First Sunday of Advent 

26th November 2022

Reflection (readings follow on below)

Is Advent just a precursor for Christmas or is it a season with its own focus and purpose?

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the Church’s year. Whilst with the secular New Year one focuses on new beginnings, fresh starts, transformative resolutions, the traditional themes for Advent are death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Another view of Advent is to see it as a time to ‘Prepare  the way of the Lord’ with a focus on both the nativity of Jesus and his second coming. Other themes that Christians observe are hope, peace, joy, and love. 

Maybe Advent is both a time to make a fresh start – to repent and realign our daily lives with God – and a time of hope for the coming of Jesus through whom we once again receive the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. And in just under a year’s time we will again celebrate the feast of  – and our allegiance to – Christ the King. 

Kingdoms centre round a castle or palace or capital city from which the rule of the kingdom extends. It is the place from where justice is meted out. It is the place of learning and fashion that shapes the culture of the kingdom. The passage from Isaiah talks of the mountain as the Lord’s house – the pinnacle from which God’s presence is spread abroad. This mountain has become the highest point – now everyone and every nation can see where God dwells and feel the influence of God’s rule. This renewed prominence draws the people to God in their desire to learn God’s ways which encompass peace and justice and reconciliation. 

Jesus in his ministry drew people to himself as he preached the good news of the coming rule of the kingdom of God. His message was radical and transformative, calling on people to renew and reform their lives, following in the ways of God. Jesus also spoke about a day of judgement, a day of denouement when the success or failure of our lives will be tested. This day does not sound pleasant; it sounds as if it will come with pain and tears and suffering. Jesus likens it to the time of Noah and the flood. There was life after that catastrophic flood, a new beginning. There have been other times too when humanity as a whole or in various areas of the world, has faced similar cataclysmic situations – war, floods, hurricanes, financial collapse, pandemics – which have become a time of reckoning and from which life has re-emerged, often wisely, and hopefully with a renewed understanding of the right ways of Godly living. These times of reckoning will continue to occur as we continue to wrestle with our human inclination to trust in greed and self interest. So maybe each season of Advent should be seen as a challenge to face up to our unwholesome inclination, and a time to refocus on the right ways of living in harmony with God and God’s creation.

The passage from Isaiah has words of hope that God will arbitrate between peoples and nations to establish justice, such that the weapons of war can be reformed as tools of peace and prosperity. In our time our greatest threat comes from the use of fossil fuels and the release of excessive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change on a catastrophic scale. If we do not curtail this decisively and speedily, we know we face a near future in which vast numbers of plants, animals and people will suffer and die. It will be a a doomsday of our own making. The weapons that enable this crisis, are our patterns of consumption and our patterns of investment. We need to transform these to create sustainable and equitable patterns of consumption and to invest in renewable and sustainable technologies. 

Advent is a season to reflect upon and amend the relationship we have with creation, with technology, with society, and with all that shapes our daily live. We need to focus on those ways which will establish a way of live that reflects God’s will, and to share that so that it is a world wide transformation. 

We should not wait for the climax to be reached before we reform our lives in line with God’s way. Now is the time to be ready. Now is the time to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’!

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Psalm 122

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;

4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the Lord.

5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Christ the King: 20th November 2022

Reflection (readings are below)

We need leaders who are just and compassionate and who stick to the ways of God – those whose aim is to be upright, to seek after righteousness. And we have the ultimate example in Jesus. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King – the one who is the king of the kingdom of God. He is our king; he is the one above all to whom we owe our honour and allegiance. He is the one who will never stop caring for us.

Yet the gospel chosen for today is of the crucifixion, the suffering and death, of Jesus. That doesn’t sound like an apt reading to celebrate the highest of all kings? For Jesus’s friends and followers, that day, that hour, must have been the absolute low point of their existence. The day when all their hopes and dreams were dashed. Their leader had been arrested – trapped by his opponents, jeered at by his critics, brought to court and found guilty – a sentence approved of by the masses. His vision of a better world, a world of justice and peace, of inclusivity and divine compassion was surely now in ruins, lost for ever? And what was to be their future? Would they be hounded and rounded up by the mob? Would they be rejected by friends and family? Would they become vagrants trying to eke out a living on the margins of society? Were they overcome by shame and doubt, wondering why they had been taken in by Jesus’s words, wondering why they had not heeded the words of their religious leaders, their elders and betters? Perhaps it was one of those days when you think it can’t get any worse and it just does.

We are living after the event. We know that Jesus’s drawn out execution on the cross with its blood and pain, before a jeering crowd was not the end of the story. There were still some empty hours ahead, some dark times of waiting and not knowing, of uncertainty and fear, for the disciples. But they didn’t run away. They didn’t stop caring for Jesus. They kept on living taking each day as it came. They weren’t expecting a miracle but were waiting to do what had to be done to complete his funeral. And a miracle happened; an unbelievable miracle! Jesus rose from the dead and met them where they were. He comforted and commissioned them and then took on his new role as the ascended messiah, Christ the King!

Can we find hope in that story? Can we find that hope that the psalmist speaks of? The strength of faith to continue even when things get tough, when the future looks uncertain – doomed even – and to hold tight to get assurance that God will always be there for us? When we face an uncertain future in the face of the climate crisis, the intransigence of oil producers, the reluctance of rich nations to be neither penitent nor generous, the naive optimism of those who say the climate crisis isn’t really a problem.

Let us find hope, take strength, encourage one another and reaffirm once more our allegiance to Christ the King.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3 Though its waters rage and foam, *
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, *
the holy habitation of the Most High.

6 God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.

7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; *
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

8 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

9 Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

12 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Colossians 1:11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Second before Advent

13th November 2022

Reflection (readings follow on below)

“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”

We often hear in the media of giving fatigue. I am sure that there are times when it feels like just another ask to give to another worthy while cause. Or maybe the fatigue comes from realising that this is the nth time we have been asked to give to solve this problem, and our fatigue is also tinged by a feeling that what we give is never going to make a difference. It is the same with volunteering – volunteering fatigue when you feel you’re always who steps up and that others are not pulling their weight. Or you willingness to volunteer may be disillusioned because you feel that the way others are tackling the problem is the wrong way.  

Sometimes our commitment becomes jaded because we just can envisage how we can ever make a meaningful difference. We would prefer fast results, quick and easy solutions. We want the future outcome to be clearly visible now. We don’t have the patience or the faith to let situations evolve towards an as yet unknown solution.

When we are impatient or jaded, or indeed, when we are working frantically eyes down, we loose track of the meaning of life. We loose sight of why we doing things and of what our role is in creation. We forget that we are the product of God’s creative being, that our life comes from God and that our lives are to be .over in response to God. We forget that God loves us and desires a deep and loving relationship with us. We forget that God not only loves us, but loves all creation. We forget that God created the world as a whole to evolve and live together in harmony. We forget that God is our stay, our help, our means of strength and wisdom. Time spent with God is not wasted. Time spent in admiration of and coexistence with the beauty of creation is not time wasted. Time spent praising God and recognising where things are going well, is not time wasted. Being patient is not time wasted. Being active for care of God’s creation – for care of God’s beloved – is not time wasted.

Today is a ‘rest’ day for the participants of COP27, a day without formal meetings and agendas. It is a pause before the hard week to come when everyone will be busy trying to pull together strands of discussion, agreements and finances that hopefully will protect the world and all its inhabitants from a worsening future. Pray hard for a good, God-desired, outcome.

Malachi 4:1-2a

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

Psalm 98

1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvellous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.

3 The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Third Sunday before Advent

6th November 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Job has been sorely afflicted and his friends bring him little comfort. Job is sure that what he is suffering is not because he has sinned. His suffering is, he feels, undeserved yet real.  His friends fail to hear what he is saying  and continue to tell him to simply repent and all will be well.

Despite the hardships and trauma, Job is confident of two things – so confident that if he could he would write them in lead with an iron pen! He is certain that God is ultimately in charge of his life  and, that God will redeem him.  (It is useful to note that redemption – salvation – does not of itself preclude suffering in our lives.)

The Psalmist expresses similar feelings, a conviction that he will be shown loving mercy by God and that his life will have a purpose. The Psalmist confidence comes from his (or her) relationship with God, through prayer and through following God’s law.

Both the passage from Job and the passage from the letter to the Thessalonians envisages an end time when God’s salvation will be made manifest. The understanding of both the resurrection of the dead and of a day of judgement – often linked to the creation of a new world – was a growing belief in Judaism in the era following the return from exile in Babylon, and then in Christianity. It wasn’t a homogeneous belief and, as we see in today’s gospel, there were powerful groups who did not belief in resurrection (and therefore not in an end judgement day either). Scepticism and uncertainty continued amongst Christians too, who were uncertain how or what resurrection and judgement would look like. Early on many Christians thought that Jesus’s return in judgement would happen during their life time and that they would pass straight from this life to the next as enjoyed by the risen Jesus. As time passed, and as those of their communities died without experiencing a resurrection visible to their companions, people were reviewing what they believed, trying to work out a better understanding of judgement and resurrection. So it is that the writer of the letter tries to reassure the congregation in Thessalonica. They are reminded that they are loved by God, that they are – already – the first fruits of salvation, and that they have been sanctified – sealed – by the Holy Spirit and are a living demonstration of the glory of Christ Jesus. 

In our current era, many people suffer for no good reason other than that they are victims of a climate crisis that is not of their making. Many others are fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about what the climate crisis portends, how it may affect them and how they should be responding. Some feel the need to take radical action, others to shy away completely from the thought of what might lie ahead. The message from Job would be to stay engaged with God – to pray, to argue, to remain faithful. The message from the Thessalonians would be to sift the stories we hear so as to discern what is truthful, and to continue as committed followers of Christ, remembering that we have Jesus as our guide and exemplar, and the Spirit as our staying power and that both the ‘Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loves us, …. [will] comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.’

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus caught up in just such a dispute between those who believed in the resurrection and those who did not. It is one of a series of debates in the temple precincts where those who oppose Jesus are trying to pick holes in his teaching. Jesus’s answer is succinct: ‘God is the God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all … are alive’. What we humans understand as death is not as God understands it. In each of the gospels the writers record for us the good news that Jesus brought. The good news that showed us how we should live in relation to one another and in relation to God. The good news of Jesus is radical. It challenges our conventional ideas. It challenges the institutionalised ideas of our social and business worlds. It challenges our priorities. It calls for an active and prayerful response.

In the face of the climate crisis and the urgent need for radical justice, the gospel is a timely challenge to us to review our lives and reapply to them the teachings of Jesus. In this the Kingdom season, the call is to work with Jesus in establishing the kingdom of God here on earth. 

Job 19:23-27a

Job said,

“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

The Psalm

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvellous loving-kindness, *
O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,

9 From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Bible Sunday

23rd October 2022

Reflection (readings are below)

Today is Bible Sunday making it a good time to reflect why we think the Bible is important (assuming that you do). The Bible (from biblos in Greek meaning books) is a collection of books written over many centuries by different people using different genres, edited and rewritten, and collated into a collection. Which books are included in that collection varies from church body to church body with the Orthodox having the largest and the  Protestants the slimmest version. At root the Bible recounts people’s experiences of encountering God. 

I would like to suggest that the Bible is important for four reasons: salvation, instruction, glory and encouragement.

The central story running through the Bible is of salvation: God saving his people. It is a salvation that heals, restores and overflows with mercy – from the drama in the Garden of Eden, through the journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan and the exile to and return from Babylon, to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We focus on the salvation of our own kind but there is an underlying current that tells us that God’s salvation is the salvation of all creation: 

‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!’

It is a book of instruction. Every Sunday we hear and explore the Bible discovering anew or hearing again the guidance, the instruction, it gives us. We learn of the importance of prayer and hope, faith and love. We are reminded to be both penitent and merciful, to heal and set free. We are challenged to walk the talk, to respond to the cry of the earth – its people, its creatures, its rivers and soils, its plant and wildlife. We are exhorted to be radical – not conforming to the ways of the ‘world’ but adhering to the values of the kingdom of God. The message comes from both what we call The Old Testament – maybe First Testament would be better – and The New Testament. 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor’.

It is a book that celebrates the glory of God. It recounts and retells the amazing things God does. It raises a paean of praise that comes both from the people of God as well as from all the creaturely and non-creaturely parts of creation. It celebrates the harmony that comes when we live according to God’s wishes. 

‘In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.’

It is a book of encouragement. In its pages we see how people before us have struggled, often failed, and been restored by hope. We see our mistakes and shortcomings echoed in theirs. And we find encouragement when we realise that we are not alone, that God has always, will always and is always there for us. We find encouragement knowing that Jesus has laid out the way before us. 

And Jesus said ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 

The people of Nazareth are both amazed by what they hear and sceptical. Can they believe that God has chosen a carpenter’s son to be the fulfilment of the scripture, the fulfilment of all their hopes for salvation? He is someone they have known since childhood. He is one of them!

I wonder if sometimes the words of the Bible seem too familiar to us – especially if we heard them oft repeated since childhood. Do we sometimes fail to hear quite how powerful and radical the words are? Do we sometimes fail to hear both the challenge and the opportunity they present?

Isaiah 45:22-end

Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
    from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear.’

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
    are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him
    shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
    shall triumph and glory.

Romans 15:1-6

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,  so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Luke 4:16-24

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town’s .

Proper 22

2nd October 2022

Reflections (the readings are at the end)

The Book of Lamentations contains a series of laments made in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian forces. In today’s exert, the writer mourns over an abandoned Jerusalem. Jerusalem now has no useful purpose: it has lost its identity and its raison d’être. It has been overtaken by events. 

 Not – thankfully – through war, but many towns cities in the UK feel abandoned. The vitality of their shopping centres sapped by empty units and boarded up shop fronts. Their hubs of industry and employment diminished as old manufacturing processes and products have become defunct, the skills of their workforce no longer of use. Derelict and disused sites cast a blighted shadow over the land. With the loss of jobs, goes a loss of self worth and civic pride. As incomes fall, so the reliance on overstretched public services rises. Residents become trapped unable to escape the encroaching poverty – and poverty brings a further deterioration of living standards. Levelling up, re invigorating the economy, re-equipping the people remains an unfulfilled promise. Borrowing from the writings of St Paul, since we are one body, we all suffer when one part suffers – but perhaps not so acutely in the wealthier suburbs. 

Why is Jerusalem in such a sorry plight? Because of its people’s sinfulness. Because the people chose to worship gods other than the one true God. Because the people choose not to live their lives in accordance with God’s ways. Rather they choose to be greedy, self interested and acquisitive. Might the same criticisms be turned towards us in 2022? Both our government and our economic model favours constant growth over sufficiency, personal gain over social good, tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. We are stuck in an economy that is tied to the fossil fuel industry which cannot see beyond the promise of profits, to the threat of the climate crisis; which refuses to listen to the prophets of the age and refuse to shift allegiance to renewable energy.

Today’s offering for a psalm is a further exert from Lamentations. The desperate state of affairs still weighs heavy on the writer but now there is also a sense of hope. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,’ asserts the writer, and ‘therefore I will hope in Him’.  Last week we heard how Jeremiah expressed his confidence that at some point in the future God’s people would return once to their city and its lands. Have we that hope, that vision, that our towns and cities can be place of happiness and self worth and sufficiency, where all can share in the wealth and vitality of a just society?

The Letter to Timothy is full of inspiring words. Our faith is a gift, a treasure entrusted to us by God! We are to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is a grace by which God gives a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline. I wonder if we exercise these powers enough? Or are they like muscles we forget we have and therefore forget to use? How should we be using these gifts? In declaring the good news: talking about and living out in our lives the Kingdom values that Jesus has shown. These are the values that our desolated towns need. These are the values that will restore justice, that will level up society, that will enrich lives and restore balance in the natural environment. 

Should we then be surprised by what Jesus says about what faith can achieve? Let us be confident in living by faith, living lives true to Jesus’s kingdom values, and let us share this good news so that  these values will shape the whole world.

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;

all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;

her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,

because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;

her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.

Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;

they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God– whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did– when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

Proper 21

25th September 2022 (readings below)

Reflection 

‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. That is an interesting thought! Are there some forms or maybe approaches to life that are not real? That perhaps are fake? Or shallow or incomplete?

We are often encouraged to live in the moment, to enjoy the now and not worry about the future. Jeremiah takes a different tack. He and his companions are within the besieged city of Jerusalem, the opposing armies are at their gates. Maybe there isn’t anything to enjoy in the present moment. But Jeremiah can envisage a brighter future, one in which their way of life will be restored in Jerusalem- and his certainty about this comes from his trust in, and knowledge of, God. And he demonstrates his certainty by buying a piece of land – a piece of land that is about to be overrun by the invading forces – confident that he (or his descendants) will be able to occupy it in future time of peace. Jeremiah’s actions enact and confirm his faith that his life is lived in God’s hands.

The Psalmist is equally confident that real life is life lived with God. It is a life he lives in the confidence that God will be both a refuge and a protector. It is a life lived in the certainty that we are in relationship with God that is bound together by love. 

The author of the Letter to Timothy offers straight forward advice that we should live lives of godliness and contentment, spurning the temptations of riches, wealth and pointless desires. A good life is one lived with God, pursuing the virtues of godliness – following the path laid out before us by Christ Jesus.  Finding joy and being contented with what we have, is the message of Joy in Enough – a Christian campaign developed by Green Christian that works through churches to advocate for a fair and green economy. Joy in Enough calls for an economy that prioritises wellbeing and the common good, in which all have enough, and that respects the boundaries of nature.’ As well as proving a wealth of resources,  Joy in Enough also has a group study programme called Plenty! For enough can be plenty!

But what if people don’t have enough? Today’s gospel highlights the vast divide that can exist between those who have more than enough and those who do not have anything like enough. The parable illustrates how easily those of with more than enough can be blind to the lack faced by others. Currently charities and NGOs are pressing for the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund that would pay reparations to communities who suffering loss through the effects of the climate change and with a particular awareness that often those who are suffering most have contributed least to the climate crisis. The call is for the United Nations to set up such a fund that would be financed by donations from wealthy countries, by taxes in fossil fuel companies, by taxes on air travel etc. 

‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. Is the life we live at present really the life God wishes? Is life where there is such poverty faced by people in the Horn of Africa, in Afghanistan and in the Indian subcontinent, really life? Is life where the rich have multiple homes and multiple cars, and can earn more in an hour that the poor do in a year, really life? Is life where the rich can buy influence in politics whilst  protestors are being silenced, really life? 

Should we not be like Jeremiah and living out in the present the future life we know to be real, the future life we know God desires? Do we not as Christians have a vision of a better world where life is real for all? Real life where there is no poverty but a fair sharing of resources and opportunities. Real life where power is not abused. Real life where all have a voice that is heard. Real life where creation is cared for. Real life where God is known by all and all know they are loved. We do not need to be conformed to the ways of the world but rather to the ways of the kingdom of God – that which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.

Jeremiah bought a field. What actions could we take to demonstrate our confidence in life that is real? There will be a multiplicity of responses, some will be our one individual responses and others those of the church as a corporate body, whether at the parish or diocesan level. An increasing number of churches are reshaping their lives to become Eco Churches. There are currently 896 Bronze, 294 Silver, and 18 Gold churches and that is just in the Church of England. In view of the acute necessity of drastically reducing carbon emissions some dioceses have sold off all their shares in fossil fuel companies, and many churches have pledged  to avoid any such investments. Faced with accounts of poverty here in the UK and abroad, many churches support food banks and night shelters, promote fair trade goods, and raise funds for Christian Aid etc. At the recent Lambeth Conference the bishops agreed to undertake to plant a Communion Forest with individuals, churches and dioceses being encouraged to plant tree to help safeguard the environment.

The first Christians, according to Acts, sold what they had in order to share their wealth more equitably – “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[a] and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47) Others who encountered them were amazed!

I’m not sure we are in a position to be so radical but could we not live closer to that ideal? Can we take joy in enough? Can we be contented with less and thus willing to share more?  Can we do more to campaign for the rights of others – for social justice, for climate justice, for racial justice, for tax justice? 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”

3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;

6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honour.

16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time– he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Proper 20

18th September 2022

Reflection (readings below)

“For the hurt of the people I am hurt. I mourn and dismay has taken hold of me” says Jeremiah. It is a cry many would empathise with, especially when one looks around at all the suffering already happening and all that is on the horizon as the climate crisis and the fuel and economic crises continue to grow in scale – the former fed by the latter into an ever deepening spiral.

Climate grief is now a recognised phenomena. It encompasses grief for what has already been lost, what is currently being lost and the ongoing threat of further loss going on into the future. Such loss is not just the loss of physical landscapes, plants and animals. It is also the loss of people’s livelihoods and traditions. It is the loss of actual lives. And it is grief for the loss of the futures that our children and grandchildren might have had but, now, will not have. There is no closure for this sort of grief and no traditions to help us cope. Jeremiah would certainly empathise with where we are, our plight and our sense of helplessness. 

Where then do turn for consolation? If we cannot find closure,  can we find a way of adjusting to the new realities of life? Can we find new ways of supporting each other? Can we adopt new ways of living and new economic models that will avert the worst scenarios? 

We can take a cue from the Letter of Timothy, and pray – with prayers of intercession and prayers of thanksgiving for everyone, including, but not just for, leaders and those in power. And not just to pray but to remember that in Jesus we have a mediator, someone who can help us understand both our problems and the possible solutions. 

Today’s gospel passage is one of a group of the parables including the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. They all reference one who goes astray – sins – and point in each situation the possibility of finding a way back. They all also point to the importance of celebration when what was lost is found, when what was lost is restored. To this the parable of the Prodigal Son adds the importance of having generosity of heart and humility. 

In today’s parable we have a sacked manager – one who has certainly been accused of fraud – someone who has fallen short. He is unsure how he can cope with the change in circumstances this is forcing upon him. He thinks hard about the steps he can take to mitigate this. Where as before he was totally dependent on one person, his boss – from whom he gained his wealth – he is now going to be at the mercy of the many of his community. He asks himself with whom he needs to be on best terms – his ex boss or the community? Whose interests should he nourish to safeguard his own future?

Not unreasonably, he concludes that he has nothing to loose by no longer increasing the profits of  his boss and much to gain by improving the lives of everybody else. He chooses to serve – to love – his community rather than the sole interests of the rich man. And this is why he is subsequently commended for being shrewd. 

Jesus reminds us that we cannot seek to gain both wealth and God.  Are we in fact fraudulent stewards, given the way we have allowed the climate crisis to grow and escalate? Have we opted to exploit the environment for short term gain and convenience? Are we fraudulent stewards who have allowed – indeed enabled – the developed countries to continue to grow rich at the expense of less powerful nations? Have we pinned all our fortunes on the ongoing success of fossil fuels? How should we respond when that certainty of income and wellbeing that we have enjoyed is pulled from under our feet?

We certainly need to end our reliance on the singularity of fossil fuels. We need to be diversifying and finding simpler, less damaging ways of living. We need to be finding economic models that share risks and profits equitably. And I am sure we in the developed world need to be literally halving the debts of our comrades – the less powerful – around the world. (Later this month people of faith will be marking Loss and Damage Day which calls on the creation of an insurance pot funded by wealthy nations to support those at the sharp edge of climate change). 

And let’s do some rejoicing too when we find these new relationships, these new ways of living together with our fellow human beings and with nature.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.

Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:

“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,

so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm 79:1-9

1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.

2 They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.

3 They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.

4 We have become a reproach to our neighbours, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?

6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.

7 For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.

8 Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.

9 Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,

Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

— this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Proper 19

11th September 2022

Reflection 

The Church world wide is currently marking Creation-tide, and this first reading from Jeremiah could not be more pertinent. It sounds like prophecy for us today warning us of the impending climate crisis and decrying our foolishness in not taking action to ch age the way we behave.

Today’s gospel has two very familiar stories, that of The Lost Sheep and of The Lost Coin. (It was lucky that the woman chose to clean her house with a broom and not a vacuum cleaner!)

In the parables, both protagonists  make a concerted effort to find what they have lost and don’t give up until they are successful. Whilst the parables are told in response to criticism that Jesus eats with sinners, there is no suggestion that the lost sheep or the lost coin are in any way different from the other of their ilk. This perhaps reminds us that what ever we think of ourselves, we are all at heart the same, we are all sinners. God wants to save us all. God wants everything and everyone to be included in the Kingdom. If this is God’s commitment, then what is our reciprocal commitment to the everyone and everything of this earth? 

Each week we assert our belief that God is the creator of earth as well as heaven, yet humanity is weekly destroying what God has made. So far the world has seen five mass extinctions in which a high proportion of the earth’s biodiversity has been wiped out. The last such occurred 65.5 million years ago in which the dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists now reckon that we are on track for a 6th mass extinction which unlike the others, will be manmade. Currently 1 million species are facing extinction because of human activity. 

1 in 3 species of trees are facing extinction, including our native ash tree. According to a report by Kew Gardens in 2020,  two fifths of all plants face extinction (up on one in five in 2016). Researchers fear that we may be losing plant species more quickly than science can find, name and study them. Here in the UK one in ten wildlife species are facing extinction, including Scottish wild cats, pine martens, sky larks, natterjack toads and numerous moths, butterflies and beetles. 

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ongoing projects that show that conservation and reintroduction projects can help restore vulnerable populations. Creating wildlife corridors and joining together existing protected sites does boost biodiversity. Farming less intensively and with consideration for wildlife does help. Rewilding can amazing lead to the re-emerging of forgotten or lost ecosystems. The need for protection and conservation doesn’t just include land but the oceans too. Currently negotiations are underway – although they are struggling – to create a treaty that would protect 30% of the oceans and their biomass by 2030. Later this year there will be two more  COPs – global conferences, one focussed on containing the climate crisis, and one focusing on biodiversity. 

God’s concern is for everything and everyone, and our concern should be likewise. How are we responding to the plight of people in Pakistan whose homes and livelihoods have been washed away? How do respond to the plight of people likewise affected in Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal and Sierra Leone where exceptionally heavy seasonal rain has caused flooding? How do we respond to the plight of millions faced with hunger and starvation as the Horn of Africa enters its fifth year of drought? How do we respond to the pleas for assistance from small island states in the Pacific where rising sea levels are a major threat for where the highest land is only 2m above sea level?

How can we as Christians stand by and let these things happen unremarked upon and with no intervention? Charities and NGOs do provide some support and Christian Aid is currently launching a new drive to tackle climate injustice. Governments can – and should – be making a difference but can be slow and lacking in generosity. Many Christians are making a difference in their local areas, supporting work with food banks, supporting people faced with homelessness, and this winter we may see help being provided to create warm spaces. 

I think the message of Jesus’s parable is that whatever efforts we do make to go safeguard and support those at risk, those who are vulnerable and those who are lost, we need to do so with persistence. We need to be able to carry on protecting biodiversity, tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint, giving generously to those in need, lobbying governments to live up to expectation, volunteering  or however it is we pursue ways of bringing God’s rule into play here on earth. But equally, as in the parable, we need to celebrate each success we achieve and invite others to share in that celebrating. We are in this together, both us and God and all the heavenly angels!

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14

1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.

3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.

4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?

5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.

6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.

7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 15:1-10

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 he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Proper 18

4th September 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Today’s reading from Jeremiah tells us that God is a God who takes an active and ongoing interest in what has been created. There is a similar  feel to the story in Isaiah of the vineyard which God tends and protects, but when it fails to produce the right fruits, God tears downs it protective hoarding and allows wild animals in. Creation is not a watch which the maker has made and wound up, leaving it to tick without deviation ever after (an analogy put forward by William Paley in the 1800s). Rather creation is always in the process of change and adaptation – and that includes humanity too. Sadly at the moment humanity is adding to this process of change at a faster rate than the rest of creation can accommodate, leading to some dire consequences. 

The reading from Jeremiah might be read as an assertion that God arranges for bad things to happen as a way of promoting repentance and a change of heart in humanity.  That bad things do and are happening I agree; that they are a consequence arising from bad actions by humans I also agree – although it is seldom the same group of humans who both suffer and cause the suffering.   What I don’t believe is that God deliberately wills bad things to happen.  In this particular parable from Jeremiah I find hope, it says that God notices when things are going badly with the clay, and by dint of reshaping the situation, produces something good in its place. 

Paul’s letter to Philemon is also about reshaping the situation. Onesimus was the one-time slave of Philemon. For some reason, Onesimus has run away which would entitle Philemon to punish him severely. Paul however has found Onesimus to be an excellent companion and wants to retain him as such. But at the same time Paul wants this reshaping of the situation – this bringing good out of bad  – to come from Philemon – ie that Philemon release Onesimus from slavery and allow him to be Paul rather than Philemon’s helper. Earlier in the letter Paul has written of ‘all the good that we may do for Christ’ and here is something that both Paul and Philemon and Onesimus too, can do in the service of Christ. Let your motivation, says Paul to Philemon, be not duty but love!

The gospel passage from Luke talks of hate in a way which is difficult to understand. Is Jesus really asking us to hate those around us? In the passage Jesus goes onto talk about working out one’s commitment: there is no point starting to build a tower if you can’t afford to finish it, or waging a war if you have no means of seeing it through to the end. By the same token, Jesus is asking can we be his disciples with less than complete commitment? And for commitment read commitment that comes not from duty but from love.  

The period from 1st September to 4th October is recognised as Creation-tide and this year’s strap line   is ‘Listen to the voice  of creation”. If we were to listen to the voice of creation right now what would we hear? Anguish and pain, fear and desperation, from all those parts affected by wild fires and heat waves, by drought, by floods and storms, by starvation and homelessness. This year more than ever before, we are hearing and seeing the devastating affects of climate change. What might once have seemed like a future risk is now very clearly a present and dangerous reality. The need for change, the need to reshape the way we live, the way we farm the land and  the food we eat, the way we travel, the ways in which we heat our homes and generate energy, the ways we work with rather than against nature, the ways in which we support one another, is now so very clear. But do we have the commitment to go all the way? To make all the changes that are needed? Do we have power to act out of love and not just duty? To go that bit further, to give that bit more? To give up all that we possess to do ‘all the good we may for Christ’?

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvellously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love– and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”