Sixth  Sunday of Easter

22nd May 2022

Reflection

“God …come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.” Thus begins today’s psalm, followed by the passage from the Book of Revelation which shows us a vision of what the earth could look like of God’s ways, God’s reign, was universally practiced. That is an image of hope we need to hold onto when we hear of the suffering caused by war, by free markets, by religious intolerance, by climate change. The world does not have to be so – if only we transform the way we live and the systems we live by to align with God’s will. 

The reading from Acts tell us of a call for help from Macedonia. We are not told what is the cause of their plight not what has prompted them to seek help from God/ Paul. Paul and his companions are in no doubt that what the Macedonians need is the Good News. Why? Because the message of the Good News is that God’s kingdom is at hand. The Good News assures people that they are loved by God and by their fellows, and that this love is not just words. The Good News is about practical, on the ground transformations that ‘heal the sick, cure diseases, excise demons, raise the dead to life’. The Good News doesn’t just sort out individual problems, it tackles the systems too. Fo example, where Jesus tackled the system that said you shouldn’t heal people on the Sabbath, the Good News today tackles the system that lets healthcare be a postcode lottery, that lets private companies make vast profits from Covid while failing reward NHS staff,  that lets private heath care grow whilst underfunding public hospitals, that lets CEO’s double their income while care workers struggle to earn the living wage. 

We, as Christians, should not close our ears to the cries for help that come from all over the world, that come from every corner of the UK, that come not just from our fellow human beings but from our brothers and sisters in creation – wildlife and domesticated animals, trees and plants, seas and oceans … Our response should be active – as was Paul’s. We are called to share the Good News – both it’s message and its actions. We must heal and transform both the lives of individuals and the systems in which they – and we – live. The time between Ascension Day (this Thursday) and Pentecost is now marked by global ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ campaign. Let’s use this time to begin, or resume with even greater passion, the transformation of lives and systems that will bring in the universal Kingdom of God.

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptised, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Psalm 67

1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

John 5:1-9

After Jesus healed the son of the official in Capernaum, there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

15th May 2022

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Psalm 148

1 Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.

2 Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.

3 Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.

4 Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the Name of the Lord; *
for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He made them stand fast for ever and ever; *
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the Lord, *
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendour is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people
and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.
Hallelujah!

Revelation 21:1-6

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

John 13:31-35

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Reflection 

The reading from Acts describes how Peter had to completely change his understanding of God and the world. All the principles and practices on which he had based his relationship with God, all that bound him as a member of the Jewish community, were being challenged. Perhaps one might even say, undermined. No longer was there a code that distinguished between what one should or should not eat – and by extension how one should shop, how and with whom one should dine; perhaps even who one should invite into your home. No longer was there exclusivity in being one of God’s people. No longer was there a them and us. 

And yet not everyone understood that this was God’s way. Not everyone understood that what God had achieved through Jesus Christ, the salvation that had been wrought, was for anyone and everyone with no restrictions. The challenge Peter is facing in this passage is not just that of coming to terms with the turning upside down of his religion, but also of having to explain this to his contemporaries –  most of whom did not see it the way he did. Did Peter feel perhaps as many of us feel about the climate crisis? Did he struggle to work out how he could explain to his contemporaries that everything was changing, that the rules were going to be different, that how people went about their daily lives was going to have to change, that sticking with the old ways, the traditional ways was not going to help? 

For the Christian climate activist the challenge is how to persuade people that the climate crisis is real and pressing, that we cannot continue with our old lifestyles and expect to cope, that we cannot ignore the plight of the vulnerable – those affected by rising food prices and or starvation, those affected by droughts and floods, wild fires and heat waves – and that we must make our voices heard when governments and big businesses pursue policies that increase their vulnerability. Like Peter, we have to find a way of winning over hearts and minds in persuading people to accept the new situation in which we find ourselves. We have to speak eloquently and calmly, yet with determination. 

If the reading from Acts is telling us that God is the God of both Jew and Gentile, then today’s psalm is telling us that God is the God not just of people but of all that lives and moves and – even – just exists in creation. We are all of God’s making, are all valued, and are all called to praise God. The reading from Revelation presents us with the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth will have passed away. Are we to expect this physical earth to be replaced with a new physical earth? Or is it that we are to expect the first way in which the earth existed will be replaced with a new way of doing things? Maybe as a hotel might be re-created or re-formed under a new management?Just as Peter was invited to see his old world of kosher and non-kosher practices as having passed away and replaced with a new world diversity and inclusivity? Is this new order not what climate activists are hoping for? A new earth in which all of creation is respected and cared for in ways which God desires?

‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ says Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus’s example, his at pattern of living – for that is the way by which a new earth and a new heaven will come into being. As Peter experienced, following a new way means leaving behind the old way, allowing that first earth to pass away. Letting go of the past is not easy; it can feel like stepping into the unknown. But we are not alone, we are not without an example to follow, we are not without God”s presence to both heal and strengthen us. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

8th May 2022

Acts 9:36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Revelation 7:9-17

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever!
Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Reflection

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, “ The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” And what is the good news? That the Kingdom of God is near; indeed those who believe are citizens of that kingdom. When Jesus in turn sends his disciples out to preach the good news, he instruct them to heal the sick, cure disease, to exercise authority over demons, and, in Matthew’s gospel, to raise the dead. The message is clear that the reality of God’s kingdom is not just about words but deeds too. So it is in the Book of Acts that we see the good news being preached not just with rhetoric but with actions too. In today’s example, Peter raises Dorcas from death. But the story also shows us in other ways what the reality kingdom of God looks like. Dorcas, clearly a citizen of God’s kingdom, is renowned for her good deeds. Her fellow citizens, the local Christian community, are equally committed to making the kingdom of God a reality in the concern that they show. Time and again the Book of Acts relates stories of the first Christian communities where their love for each other shines out as beacon for others to see. Do our church communities shine as brightly?

Psalm 23 is often loved because of the idyllic image that it presents of green pastures and still waters. Such ease and comfort is surely what the kingdom of God is made of? But when we look around the world today, do we see much in the way of green pastures and still waters? Rather we see battle grounds, land that is either flood-ridden or drought-bitten, people and communities struggling to survive against a tide wave of poverty and oppression. For activists struggling to bring about change – to bring in the values of the kingdom of God – it can feel as if the kingdom of God is not at hand but is rather a fast disappearing fantasy. Psalm 23 offers something of more comfort – God’s companionship when things are tough, when the way ahead is dark. Waking becomes an act of faith but with the assurance goodness and mercy to come.  As with the community to which Dorcas belonged demonstrated, when things are tough, we do need to rally round and support one another. If nothing else we can pray for those activists who are standing up for the kingdom values – for the safe passage of asylum seekers, for the provision of food for those inadequate means, for the proper funding of the NHS, for the ending of fossil fuel investment.

The passage from the Book of Revelation tells the same story as Psalm 23 but in more florid terms. Those who have walked through the valley of death are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb: they do indeed come to find rest where they no longer hunger and thirst, where they are comforted and refreshed. 

Those who believe, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom, those who recognise the voice of the shepherd, have the gift of eternal life. They will know the comfort of Jesus’s presence even in the depths of winter.

Third Sunday of Easter

1st May 2022

Acts 9:1-6

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favour for a lifetime.

6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.

7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favour, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.

9 I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper.”

12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Revelation 5:11-14

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honour and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Reflection

The short passage from the Book of Acts introduces us to Paul’s Damascus Road experience (although here he is still known by his Jewish name of Saul). From being an ardent antagonist of the followers of Christ, Paul swerves, U-turns, to become the most ardent evangelist. Why? Because he encounters the risen Jesus head on. Last week, in John’s gospel, we heard how various disciples met the risen Jesus and how in different ways they began to understand what was happening and who it was – and in what nature – they were encountering, when they met Jesus. The risen Jesus was not a human brought back to life, but the  God-who-had-become-human-and-had-ascended-once-more-to-the-God-head. It is his encounter with this Jesus that confounds Paul’s previous understanding of Jesus and his followers, and brings to new life in him an understanding of and relationship with the Christ. Indeed brings him new Life.

Thereafter Paul went on to transform other people’s understanding of Jesus, to nurture in them new Life, and did so with zeal, raising the profile of the  Way of Christ to new heights. 

Today’s Psalm too tells of the way of salvation as a process of transformation that echos both Paul’s experience and that of Paul’s ministry. The mission of Paul and his contemporaries, gave rise to the exponential growth of the Christian community – from its roots as a group of believers perhaps measured in hundreds, to a faith movement that, by the third century, becomes the state religion of the whole empire. Perhaps it is this that we are seeing in the extract from the Book of Revelation: the Lamb, once a creature to be sacrificed, becomes one to be credited all ‘power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ for ever and ever!

The gospel passage today comes from the end of John’s gospel. It is quite likely a later addition: in John’s account this is the first time we hear that Peter is a fisherman – the call of Peter away from his fishing career comes from the synoptic gospel. Without this information, there is not the sense  that Peter and his comrades are returning to where their old lives had broken off. Nevertheless this is the story that we are presented with as the final story of John’s gospel.

There is still confusion amongst Jesus’s disciples. They still do not instantly or completely recognise the figure they see as Jesus. This is not just the human Jesus who has been resuscitated. This is someone who is more. Yet even so this Jesus still understands what it is to be human, what it is that humans need – whether that is success in their work, food to satisfy their hunger, comfort, or indeed reassurance that past failures have been forgiven. And not just forgiven: Jesus assures Peter of his confidence that he, Peter, can fulfil the task which Jesus is giving him. 

I am sure many of us have felt the sense of inadequacy that Peter felt, that we are not up to the task, that we are going to fail and will let other people down. And often it is that very feeling of inadequacy that leads us to fail. In the Principles of the Franciscan Third Order, that for day 24 concerning humility, says “Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness”. This has often puzzled me, but I think it is reminding us that we should not rely on our own sense of ability but rather trust to the ability that comes from God. That was certainly Peter’s experience and Paul’s too. It should give us the confidence to continue with those tasks which we know to be right even if we can’t see how they might be successful. Success will come in God’s way and God’s time. 

I find it hard to believe that we humans will get our act together such that we can forestall the worst of the climate crisis, yet I am confident that God does not desire or will the destruction of creation. Somehow God’s will will prevail. 

Second Sunday of Easter

24th April 2022

Acts 5:27-32

When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Psalm 118:14-29

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

Revelation 1:4-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to 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 Gospel

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflection 

The story from John’s gospel takes place on the evening of the first day – that is the evening of the day of Jesus’s resurrection. Mary, the first to visit the tomb, finds it empty – body-less – and summons the help of the other disciples. Peter and the beloved disciples come and they too find the tomb empty apart from the grave clothes – they must realise something odd has happened, but what? They leave apparently not knowing what has happened to Jesus. Mary persists and is rewarded with sight and sound of Jesus: he is no longer a dead human but – not to be touched – what is he? A body brought back to life like Lazarus? A ghost with real presence? Something else, something more?

Come the evening, Jesus suddenly appears. The disciples are over joyed: this is their Lord. But do they understand who he is? Certainly when Thomas comes, they cannot sufficiently explain what has happened. Thomas seems to be asking if they have seen a ghost or human body that has come back to life. When Jesus does appear before him, it is instantly clear to Thomas that the answer is neither. The person who appears to him is Lord and God! For Thomas  Jesus is now recognisably both, the human figure he has spent the few last years with, and, God! We might then read today’s psalm (which yes we did have last week too!) as the long version of Thomas’s response.

The disciples’ understanding of Jesus has been completely transformed – turned upside down. Jesus, the man they knew had come from God, they now realise is God – the ‘God’ who uniquely had come to them as a human. I wonder which was harder to believe or understand, that Jesus, a human, had risen from the dead, or that Jesus, a human, was God?

The Book of Revelation describes what it is that John sees in his vision on Mount Patmos and which he records as a message for the Christian communities of the Near East. (NB this is not the John of the gospel). For this John, it is clear that Jesus is human (the first born of the dead) and is God, and that because of this, Christians have a particular role as citizens of the – God’s –  kingdom and as priests serving God.

Throughout the larger part of the Gospels, the disciples have been responding to human authority. Indeed even when they were following Jesus’s instructions during his ministry, it was in response to him as a human, their leader.  But now, in the story we hear from the Book of Acts, things have changed. Now the disciples are only responsive to God’s authority. They express now with certainty what they seem to have been grappling with in John’s gospel. They now understand the role, the task,  they have been given and they are not to be diverted from it, either by their own uncertainty  nor by human intervention. They believe and, because of their belief, they have Life! 

We need to be reminded that we too are God’s citizens, bound ultimately by God’s authority. We should be willing to think and question human rules and directives even when they come from governments. Is what we are being asked to do, is what we are being asked to accept, is what we are being asked to ignore, in line with God’s wishes, God’s will? 

In God’s kingdom, do people go hungry because their pay is inadequate? In God’s kingdom are those seeking asylum sent away? In God’s kingdom, do people make profits from the misfortune of others? In God’s kingdom are companies encouraged to produce even more life destroying carbon emissions?

Easter Day

17th April 2022

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Reflection

‘I have seen the Lord!’ 

‘I have seen the Lord!’ says Mary Magdalene. To have been one of those first disciples and heard those words, indeed to have been Mary and seen what she saw, must have been amazing, thrilling, sensational, out of this world! To see alive the one you thought was dead, the one you thought had been disfigured, mutilated and  cruelly killed, must have been so overwhelming, so joyous, so unbelievable. 

This is the moment that has been eagerly anticipated throughout John’s Gospel. “I am the resurrection and the Life” Jesus had promised, and it was – and is – so. And Mary Magdalene is the first witness. 

Those who witness the resurrection, are, Peter says, commanded by God to preach to the world and testify to what Jesus Christ has brought about. 

What is the resurrection about? It is not simply ‘coming back from the dead’ – it is not resuscitation. That was what Lazarus and the widow of Nain’s son experienced. Resurrection is about the Life, which is more than just the mortal life we live now. It is certainly a life that continues into the ‘next world’ but equally importantly it is Life experienced in this world. Otherwise it would , as Paul says, leaves us more to be pitied than ever. The resurrection is a reality to be experienced in this life. 

I think that what John’s gospel tells us is that to experience the resurrection and to experience the kingdom of God – to experience God’s reign –  are one and the same. Jesus came to announce the kingdom of God (or in Peter’s words, to preach God’s peace) to inaugurate the reign of God and establish God’s kingdom on earth. To experience God’s reign is to do God’s will – just as Jesus did,  repeatedly declaring that he did what the Father did. When that happens things change, life is transformed – life becomes Life!  The vine’s branches flourish and are abundantly fruitful, the blind see, bread is multiplied and wine jars  overflow.  Those who are open to God – in Peter’s words, those who fear God – can experience this.  

The inauguration of God’s reign – resurrection  – is an ongoing process that will be completed when, as Paul writes, Jesus has destroyed -ie overcome, supplanted – every ruler and every authority and power.  It is that rule, that reign, that kingdom, which is being built upon the cornerstone rejected by we would-be human builders. 

Resurrection is real, it is a reality – but maybe it is something we have to be open to see. In John’s gospel there are many instances of people who do not see or understand what is happening around them. They are blinkered, they are looking the wrong way, they are avoiding walking in the light. Peter and the beloved disciple don’t understand what they see when they find the tomb empty and the grave clothes folded. Mary Magdalene struggles. She doesn’t see at first, and confuses Jesus with a gardener. If Jesus hadn’t spoken would she have left the garden in ignorance? 

So we need to be alert in looking for signs of the resurrection, for signs of the Life. We need to witness to these signs, to share the insights and to enable each other to see what is happening around us. We need to both seek and tell the good news. And we need to live the resurrection, to live The Life. That is not to live the uninformed ‘worldly life’ but to live The Life according to the way God desires, according to God’s rule, following the teaching and example of Jesus. To live that lifestyle of which Jesus is the corner stone. 

This is the only way I believe that we will cope with the climate crisis that we have created for ourselves.

5th Sunday of Lent

3rd April 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,

who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;

they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself

so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations, *
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

4 The Lord has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Reflection

The passage from Isaiah tells us that war and military strength are not the solution to problems in the kingdom of God. They are not solutions that bring in God’s reign. God’s way is new, is different, says the prophet. Perhaps not new to God but new to humans who are slow to perceive it! Wake up humans! God’s way inhabits the natural world, creating what is needed for life – water in dry areas, paths where it’s rough, things that bring life to creatures and people alike. The psalmist knows that when we recognise these occasions of restoration and transformation – those occasions when we align our ways with God’s ways – they will be times of joy and laughter and flourishing. 

How is it that we can seem to slip in and out of God’s kingdom, or more accurately, in and out of being aligned with God’s reign, God’s way? 

Paul in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, recalls how in the past he had closely cherished his Jewish heritage and assiduously followed its practices which he had been taught would keep him in alignment with God. But all that guarantee he has now forgone having found something even better: the life he knows through Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ brings resurrection – and resurrection means new life, means a new way of experiencing life, means a new way of living. It is a life not limited to this world and our mortal time frame. 

The story related In John’s Gospel takes place on the eve of Palm Sunday, on the eve of the most momentous week. Jesus, in John’s gospel, is a figure confident of his own destiny, who sees and understands how that destiny is going to pan out. Jesus has already raised  Lazarus from the dead; Jesus has declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die”. This is the eve of the week in which Jesus will ride publicly in to Jerusalem; in which he will continue to  declare his message that he is the light of the world; that through belief in him, people will have eternal life – new life which is not of this world; that he will be raised up for all to see in what will be his culminating hour of glory.  It is a week that will end with his burial. 

In the scene John depicts, there are two contrari protagonists. On the one hand Mary who it seems understands how this week will unfold, and Judas who it seems is either oblivious, or wilfully ignoring, what the state of play. Mary recognises the importance of what is going to happen and pours out this expensive ointment as her best acknowledgement of who Jesus is and of what he represents. It is her expression of adoration and love. It witnesses to her belief that what is to come will be worth so much more than this perfume. Judas, on the other hand, just wants to come across as the good guy – the one standing up for the poor. What Judas has failed to understand is that what the poor need is not just extra alms now, but system change. 

“I am the way and the truth and the life”: Jesus is the true system change. 

System change is what the world still needs. In the UK where an increasing number of people are facing poverty, what is needed is not just increased benefits, but a system change in which everyone is  awarded a wage on which they can genuinely live, in which goods are produced and sold at a price that reflect their true cost, in which animals reared as food are given genuinely good lives, in which taxes paid genuinely reflect the person/ company’s ability to pay, in which the real cost of fossil fuels is recognised and in which economic policies really do focus on zero carbon emissions. 

System change is about aligning the world’s systems to God’s ways – not just some of the time, but all of the time!

Mothering Sunday/ Fourth Sunday in Lent

27th March 2022

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm 32

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.

10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.”

11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

Reflection 

Today, as well as being the fourth Sunday of Lent, it is also Mothering Sunday – for which alternative readings are given. Mothering Sunday has come to be Mother’s Day, a day when we tell our mums how much we love them and appreciate what they have and do do for us. Saying thank you and showing one’s love, is always a good thing to do! But sometimes one can feel uncomfortable about being unduly praised especially if others equally deserving of praise are overlooked. Or the focus on mothers may bring back painful memories: not everyone has happy experiences of being mothered or of being a mother; not everyone who would wish, has had the opportunity of being a mother. 

As a child I was taught that Mothering Sunday was about giving thanks for Mother Church. What might we mean when we say ‘Mother Church’? It sounds rather hierarchical! A central church in charge of all its offspring? Or should it mean the mothering nature of God that can be expressed by a church community? Last week’s Psalm talked of clinging onto God and from that I digressed to the images of ducklings following their mother and of lambs sticking close to their mums. (One could also include baby elephants who tag alongside both mum and aunts). Mothering in the context of a church community might be that which helps us stick close to God, as well as to one another. We know that both ducks and sheep will respond when their young get lost, quacking and bleating for help and reassurance. So mothering in the context of a church community might also be about responding to people’s needs and pleas. 

At this point comes aptly today’s gospel with the parable of the lost son. All the characteristics of the father – love for his offspring, the desire to treat them fairly, the letting them go their own ways, the forgiving and welcoming of them when they go astray – are as much a mother’s as a father’s. God is both our Father and our Mother. 

For the young man, the story is a rollercoaster ride of change and transformation. At the beginning of the story, we might describe him as eager but immature, self assured, self confident that he can do better with his inheritance than can his father. He goes from being a child living within the support – to him perhaps, the confines – of the family home, to being an independent person of means,  off to experience all that life has to offer. 

His life goes downhill, money and friends gone, he confidence goes and he becomes a drudge, the lowliest of the low, effectively a slave labourer, reliant on an employer who has no regard for his well-being. Reliant too on the pigs that their appetite will be satisfied before they have eaten every scrap of food. This bottom of the pit moment becomes another turning point in the young man’s life. Understanding dawns. He is aware that he is where he is because of his own actions. He has the option of staying or leaving. He owns his failure both to himself and, later, to his father. He sees there is another way of behaving. He now accepts the need to be dependent on the goodwill of others. He accepts the need to change his attitude. He accepts the need to amend his life. Home he goes, penitent and remorseful, willing to forgo all that he had had, to be under the charge of someone far wiser than himself. He knows where he wants to belong.

And the final transformation, the one he least expected: the young man is restored as a son of the household, as his father’s beloved. His humility and acceptance of his own short comings and his recognition of his need for the benevolence of his father, have changed him into a mature, life-scarred young man. 

The father is a figure of constancy, always there, always loving all his children. He is not a dictatorial figure, nor a disciplinarian. He is not a ‘helicopter’ parent nor a ‘tiger’ parent: he doesn’t hover around his children, never allowing them to learn through experience, nor does he push them to be someone they are not.   Yet he does remain the back stop, the one who will always love them. 

The short reading from Joshua is also about a time of change. Up until this point the people of Israel have been wanders in the desert, fed each day by God. Now they will no longer be wanderers but established as farmers and town dwellers, living on and from the land which God is giving them. They will have to contribute their effort to the process of producing food to eat. In the wilderness they were guided every foot of the way by God – as column of fire by night and as a column of cloud by day. Now on, they will have to ensure they spend time with God, checking in and making sure that they are on the right path. Rather than just being led, they will have to plot a route and follow it. As it says in the Psalm, “Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding” – rather take responsibility for your actions, be savvy!

Paul’s letter to the community at Corinth is also about new beginnings: specifically the new beginning that we all have through Jesus Christ. Just as the young man at first only saw the world through the rose-tinted  self-assurance of his youth, but then through the recognition of his faults and the love of his father, saw life in a completely new way, so Paul tells us that whilst we had at first seen Jesus only as a human – or only seen him through human eyes – we now are transformed into a new creation, seeing the world as those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus. Through Jesus we are given a new way of understanding the world. And we are tasked with enabling others to experience this transformation. 

Let us then return to the mothering church – knowing that to be motherly is also to be fatherly. We are God’s new creation, called to help each other stay close to God and close to one another; called to listening out for cries of help; called to share the means and gift of reconciliation with everyone. 

Happy Mothering Sunday!

Third Sunday in Lent

20th March 2022

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.”

Psalm 63:1-8

1 O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.

2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.

3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.

4 So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.

5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

6 When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.

7 For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

8 My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

The Gospel

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Reflection

Moses, is shepherding his Father-in-law’s flock on the far side of the wilderness, when he sees a burning bush. When we are out in the natural world, away from habitation, we can become much more observant of the present moment and of the world around us. Like Moses, these can be times when we are more acutely aware of God’s presence. God has certainly piqued Moses curiosity and got his attention. For God sees, senses, knows what is happening in the world. God knew the suffering of the Israelites captive in Egypt; God knows the suffering of the Ukrainians, of the Ethiopians caught up in civil war, of asylum seekers, of people forced to use food-banks, of people thrown out of work. God is the God of past, present and future generations. When Moses asks God’s name, he is given a wonderfully poetic reply: I am …. because  I am!  

Today’s Psalm explores what it is to know God – the seeking and the gazing, the finding and the experiencing. To know God is to know joy and contentment, to experience loving kindness and shelter. To know God is to seek God, to spend time in meditation, to lift up our hands, to act and to praise. The psalmist also calls on us to ‘cling fast’ to God: the Hebrew also translates as ‘adhere’ or ‘catch by pursuit’. Perhaps this is a call to stay close to God, to stick by God, to adhere to/ follow God’s ways, to move alongside God. Maybe it is to be like ducklings that swim close to their mother to avoid getting lost, or like lambs that learn the pathways up and down the fells by sticking close to their mums. 

Just as lambs can go astray and get lost, so too do we humans. We can be wayward, foolish, negligent, even wilfully disobedient. We fail to follow in God’s ways, to live according to God’s desires. As a consequence we often end up being hurt, becoming angry, feeling disorientated. Paul, in his letter, warns the community at Corinth of the dangers of going against God’s will, of being disobedient, of doing what is wrong. 

When we do things wrong, we may get hurt, but it is equally possible that other people will also get hurt. Our wrongful actions may cause others – who may well be quite blameless – to suffer. This is seems to the case of those killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam. It is the case of the many victims of the invasion of Ukraine. It is the case of the 186 people who lost their lives in Petropolis, Brazil in flash floods and mudslides caused by the climate crisis. 

Jesus calls on us all to repent. However good or bad we think we may be, we are all sinners and all need to repent. Jesus follows this reprove with a parable about a fig tree. The fig tree then represented Israel, but now it might represent all our communities. The fig refuses to produce any fruit. It produces nothing good. The owner determines therefore to get rid of it – and why not? And yet the gardener, asks for one last chance. The gardener, who clearly loves the fig tree  undertakes to tends and nurture it, to give it everything that might help it ‘repent’ and be transformed into a flourishing fruitful tree. God is always willing to give us a second chance. God is willing to do all that is possible to enable us to repent and be reformed. 

Let us repent, set behind us all that takes us in the wrong direction, that makes our lives fruitless. Instead let us come along side God, let us stick close to God, following the way of Christ. 

Second Sunday of Lent

13th March 2022

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

Psalm 27

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.

3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

4 And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;

6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.

7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe
in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

8 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

12 Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

13 You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

14 Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the Lord will sustain me.

15 Show me your way, O Lord; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

16 Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.

17 What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the Lord *
in the land of the living!

18 O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the Lord.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Reflection

In the reading from Genesis, Abram is feeling disconsolate about the future. He has no offspring that his house may continue. House here is used not in the sense of the building in which one lives, but of the family line: the line of continuity from forebears to offspring and future generations. Even today we talk of the House of Windsor in reference to the royal family. Abram has no offspring and fears he never will. His house, his inheritance, will pass to someone outside his family. God takes Abram outside (outside the tent where he lives) and showing him all the stars, promises that Abram’s descendants will be as numerous: his house, his line, is assured! And Abram believed and it counted to him as righteousness. 

I wonder if there is also something here about what is outside? Abram’s family is not going to be limited to what inside but is to encompass the greater number of all who are in the outside: a most inclusive family!

Then another worry surfaces for Abram. Will his line have secure possession of the land where they are living? Will they have a safe place to call ‘home’? Now God makes a covenant with Abram, conferring on his descendants possession of the land. In Hebrew the phrase to make a covenant  has two words. The first ‘karat’ means to cut; the second ‘beriyt’ to select or choose the best. Abram takes the prescribed animals and cuts them in half, laying them so as to speak either side of a path. From Jeremiah 34:18-20 we hear of this as a means of affirming an agreement: the undertaker of the agreement walks between the animal cut in two, to signify that, should they default, that same fate will be their due. Here it is God who walks between the two halves of the animals: God is taking on the burden of forfeiture in this covenant! 

Abram could certainly have agreed with the psalmist: with the Lord on one’s side, one has nothing to fear! The psalmist asserts that the Lord is the light, salvation and strength of those who put their trust in God. Thus assured, the psalmist has only one further request, to dwell in the house of the Lord. Here house is used in terms of a place, and specifically in this case, the temple – a place of safety and a place where one praises God.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians wants to make it quite clear that there is the wrong way of living and the right way. The wrong way has its focus on worldly gain whilst the right way is that of a citizen of heaven. The word used in the Greek is ‘politeuma’, has the meaning of behaving as a citizen, of conducting oneself appropriately, of undertaking one’s due responsibilities. Paul is appealing to us to live in this way, to stand firm in Jesus because, through him, we are citizens of heaven. This is both a privilege and responsibility. What we have  as citizens is, in essence, what Abram sought: an identity and a home.

Talk of citizenship and responsibility seems very topical when we look across to Ukraine and the commitment and strength being shown by the citizens of that land. Do we have the same fervour and commitment to the kingdom of heaven?

In the Gospel reading, we meet Jesus lamenting over the fate of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city consecrated to God, the site of the temple – the place of sacrifice – and the focal point for all who understood themselves to be the descendants of Abraham. Jesus knows that it will be the place where he will finally be killed by the authorities. He also knows the vulnerability of the place, that is going to be a place of desolation, a house whose line has died out, whose occupants have been taken away, a place whose inhabitants spurn all help. Yet there will be a happy resolution. The day will come when the people will say ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ – a quote from psalm 118 entitled a ‘Song of Victory’!

On this the second Sunday in Lent we are being reminded of the importance of belonging. We are, as it were, of the line of Abraham, we are of the house of God co heirs with Jesus, we are citizens of heaven, and our safety is secured by the promises of God. In this we are privileged. 

For those of us in East Sheen, we are also privileged that we can live securely in our homes, with ample supplies of food, energy and clean water. As citizens of heaven we have a responsibility to ensure that others too have equal access to such essentials. Whether that is for other people who even in Britain do not have secure accommodation, or the assurance of affordable food and heating. Whether that is for those who are refugees, or those still trapped behind battle lines. Or whether it is for those who are being dispossessed by the climate crisis. 

Each year Southwark Diocese raises money via a Lent Call. This year’s is focused on the need to provide people with homes, both here in south London, in Beirut and in our link dioceses in Zimbabwe. 

Our home – our place with God – is desolate until we receive the one who comes in the name of the Lord, until we welcome Jesus.