignore other ages – but it is vital we focus on families and children. It’s not them and us but all ages together. May we embrace young families and children as Simeon embraced this young family. We have so much potential and opportunity – our schools, Messy Church, the toddler group, Celebration Sunday, Church in the Village Hall. And we are aiming to make Sundays all – age too (Locking Family Service and church in VH.) Finally Simeon declares that He has seen salvation – in fact he has held the Saviour in his arms. And that Jesus came as a light to all peoples – Jew and Gentile alike. I don’t know what light means to you – it gives life, it chases away the darkness, it brings revelation, it guides us, it shows up the dirt. Jesus said of Himself ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ As we face so much uncertainty and darkness in the world, in the nation and even in the church – may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the one Simeon was longing and waiting for. He is the one who Anna gave thanks for and told others about. We MUST remember that what we are about is Jesus and the good news of the new life he offers. In a film we saw last week there was the quote ‘Nothing happens without light’ and so we can say ‘Nothing happens without Jesus.’ So let’s be truly committed to Him and His church, pray for, welcome and invite families and seek Jesus for all that we need. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 15th January 2023
John 1: 29-42 - Revealing Jesus
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Reflections on John 1: 29-42
Well, we’re continuing in the season of Epiphany, that part of the worldwide Churchs year where, according to where you live, you celebrate either the visit of the Wise Men/Kings/Magi, or the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by his relative, John the Baptist. As we’ve already discussed, the Jewish people had been waiting for a Saviour to come for centuries, but at the start of his ministry only a very few individuals had been made aware of Jesus full identity. The Christmas shepherds, as far as we know, had gone back to watching their flocks by night, the Wise Men had gone back whence they came – to the East – and Jesus had grown up among the ordinary folk in Nazareth, working for Joseph and Sons, Carpenters. If you like, he was hidden in plain sight, just like the words in a Word Search.
Then, the latest in a line of Messianic groups appeared, led by John, a seemingly eccentric recluse living out in the desert and telling people to get their lives in order, as the Messiah was coming. Many folks, longing for him to be right, came out from their towns so that he could baptise them in the River Jordan, as a sign they were ready for their Saviour. And one day, there in the crowd, was Jesus. But, as we know from our reading, when JESUS came to be baptised, something different happened. John had a vision of a dove (a mark of the Holy Spirit) coming down and resting on Jesus and, as we know from the other Gospels, John also heard a voice from Heaven announcing that Jesus was Gods true Son. But even then, the voice was only heard by John and Jesus; as for the rest of the crowd gathered round, all they heard was a loud noise….
So we arrive at a tilting point in human history. Jesus was anointed for his lifes mission, but only a very privileged few knew …. and that by a direct revelation from God. How then to reveal Jesus to the crowd? To ordinary folk like you and me? Well, 3 principles emerge in our passage, and the principles haven’t changed between 2000 years ago in Israel and the 21ST Century unbelieving United Kingdom.
Firstly, The Witness. The person who knew Jesus full identity was John the Baptiser. So what does he do? He tells people what he knows to be true. And who does he tell first of all? Those who are closest to him. Vses 35/36. A few minutes ago we were discussing the impact OUR friends and family network have to influence – and hopefully enrich – our lives. We talk about things with them and listen to them; we share important stories and information……naturally. Did you know that Scripture Union assesses that, currently, approx. 95% of children and young people in this country have NO meaningful connection with a Christian community. And SU continually review and adjust their projects, after school and holiday clubs accordingly. But who DO children and young people have natural and consistent contact with? Who do their parents have similar contact with? You and me. And we can tell them naturally our Jesus story.
Secondly, The Gathering. What happens after John testifies to his own close followers about Jesus? 2 of them go to find Jesus. One of the things I love about John the Baptist is that he knew his role – it was to point the way to Jesus. He never tried to form his own denomination or cult as an alternative to Jesus. To the best of our knowledge Jesus had never met either of these disciples before, but He saw their intent – they were physically following Him. And so he asks them “What do you want?” Notice their reply…they don’t say “Hi Jesus, what are you up to?” Its much more respectful – they call Him Rabbi (ie Teacher) and ask him where he is based. And see Jesus response. It wasn’t “I’m at 13 High Street, drop in if you’re passing”. It was V36 Come and See……and they spent the day with Him. Friends, this is ALWAYS Jesus response to you and me, and to all those who are looking for purpose, who are looking for lifes meaning, who are simply … curious. Come and see, come and stay. Its why courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored are so useful in a world where whole generations in this country know woefully little about Jesus and the life and purpose he offers. The national media, who are arguably more ignorant about Jesus than the man in the street, recently got very excited about the latest census results showing “only” 46% of respondents identifying as Christians, with 37% ticking the box “No religion”. But of course they missed the point entirely. In the additional questions for the non-religious, both in the census and other recent surveys, it transpires that many of these believe in SOME form of the supernatural or higher power - and the power of prayer - as well as more New Age things such as reincarnation, the healing power of crystals etc. As G K Chesterton, the author of the Father Brown stories, once remarked, “When people stop believing in God, its not that they believe in nothing, its that they believe in anything.” And if 46% describe themselves as Christians, it potentially means that we could have upwards of 1000 people through St A’s doors over the course of, say, a month. That would give us a whole new set of issues to address!
Come and see, come and stay. We were never designed to be solitary islands, we were designed to be in relationship – with each other and our Heavenly Father. Its how our lives are enriched….and He calls us to stay close to him in 2023.
A thought which leads to my final point, The Changing. When Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus, look at the words of v42. Jesus didn’t need to talk to the fisherman to get to know him, he simply looked at him and saw everything about him. Simon would have identified himself as the son of John – in other words by his natural family line. Jesus acknowledged this in his words, but went much further in saying you will be called Cephas, a rock. Was He having a play on words with Peter? Partly, as Peter and Cephas both translate as rock in their respective languages. But Jesus saw long term what Peter would become. By the end of the Gospel accounts, which expose all Peters flaws, you would think Jesus got it wrong big time. Once you’ve read the Book of Acts, and Peters letters, you see Jesus was right all along. He sees us as we are, and he sees what we will be, whether we’re 8 or 80.
If you and I want to make New Year Resolutions, you cant get much better than this passage for suggestions. Firstly, resolve to SAY what our faith in Jesus means to us. Secondly, resolve to STAY close to Him this year, not ebb and flow in our contact with Him. Thirdly, resolve to LIVE A NEW WAY, to let him shape further the way we live our lives among our own network and community. I’m up for that – are you? Are we as a church family? I think we are !
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 8th January 2023
Matthew 2: 1-12, - The Magi Visit the Messiah
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’[”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Reflections on Matthew 2: V 1-12
What quickens your pulse ? What gets you really excited ? As we look at society as a whole it seems quite clear that we live in an age of the celebrity cult. I can easily feel a bit negative about that but at the same time have to admit that actually meeting a celebrity is something that can excite us. I can confess that I have a very nice picture of me standing close to Jill Dando. She was a fantastic patron of Weston Hospicecare and visited frequently. I guess that most of us might have some story of a brush with a celebrity. Our story this morning is about some celebrities, be they Magi, or Wise men or even Kings who would take some stories back to their homeland.
On a Bakers coach journey into London quite a few years ago now, as Hazel and I entered the city we became aware of a buzz of excitement and above that buzz rose the phrase “It’s the Queen”.Sure enough as we looked out there was the instantly recognisable car with crest and pennant with the Queen in the back. The atmosphere in the coach was electric which was an understandable response. There is a story I must tell you of a lady in the States, on a hot day fancying a Hagen Daz icecream cone. As she turns from the counter with the cone, she came face to face with (pause)Paul Newman. He said Hello and her knees turned to jelly. Outside the shop and regaining her composure she realised that she didn’t have her icecream cone. Heading back to the door she again met Paul Newman coming out and he asked if she was looking for her icecream cone. She nodded, unable to speak. He said “You put it in your handbag with your change!” An example of someone finding themselves in the presence of acting royalty. God doesn’t want us to feel like that with him, but nevertheless
I wonder when was the last time that being in God’s presence quickened your pulse ? When did you last feel emotional when singing some of the words in our wonderful hymns and worship songs, or sharing Communion with the fantastic underlying truth of forgiveness and eternity.
Matthew reminds us that the Magi , when they arrived in Jerusalem as part of their search, made no secrecy that their objective was v2 to Worship Jesus. The intent is carried out in v.11.. ‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshipped him’.
For the Magi, after a long and no doubt tiring journey across country, I have no problem in anticipating that their pulses were quickened .From whatever old manuscripts they had read and from a long journey planned, they followed the star and found God’s promised Messiah. A physical bowing down simply paid tribute to who they believed Jesus to be. There was no set form of worship for them to use, it was an act of the heart which included some thoughtful gifts.
I have a few brief observations to add which I hope might be helpful. Firstly, who were these Magi ? What we glean from other parts of the Bible is that they were set apart as wise men who were religious and also astronomers. However the most important information is that they weren’t Jews, they were Gentiles from the east. Their pilgrimage to worship the new King is quite simply a confirmation of the O.T. prophecy that the Messiah was for ALL people, Jew and Gentile alike, and that the nations of the world will come to His light. Read Isaiah 11…Jeremiah 16…Malachi 1…. And later, the song of Simeon proclaims Jesus as the light for revelation to the Gentiles. So Jesus was visited, firstly by lowly Jewish shepherds and later on by these highly respected Gentiles.
We might ask, where were the Pharisees and Saducees, the teachers and experts in the law who knew their Scriptures ? When asked by Herod where the Messiah was to be born, they were very clear. They knew! They directed the Magi to Bethlehem. That’s where it will happen. So it begs the questions, where are they? What are they thinking? Why are they waiting ? We are aware of how the story unfolds and that for the leaders both fear and jealousy take over, guaranteeing their opposition to Jesus. These learned Jews were so familiar with the prophecies and yet strangely, when the Messiah arrives they both failed and refused to accept it. Their familiarity with the story did nothing to aid their enjoyment of the event. Is it possible do you think that we too might just be a little subject to that danger of familiarity? Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Harvest are all so familiar and for myself having prepared services around those themes for over 30 years now I recognise that it’s easy for that familiarity to dull our senses of the magnitude of the truths we are celebrating. The Magi were undoubtedly putting the Jewish leaders to shame and their negative reaction creates a shadow over the ministry of Jesus which leads to the crucifixion.
Our familiarity with the story must not blind us from a heart response every time we come to worship. Whilst 2000 years of worship is a cause for celebration, it must not weaken our grateful appreciation of God’s love and promises. When the Magi reached Jerusalem they asked questions and had also been following the star which marks them out as being both observant and determined. With careful observation they had concluded that this star was indeed unusual and worth studying. Despite the challenges, the inevitable expense and danger they embarked on a journey into the unknown because the prize was life changing. So it is for us. As Christians we need to be observant about the world around us, aware of the pressures and tensions, aware too of the shifts in standards and behaviour but at the same time ready also to be the voice of God in our daily lives and words. As God guided the Magi to the baby Jesus so he guides us to be his disciples each and every day.
Drawing things to a close let’s take a re- run of v11 . ‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh’
What this verse tells us is that the Magi had found what they were looking for. Just imagine for a moment their meeting with Mary and Joseph. It would undoubtedly have included conversations between them and a sharing of their stories . The result was that they were convinced as to the truth of the birth of the Messiah. The story points us to a great God who can do things his way, perhaps when we least expect it. As the Magi were convinced and returned home with a story to tell , so we too can be convinced about the continued relevance of God’s message of love, forgiveness and eternity through the life and death of this baby who grew up. The story both for the Magi and the story for us is so tremendous, that for them and us the response can be none other than to worship our God . They brought gifts of value and symbolism. For us, the Christmas carol askes ‘what can I give him poor as I am’ and gives the answer ‘Give my heart’. We can do that again today.
The Magi had 4 characteristics. We have already seen 3, that of observation, determination and conviction, but finally they were also obedient when a dream warned them about avoiding Herod on the way home. We need those all those characteristics as well and more so in the current and deteriorating climate of the world in which we live. God will help us, and as we worship, may our pulses quicken with the same determination and conviction to serve Him every day.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 4th December 2022 - 2nd Sunday in Advent
Romans 15: V4-13, - The God of Hope
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[a] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”
And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Reflections on Romans 15: V4-13
I was speaking this same Sunday last year, and spoke on the Gospel reading – John the Baptiser. But this year I want to share some thoughts from our other passage, Pauls letter to the Christians at Rome.
Its believed Paul wrote Romans about 57AD, while he was living in Corinth, as a way of introducing himself to the Christian church in Rome, who he was eagerly wanting to visit. They weren’t exactly having an easy time, this being the start of the rule of Emperor Nero – and it was soon to get a lot worse. A pretty good time then for Paul to write about Christian belief and, at the end, including Chapter 15, about Christian behaviour, particularly in a time of stress. As I read the passage a single word leapt out at me - hope. It is mentioned 4 times, and in v13 it forms part of a phrase “God of hope”.
Now hope is a word we use a lot in everyday language – but not necessarily in the way Paul was using it. I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and, sure enough, it can mean a range of things…..from “a thing, situation or event that is desired” like I hope that England win the World Cup, to a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment....
Anyone here who writes a Christmas newsletter to send to friends? Well, we do and I was writing ours while we were away. And I closed with this……..I dare you to say that, as you celebrated New Years Eve 12 months ago, you foresaw 2022 bringing……. War in Europe, the death of the Queen, Flood devastation in Pakistan and Nigeria, Fixed deal mortgage interest rates at 6%, Inflation at 10.1% by September, 3 Prime Ministers, 4 Chancellors, people preparing to choose between feeding their families and heating their houses, Public Living Rooms and Parish Pantries opening in Locking etc etc. And Covid is still with us. What the UK needs, what ordinary families need, what you and I need, is…hope.
But what hope is there around? Is it of the I hope England wins the World Cup type, founded on very little realism, or is it of the Cconfidence in the possibility of its fulfilment type of hope? In other words, is it Slender hope, or is it sure and certain hope?
St Paul in Romans was clear; the hope that we all, and the UK as a whole, need is of the sure and certain kind, founded on the nature, promises and the track record of God in his dealings with mankind. And hope fulfilled is what Advent, and Christmas, is all about.
Uniquely of the World Religions, Christianity offers three Hopes – Firstly, the Hope of the coming in human form of a Saviour who would take away the sins of the world. A hope that we here in the UK celebrate each December as having been fulfilled 2000yrs ago. Secondly, the hope that this same Jesus, whose birth as a baby we celebrate this month, will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to draw a line under mankinds determination to destroy each other and this planet, and bring, in its fullness, Gods kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thirdly, in between Jesus first and second coming, the hope that Gods presence by his Holy Spirit is available to all who believe and trust in Jesus, every day of our lives, in every situation. A hope, first fulfilled at Pentecost, that every Christian and congregation celebrates as we see prayers answered, lives changed and situations transformed – sometimes miraculously, sometimes by the hands of ordinary human beings such as Christians Against Poverty.
But how do we focus on such Hopes when things are tough? And how do we share it with our sceptical and unbelieving friends and neighbours? Well v4 of Ch15 of Romans says this….”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope”… And Paul was talking about the Old Testament scriptures – which he then quotes in verses 9-12. The Christians in Pauls time had only the Old Testament – we have both the Old Testament and the New Testament! But we need to know our scriptures, and there’s no easy way round, other than for us to read them. If we then look to v8, it talks about the promises to the patriarchs (primarily Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) being fulfilled. Starting with Abraham, God made a series of promises, mostly to start with being about a Promised Land for a people who would be special to God. It gave them hope to keep going through some very trying times, but it happened. And as time passed, Gods spoken word – mainly through the prophets – spoke about the Israelites exile in Babylon not being forever, but more importantly that a person would come, born of King Davids line, who would be a Saviour, who would be born in Bethlehem. The return from exile in Babylon happened;hope once more became reality. And then John the Baptiser arrived, as predicted by the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the soon appearance of the hoped-for Messiah. A hope that was clearly based not on fantasy, but instead based on a history of fulfilled promises. A God who could be trusted. As the Carol of that 1st Christmas says “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” And then in v13 of our reading Paul talks about trusting in God “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. When Jesus came, he made many promises about living so that when he physically left the earth, believers hope levels would not be diminished – that he was preparing a place in heaven for them, that they need not worry as God would provide them all they needed…..and that He would be with them always when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers at the first Pentecost. And why could they, and we, hope for these things? Because God had a track record, over many centuries, of making good his promises. As my dictionary says, we can have a hope based on confidence in the possibility of the fulfillment of what we hope for. Sure and Certain. And Jesus gave the ultimate promise – not that we would have an easy life (his own life showed that wasn’t going to be the pattern) but that he would return and make all things new, sweeping away all the evil in the present world and the bodged attempts at remedies by man working in his own strength. Why should we trust that our hope in these things is solid? Because God has a track record of delivering.
So, if that is what we can believe, how do we live it out? Particularly in times when the TV and the papers shout constantly that everything is a chaotic mess, and no-one has any answers. Chapter 15 gives some very practical pointers. Verse 1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak. Not that there are 1st and 2nd class Christians – simply that there will always be Christians at different stages in their faith journey, and at any one time some people will be close to God and some struggling. Bear with one another – next week it may be that other people have to bear with you! V2 Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. It’s the next step. First we bear with one another, then we support those who are struggling, to help them through and forward. V7 Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you. Not just bear with each other, not just try to build each other up, but accept each other whatever our state. Why? Because Jesus accepted each one of us, warts and all. V5. May the God who gives you endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, be in unity. We’re all different, we’ve all rough edges, but there is nothing like Unity to make you have hope that, however dark the tunnel, there is light at the end of it. The world looks for and expects disunity in the church; when it sees Unity it takes notice. A small example in Weston is the work of Street Pastors.
As v13 says, we have a God of Hope. He wants us, as his children, to imitate him. He’s put it in our DNA. Let me finish by referring to the most well-known verse from Pauls writings to the Corinthians. Three things remain…..faith, hope, and love. The greatest is love, but in there, in the middle of the sandwich, is hope. And the promise is that, just like Faith and Love, Hope is here to stay. Isn’t that something worth reminding ourselves and sharing with our friends and neighbours?
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Readings for Sunday 27th November 2022 1st Sunday in Advent
Matthew 24: 36-44, - The Day and Hour Unknown
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Romans 13: 11 – 14, - The Day Is Near
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Reflections on Matthew 24: 36-44, Romans 13: 11 – 14
Last Sunday Anne and I went to see Cloudbusting, a Kate Bush tribute band, at the Macmillan Theatre in Bridgwater. It’s the fourth time we have seen them and we both thought that it was their best performance yet. It was a new song list – some we didn’t know – and also included some iconic music: running up that hill, man with the child in his eyes, wuthering heights, babooshka. Mandy Watson, the lead singer was brilliant; the four musicians were fab as well. It was a really enjoyable evening, playing to a packed house. We booked the tickets back in July. We had to wait over 4 months for the show. Quite a lot of the time we didn’t remind each other that November 20th was getting closer. But just occasionally we’d say something like ‘Do you know what?’, ‘No. What?’ ‘November 20th is getting closer’. It was a wait, but the wait was worth it. Oh yes, definitely worth it!
What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for? Christmas, birthday, operation, holiday, birth?....
As Christans, we are all waiting for something, someone and it’s going to happen sometime.
As Christians, the something that we are waiting for is the second coming, the someone is Jesus and it will happen at sometime in the future. But, well, who knows when the time will be?
This is what Advent is all about. It’s a time of waiting and preparation. Not for Christmas, although it was only up until a couple of years ago that Anne put me straight on this. I always thought Advent was a time of preparation for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. No, the season of Advent is a time of preparation and waiting for Jesus’ second coming. It is a penitential season, like Lent, which is why the altar frontal (in Hutton) is changed to purple. It is a time for self reflection, maybe changing one’s actions and lifestyle, maybe taking up something new or developing an old pattern of life that has been forgotten, which can bring you closer to Jesus and Jesus closer to you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you into how she (the Holy Spirit has a feminine pronoun, so ladies, part of God is feminine) would like you to grow and develop in this Advent season.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, starts the paragraph by saying ‘And do this’. So there is an action to do something. To find out what this something is, we need to go back a few verses. Paul reminds us that we are to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ He says ‘love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.’ This is the law of grace, ‘we love, because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). We show God’s love to others as a reflection of the love that God has shown firstly to us. We don’t do it because we think we ought to do it, as if we are someone under compulsion, but we show God’s love to others as a natural response to God’s love for us. This is a wakeup call. It is a wakeup call to stop dozing and being oblivious to God and what he’s doing and going to do. Maybe we’ve lost our focus on God; maybe we’ve become lukewarm and forgotten out first love for God. Paul says wake up! Wake up! Does what we do and our lifestyle glorify God, do our actions show his love for us and our love for him? Or do we live one life in church and a different life at home? Paul writes that ‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.’ What does he mean by ‘The night?’ The night is the time before Jesus’ return when there is still evil and darkness about. One only has to view the news to know that there is evil about. Yes, we live in dark times, but don’t let that be an excuse to add to the darkness by our behaviour. Jesus is coming back, don’t know when, but it will happen. Paul thought that it was going to happen in his lifetime, which is why he writes that ‘our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.’ Yes, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. That’s true. So let’s throw off anything which is of the darkness in us, and put on the light of Christ, the armour of light. So what are the things which we should throw off? Well, anything which causes us to not ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Here I would ask that the Holy Spirit would show us anything that we need to confess to God, who forgives because he loves us and wants us to be whole and know life in all its fullness. Is there anything which is done in secret which is of darkness? Paul lists: carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension or jealousy. I did have to look up carousing and debauchery, and the definitions are ‘the activity of drinking alcohol and enjoying oneself with others in a noisy, lively way’ and ‘excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs.’
I’ll pause here, to give space for God by the power of the Holy Spirit to move and work. So we pray Lord, is there anything you would want us to confess and lay at the foot of the cross for which we need to ask forgiveness? Because as John writes in his letter (1 John 1:9) 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.'
That’s a bad list which Paul wrote, a dark list, a list which causes pain and suffering, to oneself and also to others. It’s not of the light, but of the darkness. So let’s throw it off. Throwing it off is one thing. This leaves a gap, a hole where the bad things were, now that these things have been discarded. Paul tells us to put on Christ. Put on Christ’s ways, his way of thinking, his way of working, so that you clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
To clothe oneself with Jesus takes time and effort. The best way to start is to do something that is specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time bound. For those of you who have been in management, you will possibly recognise these words as having the acronym SMART. You need to find something which works for you. Maybe its Bible reading notes and read them before you get up in the morning. Maybe it’s saying a morning office. I use the Northumbria Community form of Morning Prayer. Maybe its lectio divina, where a short Bible passage is read through slowly three times, seeing what words or phrases God wants you to hold onto during the day. Maybe it’s spend time in prayer. Maybe it’s reading a psalm a day, or read through the New Testament a chapter a day. Maybe set an alarm on your watch or phone, to go off at the same time each day, to remind you to stop and say the Lord’s Prayer to yourself. Maybe also when you go to bed at night practice the discipline of examine, where one thinks back over the day and reflects how God has worked in it and give thanks. It doesn’t matter what it is, but please do something and keep it up. This way you will slowly become more like Jesus, as you spend time with him regularly each day. As Paul writes in Romans 12:2 ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’
So I echo what Paul says ‘Wake Up!’ Put off the deeds of darkness, put on the armour of light and clothe yourselves with Jesus.
My final point is this; only Father God knows when his son Jesus is going to return. Life will be going on as normal, but suddenly and unexpectedly Jesus will return. Keep watch, be ready, keep short accounts with people and with God. Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today. Don’t delay in getting right with God. Be ready. The dawn of Jesus’ second coming will come.
So wake up, put off the deeds of darkness, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and keep watch. Use this Advent wisely and as people of the light may God bless you and those with whom you come into contact in this often dark world.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 30th October 2022
Luke 19: 1-10 - Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Reflections on Luke 19: 1 – 10
Sometimes I call on people unannounced. When I do I always ask if it is convenient to call. Often they say yes but please excuse the mess (especially if they have children) or they say – please ignore the washing up to be done or the pile of ironing. I then always say – I haven’t come to see your house, I’ve come to see you. When people do know that I am coming I suspect that they have a tidy up. When people come to stay we always have a big clean and tidy. If someone really important was coming you would want it immaculate. I wonder who the most important person is who has visited your house. Today’s reading from Luke is about someone visiting a home unexpectedly. It’s the story of Zacchaeus which we know so well and sing songs about as children. But let’s go beyond the familiar and see what’s really happening and what it says to us.
So we have this man called Zacchaeus. We know quite a bit about him – he is the chief tax collector – the head of the local tax department. Taxes were as controversial now as they are today. You keep it quiet if you work for HMRC. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have collected taxes for himself but would have employed others to do it. He had a very important role. He was also stinking rich because of it. BUT because of that he was very unpopular, hated and despised even and wouldn’t have had much of a social life or friends. He was rich in wealth but poor in love and friendship. He couldn’t have been very happy at all. A bit further back in Luke 18: 18 we have another account about a rich man - the rich young ruler coming to Jesus to ask about how he could inherit eternal life. He tells Jesus that he keeps all the laws but then Jesus says to him ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’ But the man becomes sad because he can’t do this. Then Jesus warns about it being hard for the rich to enter into God’s kingdom. It’s also interesting to note that at the end of chapter 18 we have the account of Jesus healing the blind poor man who said Lord I want to see and Jesus heals him. So here now with Zacchaeus we have a bit of a repeat. We have a rich man and we have a man who wants to see Jesus. Jesus is passing through Jericho not intending to stop. Word must have got out about this and like when royalty are due to go somewhere the crowds gather in the hope of getting a glimpse of Prince William or even the king. And I can relate to this being short – Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. I usually use my elbows to get to the front or just push but being who Zacchaeus was and not being liked, nobody would have given way. Zacchaeus didn’t just want to see Jesus, it says he wanted to see who he was. He’d heard about him and was curious and wants to see for himself. He wants to see physically and I also believe he wants to see spiritually. Maybe deep down he was very unhappy and he wanted his life to change. So not being able to see he runs on ahead and climbs a tree that was near the road – 10/10 for being resourceful.
So my first point is – we need to see Jesus. We need to know him, not just know about him. We shouldn’t rely on the faith of others but should seek to know Him for ourselves. Zacchaeus did all he could to get a glimpse – a grown man climbing a tree was undignified but he was intent on seeing him. I’m just finishing another Alpha group and it is always wonderful to watch people seeing Jesus – seeing him for the first time, seeing him in a new way, starting to see him again. We can’t climb trees but we can see who Jesus is through His word, through prayer and through other Christians. If you or those you know are wanting to see Jesus then come along to Alpha – in fact everyone should do it. No exceptions. So often people have a distorted view of Jesus – they are blind as it were. I remember vividly having glasses for the first time and the optician taking me to the door and putting on the glasses. I was shocked at the colours and the detail and also sad that I had thought my blurred world was normal. I often wondered why people thought I ignored them in the street and I was amazed I managed to get the right bus. Have you seen Jesus for who He really is? So Zacchaeus was expecting a glimpse but instead he got an encounter, a meeting. A bit like the King coming to speak to you and then saying I’m coming for tea! He must have been amazed and overjoyed. Then Jesus speaks to him – Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. Can you feel the urgency and the command? Not – can I come to your house please – but I must stay at your house. Come down immediately.
So my second point is – Jesus’ call is urgent. Jesus was only passing through but he saw the need and the opportunity and knew this man’s heart and he stopped and he called him. If we sense Jesus calling us, do we respond – because when Jesus speaks and calls it’s for now – not tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3: 15. And in 2 Corinthians 6: 2 Paul writes For God says, "In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.’ God’s time is now. It’s now for us and also we need to have an urgency in reaching out to others and being willing to seize the opportunity as we are passing through our day. So Jesus goes to Zacchaeus house – I wonder if he’d done the dishes! The people are cross because they believe that he is a sinner – and he is – and so are they. Jesus had met with Zacchaeus and he came into his house and then immediately Zacchaeus knows what he must do – sort his life out. He is a changed man. We are not saved through good works but when Jesus comes into our lives then things should not stay the same.
We become a new creation – my 3rd point – a new man or woman. Paul says ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Corinthians 5: 17 Zac knew what he had to put right – he had taken people’s money and cheated on them and would pay back more than the law said. He was putting right the sins of his past. Can you see the change in your life? Have you changed your old habits, have you asked forgiveness of people you have hurt, have you paid back anything you owe, have you got rid of all bitterness and malice and gossip, have you broken off your relationship with your addictions – money, drink, food, your phone, possessions, power – whatever it is that binds you? Are there things in your life that you keep putting off changing – because the time is now. If Jesus came to your home today you would clean and tidy – yet if Jesus has come into your life the result should be a clean- up and a throw out. Let’s ask ourselves what still needs sorting. Jesus brought salvation to Zacchaeus – he brought new life, new hope, friends probably, forgiveness and acceptance. Jesus says ‘Today salvation has come to this house. Because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.’ Jesus would soon go to the cross to bring that salvation and to deal with all our wrong and rubbish. Zacchaeus was rescued by Jesus and he became a son of Abraham – not in that he was a Jew but that he followed in the faith of Abraham. Jesus had brought fresh air to the house, and maybe to the whole family.
4. How has salvation come to your house – what difference does Jesus make to your family life, your single life, your married life and your relationship with your children. This is such a good news story – the whole community would have seen the change and have been affected. Jesus sought out Zac, he called him, he changed him and he brought him salvation. Do we know that for ourselves and do we feel the urgency to share this with others. My Tom loves a band called Foals – he has all their records, been to their concerts and met them. One of their albums is called ‘Everything not saved will be lost.’ They are not Christians but it speaks to me of the urgency to bring salvation to people. So have we seen Jesus, do we know that now is the time, have we allowed Him to change us and have we allowed him into our lives and our homes.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 23rd Oct 2022
Luke 18: 9-14 - The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Reflections on Luke 18: 9-14
A topical question: which people have you made judgements about in the last week or two? An intriguing question: what judgements have people made about you? A personal question: what judgements have you made about yourself? As Christians what have we learnt about judgement? Do we remember Jesus’ words in Luke 7:
"Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.’
Luke’s parable today continues the questions about judgment and justice raised by the persistent widow last week. We know that in our legal system there are trials by jury, but most civil cases are heard by a judge, who weighs up the cases presented and makes a judgement. In ancient Jewish law courts, all cases were like that. You had to bring a charge against the person who had wronged you and that person had to argue against your case and the judge decided, vindicating one party or another, deciding in their in favour. And so those listening to this parable of Jesus wouldn’t have been surprised at the Pharisee’s approach to his praying. He is listing the things he didn’t do things that others did: robbery; evil; adultery, and the things that he did as he should: fasting (actually doing it more often than he needed) and tithing. He is bringing to God’s attention the things that he felt he had got right and compares himself to those he felt were doing things wrong, exalting himself. ‘ God I thank you that I am not like other men… even this tax collector’.
Some of those listening to Jesus may well have thought that the Pharisee was justified in saying what he did. Didn’t Pharisees live exemplary, religious lives, trying to keep the law as perfectly as possible so as to the usher in the golden age when the Messiah would come to rule the world? We are so used to thinking the Pharisees were awful that we can miss the point that they were seen as pillars of their religious communities. But their approach could become an end rather than a means, a way of doing things rather than being. Listen again to the Pharisees words: he is talking to himself, rather than praying to God, justifying himself rather than asking for God’s justification, God’s forgiveness of his sins that he doesn’t even mention.
The other man however needs few words. His whole demeanour is one of humility, even shame. He has faced the truth about himself. He won’t look up to heaven, he beats his breast. All he says is ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ There is no list, there are no comparisons. There is the knowledge that God knows all of his life. The tax collectors of Jesus’ time were part of a group who squeezed as much as possible out of people so that they could pay the Romans and still have a profit left over, for they were not paid for their work. They were hated, ostracised. But they had a part to play in society. Earlier in Luke’s gospel some tax collectors had gone to John the Baptist asking to be baptised and they asked him, 'Teacher, what are we to do?' Don't collect more than is legal, he told them." And Jesus saw more than the tax collector role. In Luke 5 Jesus sees a tax collector sitting in his booth and calls to him: ‘Follow me’. Levi does and then throws a great banquet for Jesus. The Pharisees then challenge the decision. Jesus’ answer is “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And Levi became known as Matthew, one of the twelve disciples and the writer of the gospel. Jesus had seen what was really in Matthew.
The words of Jesus in today’s parable must have caused real offence to the respectable, pious people who heard him caricature the presumption of the Pharisee in the parable. Luke begins: ‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.’ In this little parable Jesus is once again challenging people’s perceptions and conceptions. The Pharisee’s ‘prayer’ shows his judgement of others and his spiritual pride; the tax collector’s prayer shows that he knows God knows everything about him, that he repents and that he seeks God’s mercy. There is no judgement of others in his mind. The outcome of the prayers of the two men was that the Pharisee, the icon of spirituality, left the same way that he came in, whilst the tax collector, the symbol of sin, left justified before God. In his mercy, God reckoned him to be righteous, forgiven. Jesus said: ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted’.
Jesus, the Son of God, who was judged by men, falsely convicted and died for us, who rose again to show his victory over sin, was and is exalted and is our example and our guide.
So how do we judge ourselves? Well I would suggest we have to face the truth of ourselves. In our prayers we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of the God in whom we trust. And sometimes, or often, the words ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’ are a good start! We approach God as forgiven sinners with the certain knowledge that we are loved and accepted by God’s grace alone. We have no claim on God’s mercy except for our need and our openness to receive it. And having received, we then to listen to what God wants us to do or to be in our lives. That is the truth of our faith, which Jesus showed us in his teachings, in his example, in his understanding of people and through his words in John’s gospel: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
And that love and mercy is to be celebrated and to be shared. No matter what life brings for each one of us, God will always be with us. The end of Paul’s letter to Timothy, where Paul views his approaching death as the pouring out of his life as an offering to Jesus Christ, shows us a person reflecting on his faith journey. Paul again uses the metaphors of a race, of a fight for his life as apostle. Paul has done his best for his faith, keeping his faith and guarding the faith too so it might continue to be spread. He looks forward to the ‘crown of righteousness’, the fulfilment of God’s promise to us all, because God is ‘the righteous judge.’ Paul further writes that he was judged unfairly in Acts 28 when he was first imprisoned but was strengthened and saved by God so that he, Paul, could continue his mission to bring the word to others. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” We may not face the same dangers and challenges that Paul encountered but we have the same God, who knows us and will be with if we open ourselves to Him, and to ourselves, and ask for his mercy, strength, guidance and love.
So do we leave church each time we come knowing that we have been truthful to ourselves and about ourselves as we have come before God, our righteous judge, in penitence and faith? In our prayers do we pray for his mercy because we know how much we need it? And then, having been forgiven, do we live to God’s praise and glory, with a deep awareness of his presence and his love for us and for all of his creation? Do we look for the good in others, for the needs of others, for the ways we can serve others, rather than judging others? Are our lives rooted in our faith, in our experiences of how God meets our needs?
Let our lives be full of praise for God, our righteous judge of all, knowing that He loves us, He will not fail us and He will always be with us.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 9th Oct 2022
Luke 17:11-19 - Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Reflections on Luke 17:11-19
We changed our car back in January, and when we went to pick it up, the salesman came out to show us how everything worked. When it came to the radio he asked which channels we wanted and we said that we were usually plugged in to Classic F.M. He mentioned that he had discovered Scala Radio and how good it was. Our radio is now normally on Scala. I want to thank him for passing that on, but haven’t seen him since. I am determined however to thank him for that recommendation even if it means waiting until the next service. This is just a simple insignificant example, but saying thank you to him is important for me and will I’m sure be appreciated by him. This simple bit of advice has made a big change to our music listening experience and he didn’t have to do it. We are grateful.
On a different scale completely, our story about Jesus healing 10 men suffering from leprosy involves a marked contrast between them as regarding saying ‘thank you’ to the one who brought it about. Remember, 10 healed, one came back to say thank you. Getting around to saying thank you can be a challenge at times but our reasons for not doing it can be varied. E.G.
1.Simply not a convenient time or just too busy at the moment.
2.I’ll have more time later/tomorrow perhaps. The moment passes and you then forget OR you do eventually remember but think it’s now too late. I have a feeling that this happens quite often, and not just with relatively unimportant experiences like my own radio channel, but for experiences that have more significance. Genuine appreciation for a service or an act of kindness does not always lead to an expression of thanks. I know that I have been guilty of this but if you never have then I bow to your clear conscience.
I wonder if you would agree that saying ‘thank you’ can be very therapeutic.? It doesn’t mean that you perform the service expecting a thank you, but it can bring a smile to the face of both giver and receiver when it happens. It points to the fact that we haven’t taken something for granted.
Going back to the story, I don’t know how familiar you are with the symptoms of Leprosy? It’s a bacterial infection which attacks the nerves of bodily extremities. It is progressive without treatment and leads on to skin ulcers, muscle weakness, disfigurement and significant disability. It produces lumps on face and ears and removes eyebrows and eyelashes, also leading to blindness and hairloss. Arms, legs and feet turn very pale sometimes needing amputation. A bleak future !!
These 10 men who were approaching Jesus, were in varying stages of these physical symptoms and the result was that they were completely ostracised from their families and the whole of society, relegated to living in caves or leprosy colonies. It was a painful lifelong sentence and must have been a miserable life. Who can think that they were other than absolutely elated to be cured, to be grateful in the extreme when suddenly their future world was turned on its head. It all began with a prayer :-
“ Jesus, Master, have pity on us “. Jesus gave them a simple direction. Show yourselves to the priests. Understand that it was normal for folk to go to a priest to be declared clean after an illness, but Jesus never did anything by accident, and so they moved away. As they went they were cleansed. Just imagine that moment of recognition turning to joy. Gratitude would have been there in spades as they realised (1)what had happened and )2)what changes it would bring to their lives. Back to the family for a huge party? What about saying thank you ?
Whether they thought about it or not, it clearly wasn’t a priority and the fact that the only one who seemed keen, was a Samaritan didn’t help because of the history of the antagonism between the two nations. The result is as Jesus tells it ”Where are the other 9 ? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner ?”
As I suggested earlier, gratitude doesn’t necessarily lead to an expression of thanks. Surely we’ve all experienced that at some point when, after being able to be of help in some way to another person, that there was not a thank you after the event. You didn’t give help to get a thank you but are nevertheless surprised when it doesn’t happen. It’s even possible that you might also have forgotten to say thank you at some time ? So what is the teaching here for us ? Is it simply about saying ‘thank you’ which is a valid reminder for everyone , Christian or not? No, I think that for us as Christians there is a more fundamental issue to this story.
It concerns our relationship with our father God. We may not have experienced Leprosy, but our ongoing issue is the fact of our sinful natures. Because of the death of Jesus however, we know for sure that we are cured of our past sin. Sins dreadful consequences are removed because of God’s love and that by continuing to say sorry as we do, God goes on forgiving. So to have the threat of eternal death removed with the alternative of living in Heaven is the best news ever and no doubt we are grateful. Sharing in our Communion this morning is remembering this wonderful fact of forgiveness, just as those 9 lepers were rejoicing in their healing, but does our gratitude lead to saying ‘thank you’ as well ? The 9 failed, and in reality the challenge faces us as to how much we really praise and thank God for His love and forgiveness. So in our service this morning , are we both grateful AND thankful in our response. Grateful for our release from the stain of sin, but at the same time , also thankful to the God who gives and keeps his promise of forgiveness.
As the old song goes ‘Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage’.
So it for us, that in our relationship with God, gratitude and thankfulness are inextricably linked together. An old friend of mine, Bishop Ryle who lived in 1879, said of Christians in his day “that the widespread thanklessness of Christians is the disgrace of our day”. If that was true then, do we think that it has improved ? Can we say that we are regularly thanking and praising God for his gifts or rather are we more disposed to taking it all for granted ? This is such an easy thing to do. Paul was aware of this tendency and wrote to the Philippians about this issue. In Chap 4v6 “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition , WITH THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God “
Perhaps in all honesty, we are more ready to pray than praise? Something for us pray and to ponder on perhaps.
In the day of the 10 lepers and their healing, they uttered a cry for help to Jesus because of the terrible state that they knew they were in. It seems to me that the society in which we now live in the affluent West, has no understanding of the state of depravity and sin that enfolds our world. They are simply not likely to utter that prayer of the lepers asking for healing. There is a blindness and a deafness to the situation . They may not find our gospel message to their taste but if the church continues to compromise in it’s message they will never hear it.
Whatever you take away with you after this sermon this morning, yes, there is a general reminder about the importance of saying ‘thank you’ in a general sense, but saying and continuing to say ‘thank you’ to God is the key point to take note of. May we constantly be aware that the gift of God’s forgiveness is the only way we have an assurance of eternal peace with Him.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Readings for Sunday 2nd Oct 2022
John 17: 5-10 - 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.
2 Timothy: 1 1-14 - Appeal for Loyalty to Paul and the Gospel
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Reflections on John 17: 5-10 & 2 Timothy: 1 1-14
I guess all of us at some time in our lives have either been in hospital I mean as a patient or at the Drs surgery describing some sort of pain level problem And one of the questions were likely to have been asked was... Describe your pain level 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Well, this morning I am going to ask that same type of question but not related to physical pain but to our prayer life. What is the level of importance that we put on prayer in our lives? 1 being of very little importance just use it when nothing seems to work last resort sort of thing and at the other end of the scale 10 which donates it as the most import event in my daily life.
Our readings from John 17 and from 2 Timothy 1 are all about prayer and both readings seem to me to be very special in that the texts are very clear in what they have to say to us here this morning. These short verses as well as being very comforting, and reassuring are certainly to me a constantly reminder and I hope to you as well, of the importance of a daily prayer life. Of course, as Christians we all know and I hope believe that all scripture is the word of God and therefore by that implication is of great importance in leading and directing us in our Christian lives. I believe for us all its important to know and believe that we can’t do Gods work unless we follow the instruction book, and that of course is the bible which is for me and I hope for you, is Gods manual for the Christian life compiled over the centuries by loyal and faithful God-fearing people acting on the word of God and guided by prayer.
These verses from John 17 Verses 5-10 which were read to us just now are also known as The Priestly Prayer. I hope you like me find it extremely reassuring and calming when you know that someone is praying for you not only in your hour of need but every day of our lives. So many people just use prayer as a backup tool when all else fails and maybe even when they don’t really believe in prayer will still turn to prayer when all else fails. God wants to help and he wants us to pray. It's even more reassuring when you realise that Jesus’ also prays to his father God. Remember in the garden of Gethsemane.
For we need daily prayer by others on our behalf, Jesus’ prayers to the Father on behalf of all his children, described as our advocate which means on our behalf praying on our behalf, and we are well assured of these facts in John 17 verses 9/10. Verses 1-5, the verses just before our reading form part of this dialog from Listen to what Jesus, is saying to his disciples. He is saying to his disciples that he will soon leave them. And that they must prepare to go out on their own to continue his work of bringing others to know the Lord. After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you", what Jesus is saying is this I don’t what the glory the glory must go to you.The text says in Christ own words "Father, I have brought you glory during my time on earth and I have done this by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."
Now let’s be assured that Jesus does not ask for his father to glorify him for his own gratification or for his own glory, but that all he has done while here on earth will glorify his father God in who’s name, he has done it. He asks his father God to give him glory only so that he Jesus could bring more glory to his father God. We see in that plea that through Jesus’s perfect life and sacrificial death and to his obedience to his father,s will. He had brought His Father God great glory. We read and see that Jesus prayed that the Father would receive glory through his work during his time on earth. And that through his sacrificial death on a cross, his resurrection and through his returning to his father’s glory in the ascension all this would complete the scriptures, but also bring great glory to his father God. Yes, Jesus had completed all the tasks asked of him by his father God.
I’ve just visited my old school friend who now tells me he’s become a stoic which is a philosophy founded in the 3rd century BC. He showed me his daily manual. One of the things it said was ignore, and don’t waste time on the things you can’t fix and concentrate only on the things you can improve. My friend then said to me Is that not like what your bible says. Well I said we see and know that we alone can’t fix many of the big problems of our world today on our own war’s famine droughts and so on but I know a man who can. The bible tells us to pray about all things especially to the man who can. Pray, to our Father God through our advocate JC, pray about those things that we know are beyond our own mortal help and resources. We read on to see that Jesus thanks his father God for all those who have responded, to his word and hopefully that’s you and me, yes all of us who have responded to his word, or as John puts it all whom God has given over to Christ to be his followers. So, our priestly prayer reminds us in no uncertain way that Christ listens and answers prayers, which no other religion does because all lack Christ death and resurrection as an atonement for our sins.
Our other reading is from 2 Timothy chapter 1. Firstly, who was Timothy we don’t hear or read much about him. Well, he was from the city of Lystra in Asia Minor, which today is part of modern-day Turkey. He was born of a Jewish mother who had become a Christian believer, and a Greek father. And so, from his mother’s side, we presume had a Christian upbringing So, who wrote the 2 books of timothy? Of which the 2nd one we glance at this morning. Did he? that is Timothy write the 2 books named after him? he was we guess about 20 years old at the time. Well, the answer is in both books 1 & 2 with verse 1 in both saying. These letters are from the pen of Paul an apostle of Christ written to his dear friend Timothy whom he calls his dear son. The Apostle Paul met him during his second missionary journey and he became Paul's companion and missionary partner along with Silas. But once again we find Paul in prison, but does this inhibit him from expressing his delight in their companionship and shared faith? No. And the prayer connection, well let’s listen to verses 3 and 4. " I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, at night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy." Yes, Paul longed to meet up again with Timothy so as he says I can be filled with joy.
So are we filled with joy when we meet up with fellow Christians? Do others see that Christian joy streaming from us in all we do and say, yes, it’s a big ask. But Paul seems to have been able to do it, so then can we? Was it always easy for Paul, I guess not but he never wavered. Let’s remember we are not in prison as so many of our modern-day Christians are we have the freedom to speak God's word and demonstrate it in our daily lives to all we meet. And maybe we can learn from the examples given to us by Paul and others.
Prayers with all their implication are vital to our Christian life. Prayer is far more than just putting one’s hands together and saying a few words it’s the whole way, the holistic way we conduct our lives So, let’s be strengthened and directed by Christ words in John 17 and Pauls words of encouragement to Timothy and all those who know and love the Lord.
Let’s pray: Father God thank you that we can come and pray, knowing that you know each and every one of us as your individual child and hear and answer prayers in a way that you know is best for us. We pray that by our daily pray life and the way we conduct our lives that we may so encourage others to follow suite.
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 25th August 2022
Deuteronomy 26 : 1 – 11 - Firstfruits and Tithes
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
Harvest Reflections on Deuteronomy 26 : 1 – 11
Harvest is a time to be thankful, to say ‘thank-you’ to God for all the good things he gives us. It’s a time not only for saying ‘thank-you’ but also showing our thanks in practical ways.
The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us of the history of the Israelites. God gave them laws and commands so that they would not be like the other nations who served other gods. They were to be different, they were to have the one true God high overall, the God of gods as their God. The Israelites were to be set apart from the other races, they were to live by better rules, to have higher morals and embedded care for each other as standard. They were to be an example to the other tribes of how to live.
One of their commands that God gave them was that of the firstfruits and offering some of them back to Him. God is a very practical God, a caring God and a thoughtful God. When he gave Moses the ten commandments and all these other commands, the Israelites were still wandering about in the desert, they had not yet crossed over the Jordan in to the promised land. They weren’t able to fulfil this command as they hadn’t settled down and started to farm and harvest on a regular basis.
By giving them this law, they knew what was expected of them. God says to them ‘When you have entered the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.’ God does not put heavy yokes on his people. This is something that they can easily do. God says ‘take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce’ God says ‘take some’ some, not a fixed amount, some, so that it is a willing offering, an offering from the heart of the good things that God has given.
What offerings can we give today? We are not an agrarian society, although, yes, some of us have allotments and gardens where we grow things. We can give things like time, through acts of service, using our ability, skills, gifts, which can be utilised within the church and also in the wider community as a witness of our love for God and of the good things that he has given us. We can give money, and as you have seen, there is a new contactless device where debit and credit cards can be used to give money to the church. Do give it a try, it’s an easy and painless way to give! But also we can give produce – buy a bit extra each week and leave it in the foodbank box at the entrance to church.
So what can we give back to God as a ‘thank you’ for all that he has given us? That’s my first point.
Secondly, so what happens next in the reading from Deuteronomy? The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean....’ then follows the people’s history of how the Hebrews went to Egypt, how they were oppressed and how God rescued them and brought them out in to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Brothers and sisters, telling one’s story of what God has done in your life is important. This is something I have learnt to do over the past few years. It felt awkward at first, but the more it is done, the easier it becomes! Write it down as a letter to a friend, read it out loud, share it with someone, make it feel comfortable and understandable, short and to the point. This is witnessing to the love and action of God in your life. Each person’s story will be different, unique to you. So what’s your story? How has God worked, or is working in your life? How can you tell your story to make others want to find out more about our God and their God?
These first and second points go together as forming a platform and structure for mission and evangelism. The first point is about service – what can I give back to God in helping others. The second point is about telling your story – how God has been at work in your lives. This is what is behind the strap line of Bath and Wells diocese, ‘Living the story, telling the story’. So as you go about your daily work, especially when you come into contact with people, look for opportunities to tell your story of God in your life. This is a powerful testimony because it is your story. Ask God to use you for his kingdom and to empower you by the Holy Spirit. Then come back and tell us how it went. Everyone loves a good story!
For the third point, let’s move to the New Testament and hear what Jesus says. The previous day he had just fed five thousand men, as well as women and children, walked on water during the night and crossed over the Sea of Galilee. Some of those he had fed found him, expectant of more miracles, or if not that, then more free food. Jesus saw the superficiality of their request. They wanted more instant satisfaction. They didn’t understand or realise that Jesus could do so much more for them, not just satisfy them for a day or so, but enable them to be part of something which could start now and would stretch onto eternity.
Food spoils. I know this: bread if not eaten quickly goes mouldy, fruit over ripens and is only fit for the compost heap and left overs from meals, if not frozen for another day, or eaten quickly, are only fit for the waste food bin.
Jesus 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.’
Jesus came from God, is God and also human, and at his baptism was anointed by the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, which marked the start of his ministry here on earth, the ushering in of God’s Kingdom, his rule and reign. One of Jesus’ names is ‘The Son of Man’ he is representative of human kind here on earth, or God in the form of a human. Only through Jesus, as he has the Father’s seal of approval, can we receive the food that will endure to eternal life.
The crowd still thought that they had to do something to obtain this food which didn’t spoil and which didn’t last, as they asked Jesus ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’. Jesus replied ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ Brothers and sisters, this is the good news, there is no work to do to receive this food which doesn’t perish or spoil. Only believe in Jesus, the one whom the Father has sent to earth, as John wrote earlier: 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.
The crowd knew their history. In the past, when they were in the wilderness, God had given them manna from heaven, he had fed and sustained them, so was the bread Jesus talking about like that? No, this was different. The manna in the wilderness was like a type, or a foretelling of what was going to happen many many years later.
Jesus said in response to their talking about the manna in the wilderness ‘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.’
He has the crowd’s interest. By telling his story, the crowd want to know more, they want some of this bread, not just for today, but on a regular basis. They want it always.
Then Jesus replies with one of his famous ‘I am’ statements: ‘‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty....”
‘I am the bread of life’ Jesus says. The crowd wanted something physical to eat. Jesus offers something more, something different and something much much better. He offers the crowd Spiritual food and Spiritual drink. He offers to satisfy their hunger and thirst with food that lasts for ever, stretching on into eternal life. He still offers this today, the offer is still on the table for us all to accept. It’s a free gift. We don’t have to work for it, we just have to believe in the one, in Jesus, that God the Father has sent to earth, and in believing in Jesus, we will have life and life to the full, not only here on earth, but also we will be with God in heaven for all eternity.
So to sum up:
1 What can you offer back to God to say ‘thank-you’ for all the blessings he has given you?
2 What is your story of how God has worked, or is working, in your life? How can these two strands be moulded together in action and words? And finally
3 Jesus offers you the bread of life, spiritual nourishment lasting on into eternity. Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God and will you take the step of faith and accept his free gift?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Sunday 18th September 2022
Service of Commemoration for the late Queen
Over these past eleven days we have heard so many words, we have seen ritual and tradition – some things have never been televised before, we have seen people queuing in Edinburgh and now in London for the late Queen’s lying-in state, we have seen carpets of flowers, people interviewed, the King and Queen Consort attending services and civic and state events in the four countries of the UK and Northern Ireland. We have also seen a family who have lost their mother, grandmother and great – grandmother – and their grief has very much been on public show.
I felt for her four children as they stood around her coffin in vigil on Monday and as people passed them looking at them. And for our nation we have passed from one era to the next, on top of a time of great uncertainty, instability and concern for the future. And for ourselves we may have felt great grief and sadness – many people have been surprised at their reaction, there is a sense of loss at someone who has been always been there, always reliable, who we are so familiar with, although most of us have never met her. She was somehow what it means to be British. As we look ahead to the funeral tomorrow it is good and right to take time to reflect on her life, to give thanks for it, to commend her to God and to be inspired by her life and all that she stood for.
The first word that comes to mind is family – they are the Royal Family and they somehow belong to the nation. With the Queen at the head of the family she had to hold things together when there were challenges – on top of this putting on a public face. Many people say that the Queen was out of touch but she faced many family troubles that people face all the time – yet she did not waver. In 2002 when both her mother and sister died she said ‘I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God!'
Which leads me to her fortitude. She was a little lady – I have never met her but I realised that at Madame Tussauds that she was short. Despite her size she was a woman of great strength. The Queen demonstrated the best of qualities – wisdom, kindness, compassion, duty, service, determination and humour. Despite this she knew that she was not perfect and needed a Saviour. In 2011 she said about this ‘Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.'
Over the last 11 days the word faith has been mentioned many times in relation to the Queen. She was a woman of faith – faith in Jesus Christ as her Saviour and Lord – and she was never afraid of telling others about her faith. I wonder if that challenges us. As a Christian she knew the power of prayer, she knew her Bible, she was a regular worshipper and a fantastic witness in both word and action. She lived the life and talked the talk. In 2000 she said ‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.'
As the Queen got older it seemed that she became bolder to speak of Christ. Despite who she was, Queen Elizabeth knew her need of Christ in her life. Her sense of duty and service arose from this. Christ came to this world for all people – rich and poor, men and women, Queen and commoner. He knew that the human need for love and forgiveness was great. Without Christ I believe that the Queen would have been a very different monarch. Following Christ makes a huge difference to our lives if we choose to invite Him in. If we invite Him in now then He will go with us through death into eternal life. The reading from Revelation 21 gives us a picture of the future – of eternal life. We read of a new heaven and a new earth, a new city, and we have a King on the throne – the King of kings Jesus Christ. ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.’ The Queen is with the Lord Jesus – not as her majesty but as Elizabeth a daughter of the King of kings. ‘I will be their God and they will be my children.’ The Queen knew where she was going and she said that she was going home – going home to the Lord.
This morning do we know where we are going, do we have that strong faith of Queen Elizabeth and if we do are we bold and ready to share it? This account of a new heaven and earth also mentions a new era – a glorious era that will never end – when Jesus will wipe away the tears and where death, mourning, crying and pain will be all gone forever. This is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus who on the cross dealt with death. We live in the time of the kingdom of God – but one day that kingdom will come fully. The Queen was part of that kingdom and is now enjoying a life without tears and suffering. She and her Saviour are face to face. She knew Him in life… “I have been—and remain—very grateful to … God for His steadfast love. I have indeed seen His faithfulness,” she knew Him in death and now she knows Him fully in eternal life. So today let us indeed give thanks, let us remember, let us shed tears but also let us be inspired by Elizabeth – a child of God – our Queen – let us follow in her footsteps and accept the King of kings into our own lives – and like her may we after death be received with joy into eternal life with the words. ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
St Augustine's Church, Locking
Reading for Sunday 17th July 2022
Philippians 3: 1 - 11 - Joy in Believing
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Reflections on Philippians 3: 1 - 11
Today we continue with our series of reflections on the letter of Paul to the Christians in Philippi, and we’ve arrived at Ch3.
To recap, the letter was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, uncertain of his future on earth. It was written – unlike some of Pauls letters – specifically to the Philippians and was triggered by the receipt of gifts from them (see the end of ch4). What was his state of mind when the gifts arrived? We don’t know, but whatever it was, their arrival resulted in him wanting to convey, not just a thank you, but his great joy, and to encourage them in their own faith…..and to rejoice! If you so care, check out the number of times the words rejoice and joy occur in the 4 chapters. And to underline his thankfulness, it would appear he was shortly going to sending to them no less than Timothy, his right hand man in his Missionary Team.
It's an intensely personal letter, building as the chapters evolve. In ch1 Paul talks about Joy in Suffering, in ch2 Joy in Serving…..but in ch3 its about Joy in Believing, in being a person with a Christian faith – the wellspring from which everything else flows. The chapter, particularly the first 11 verses, serve as his personal testimony……much of it written in terms which seem very strange to us in the UK in 2022.
Israel and the surrounding regions, including Pauls birthplace of Tarsus, was a very religious area and, of course, the Israelites believed themselves to be the forever special favoured God anointed society. It had been ingrained in Paul from birth and he had enthusiastically focussed his early life on doing all the right things to be thought of as a “true believer”. He was even a Pharisee, whose group meaning in the original Hebrew was The Set Apart/Separated Ones. And then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus……..
And in that divine meeting, among other things, Paul realised that true devotion was not about us Trying to do things for God to make Him especially proud of us (none of us can achieve that) BUT us Allowing God to do something for us (opening our eyes to what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross, and evoking a response from us to surrender our lives so that by His Holy Spirit living in us, we can be changed piece by piece into the people we were created to be). In essence that is the difference between the Words “In the flesh” and “In Christ” that Paul uses in our passage today.
I tried to rewrite Pauls “credentials” for being the sort of person who MUST be acceptable to God in the language of 2022? Actually, it’s almost impossible, as we live in a country where, even at the last census, the % of people describing themselves as Christians was less than 50%, and below the age of 50 that % was considerably higher. To make any sort of comparison I think I need to go back to the late 1960s, when society was changing at a rapid pace, and I was growing up in the eastern suburbs of London. For the people of my parents generation, and their parents, you would call yourself a Christian if you had been christened as a baby, and tried to live a “decent” life (YOU defined what classified as decent) including turning out on a Sunday at your local church (normally your parish church if you were CofE) on high days and holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter. Your level of zealousness would determine how often you were seen in church; you would always wear your “Sunday best” and you would “put something in the collection”. Mostly you would keep your religious belief to yourself, because that’s what British people did. That was what God was looking for in a Christian, wasn’t it?
Apparently not, when we come to Phil 3 vses 7-11. Pauls words ring true, whatever our generation. All our good works, all our religious lineage, never could and never can earn us a “ticket to Heaven”. How could any sane person honestly think they could! Paul, as always, writes with extreme passion – he calls all he once thought gave him special entrance into Gods presence “rubbish”, things to be discarded and swept away “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own…..but that which is through faith in Christ.” What a relief for us – instead of having to strive to be good enough, what we have to do is to accept by faith the free gift of Gods forgiveness that Jesus made possible by taking all our sins, all our imperfections, on Him on the Cross, and opening up the way for us to be changed by Gods Holy Spirit living within us. To be “in Christ” in practical terms, means our in-timate connection with Christ – His spirit dwelling in the core of our beings, whether we feel it or not. It’s his promise; it’s part of the package.
But there’s the rub, to make the most of living the Christian life, it requires us – like Paul – to actively put away our old lives and ways of doing and thinking, and actively look to Jesus to start His changing process in us.
Paul talks about “knowing Christ”. How can we, ordinary individuals as we are, come to “know” the King of Kings, the Son of God? Well, think about how we get to know any human well…. We learn to recognise them and what they do, we talk with them, we spend time in their home and with their family etc. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it helps somewhat. Yes, there will be difficulties, Yes some friends and family will struggle with our faith, but we have the resurrection power of Gods Holy Spirit living within us to sustain us. AND the assurance that as we progress in the Christian walk, we will actually learn to know Jesus. In a world and nation of very dubious role models and influencers, that is a wonderful promise.
In my family, when I got converted and started talking about a personal relationship with Jesus, it shook my Mum and Dad. They actually wondered – individually, as they never talked to each other about such things – whether they really were Christians, as neither could point to a specific time in their lives at which they had committed themselves to Jesus. It so happened that the evangelist Dick Saunders was conducting a Crusade in a nearby park, and without telling me they went along one night, and both went forward at the end to talk to the team. And……. Well, well, they found that their faith and commitment were both valid and no different to mine – they had accepted the truth of the Gospel quietly early in their lives and they’d just grown physically and spiritually in parallel since that time.
It would never have occurred to them that by their own efforts they could earn their salvation, to get a pat on the back from God – that had already been bought for them when Jesus died on the Cross. They just got on with quietly living for Him.
I always think, as I read our passage, that the paragraph should end at v12 – with the words “Not that I have already obtained all of this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. I love that. Individually, we realise we can’t live a Christian life by our own efforts. We reach out our hand for someone to steady us, to stop us from sinking, and Jesus takes hold of us, you and me. He has never loosened that grip and he never will; in and with His strength we press on.
Let me finish by quoting the words of 1 verse from a modern worship song by Bethel Music called “Homecoming”. Lord I confess I’ve been a prodigal/Made for your house but I walked my own roads/Then Jesus came, He tore down my prison walls/Death came to life when He called me by name…Scarlet sins had a crimson cost/You nailed my debt to that old rugged cross/An empty slate, at the empty grave/Thank God that stone was rolled….away.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 10th July 2022
Philippians 2: 19 - 30 - Timothy and Epaphroditus
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
Reflections on Philippians 2: 19 - 30
There is an interesting book that was written about 10 years ago called ‘If you meet George Herbert on the road kill him.’ Not a very Christian title I know – but an excellent book. George Herbert lived in the 17th century and was a prolific poet (some of his poems became hymns that are still sung today) and a parish priest for just 3 years before dying in 1663. He wrote an incredibly influential book called ‘The Country Parson.’ This book romanticised the life of the parish priest and left a bad legacy for hundreds of years to come, with Vicars using him as an example to follow. The Vicar WAS the church, WAS the ministry. He was a one – man band who was involved in everything and did everything. The ministry was done to the congregation and to the people in the community. It is a model that is not healthy or Biblical and has done much to harm the church. The model of ministry that both Jesus and Paul lived out was not one of being a one-man band. They ministered and brought the Kingdom of God with others. Jesus had his 12 disciples plus others in being his team. He showed them, he taught them and then he sent them out in twos or more – never on their own. And now in this letter to the Philippians we see clearly that Paul did not minister all alone – he was supported by those who had true servant hearts.
Firstly, we read of Timothy, who he wanted to send to the Philippian church so that he would be cheered when Timothy returned with news about the church there. Remember that Paul was in prison while writing this and he was waiting for a verdict. There was uncertainty about what would happen to him, so in going Timothy could give them news. Paul holds Timothy in high respect – verse 20 ‘I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.’ Timothy is someone who we can be inspired by. So let’s have a look at him – what makes him so fit for the task – what are the qualities in Timothy that make him a good follower of Christ and servant of the gospel.
1. He had a loving, servant heart. He was genuinely interested in the church. He was there when the church came into being in Acts 16. He wasn’t a fake, he didn’t pretend to care, ‘he has proved himself’ writes Paul. He had been tested and proved to be true. I really like antiques programmes – but in reality, I wouldn’t know a fake from a genuine item. Yet the experts are clever – they can do clever things to test to see if something is fake or not – they bite things like pearls, they use scientific methods for paintings, they look for hallmarks, they look at the colour, the way that furniture is made. They look for the signs of genuineness. I wonder what signs do people see in our lives that we are a follower of Christ and if we have a servant heart. In James we read that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ James 2: 17
2. Timothy had a solid background from an early age. In 2 Timothy 3: 15 we read Paul writing to him. ‘How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ It’s so important that we share the gospel with children from a young age – though for Timothy this was the Hebrew Scriptures. He was brought up in a Jewish home and was influenced by the faith of his grandmother Lois and that of his mother Eunice. They both become Christians. Timothy was teachable and obedient. The role of Christian grandparents is so valuable – even if the parents aren’t Christians. We need to pray for you. Timothy became a Christian and met Paul in Acts 16 and Paul took him along with him on his journeys.
3. Timothy was a committed co-worker, or in Romans Paul calls him a follow-worker and in 1Thessalonians 3: 2 God’s fellow- worker. As I said last week that the relationship that Paul had with the Philippian church was like a parent child one, this is once again reflected in his working with Timothy. Verse 22 ‘As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’’ It’s like the young Timothy has been his apprentice – learning to minister and also lightening the load. The church needs Timothy’s – people with real hearts of love for the church and for people, who don’t just say that they care but that they get involved and work with others to bring the good news – to teach, encourage and to help. Timothy was different from some of the other Christians – who Paul is careful not to name – who are out for their own interests. This must have saddened Paul – that those who claimed to be followers of Christ were not bearing fruit and not serving as he was. Earlier in this letter we read of those who preach out of envy and rivalry, selfish ambition and who want to stir up trouble. Elsewhere in 2 Timothy 4: 16 we read of those who desert him. This is part of life, but sadly something that should not happen.
The second servant we see is a man called Epaphroditus – a leader sent from the Philippian church to look after Paul and to be his constant assistant while he was in prison. While he is with Paul, he becomes dangerously ill and nearly dies, but God looks after him. Needless to say, Epaphroditus is worried and he knows the church is anxious about him and wants to return to show them he is OK. So, Paul is sending him back, probably with this letter. Epaphroditus – a difficult name with a lovely meaning – it means lovely! And he is. Paul calls him his brother, his fellow- worker, fellow- solider and messenger to his needs. He is Paul’s brother because he is united to him in faith. We are all brothers and sisters in one spiritual family with God in Christ as Father. Look around you at your family. He is also called a fellow-worker – he is united in the work of the gospel. How are you involved in the work of the gospel – because it is a role for us all, not just clergy or readers or pastoral workers – we all have a role to play – different roles – but all working together. Paul also calls him a fellow – soldier. To be involved in the work of the gospel will mean there is opposition – often from outside the church, but as Paul mentions, from within. Often when it seems that God is at work, then something happens – there is evidence that the enemy is not happy. Putting on the armour of God is essential. We often forget that we are in a spiritual battle – within ourselves – Paul writes in Romans 7 ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.’
There is opposition from the world, from within family and friends or work colleagues – someone was sharing at Alpha how they were criticised for being different at work. There is also the enemy in the church which Paul noted – people out for their own interests, looking important, stirring up trouble. In many years of being in churches I have seen it all! The enemy also wants to sometimes attack through illness, as he did with Epaphroditus. He risked his life; he gave his all – that is being a true servant of Christ and reminds me of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith. Finally Epaphroditus is a messenger – he was sent to bring a gift of money but to also be a gift. I have often said that YOU could be the answer to someone’s prayer. So it is clear that ministry is shared – we are ALL called to be servants and to have a servant heart and in deeds. We are called to be fellow- workers, fellow- soldiers, messengers – working together to love, support and encourage each other. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 3rd July 2022
Philippians 2: 12 - 18 - Lights in the World
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Reflections on Philippians 2: 12 – 18
The most rewarding, challenging, worrying, amazing, emotional, exhausting – but wouldn’t change it for world role – is being a parent. From the moment they put that bundle of joy in to your arms the adventure begins – as does the hard work, laughter, tears, endless nappies and love. I once read that having one child was like having a dog and 2 was like having a zoo – goodness knows what 3 or more is like – I stopped at the zoo! The thing is all this hard work, being a good example, instructing them, giving them skills – both practical and emotional – showing them how to get on with people – is so that you can let them fly! It's tough to let them go. The real test is when you are not around – what have they leant and most importantly will they put it into practice when I am not watching! I was recently sharing with my spiritual director that my calling to be a priest was very similar to my calling to be a mum. It’s about being an example, teaching, crying and laughing with, guiding, nurturing, encouraging, offering support and comfort and ‘you can do this.’
Paul in writing this letter is acting like a parent to the church at Philippi. He loves them so much – calling them dear friends and in other versions he calls them Beloved. He knows that Christ loves them and he does too. Previously in the letter it is clear he wants to see them, remember he writes this from prison – yet there is a possibility that he won’t – so he wants them to grow in Christ, to mature and grow up. Verse 1: 27 ‘Whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit.’ Maybe they had been relying on Paul too much. There is always the danger of the personality that people rely on – like a child who is still living at home age 50! The Philippians need to stand on their own two feet for they are now on their own. So Paul says ‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ They are to grow in Christ themselves.
Being a Christian is never a passive thing. It’s not like – well I went forward at Billy Graham in the 60’s and I became a Christian then – well that’s it then isn’t it – I’m saved, I belong to Jesus. Yes, that is true but it’s only just the start. In other places in his letters Paul has used the words pressing on, make every effort, running a race, fight the good fight. It’s about a continuous effort not a one–off event. And it is not easy – it is hard work sometimes. Being a Christian is life-changing, life – long and 24/7. It is a battle on three fronts – the world, the flesh and the devil. It is a struggle to do everything for the glory of God and not for our own glory. It is easy to pray ‘as we forgive those who sin against us.’ But it is not so easy to truly forgive. It is easy to put up a sign saying Christ is the head of this house – but a struggle to truly allow him to direct our every decision and to obey him. It is easy to believe that Jesus is Lord but hard to submit to his will when a loved one is dying. To work out one’s salvation is a lifetime task.
A better word for this would be sanctification – being made more and more like Jesus, being changed and transformed as the years go by. Because this is so essential to us as Christians, Paul says that it must be done with fear and trembling. It is not to be taken lightly. And we hear the words of the parent in Paul ‘You can do this.’ Because it is God working in you. We don’t do this on our own. God began a work in you and so he will bring it to a conclusion. To try to be a better Christian, a good person, be like Jesus and to do it in on our own – we will always fail. Yet to work with God – the Holy Spirit in us – then we will be able to keep going. In I Corinthians 3: 9 Paul talks about us being co-workers with God, we are His workmanship, His creation.
So what are you doing to work out your salvation – what are you doing in your lives to become more like Jesus? Are you satisfied with how you are, or do you want more? When is the last time that you did an MOT on your life asking God to show you what needs changing, mending, what is a bit dodgy, where needs improvement? It’s not about beating ourselves up but being real and honest with God and seeing every day as an opportunity for God to do a work in you. Working out what God is working in. The key word in all this is obedience. He therefore at the beginning of Philippians refers to the hymn of Christ’s obedience to death, his humility and then exalting by God. Christ was obedient, so therefore we must be obedient. Some people just hate being told what to do don’t they. Yet Paul tells the church to obey with complaining or arguing – it’s the word used of the Israelites complaining in the wilderness and of disputes. Obeying makes us blameless, pure, without fault, children of God. Not just to be seen to be blameless but to really be blameless when nobody is watching. The world watches Christians – watches Vicars. Sometimes it feels that I can’t even have a sneaky chocolate bar without being watched. To be without blame is important – to be WYSWYG – what you see is what you get. It’s possible to wear a Christian mask but underneath you are a gossip, mean, grumpy, complaining. Actually no different from the depraved world that Paul talks about. We see this still today – people are morally warped, twisted in different directions away from God’s path.
The question is – how different are we from the ways of the world. If someone looked at our lives, would they know that we were a follower of Jesus? Would they really. I personally dislike the term church – goer. Yes, you go to church – so what? What about Monday – Saturday 24/7 – what are you like then? Paul says that they are like shining stars in the darkness. That is why it is so important that Christians are involved in all walks of society – in all the groups in our community. We hold the gospel of life. All of you do – and it needs to be shared. Paul wants to see the Christians in Philippi doing all these things. He wants to know that all his hard work was not for nothing. It’s a word used of labouring to the point of exhaustion and used of athletes. He has given his all – his love, his guidance, his teaching – again like an amazing parent – and he doesn’t want it to be for nothing. He says that even if he dies, he will still rejoice and they should too. Today a minister’s job is very varied – BUT the best bits are the people bits. Seeing people come to know Jesus, have their faith deepened, step out into new things, sharing with them about Jesus, hearing how He is working in their lives, hearing how HE has helped them in their struggles. I could do this all day every day. So like Paul I would also say:- I love you all as Christ loves you, so don’t just sit back but work at your salvation with fear and trembling – don’t run from God but run to Him because you need Him to help you. Be obedient so that you become blameless and don’t moan about what God wants you to do or with His help change. Work with God to become more like Jesus. Go out into the world and shine – it is a dark place – but you have the word of life. Join me in sharing that – it’s not just my job but yours too. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 26th June 2022
Philippians 2: 1 – 11 - Imitating Christ’s Humility
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Reflections on Philippians 2: 1 – 11
When I was at Sarum College in Salisbury recently, we were looking at the creation story. Jayme, who led the lecture, made a very interesting comment, which got me thinking. She said that one of the reasons that the creation story relates that Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was that they wanted to grow up and be like God.
Have you ever had children who, when they were little borrowed your lipstick and tried it on, or took your shoes and walked about in them pretending to be grown up?
So I wondered about my three kids – had they picked up any of my attributes? I think that the answer to this is yes! Roo does gardening at a community allotment and has a strong faith in Jesus, Josh is a member of the National Trust and has a calm personality and Lauren cooks at Cadbury House near Congresbury.
What about me? Yes, I can see that I have picked up things that my mum used to do: cooking, being artistic, Christian faith, machine sewing, ironing and other things!
You might be wondering what all this has to do with today’s reading.
This section of Paul’s letter to the brothers and sisters in Philippi is showing that, even though they are getting along well with each other, there are still some areas to improve upon. Paul encourages them to look and copy the life of Jesus as the supreme example of an excellent way of living.
Paul wants to encourage the Christians in Philippi and is saying to them ‘Look, you are getting on well’, ‘I am pleased with you’ or as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Paul wrote: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.
Paul, even though he is chained up in prison for his faith, wants to encourage the Christians in Philippi. He starts this chapter with a little word ‘if’. So he is saying that even though he thanks God for them and prays with joy because of their partnership in the gospel with him, there is more to do.
So Paul says in effect: if you are encouraged from being united with Christ, if you are strengthened by his love, if you are part of the community of people who have God’s Spirit living within them, if you are caring and have a heart which cares for people, Paul is saying if you’ve got this far, that is great, but there’s still more to do.
Paul wants the Christians in Philippi to add to what they’ve already got and are living out in their lives: he commends them for their relationship with and being in Christ, from which flows their community life and their caring attitudes to one another. This is good and Paul encourages them for this. They are going on the right lines. He’s given them joyful praise, encouragement and shows his love and care for them. Now comes the teaching springing from the word ‘if’. I’ll park this for a moment and pick it up again after telling you a story.
Accurate and informed encouragement is good. Last weekend I was at Sarum College in Salisbury. It was the turn of my tutor group to lead morning worship on Saturday morning at 7.30am. During the previous week there had been a flurry of whats app messages between us all arranging who was going to do what. Friday evening came and we had a run through, tweaked a few things and had much laughter. Saturday morning came and my alarm went off at 6.30am (early for me) and we met in the lecture room where I played on the keyboards before hand as people came in. Morning worship happened during which I read a tricky passage from Joshua and we thought the whole thing went off quite well. I didn’t really think much about it as I’d just been myself, but I was really touched by the comments received throughout the day about how well I’d read the Joshua reading, and one person said she was still humming the next day what I’d played! Encouragement is good and it provides a fertile ground for growth and development.
So brothers and sisters, I want to challenge you: when did you last encourage someone? When did you last thank somebody for what they had done, said or just by being themselves? But I also want to ask: When were you last encouraged by somebody? When were you last thanked for something you did? Encouraging people is an important ministry.
Right, back to Paul’s ‘if’ word. From reading his letter, we get the impression that things are good in the church at Philippi, but there are some areas that could be improved upon. Paul lists three:
1) Be like minded, have the same love, be one in spirit and of one mind. So oneness.
2) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather, in humility value others above yourselves. So lowliness of mind or disposition and
3) Look to the interests of others, or this could be described as helpfulness.
It is lovely when a group of people at, for example, a PCC meeting, are all united and pulling in the same direction. Things can get done; there is a lightness of spirit, a joy and a purpose. I can’t talk for Locking PCC, but often at Hutton there is a spirit of oneness and unity. I find this also at Sarum College. Even though we are a mixture of ordinands and Licensed Lay Ministers / Readers in training, there is a very real sense of oneness and unity.
Have you ever come across people who are just set on climbing up the career ladder and will do whatever it takes to progress themselves at the expense of others? It’s not good and leads to a bad working relationship within the department. Paul is saying that we should value others above ourselves. We should reflect on our motives. Are we doing such and such because we are trying to make ourselves look good? Are we empire building? Or are we serving Jesus through our love of others. Where there is genuine mutual regard and appreciation, then unity will result. It will grow and flourish, because the Christian love and care is in step with the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Pauls encourages the Christians in Philippi to look to the interests of others. He is saying to them not to be so self-centred that other brothers and sisters in Christ are ignored. As Jesus said in Matthew 19:19 Love your neighbour as yourself, or in John 13:34 A new commandment I give you – love one another as I have loved you. Paul also writes in Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Looking to the interests of others can be as simple as listening to people’s stories. Last Sunday, while at Sarum, we were split into seven groups and we all went to different churches. After the service at the one I went to, I was listening to someone’s story. I was putting them before myself in that I was listening, rather than talking. This encouraged both of us. I came away with knowing more about church life and history. I especially remember being told the story of the tablet falling off the wall and if the lady who was doing the refreshments after the service had been sitting in her seat, rather than organising the refreshments, she might quite easily have been seriously injured or killed! The lady talking to me apologised for talking so much, to which I said that it is important to hear people’s stories and she thanked me for listening.
So as it says in The Message Bible: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
So three points from what I have just said:
1) Encouraging people is an important ministry.
2) Are we serving Jesus through our love of others?
3) Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Paul continues: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
The Message Bible puts this passage really well, so I am going to read it to finish this sermon.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 19th June 2022
Philippians 1: 12 - 30 - Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. or it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Reflections on Philippians 1: 12 - 30
I wonder it you have ever been in a situation that you honestly believed you would never recover from and at that moment in time things looked pretty hopeless. Well if you haven't, I have and I suspect if you think about it many of you here this morning will remember that terrible feeling that this might be the end. And that's the situation that I suggest and suspect Paul is in our reading from Philippians this morning. And it was, a situation that I could only describe as a pretty awful mess.
I wonder if vou have ever been inside a prison? I mean of course as a visitor! I have in my role as a GPO engineer or on behalf of the firm that is now known as BT. In the early 70s, myself and a collage looked after all the telephone equipment in Shepton Mallet prison. And I can tell you that the conditions inside were pretty squalid, yes it was an experience, and most certain not one I would like to ever have exprienced as an inmate. But however as dark and dismal bleak and scary Shepton Mallet Prison was in the 70's, I guess the conditions were 5 star compared with the conditions that Paul was experiencing in his confinement in a 1st century prison some 1600 years before Shepton prison was even built.
He must have been at his wits end, scared to death unable to continue the vital word that God wanted him to do, and that work of course was to continue to spread the gospel the good news of Christ and God's Kingdom. But that is not how Paul saw it, in fact quite the opposite. Paul writes in 1 Phillipians Now I want you to know brothers and sisters that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel. Served to advance the Gospel? Whatever could Paul mean - perhaps the long isolation the terrible conditions wereaffecting his mind? No, Paul was not going out of his mind, Paul was as sane as I am. No, sorry let me correct that statement, Paul was as sane as you all are in the congregation here this morning.
Anyway here was Paul chained to a prison guard 24 hours a day and I guess in a stinking dark damp cell. So come on Paul let's speak sense - just how could you advance the Gospel in those conditions. But my friends let's also not forget this was Paul one of the greatest 1st century Christians to walk this earth And we know from his history that he would not allow anything to stop him completing the task that he had set before him. And of course apart from his dogged determination to achieve his goal he was not alone in that cell. No I don't just mean the prison guard. So, who or what else was with Paul over those long years in prison? Of course, it was the Lord the lord who had turned him from a sinner to a steadfast follower of Christ. Yes his Lord, our Lord who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yes that was his company during his long isolation in that prison block.
Listen again to Paul's words. Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. So just for a moment before we continue to look at Pauls life lets briefly look at our reading from Luke. A man who had been possessed with evil spirts he was I suspect avoided by all because of his evil madness. But did Jesus avoid him? No Jesus did the complete opposite - he healed him. And because the man then wanted to follow Jesus who was about to leave in a boat, but Jesus said to the man go home and tell everyone what Jesus has done for you.
We see here that Jesus never misses an opportunity to encourage us to spread the good news and that's what he wanted the man to do. And it was the same with Paul despite his circumstances. Paul was able to encourage others to spread the Gospel message supported by and through the Holy Spirit. And his prison guards had little option but to listen. They in turn would tell others and so the Gospel was spread throughout the entire prison complex and beyond.
And so, we here in the 21st century can learn from Paul. We learn that living for Christ can and will make our circumstances and our lives so much better. Paul's life was not good, he was surrounded by enemies both physical and spiritual on every hand. But despite all, his one and sole aim was to tell others about the Lord Jesus. Paul's life was the extreme of hardness yet even when he could have been facing death he never strayed from the Lord, not even in the face of torture and death Yes, God is good he never deserts us. Pauls imprisonment had a good effect on the other Apostles and the Christians around him. They became stronger and more determined to spread the Word. When we who are here this morning are living for Christ that can help enhance the lives of others who maybe struggling. Even now as you and I study this verse, we read and study the man who once tried and convicted believers putting them to death, but now we see this man as a believer, ready to both live and die for Christ.
Paul's influence on these people was so strong that they met his physical needs as often as they could. The pastor of the church brought to the prison food and other items to help bring comfort to Paul while in jail. We also can bring comfort to others both Christian and non-Christian just as Paul did centuries ago Yes, living for Christ should be at the very substance and meaning of life. Let's use this account of Paul's incarceration as an example for the way to live our lives.
Let us pray
Father we sometimes feel as Paul must have felt sometimes while locked away imprisoned and far away from you. But deep-down Lord we know that you never leave us not even for a single second. So Father God help us to have increasing faith in you love a concern for us we pray.Amen
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 12th June 2022
Philippians 1: 1 – 11 – Joy in God’s people
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Reflections on Philippians 1: 1 – 11
What words or situations come to mind when you hear the word Joy? What does joy mean to you? ASK Joy can often be thought of something as superficial – being smiley, laughing, being felt when things are good and all is going well in our lives. But true joy is much deeper than that and comes from a source that is not dependant on our own circumstances. The last two years have been rather lacking in joy, haven’t they? Those who are familiar with Harry Potter will understand this – but it’s like the world has been visited by the dementors sucking all joy from our lives. And locally there has been a lot of sadness and also illness too. So, let’s look at Paul’s letter to be inspired by him and hopefully to reconnect with the joy that Paul experiences. This letter has been called ‘The Epistle of Excellent things’ as well as ‘The Epistle of Joy.’ So, let’s now dive into this letter and let’s start by looking at the background of it.
Paul is writing to the church in Philippi which was a great commercial centre, founded in 368BC by Philip the father of Alexander the Great. It was situated on the road that ran from Europe to Asia. It was a Roman colony and was run as such – being like a little Rome. You can still go there today and visit the ruins there in Greece. We read how the church began there in Acts 16. Paul and his friends were on their 2nd missionary journey in about AD52. One night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia (where Philippi is) saying ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ So, they did and stayed there several days. It was there that they met 3 different people. On going to pray they met with some women, one of whom was Lydia, a rich businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth (the fashion of the day and a Jewish convert. After listening to Paul, she became a follower of Jesus and it was in her house that the church in Philippi met. Paul also met a slave girl who told fortunes. Paul prayed for her spiritual release and made her owners angry so that Paul and Silas ended up in jail after being beaten up. But where they disheartened – NO WAY. They sang and prayed – an earthquake happened and they and the other prisoners were released. The jailer was terrified crying out – what must I do to be saved? They told him about Jesus and he also became a follower of Jesus – he and his household. When it is realised that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens they are released. He goes back to Philippi on his third missionary journey.
So as Paul writes this letter he is once again in prison, probably in Rome and this time he is facing the death sentence. So, in all reality you would not expect a letter of joy. The church in Philippi sent a man called Epaphroditus to Paul to bring him a gift and to find out how he was and to tell him about the church in Philippi and how things were going. So, Paul is writing in response to this visit, probably sending the letter back with Epaphroditus. The letter begins with the usual greetings – Paul and Timothy are God’s servants – they are His slaves and belong to Him. They are writing to the saints in Philippi. We have so twisted the word saint to mean people with haloes in stained glass windows, or those who have done amazing things or have been holy. But no, to be a Christian is to be a saint. It means to be set apart, to be different because they are in Christ Jesus – it is that that makes us holy – not us. Paul uses this type of phrase 132 times in His letters. Barclay says of this ‘What makes the Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.’ Is that our experience too – are we living each day in Christ and what difference is that making, are we different from those around us? Paul then offers them grace and peace – Charis and Eirene – greetings of Greek and Jew – charis – joy and beauty and Eirene – total well – being – like shalom. This is an introduction of a friend to friends. He then dives in with such heartfelt openness and jubilation. ‘I thank my God every time I remember you.’ When we think of fellow Christians, members of the church family do we give thanks for them? Do we look at them and see God’s working in them? Have we ever told another Christian – I am grateful for you; I have seen Jesus in you? Do we look at God’s work in the church and are filled with joy and love? It is so easy to be critical, to moan, to not like people, to be down and miserable. Paul has every reason to start his letter ‘I am in a terrible state here in prison.’ But instead, he chose to give thanks to God for this church. Reflecting on blessings will bring joy. Paul then tells them that he prayers for them all again with joy. We will find out over the coming weeks that the Philippian church has needs and problems. Nevertheless, they are working together to bring the good news to those around them. Another word for partnership is fellowship – koinonia – being together working for the gospel. They are joined in Christ as one body, it’s not like a club or society but believers joined together for the sake of the gospel. It’s about everyone having a role to play and all working together. I wonder what your role is in working for the gospel? What is God calling you to do? And this is not just about being in church on Sundays but in the week – in the community, at work, in the places that you go and the people that you meet. Are you a partner in the gospel of Jesus?
In the news this week it said that Brits have 5 unfinished DIY jobs in their house, including half painted walls. I couldn’t cope with that and hate any job left unfinished. As Christians we are in for the long haul – until our last day on earth. Maybe you became a Christian as a young person or a child and you feel you are flagging. But God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. But it’s not that we don’t have our part to play – we partner with each other and we partner with God. In the darkness and distress of being chained in prison Paul is able to encourage them to keep on going until the end. We need God to give us the Spirit to empower us and each other to encourage us. When have you last asked for the Holy Spirit to fill you again, when have you last encouraged another or been encouraged? Paul clearly loves the church – I have you in my heart, I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus. He cares about them and they care for him – in praying for him and in sending Epaphroditus on this long journey of 800 miles to be with him. Both Paul and the church known of God’s grace – of his gift of new life in Jesus – it is that that joins them. Paul wants to assure them of his love for them because of the things that he needs to say later to them. It’s like when you have some stern words you need to say to a child you always reassure them that you still love them. Paul loves then because he has Jesus’ love in his heart.
And so now in verse 9 we see what Paul prays for them – for their love to grow more – agape love – Jesus’ love. It implies that something has been lacking and that their love should reach its full height and overflow. In that this love should affect other things – knowledge and depth of insight – being able to truly see what Christ has done for us. In discernment – a person may be full of love but lack discernment – be eager and enthusiastic, be giving, have good motives – but may do more harm than good. It is essential to be able to discern what is of God and what is not. Sometimes what is best is not what is right. In our world today we need this discernment as we are faced with fake news, lies masking as truth, different views, conspiracy theories, the prejudice of the media – so much that is confusing. Pray for that discernment that comes from love. And finally love produces the fruit of righteousness – the fruits of the Spirit. We are all called to bear fruit – in our own lives and in bringing others to know Jesus. And all this is to glorify God. I pray that this letter will encourage us all – that Paul’s words will challenge us to draw closer to God and each other in the service of God and in bringing the good news to our community. As in the Philippian church know that we are loved – very loved.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 29th May 2022
John 17: 20 - 26 - Jesus Prays for All Believers
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Reflections on John 17: 20 - 26
Do you ever feel you need a hug? I think that hugs are really important: they can show joy, concern, affirmation, pride, empathy, reassurance. Hugs are to be used wisely: some people don’t like that much physical contact and anything that’s over-used becomes a cliché. But humans need affirmation and affection and hugs are one way of showing that.
In the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, we read about the about the power of physical contact. Jesus touched people when he healed them: the blind, the deaf, the lepers, Peter’s mother-in-law, Jairus’ daughter, the woman who was bent over, the soldier who had his ear cut off by Peter in Gethsemane. And there were people who touched him for healing: the woman who was bleeding; people in crowds who reached out ‘be cause power was coming from him and healing them all.’ When Jesus appeared to Thomas in the upper room he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. The gospel doesn’t tell us whether Thomas did or not but Jesus’ very offer shows us the importance that touch can have. And Mary, who anointed his feet with perfumed oils, got as close to touching Jesus as she could by using her hair to rub in the oil. Being able to touch someone, to get really close, to give or get receive reassurance is a human need, a human reaction and one we can all understand and often desire.
In our lifetimes we haven’t been able to have a physical meeting with Jesus. What would you do if Jesus walked in through that door now? What would you want to do? And after a while, when he’d talked to us, chatted with us, heard us and then said he was leaving, what would you want to do? Wave, offer a hand shake, a hug? Have there been times in ours lives when we have longed to see him close to us, to hear his voice, to reach out and touch him? Why doesn’t he come!
Well, why did he go? On this Sunday after Ascension, we remember that Jesus ascended to his father with the words: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’ Jesus had completed his mission ‘to give eternal life to all those you have given him.’ Jesus mission was to redeem a people through his perfect life, his sacrifice of atonement, and his victorious resurrection. His mission was to give his people eternal life through redemption by his blood. These redeemed people would know the only true God and Jesus Christ his Son. And in their turn they would work together to tell others, to bring unity. He left so they could fulfil their mission.
But he wasn’t going to leave them, or us, alone. In John 17, before his crucifixion, Jesus prays for protection for the disciples because: ‘As you sent me in to the world. I have sent them into the world.’ He prays that God will ‘protect them from the evil one’ and will ‘sanctify them by the truth: your word is truth’. And then he goes on to pray for all believers, for us. He prays that all believers will be one, will be united in their evangelism, ‘to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ He prays, ‘ Father, I want those you have given me to be with where I am’ and then ‘I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them.’
I don’t know about you, but every time I read that passage, it feels like a hug. It is Jesus, both human and divine, knowing what each one of us, his followers, needs, what the world needs. He knows that the mission, to proclaim the good news, to work together for the coming of the kingdom, to confront the evils of the day, will be challenging, will be joyous, will be hard. He prays: ‘May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ Jesus glorified God in his mission through his humility and service: that’s what he prays for, for all believers, for all humankind, unity in loving God, in receiving the good news. This prayer is a challenge, it’s a desire, it’s a promise. It’s an echo of Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
So, because Jesus is not with us physically every, where do we go for our guidance, our healing, our inspiration, our peace, our reminder of his love for us and his presence with us, for our heavenly hugs?
We mustn’t forget the joy of Easter, the promises at Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire us and guide us. We must carry that with us at all times.
We can go to the Bible. We all have our favourites pieces of scripture. For example Romans 8: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Galatians 3: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
John 20: Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’
And there are many more to find. The Bible, God’s words, has a way of meeting our needs when we read it.
We can learn from people in the Bible: Peter, the bleeding woman, the woman at the well. We learn from them, their faith, their questions, their determination.
We can go to each other, in unity, for support, for encouragement, for help.We can worship together regularly, to be fed, to be inspired, to sing our praises, to come closer to each other and to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We can pray regularly for ourselves, for others, for situations in the world, asking, listening, responding.
And we can do all this because we know Jesus will meet us where we are, he will meet our needs, he will reach out to us in so many different ways. He will be with us always. And then in our turn he will send out into the world to serve him and others, to reach out and touch others in a multitude of ways, where hugs, both literal and metaphorical, are so needed, taking the good news with us to a world that so needs to be united through God’s love.
So let’s pray for ourselves and for each other.
Almighty Father, who through your great love raised your Son into glory, help us to know we are not alone, to know we dwell in you and you in us, to know that the ascended Lord is with us always, and that your Spirit comes to guide, strengthen and unites us. Lord as we come before you, grant us a glimpse of your glory. Amen
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 22nd May 2022
Matthew 25: 1 – 13 - The Wise and foolish bridesmaids
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Reflections on Matthew 25: 1 – 13
Being shut out and excluded is a horrible feeling. I remember when I was fifteen and sitting exams at school being shut out of an exam by accident. It was music O level. There was the opportunity to skip a paper if one had passed grade five theory in music, which I had done. So this meant that I could sit one less paper at school. Anyway, I turned up at school in good time for one of the music papers I was sitting and horrors, the door to the exam room was shut and the exam had started. I remember knocking on the door asking to be let in whereon the invigilator said that they didn’t think I was sitting this paper so they had started early – there had been a mix up! I was let in and sat the exam. If you are wondering, I passed with a grade C, which to me was a bit of a miracle as my mocks for music were abysmal! But as I remember back to that time, it was a horrible feeling being shut out and excluded.
This is what happened to five of the bridesmaids in today’s parable. A parable is a story with a message. They were shut out and excluded.
Imagine the scene; it had been a busy day, lots of excitement and preparations had taken place. Dresses had been made, decorations put up, tables laid and food and wine was there in abundance. The bride was in her finery waiting at home, along with the bridesmaids all ready with their lamps, which were like long poles with cloth wrapped around the end, so they would be held head high to light the way (there were no street lamps in those days), so were used in a joyful procession to welcome the bridegroom to the bride’s house. Everybody could see and cheer on the bridegroom as he made his grand entry. It had been a long day. Tiring, busy, exhausting and the bridesmaids were weary and sleepy. This was ok, nothing wrong with a nap, so that they were fresh for the next proceedings. So they went to sleep. I bet some of them snored as well! Time passed....All of a sudden there was a shout ‘Here he comes! The Bridegroom is approaching! Get ready girls, wakey wakey, light those lamps.’ Oh no! Panic, confusion, dismay. Five had oil to get their lamps burning, but five did not. Five were ready and equipped, five were definitely not ready and were in a panic! You can imagine it can’t you! If any of you had had to get your kids ready for school in the morning you’ll know what this is like, now multiply that by ten. Chaos. Confusion and probably tears. Five of the lamps burned brightly, but five were on the verge of going out, as they had no oil to sustain them. What’s to do? Come on; share some of your oil, five of the bridesmaids would have said. The others replied: no, there’s a 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner, pop down there and you can get some. If we share our oil, there won’t be enough for all of us, but look at it this way, at least five of us have got lit torches. So the bridesmaids hurry off in different directions: five to welcome the bridegroom and five to the 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner, to get some more supplies, in this case, olive oil.
So the bridegroom arrives and with the five ready bridesmaids go off into the wedding banquet, shutting the door behind them. That is very final. Shut, closed, locked.
I went to Sarum College in Salisbury a couple of weekends ago by train. The train has the carriage doors shut about 40 seconds before departing. Shut means shut. No jumping on at the last moment (although I have done that in the past as I nearly missed the train back from Paddington to Weston once – I wouldn’t recommend it!).
Anyway, back came the foolish bridesmaids. They were locked out. They bang on the door. Let us in! You know us, we only popped to a 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner to get some more olive oil for our lamps, and look how brightly they are burning! And the reply? Nope, I don’t know you. You are the weakest link. Goodbye!
This parable comes near the end of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has been teaching the disciples about things that were going to happen: the forthcoming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (which happened in AD70), persecutions of those who profess a faith in Jesus, false signs of Jesus’ return at the end of time along with a general wondering when all this is going to happen. Jesus also warned about judgement when he does come for a second time. All this is underlined with the repeated message of ‘watch and be ready’.
Jesus started this parable with the words ‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this’. This is what the coming Kingdom of Heaven will be like on Jesus return. Paul writes about Jesus’ second coming in 1 Thess 4: 17 ‘Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.’ So like the wise bridesmaids, people will go and meet Jesus as he returns to the new heavens and the new earth, being like a guard of honour for the glorious all powerful king, saviour and judge. Wonderful! Then they will be brought into the wedding banquet to be with Jesus forever.
How ready for unexpected events are we? What has happened recently where there were warnings? Think about Russia invading Ukraine. How ready were people for the invasion? Did they think it wouldn’t happen? When it did, there would probably be those on the front line, who, if they weren’t ready had no time left, as their time had come. What if they’d heard the message of Jesus’ salvation and not responded? Too late! Their door was shut into the Kingdom of God.
Now I wonder; who are you in the text? Who do you identify with? There are three main characters in this parable (apart from the bridegroom, who is Jesus and I would hope that no one here has messianic tendencies!):
Are you like the five well equipped bridesmaids who are invited into the wedding banquet?
Are you like the five foolish bridesmaids who because they are not ready get shut out of the wedding banquet? Or
Are you like the one that announces the coming of the bridegroom? This is the one who talks to others about the coming of God’s Kingdom and rule in people’s lives.
I’ll just pause here to let you think about this. Who do you identify with? ....
So what does this parable mean to us today, here in St Mary’s Hutton (St Augustine’s Locking)? I feel that there are three points to remember.
Firstly the imperative command to keep awake, watch and be ready because the day and the hour of Jesus return is not known. Only God the Father knows when this will happen. So keep awake, watch and be ready.
Secondly be ready and well equipped. Don’t be like the foolish bridesmaids, who, because of their lax attention to detail were then shut out of the wedding banquet. All the bridesmaids probably looked the same, but there were two different outcomes. One can’t say ‘I’ll be ok, my friend knows Jesus, and so I’ll get to heaven on the back of her faith’. No, this has to be a personally owned faith and decision to follow Jesus. So I want to ask you a question ‘Does Jesus know your name?’ Do you know Jesus as your saviour and Lord? (At the back) as you go out, there are some booklets ‘Why Jesus’ do take one and read it. There is a prayer in it which you can pray to ask Jesus into your life. If you do this, give Anne a ring as she’d love to know the outcome. Or sign up to the Alpha course that Anne is going to run next month here in Hutton (in Locking). It will be life changing and enable you to be ready and well equipped for life with Jesus and his return.
Thirdly Is God calling you to be an evangelist, pioneer, chaplain, lay pastoral assistant, lay worship assistant, become ordained or licensed as a reader (Licensed Lay Minister)? Is God calling you as one who tells people about God and his kingdom? Are you being called to play a bigger role in the church? Anne is chaplain for discerning calling, or CDC for short. Do contact her if you think that this is you. She would delight in starting an exploration of your calling.
So to sum up:
Firstly keep awake, watch and be ready because the day and the hour of Jesus return is not known.
Secondly be ready and well equipped. Does Jesus know your name?
Thirdly Is God calling you as one who tells people about God and his kingdom?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
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