Sunday Reflection

26th September 2021: fourth Sunday of Creation-tide

Logo of the Climate Coalition

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

Romans 8:14-25

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Mark 4:26-32

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

Reflection 

The passage from Ecclesiastes is probably very familiar to us. It has a certain poetry to it that makes it easy to remember. It also has a sense of being down to earth and pragmatic. The writer is reminding us that these things will happen in the course of life; that we should expect them, anticipate and prepare for them. Preparing for things that one might reasonably expect to happen is something our current government is very bad at and we are suffering the consequences. 

Much of the writings in the Bible are about cause and effect. If you do A, B will happen, but if you do X, Y will happen. If you follow God’s wisdom, you will be blessed; if you ignore God’s wisdom – if you mistreat your fellow humans, the land which you occupy or the creatures you live with – then you will bring suffering on your head. Yet it is a lesson we find hard to learn. 

Collectively we have not ensured that all who work receive a fair wage, and now when we short of  people willing to take on tough low paid jobs – in abattoirs, driving trucks, picking vegetables – we realise how important those workers to the smooth running of our economy. We have not cared for the soil we farm, and now find that all the fertilisers we have to add, are polluting our streams and rivers. We have not cared for the air we breathe, and now realise that air pollution is harming our health: 7 million people a year die from air pollution. We have not heeded the warnings of our scientists – those who study the way God’s world is responding to human activity – and continue to over consuming filling the atmosphere with excess quantities of carbon dioxide.

Cause and effect: these things are happening. 

In the passage from the letter to the Romans, we have a somewhat involved argument from Paul. As he writes to the religious communities in Rome, he reminds them that all who are led by the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – are children of God. And it is a spirit of freedom not slavery. 

As children of God, we are likewise co heirs, siblings with Christ, and are expected, like him, to share with the suffering in the world. Jesus did not ignore or deny the suffering that was in the world; rather he  sought it out. He sought to understand where suffering came from, how it grew and persisted. And then he sought to transform it – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, releasing those held captive, and ultimately transforming death into resurrection. Paul writes not just of humans suffering, but of creation suffering. He talks of the ‘futility’ of creation. The Greek word can also be translated as ineffectiveness or emptiness. 

Last week we noted the barrenness, the emptiness of the earth that revealed the need for water and for a tiller, in order that it might become a verdant garden. Unless the right resources and the right action are brought together, the progress of creation is ineffective or futile. In the same way our efforts to be fully human are futile unless we are led by the Spirit of God. Only with God’s Spirit, God’s wisdom can either we as humans or the earth as God’s amazing creation develop their potential – the potential that reveals God’s glory. 

Paul goes on to write they ‘hope that is seen is not hope’ but I can’t help feeling that it helps to have some imagining, some image, of what it is you hope for. Jesus’s kingdom parables give us metaphorical but highly visual images of what the kingdom of God might look like. The mustard seed tree is one filled with hope. It portrays the kingdom as capable of immense growth and size such that all the birds of the air – everyone and everything – finds a place to lodge and live. It is an image of the kingdom as one of peaceful and sustainable co existence. 

So let us be led by God’s wisdom, seek out and acknowledge the suffering in the world and act to transform them so that creation can flourish.

Sunday Reflection

19th September 2021

Third Sunday of creationtide: Deuteronomy 8. 7-18, Matthew 6.25–33

Reflection 

The writer of Deuteronomy describes a landscape that is rich, verdant and bountiful. A land so well stocked with natural resources that the people will not have to worry about living fulfilled, sustainable lives. Surely nothing could threaten such a well endowed life style?

Yet the writer gives them three warnings.

  1. Don’t forget God by failing to keep God’s commandments. It is only by sticking to those commands, those ways of living, that the people will be able to maintain their relationship with God.
  2. Don’t forget that when you lived in a place of scarcity- ie the wilderness – it was only through God’s intervention that you had enough to eat and drink.
  3. Don’t credit yourselves with your success. It is not because of your efforts that you now love lives of  riches and comfort. It comes from God’s doing.

We, like the Israelites, have been blessed with a beautiful world with vast resources sufficient to meet our needs. Certainly I am sure that has been God’s intention in creating this world with its wonderful interconnected ecosystems. But somewhere, somehow we have strayed from the path, from the right way of doing things. We have failed to keep God’s commandments. 

Every year since 1987 scientists have calculated how much of the world’s resources we are consuming  and the amount by which the earth can renew those resources, and setting one against the other they have determined the date each year at which we are consuming more than the earth can replenish. If the earth was bank account, this would be the day at which we would go into the red. In 1987 Earth Overshoot Day was 23rd October. Since then Earth Overshoot Day has occurred earlier and earlier. This year it was 29th July!

It is hard to comprehend that in little more than half a year we have consumed a full year’s worth of the resources that the earth can generate. It is patently not sustainable. Can it be reversed if we limited our consumption? The answer is certainly yes if we have the will, or if we are forced by circumstances. In 2020, the year of the pandemic, the date did recede – by a good three weeks to 22nd August. 

The passage from Matthew’s gospel asks us if life is more than food and clothes? I wonder what life means for you? 

I wonder what life means for a family dependent on food aid in Afghanistan? I wonder what life means for a family in the UK who is relying on the £20 top up to Universal Credit?I wonder what it means for the person forced to use a food bank? 

The United Nations tells us that the world produces more than enough food to feed the its population, but poverty and other barriers to access leave many people unable to afford or obtain food. Problems with markets forces and distribution networks means that food rots in the field or is otherwise wasted, without reaching the consumer.  There are real problems about poverty and equality and over consumption that arise from our current unsustainable  lifestyles, political policies and business practices.  Sadly even the birds are loosing out. Habitat loss and climate change are both conspiring to limit food and places to nest for many bird species. 

Four times in today’s gospel Jesus says, Do not worry! Worrying does not help. It will neither add an hour to your life nor a inch to your height (translations vary). Instead says Jesus, Strive for the kingdom of God. If we live according to God’s ways, if we can bring God’s rules into play, if we can establish heaven on earth, then will everyone have food and clothes and all the necessities of life. The we will fairly share the earth’s resources, not plundering them but sustaining them. 

Let’s spend some time this week considering what we eat, the clothes we wear, the resources we use. Are they sustainable, do they prejudice the access of others to their fair share? Does our lifestyle meet God’s injunction that we should tend and care for the earth? Does it meet God’s injunction that we should love our neighbour as ourself? Does it meet the command that we should with all our being love God?

Sunday Reflection

12th September 2021, Creationtide

Genesis 2: 4-7, 15-24; 1 John 1:1-4; John 2:1-11

Reflection

Christ Church is observing the Sunday between 1st September and 4th October as Creationtide and so is using a different set of readings for these Sundays. According to the Cambridge Dictionary creation is ‘the act or process of making, producing, or building something, or something that has been made, built, or produced’. It is a word that means both process and the result. God, in giving us the gift of creation, gives us something that both is, and is on going. God invites us to value and participate both in the existence of creation and in the process of creation. 

Today’s set of readings includes two of my favourites.

The first reading from the Book of Genesis (which means the Book of Beginnings) starts with insufficiency – the insufficiency of the bare earth to be productive, to fulfil its potential. God sees what could be and what is needed to get there. 

First of all God provides water and then someone to till the ground. With those key elements in place, the garden that God plants (in verse 8), can now thrive – transforming what was barren into a verdant landscape. God’s vision sees yet more scarcity and more untapped potential. The human needs company, both as a helper and as a partner. God therefore creates all manner of animals as helpers and a fellow human as a partner. Now there is potential for creation – animals and humans – to do even more tilling (creating) of the earth. 

This story sees creation as a process of teamwork and cooperation and – on God’s part, vision. It is a story about developing relationships and bonds between God and plants and creatures and humans. It is a story about the creation of a creative ecosystem. As the story progresses beyond today’s reading, we know that it is a finely balanced ecosystem which breaks apart when humans ignore God’s words.

The gospel story is similar. It is a story about insufficiency and abundance. It is a story about co working, of God  and humans (here I am thinking of the servants who have to fill those heavy stone jars with water and take them to the steward) working together to create something amazing. In it Jesus’s   glory is revealed and his disciples believe in him. 

In between these two we have the Letter of John in which the word of life is described as being visible, audible and tangible. This word that comes from God and produces eternal life, echos the breath of God that gives life to the living beings in the Garden of Eden. It is a word that generates fellowship and joy – something envisaged in the Garden when God saw the need for companionship and co- workers, and in the Gospel, where the wine rejuvenates the wedding feast – itself symbolising the relationship between God and humanity, and which we would now add ‘and creation’. 

In the Autumn of 2021 we find ourselves facing a ecological emergency caused by climate change and human incompetence. Through God’s wisdom, we know we can restore harmony, that we can replace insufficiency with abundance, yet we are fearful that we will not. We are fearful of making changes, of risking our own sense of security, of reaching out to help others in order to help ourselves. 

Can we re-find the word of life, can we re-new our fellowship one with another and with all of creation, and re-discover true joy?

Sunday Reflection

5th September 2021, Proper 18

Isaiah 35:4-7, Psalm 14, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Mark 7:24-37

Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.

Words we have desperately wanted to hear this week, whether that was as protestors trying to draw the attention of the Government and the financial world to the dire emergency of the climate crisis and of the need to ‘act now!’ Or whether it has been as those watching helplessly as families and individuals tried to to flee from Afghanistan. 

Yes – we want them to be saved, we want ourselves to be saved, from harm and hurt and fear. And we want to be saved from ourselves – I think we know that the cause of war and extremism, of failed diplomacy, rising global temperatures and the increased frequency of extreme weather events, is all of human making. 

Was that the feeling of the people in Isaiah’s community? Did they feel trapped in the space between feeling helpless and knowing that their predicament was the result of their own failures? They were a people surrounded by war; a people being swayed to go with this side or that side, as superpowers fought over their land. A people who feared defeat and heard the words of the diverging words of the false prophets and of God’s prophets. A people who did know that they had sinned against God and against their neighbours. Would God be able to – indeed would God save them? What would the future look like? Isaiah is giving them words of hope, reminding them of God’s greatness and creating for them a vision of the world God desired for them: heaven on earth. The psalmist echoes this with words encouraging and exhorting us to hope and trust in God. 

Yet I sense that God is not just going to intervene and wave, as it were a magic wand, and everything will be tip top fine. That certainly was not the experience of Isaiah’s audience: they suffered the humiliation of defeat and exile, and it was only during that time of exile that they learned to live once again in a renewed relationship with God and neighbour. It is at this point we turn to the epistle of James. 

Do we really believe in Jesus Christ? What a question! Not do we believe, but do we really believe? For if we truly believed then we would live as Jesus lived, act as Jesus acted. We would see the flaws in human systems that Jesus saw – and sees today – and would work to transform them. We would like Jesus, be able to say ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. 

But, says the writer of James, we seem to have been hoodwinked by the rich and powerful. We have been drawn into their mindset that says wealth, riches and fine clothes are the indicators that show who is most important, who should be in power, whose words should be believed. 

Instead we should be turning to the scripture and the royal law: love your neighbour as yourself. Here there is no hierarchy, no space of prejudice nor favouritism. Further more to love is not just to mouth the words; it is to enact them.  The epistle writer is quite clear: if we do not act, we cannot save ourselves. Our faith is only of use if it is enacted. A life jacket only saves you if you inflate it and put it on! Just having faith that a life jacket can save lives is not enough.

It seems to me that what Jesus so clearly demonstrated for us is that with faith in God, we can do all that is required to love our neighbours, to create heaven on earth, to save the world.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we see that there is not a time when Jesus cannot find himself called upon to do the work of God. Even when he goes outside the the Jewish territories of Judea and Galilee, there are people who need help. There are foreigners who are still neighbours. There are people who don’t expect much but still ask. There are people trapped by poverty and people trapped by disabilities. When the onlookers saw what Jesus was doing, they were astounded beyond measure.

Can we be as astounding? Can our belief in Jesus be such that we let ourselves be empowered by the strength and hope that comes from God? Can we put that faith into action so that by loving our neighbour, by creating heaven in earth, the world will be saved?

Sunday Reflection

29th August 2021

Proper 17: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Reflection 

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy talks in terms of statutes and ordinances, but what the people are being urged to do is to embrace the Torah as the key non negotiable summation of their life. Whilst we often translate the word ‘Torah’ as law it is something more fluid in meaning than the rigidity that law suggests. The word in Hebrew has the meaning of instruction or  guidance, or of teaching – of that which flows, say, from the teacher to the disciple, from the parent to the child or above all, from God to God’s people.  It can be seen as a concept that describes the relation between God and God’s people. Through the Torah God’s expresses the desire that people should live lives that are good, happy, loving, wise and productive. 

The Torah is also used to name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books lay out the story of Gods early relationships with the earth and with human kind and with the Hebrew people in particular. As well as describing this history, it  includes laws – statutes and ordinances – that concern both daily life and community life, worship and relationships with God, farming practices, justice etc. Further on in Deuteronomy we hear of the very practical requirements such as setting aside a portion of all they produced – a tithe – to support the vulnerable in their communities and those unable to provide for themselves (Deut 14:28-29). And we hear very spiritual commands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:4)

Whilst today’s passage talks about statutes and rules as if they were rigid, un-moveable, it helps in our understanding of the overarching nature of the Torah, if we remember that the Book of Deuteronomy is itself a revision of the laws written in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, written for the needs of the nation in the 8th century BCE. It is the loving relationship that God desires that is eternal, whilst the nature of rules is to evolve. In today’s psalm the Psalmist looks at how one finds a right relationship between God and human by observing the characteristics of a person who is living close to Go’s. That person is the one who live ‘a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart’. The Psalmist then adds some flesh to this describing how this person lives their life. 

Here we might also recall from last week’s Gospel the words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This thought is echoed in the words of the Letter of James, for ‘every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures’. The gifts of loving and learning and all that shapes our lives, flows to us from God so that we may live as God’s intended creation. 

James sees this as a gift that is only of benefit if it is acted upon, if it is built into the fabric of life. If it remains just as words, its benefit is non-existent. This seems to be at the nub of the argument between Jesus and his opponents in today’s gospel. If the law is honoured just as a set of words, but has no impact on the quality of life, has no positive impact on the way we love one another, has no benefit in sustaining our creation as God’s people, the it is of not being observed in the way God intends. The gift that comes from God is pure and undefiled and when received and acted upon, produces blessings. It is how the gift is received and acted upon that is important  and when we hear the passage from Mark’s Gospel that is the difference between Jesus’ response and that of his opponents. 

It is when we spurn God’s gifts, ignore God’s teaching, that our lives become compromised by fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride and folly. It is when we see other humans, and other creatures, as opportunities for profit, that we cease to feel God’s love. It is when we ignore the needs of the vulnerable – the orphan and the widow, the refugees and the migrant, the wild bee and the tiger, the bluebell and the Amazon rainforest, the contract worker and the carer – that we see lives destroyed and habitats lost; deceit and prevarication in government and big businesses; short term economic policies that fail to address the climate crisis; a lack of vision and determination create polices that ensure protection of the environment, or set up a  sustainable care system.

Holy God, through Jesus you show us how to truly live life, how to fill our hearts with love so that love may shape the world in which we live, so bringing your kingdom on earth to be as it is in heaven. 

Amen. 

Inspirational Quotes Motivation Quotes Inspirational

Sunday Reflection

22nd August 2021 – Proper 16: Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

 

The passage from Joshua comes towards the end of the book and towards the end of Joshua’s own life. The Israelites have settled in the promised land, each tribe in its own territory and peace has been established. Joshua calls together all the tribes and their leaders for one last exhortation that they live according to the ways ordained by God. It is as if they are again standing for the first time on the threshold of a new land, on the threshold of a new life. They are enjoined to leave behind old ways of living, old gods and old allegiances.  

Do we need to reimagine ourselves as being on the threshold of a new beginning, a new of life? Is this how we should be approaching the COP26 climate conference? Then nations and NGOs, communities and other parties, will gather to make agreements about new ways of living in a carbon neutral world, to affirm ways of ensuring worldwide biodiversity, setting up funds to enable everyone to be part of the new future. We will all need to stand alongside one another as let go of old ways of doing things, as we leave behind of old habits, and forsake our reliance on fossil fuels. 

If so should we not now be reassessing our lives, preparing how we can make and sustain the necessary changes we must make, and encouraging and supporting each other, and above all celebrating with joy our new greener, cleaner, kinder future?

May God bless our endeavours – for “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.”

I would not wish to say that the current climate crisis is either the work of God or the work of the ‘devil’. The world God has created is beautiful and complex. It is a world in which things evolve and continue to re create in new and diverse forms. It is a world in which cause and consequence exist. It is a world which is continuing to develop over time. It is a world in which God has created humankind as a being with intelligence, imagination, determination, and with an awareness of right and wrong. It is a being with unique skills and possibilities, and it is a being which can choose to have an affinity with God. 

Depending how we use these attributes, we are capable of doing great good or of doing great harm. When we – and/ or others – are not in tune with God, our actions can become so mired in greed, dishonesty, hatred, apathy, and prejudice, we can describe our situation as being evil and bedevilled. We can feel as if we are struggling with forces or powers beyond our comprehension. Perhaps this is when we need to put on the armour of God, to refurnish our lives with the gifts of God, to be open to God in prayer and to be constant in seeking channels through which God’s Spirit can flow. 

If this seems hard to grasp, we need to recall the words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Sunday Reflection

15th August 2021

Readings for proper 15: Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

Today’s readings begin with a description from Proverbs of the house built be Wisdom. Wisdom is personified here as a woman. The Hebrew word chokmoth is feminine as is the Greek word sophia and the Latin word sapientia. Perhaps then it is not surprising that wisdom is seen as a woman. Her house is a grand, or maybe a perfect, place, having seven pillars. We aren’t told how these seven pillars are arranged, maybe in a circle? Seven is an important number in Hebrew suggesting completeness, eg as in the work of God being completed in seven days. It is a place of learning for those whose minds are simple – unencumbered, open minded, free from complicated superstitions or beliefs. Free too from feelings of self aggrandisement or superiority. For these people Wisdom offers a place to stay – to rest and/or live, to learn and/or worship – and a place where food and drink is served: nourishment that may be a metaphor for knowledge and learning. It is a house where those who enter are enabled to move from immaturity to maturity. It is a  place to gain insight and thus, life. 

Today’s psalm is also exploring the idea of being shaped by God’s wisdom. The word translated as fear, as in fear of God, can also have the meaning of being in awe, and indeed fear and awe can be experienced as similar. Such awe is gained through being open and child-like and of being metaphorically fed. In this way it reflects the idea from Proverbs of wisdom and openness and of being fed. It makes explicit the importance of seeking God, of wanting to be fed, of seeking peace and prosperity (for which we might read well-being if for us ‘prosperity’ implies a focus on ill gotten gains or greed). It is also clear that seeking God, seeking wisdom or the right way of living, is about choosing between doing evil and doing good. 

True wisdom is living with God, following God’s ways. 

The letter to the Ephesians is also giving advice as how to live wisely. Again it is about understanding the will of God and following that rather than the ways of debauchery. Here the source of instruction or inspiration is the Spirit – the breath that comes from God – which arouses in us joy and song and thanksgiving. 

The passage from John’s gospel is part of the long and slowly unfolding exposition on Jesus as the bread of life. One feels the writer is increasingly bogged down with understanding this as being both a physical and a spiritual experience. Perhaps it would help us to think of ways in which we use food and drink as metaphors. We may use the phrase ‘it is meat and drink to me’ to described the pleasure or support something gives us. Or we may talked about an activity as ‘being all consuming’ to describe how it takes over our lives again giving us joy and/or  fulfilment. In the same way seeking out, or living in relationship with, Jesus – and through Jesus with God – might be described using either or both of these phrases. And yet neither would fully describe our experience of knowing and of being known by, Jesus. Perhaps as suggested in Proverbs, it is easier to gain wisdom by being simple minded. 

Sunday Reflection

8th August 2021, Proper 14: 1 Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:1-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2John 6:35, 41-51

Elijah under a broom tree

I feel a lot of sympathy for Elijah. Prior to where we meet Elijah in today’s reading he has been extremely busy. Elijah lived during the reign of King Arab who is described as the king who did more evil than all the other kings before him. He was a king who definitely did not walk in their  ways of God! God has seen all that has happened and tells Elijah that, as a consequence, no rain nor even dew shall fall on the land. The land will be afflicted by a drought that will last for years. 

Pausing a moment it is worth reflecting that for decades, if not more, we residents of planet earth have increasingly mistreated and plundered the earth damaging both its climate, its ecosystems and and its most vulnerable creatures. We have not followed the ways of God. And now we are increasingly aware that our folly is causing problems that affect us directly – floods, heat waves, wars, covid etc. 

Back to Elijah. He follows God’s instructions as to how and where he will find sustenance, and sees at first hand the effect the delight has on the land and in its inhabitants. After three years of drought God sends Elijah to speak with Ahab (who is finally feeling the effects of the drought. Those who are rich and/or powerful usually find ways of minimising the inconveniences that cause others to suffer) and to reprimand him for all that he has done wrong. Like many business leaders and investors today, Ahab still believes that his model of life – worshipping the Baals and sacrificing children – is the only right one. So Elijah sets up a competition, challenging the priests of Baal to prove the efficacy of their gods. 

This must have taken great determination on Elijah’s part. He was just the one lone voice speaking out against the falseness of the Baals and their rule of life. God was certainly with him and strikes the winning shot – a fire bolt from heaven – on Elijah’s behalf, but yet it still must have been stressful to the point of exhaustion for Elijah. The single handed, Elijah destroys all the false prophets. And once again he challenges Ahab to repent. Ahab instead seeks guidance from his equally wicked wife, Jezebel, and somehow it is her cursing of Elijah, that breaks the camel’s back. Elijah fears for his life and flees into the wilderness.  

So we come to today’s episode. Elijah is ready to give up and die. Have you ever felt yourself to be at that point of exhaustion, of despair, of self doubt?  Elijah curls up under a broom tree – an evergreen bush which because of its deep roots and narrow leaves can survive in arid environments and provides a welcome place of shade for travellers. Having spoken out-loud his grievance, his desperation, he is finally able to sleep. Owning up to ourselves and to God about what troubles us is a good starting point. After he slept, God wakes Elijah and provides him with food and water. He eats and drinks and once more sleeps. God waits and then wakes him a second time, prompting him to eat and drink, so as to be ready for the next stage of his journey – his life. One rabbi has noted the similarity between ‘rothem’ the Hebrew for broom and ‘rachem’ Hebrew for compassion. God has compassion on Elijah. God knows that what he needs is sleep and food and only when  those needs have been satisfied does God suggest to Elijah that he journeys to God’s holy mountain of Horeb where the two will engage in a much deeper spiritual experience. 

So I think it can be for us. Being open and honest about how we feel, understanding when we need rest, accepting support especially physical comfort even when we feel spiritually drained. God is concerned for our total wellbeing, physical and spiritual, and often we have to satisfy the first before we can address the second.

Today’s Psalm aptly describes Elijah’s experiences. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ both physically and spiritually.

The passage from Ephesians is entitled in NRSV Rules for the New Life. Rules for a new life were certainly what Ahab and his people needed. I think they are also what we need for living a new climate friendly, all-inclusive people friendly, sustainable life. The passage reminds us that we are interconnected, and that the way we each act has repercussions for everyone, and further more affects our relationship with God. 

The reading from John’s gospel continues to explore the idea of Jesus as the bread of life. Believing in and following his ways, have both physical and spiritual benefits. Jesus feeds and heals people physically and spiritually. Jesus by his very nature is a two way conduit between earth and heaven, between God and human kind, between the present day and eternity. This is something the Jews, the hearers of Jesus’s message find hard to understand and accept. For them, he is just a local boy – a local who has become a popular crowd puller but nevertheless surely still just someone like them? Is there something about needing to be ready, to be open, to seeing God at work in our everyday environment? Perhaps of finding the spiritual in the physical and the physical in the spiritual? 

Feed us Lord God

with what we need,

both physical 

and spiritual. 

Amen.

Sunday Reflection

1st August 2021

Proper 13: Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Do we eat to live or live to eat? 

Do we hunger for more than just food? 

How do we find happiness, purpose, understanding, and fulfilment in our daily lives?

The Israelites – migrants seeking a better life – are, according to the Book of Exodus, quickly disillusioned with what their new alternative life offers. The grass is not greener on this new side of the Red Sea, and however constraining life was in Egypt, they feel that their old life had its compensations. What they don’t seem to have realised is that this new life is about following God, being shaped and sustained by God, about becoming God’s people. It is a life that is going to feel different, that will have different priorities and different benefits. It is a life in which they will encounter and know God in new and richer ways. Their need to eat is not just about a daily filling of stomachs. Rather it is about developing a relationship with God in which they realise that God is the one who meets their daily needs, including but not limited to, daily meat and bread. Each day they are going to be invited to meet and give thanks to God as they collect their food. God is offering to be a constant presence in their lives, sharing with them a taste of heaven.,

Today’s Psalm is a recapping of the story from Exodus. The manna, the bread from heaven, is delightfully called the bread of angels. 

The writer of Ephesians (not Paul himself but someone writing as if they were Paul) could well have been writing to the Israelites. Both the migrating Israelites, the Ephesians and we ourselves are being urged to lead a life worthy of our calling – a calling to be the people of God, to be God-shaped people – and the writer lists virtues we should therefore practice. Yet even though we are all called to be one in body and spirit, the writer also reminds us that we equally are all unique, each being recipients of different gifts that will enable us to grow into that one body that unites us all in Christ. That is our vocation, to become here on earth the loving presence of Christ.

Our reading from John’s gospel follows on after the feeding of the 5000. The writer of the gospel describes both this, the turning of water into wine, and Jesus’s various healings, as signs not miracles. Signs point us to new ways of doing things and new ways of understanding things. 

The crowd, still wanting more (although they are perhaps not sure more of what) have continued to keep a tab of Jesus’s movements and to tail him. When they catch up with him, Jesus criticises them – or is he gently teasing them? – that what they are really after is more food so they can fill their stomachs, rather than seeking ways to new life. Jesus suggests that as long as he feeds them they aren’t really bothered about who he is or where he has come from. 

This prompts them to think about their religious obligations and they ask what they should do to perform the works of God. Have they been so busy eating that they have not been listening? When Jesus says they should believe in – ie so believe in what that person does and says, that they too do the same – the one whom God has sent. They  twig that he is talking about himself but don’t put two and two together and realise that having followed Jesus and been present with him, they should have understood this. They ask therefore for a sign as if none had been given so far. Maybe the bread they ate on the hillside seemed too mundane and earthly: not something that was heavenly like manna. 

Jesus tells them that heavenly bread is bread given to them by God, is bread that gives life to the world. And yes, they say, yes that is exactly the bread we want!

I am that bread, the bread of life, says Jesus. I am offering you myself. Take from me – feed on what I teach, emulate what I do, let me feed you daily and fill your every need – then you will never be hungry, never thirst, never go unsatisfied.  

Jesus is the bread of life. By imbibing what Jesus is, we will become the living, loving presence of Christ on earth.

In Jesus we find the meaning of life. With Jesus we find happiness, purpose, understanding, and fulfilment in our daily lives.

Feed on that which gives you life.

Sunday Reflection 25th July

Proper 12: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Our newly twinned fridge

This week we twinned our fridge (having already through the auspices of TearFund twinned out toilets and rubbish bins). Our fridge is never unintentionally empty, there is always enough food in the house for us to eat. We have never experienced the hunger that comes from not knowing where your next meal will come from. Twinning our fridge is a reminder to us that we are in world terms, exceptionally fortunate and that at the very least we should be willing to contribute towards the cost of feeding those who know real hunger.

Hunger world wide is often not the result of over population, nor even of drought or floods – although this is increasing as countries increasingly experience the impacts of climate change. Most hunger arises from war (as we are seeing currently in Tigray, Syria and Yemen) and from unequal access to and sharing of, resources. Since the mid 1960s all parts of the world have been producing sufficient food to allow every person in every country to have 2000 calories a day. However within many countries the sharing of that food means that between a third and a half of the population do not receive that fair share.

Even here in the UK people go hungry, not because there is not enough food to go round, but because they do not have enough money. 

Even here in the UK many people put up with hunger because they don’t have the money to buy food and their lack of money stems from a unequal sharing of the nation’s wealth.  UK households waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year that could have been eaten, worth £14bn – ie the average family spends £700 a year on food it does not eat, whilst 1 in 8 people go hungry. in the last year 2.5 million people used on of the UK’s food banks.

What is the problem?

Today’s psalm tells how all God’s works – ie everything human and creaturely that God has created – praises God. In praising God, these ‘works’ reveal the glory of God’s kingdom and God’s power. And they do this so that the people may know God’s power and recognise God’s dominion. The Psalmist sees dominion as being of God – not of humans – and that because of God’s power and dominion there is food enough for all to eat. Any problems due to food shortages are not God’s problem.

The reading from 2 Kings about Elisha was one I was completely unfamiliar with. It is a story brimming with interest. It begins with a person bringing to Elisha, a man of God, their first fruits in the shape of twenty loaves of barley bread and a sack full of ears of grain – probably barley. The first fruits were those first to be harvested, and as is clear here, it is the barley crop that is first to be harvested. According to Leviticus 23:20, the first fruits would be given to the priest who would offer them to God. This offering was a way of thanking God, the ultimate provider of food. So here the farmer is bringing bread and grain to give thanks for God’s generosity. 

Normally such food would then be available for the priests to eat. But here Elisha – who probably in the context of the Book of Kings counts as a priest – does not keep the bread and the grain for himself. Rather he shares them with the people. Food offered to God, is eaten not just by God’s holy man but by everyone – or according to the servant, by a minimum of 100 people. This a sharing of God’s food with God’s people and there is more than enough. 

The first grain to be harvested each year is the barley, so it is likely that if this offering of the first fruits  is as described in Leviticus, that it takes place during the Passover – and the bread presumably would therefore have been unleavened.

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians is equally bowled over by the riches of God’s glory. It is a glory which manifests itself in the power experienced by the believers in Ephesus through the Spirit and through the presence of Christ in their hearts which allows them to grow in love and faith. The writer, like the Psalmists, talks of every family on earth – every being – as being in a relationship with God. It is a parental relationship in which they may experience fullness of God which is exemplified by the height, length and depth of Christ’s love. 

John’s gospel does not have a specific description of the blessing and sharing of bread and wine at the last supper. Rather these actions are present within many of the episodes throughout the gospel. Today’s story takes place on the verge of the feast of Passover and  concerns the blessing and sharing of bread. A large crowd that needs to be fed. Philip – and maybe some of the other disciples too – sees the problem as one of money. Andrew looks at what food they have to hand – the packed lunch of one small boy – and likewise sees a shortfall. And note, the writer of John’s gospel is quite specific that these are loaves of barley bread. In Jesus’s hands this offering does indeed feed the crowd – crowd not 100 but 5000! There is enough food – and more to spare – to feed God’s people.

The problem of hunger is not a lack of money nor a lack of food but a failure to share both these resources in a God-given way – with thanksgiving. When we share bread together at the Eucharist is should remind us not just of God’s love and generosity to us, giving us both food and the gift of Christ the living bread, but also that we too are meant to ensure everyone is fed.

Lord, 

as we are fed by your generosity,

so may we feed others 

for so is the kingdom of God 

made present.

Amen.