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.”

Proper 17

28th August 2022 – readings are below

Reflection 

Jeremiah asks an interesting question: what wrong have we found with God? In other words, where do we feel God has let us down, or where God has messed up? 

Certainly there are times when I feel God is aloof, that I am on one side of a high wall and God is on the other. There are times when I feel that prayer is a pointless exercise and that its consolation is minimal. There are times when bad things happen and I question why God didn’t intervene. Jeremiah’s follow up question is also interesting: when did we last vocalise these thoughts? When do we ask these sorts of questions with our friends, or in our family, or – indeed – in church? Have we ever asked these questions of God? Are we too frightened to ask? Are we scared that we might find that our faith is superficial? Are we afraid that others will look down at us for being so unfaithful?

It seems to me that if we can’t ask those questions, if we can’t plumb the depths and scale the heights to find answers, then our faith is pretty pointless. Because to be honest bad things do happen. We do feel abandoned by God. We do pray without seeing results. What Jeremiah is suggesting is that it may be we who have ignored God, we who have tried to do things under our own steam,  we who have not wanted the input God offers. I am not sure that this is the complete answer. Often our individual actions are rendered fruitless by more powerful systems and institutions. This perhaps is why Jeremiah is addressing his words not individuals but to both nations – Judah and Israel – and to a groups – the priests and the law makers. Would that they had all followed God’s law!

As ever we come back to those two key laws: Love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as yourself. The writer of Hebrews is spot on: let mutual love continue! But the writer goes on to demonstrate that this is not fulfilled by merely saying, ‘I love my you’. Rather you need to imagine that you are there with your neighbour in their plight or situation. Before we can genuinely say ‘we love you’ to those asylum seekers who reach our shores on barely seaworthy boats, we need to empathise with what has pushed them to take those risks, to understand what fears they feel arriving unwanted in an alien land. When we can do that, then we will better know to actually express the love they need. Before we can genuinely say ‘we love you’ to people in war zones – whether in Ukraine or Ethiopia – we need to empathise with what their fears are, what it is that is their greatest loss, what their hopes are. Before we can genuinely say ‘we love you’ to people facing poor harvests in Zimbabwe, we need to understand how it feel to loose your crops, to understand what the effects are on their lives, how they hope to come through the tragedy.  Before we say simply mouth concern for the people of small islands states like Vanuatu, we need to understand how they feel about the future, about rising sea levels and the constant warming of the ocean, and how they feel about the response of the developed nations, whether they feel empowered or patronised by the rest of the world.

The writer of the Hebrews then shows how our love for our neighbour turns out to be the means by which we show our love for God. To do good, to share our wealth,  is to offer a sacrifice that pleases God.  And the writer of Hebrews suggests that it is in this way – eschewing love of money and  being content with what we have – we will feel close to and protected by God. 

In a similar vein, Jesus tells us that if we only invite those who can repay us to our feasts, we have fallen short. Rather it is in inviting those who cannot return the complement, that we are blessed. If we only provide for people who can afford to pay – whether that is food or fuel or education or healthcare or climate adaptation – then we will simply be adding to the suffering in the world. But if we provide for those who cannot afford it, we will transform the world bringing in God’s heavenly rule here on earth. If we hear and desire the Word of God, then, as the psalmist says, we will be filled with good things.

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,

and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,

who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,

in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”

I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.

But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.

The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;

the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.

Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.

Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?

But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,

says the Lord,

for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.

10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

11 And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.

12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!

14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.

15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.

16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour , in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Proper 15

14th August 2022 (the readings follow after the reflection)

Reflection

This passage from Isaiah reminds us that parables are not just to be found in the New Testament. The image of Israel as a vine planted and tended by God appears in both the passage from Isaiah and in the Psalm. Both passages tell very much the same story. Despite the thorough and expert ministrations of God, the vine fails to deliver its goods and is therefore allowed to fall prey to those destructive forces that seem ever present. Its protective surrounds are dismantled, its territory invaded. The vine is consumed and trampled upon. The psalm talks of wild boar being the protagonists; Isaiah is less specific but wild beasts come to mind and later in the same chapter the alien forces invading Israel are likened to roaring lions. The cost of not responding positively to God’s loving care and attention is extreme. 

Do we sense that that is our predicament when we look at the disasters that surround us? Heatwaves, droughts and wild fires; floods and storms; rapidly diminishing biodiversity; poverty and starvation; war and conflicts and threats of  war? 

In his opening speech at the Lambeth Conference, Justin Welby spoke of the ‘roaring lions’ that best our world. The reference comes from the Letter of Peter which warns its readers to be aware of the devil that prowls around like a roaring lion. One of the loudest of the roaring lions is, says Welby, climate change – the climate crisis that is causing such devastation and anguish world wide – and closely followed by the lion of inequality. We might echo the Psalmist in saying ‘Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.’

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the importance of faith. Faith that can close the mouths of lions. Faith that can with stand mockery and torture, persecution and destitution, imprisonment and death. The writer ends with the stark reminder that faith doesn’t mean that in this life everything will turn out rosey. Often faith is tested to the hilt because it persists even when there is no hope of salvation any time soon.  Our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ. 

The words of Jesus from today’s gospel are equally blunt. Jesus has not come to white wash over the cracks in society, to call lions cats, or in anyway downplay the evil which we have created. Rather Jesus has come to transform the world. He has, to use Welby’s words, come to kill the roaring lions. To remove the causes of conflict and suffering.

It is not, I believe, that Jesus wills division and conflict, but rather that He knows the state of the world, the prejudices and proclivities of those of us how should know better and of those who have been trapped in a system that gives them very little choice. What I think does anger Jesus is that we can see the signs of impending disaster and suffering all around us and yet do nothing. We ignore the signs that tell us that we cannot keep on drilling for oil and burning it. That we cannot keep on taking from the soil and do nothing to restore its fertility. That we cannot stand back as all around  plants and animals, birds and insects decline in numbers to the point of extinction. That we cannot allow a few to take and take building up wealth and riches, whilst the many struggle to feed themselves. That we cannot allow businesses to invest in products that destroy our environment rather than in those that would enhance life for all. That we cannot stand back whilst big pharmaceutical companies profit from selling vaccines to the rich whilst the poor go away empty handed. That we cannot stand back whilst media moguls control what we hear whilst burying the truth.

Welby began his address by saying that he hoped everyone would leave the Conference with their  “heart full of desire for friendship with Jesus Christ. For to desire Jesus is to desire God. To desire Jesus is to desire to be filled with love for God and, by God, love for His people and love for His word.”

Time and again, this is where we must return: to the overwhelming love that God has for us and the power that love has to change the world.

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,

judge between me
and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.

I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;

I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.

I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,
but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt; *
you cast out the nations and planted it.

9 You prepared the ground for it; *
it took root and filled the land.

10 The mountains were covered by its shadow *
and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.

11 You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea *
and its branches to the River.

12 Why have you broken down its wall, *
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

13 The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, *
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

14 Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine; *
preserve what your right hand has planted.

15 They burn it with fire like rubbish; *
at the rebuke of your countenance let them perish.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,

mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,

mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Proper 14

– 7th August 2022

Reflection:

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” says the writer of Hebrews. Whilst in the Gospel Jesus says “‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

What are ‘things hoped for … things not seen’? Something that will happen or be present or exist in the future? Something good, something desirable? Something that fulfils our dreams? The fulfilment of our heart’s desire?

For me, the things hoped for would be an end of the climate crisis. A rapid replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. A cooperative approach by all governments, nations and businesses to take action to half carbon emissions by 2030 and zero them by 2050.  A compassionate and neighbourly sharing of resources – especially finance – to ensure all communities can cope with the climate change that is already built into our future. A concerted undertaking by all parties to use nature friendly solutions, to protect and enhance biodiversity across the planet. I would be hoping for the churches to be taking a significant lead in framing this hope and galvanising all parties into action. And yes from where I am now, this is a hope for something as yet unseen. 

So do I have faith, faith that these are not empty hopes? I am really not sure. It is difficult to have such hope, such faith, when all around the problems of the climate crisis are growing and the actions being taken, diminishing. Here in the UK the current exceptionally hot and dry summer is not leading to urgent action to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, nor with action to shade and insulate buildings. Instead new permits are being handed out for the further expansion of oil and gas fields. And  money is to be paid to customers to ease for a while the increasingly expensive fuel bills – and perversely that money will maintain both the high prices and the oil companies’ profits. 

The writer of Hebrews refers us to Abraham as an example of someone who lived by faith, having very little in the way of knowing what was the hope that lay ahead. Abraham had faithfully left his family and his home country. He had travelled over mountains and through deserts, faced hunger and the threat of starvation. He had built up wealth for future generations even though he lacked a son. He had continued to pray and to worship an unseen God, a God who offered him as blue print the image that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, or as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach – in other words a vision that was too big to comprehend! Abraham had faith and Abraham kept walking along the path that lay before him, living as if that future would happen.

So maybe that is what my faith has to look like – and maybe yours too. Walking and living as if the future God promises – the future where life on earth is lived as it is in heaven – will happen. Living as is necessary for the climate crisis to be tackled. Living as is necessary for resources to be shared freely and fairly. Living as is necessary for biodiversity to be replenished. Living as is necessary for the church to give the lead. 

I shall continue to minimise by carbon footprint. I shall continue to give time and money to support those whose resources are lacking. I shall continue to live gently on the earth, protecting and enhancing the natural environment. I shall continue to speak out and challenge the church to lead the way forwards to God’s kingdom on earth. 

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear the word of the Lord,
   you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
   you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
   says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
   and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
   or of lambs, or of goats. 


When you come to appear before me,
   who asked this from your hand?
   Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
   incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
   I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
   my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
   I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
   your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your doings
   from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow. 

Come now, let us argue it out,
   says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be devoured by the sword;
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23, 24

The mighty one, God the Lord,
   speaks and summons the earth
   from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
   God shines forth. 


3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
   before him is a devouring fire,
   and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
   and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
   who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
   for God himself is judge.
          Selah 


7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
   O Israel, I will testify against you.
   I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
   your burnt-offerings are continually before me. 

‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,
   or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
   to those who go the right way
   I will show the salvation of God.’

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Luke 12: 32-40

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’