Second Sunday before Lent

20th February 2022

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25In

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
   for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Psalm 65 

To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.
Praise is due to you,
   O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
   O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
   you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
   to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
   your holy temple. 


By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
   O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
   you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. 


You visit the earth and water it,
   you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
   you provide the people with grain,
   for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
   settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
   and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
   your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
   the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
   the valleys deck themselves with grain,
   they shout and sing together for joy.

Revelation 4

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
   who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they existed and were created.’

Luke 8:22-25

One day Jesus  got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

Reflection

The small fishing boat caught in the midst of a storm is at risk of capsizing and its crew of drowning. At Jesus’s word the storm is calmed and the danger averted. His disciples are astonished. They had not expected this outcome: perhaps in waking Jesus they had been hoping for some words of comfort before they drowned. Or may they had woken him so that he too might have time to prepare for his death. ‘Who is this,’ they ask, ‘that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey?’ 

The control of the elements belongs to God. Yet as this story reminds us, Jesus, as much as he is of human flesh, he is also of God. 

 All our readings today remind us that God is the creator, the one who created the earth and all life that flourishes therein. And it reminds us of our role as humans and God’s expectation of us. The story from Genesis tells us that God specifically created humans to till and keep the earth, to ensure its continuing flourishing. Gods has created a regenerative earth that abounds with life such that it is self sustaining providing food and nourishment for all. 

The psalm exhorts  us that to God is due both praise and the performance of vows. This is balanced by the reminder that God is the source of our hope and  salvation – and then describes the wonder and bounty of nature with which Gods has endowed the world. This is a world of joyful abundance . 

Even the passage from Revelation extols the wonders of God’s creation. Seen through the lens of a spiritual vision, the writer sees heaven as a place where God is endlessly praised by and for all that is created.

So what of our world in the 21st century? Destructive winds and storms we certainly know about even here in London. Earlier this month Boston, USA, received a record snowfall of over 60cm with gusting winds that brought temperatures down to -28C. In Australia monsoon rains resulted in 381mm falling over night in Queensland. Tropical Storm Ana caused nearly 80 deaths in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi  as well as displacing 160, 000 people. Whilst this week heavy rains in Brazil caused a landslide that has killed at least 94 people. In California 66 of the state is now affected by severe drought, and the risk of further wild fires. 

All around we are seeing the affects of human-made climate change. We cannot control the wind and the waves, but we can wreak devastation. Where is God in this? Does God hear our cries that we are perishing?

Yes, God does here our cries, and the cries of creation. God knows the fear and pain being suffered. God does not will storms or destruction, floods or droughts. God does not override the wind and the waves. God does not control humans as if we were automatons. Rather God desires that we tend and care for the world around us, that we learn from and understand the workings of creation, that we cease those activities that cause harm and damage.  Scientists have been studying the causes of climate change over the last 50 plus years. They have been modelling future effects of human activity and how we can alter our behaviour to constrain the worsening effects of the crisis. International groups, even governments, have accepted the validity and necessity of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – not to stop extreme weather events but to keep them within such limits that those who are vulnerable  can be protected. God is certainly there at the heart of these endeavours. 

‘Where is your faith?’ Jesus asked his companions. And today that is still his question: Where is our faith? Do we place our faith in God, in the wisdom of creation, in the knowledge discerned by scientists? If so, then why are we not taking all necessary steps to reduce our carbon emissions, to achieve net zero? Why are we not providing the finances to enable everyone to take part, whether that is those in this country who cannot meet the cost of insulating their houses, or buy sustainably produced food, or afford the cost of rail travel? Why are we not providing the finance marginalised countries who don’t have the capital to switch to renewables, who are ill-equipped to cope with storms and floods, who can’t meet the cost of adaptation, who can’t afford to develop new farming techniques? 

Or is it that we place our faith in human ego, in human independence? Is it that we place our faith in the motivation of profit? Is it that we find ourselves trapped in the iniquity of systems? Systems that promote short term gain over long term well being? Systems that trap the poor and the vulnerable? Systems that can’t envisage change?

Let us resolve to place our faith in God. God created the world, and as part of it, humanity. By studying how the world works, how ecosystems develop and thrive, we learn how to live sustainably and in harmony with creation. We learn how to live as God desires. Continuing to live lives that destroy habitats, that diminish the world’s biodiversity, that consume resources faster than they can be renewed, is to live in opposition to God’s will. Where we struggle is that as individuals, however much we try to live sustainably and in harmony with God, we cannot outweigh the contri effects of those who choose not to live sustainably, who choose to ignore God’s will. Often these are not individuals but are companies, governments and systems. 

We need to pray for these situations, to pray for for a softening of hearts and a change of disposition. To pray for those who are suffering. To pray for the strengthening of those who strive to do what is right.  We need to be prophetic, to call out the wrong where we see it, to challenge misplaced convention and tradition, to raise awareness of what is right and what is wrong. We need to join forces one with another to make our voices heard and make our message credible. And for this we need faith.  Like yeast in dough, like the mustard seed in the soil, faith can grow and work miracles.

Third Sunday before Lent 

13th February 2022

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.

They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.

They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;

in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse–
who can understand it?

I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,

to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

Psalm 1

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on God’s law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

Luke 6:17-26

Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Humanity. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Reflection 

Considering the news we hear and read and see each day, who would place much trust in mere mortals?

We seem, on the one hand, to be good at destroying the good things around us, and, on the either hand, to be completely oblivious to this. The net result being that we continue to destroy the world. We  have the misplaced belief that we mortals are doing the right thing!

Jeremiah’s description is that we are like a shrub in a desert – one that can’t  recognise relief when it comes. We are facing a climate crisis, an energy crisis and a poverty crisis. We could find relief by switching from fossil fuels to renewables; by shifting our investments, taxes, and subsidies from the ones that are  causing the problem to the other. We could insulate people’s homes, instal solar panels on their roofs and supply the cheaper green energy to make life easier for the poor. BUT we don’t! Instead we struggle trying to be a healthy in a place where there is no water and where the soil has been contaminated with salt. 

We pay people less than they need to survive  so that companies can sell their goods more cheaply and rake in the profits. We expect cheap food, and let supermarkets harass farmers to short change the soil and exploit their livestock. and then resent them being given subsistence benefits. We want things to be cheaper, happily ignoring the exploitation of workers. We avoid taxing the rich less they take their money elsewhere, yet complain when there aren’t enough nurses and teachers. We resent paying more for things that last, instead allowing the world to be a dumping ground for plastics, and electronic waste, uneaten food and hardly worn clothes.

Jeremiah is right: those who rely in mere mortals are cursed. We fail to realise that if it were not for our misplaced trust, we could be like trees growing by streams, like shrubs in a well water land, where the leaves would be green, providing shade from the heat. 

We could be living in a world where the poor are blessed; Where the hungry are fed; Where the distraught are consoled. We could be living in a world where resources are shared and the future protected, where health and opportunity are givens, a world of joy and contentment. A world where the word of God is followed and the Son is esteemed. 

Our challenge is to believe that with God, all this is possible. To believe is to act in accordance with that belief. If we believe that paying people a pittance is wrong, we should say so. If we believe people should be paid more, we must be willing to pay more. If we believe that God’s world is for everyone, we should share resources equally and willing taking less if we find we have been consuming too much.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”

Fourth Sunday before Lent

6th February 2022

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” 

Psalm 138

1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.

7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Luke 5:1-11 

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Reflection 

The over arching theme of today’s readings is of being called by God. For Isaiah it seems to be a unique calling, as if Isaiah’s role is going to be unusual, out of the ordinary. When we get to the days of Paul, the number of people being called by God is growing exponentially. Paul doesn’t say so, but one senses that Paul anticipates that his readers will be the next generation of those commissioned by God to continue the spread of the good news. 

Isaiah, Paul and Simon are all clearly aware of their shortcomings, their failures, their sins. In calling them, God both recognises this,  absolves them and at the same time enables their transformation into spreaders of the good news, of salvation.  

In the ‘pericope’ or clip that Luke gives us, Jesus is preaching the good news to the crowds. But then it is as if he demonstrates this by way of a physical parable. He has chosen to borrow Simon’s boat. Simon’s overnight fishing expedition had failed. Normally Simon would have expected to make a worthwhile  catch of fish, but on this occasion the haul had been nil. Things had not been how they should have been. 

Jesus invites Simon try once more, and this time the haul of fish is beyond Simon’s expectation. Jesus has not just restored things the way they should be, he has transformed them spectacularly. The good news that God’s salvation can and does restore and transform life in all its fullness is made visible.

Isaiah was called to warn the people of Judea of the threat posed by the Babylonians to their future as a nation. This threat stemmed from the breakdown in their relationship with God, their arrogance  and their failure to listen to, and act upon, the wisdom of God. They needed to repent and change direction, to transform discern the ways in which they lived and how they should related to God. This transformation was, as recorded in the Book of Isaiah, a work in progress. 

Jesus called Simon to completely change career. He was to forgo his fishing job and instead to draw people into a new way of understanding God, of realising that the promised Messiah was Jesus, and that with him they would find healing and fulfilment of life. This was a calling that was to shared with a growing number of his contemporaries.

Paul’s calling also involved a change in direction, from persecuting anyone who threatened the age-old, traditional and exclusive understanding of the God of Israel, to that of  preaching a message that invited everyone, whatever their status or background, to participate in the salvation that God offered through the living presence of Jesus Christ. Again this was a calling that was shared by others, both then and through each subsequent generation, right down to us today.

I wonder what your calling might be? For me, it is endeavouring to honour God’s desire that we should care for creation, by  sharing the ways of living fairly and sustainably, and endeavouring to win the hearts and minds of others to be  equally enthused and engaged with God’s hopes for creation. Loving sustainably according to God’s wishes, God’s wisdom, will I believe restore and transform the world, over coming all the crises with which we are beset. 

Candlemas

30th January 2022

Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4

When these days are over, then from the eighth day onwards the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt-offerings and your offerings of well-being; and I will accept you, says the Lord God.

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.

Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and lo! the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord; and I fell upon my face.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Reflection

Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet, one of those who had been exiled to Babylon. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by his captors must have had a profound effect upon him, and this is reflected in his writings. 

He writes that after 25 years of exile he has a vision. In the vision he is taken back to Israel, back to the city of Jerusalem and there he sees the restored – resurrected – Temple. The restoration of the Temple must have been such a hoped for desire for Ezekiel. It would have meant not just the restoration of the building, but of the worship of God, and of the restoration of the nation of Israel as God’s elect. 

Ezekiel is met by a guide who takes him on a tour of the temple complex, showing him all its walls and gate ways, its courtyards and rooms, corridors and pavements. His guide is equipped with measuring instruments such that he can know the height and depth and width of every part of the building. Having completed the tour of the outer precincts, Ezekiel is then taken on an even more in depth tour of the Temple itself. He is shown the various rooms and vestibules, their decorations, furnishings and equipment is all notes. The guide explains the use of the different rooms  – which ones are to be used for different offering, which ones for robing and unrobing, and which areas will only  be entered by appropriately robed priests. The Ezekiel comes to the eastward facing gateway and afar off he sees and hears the approaching arrival of the glory of God. As the glory fills the Temple, so he is lifted by the spirit into the safety of an inner court. 

Now it is not his guide, but the voice of God who addresses Ezekiel. He is instructed how he will offer sacrifices for seven days to consecrate the altar – and only them will the other priests be able to take up the routine of daily worship in the Temple. This is where our reading today comes in. Ezekiel is told by God that the east ward facing gate (the one  by which God entered the Temple) has been shut and will remain so. There will be one exception: the prince may enter and leave by that gate. Earlier Ezekiel records God speaking of his servant David as being one who is a prince among the people. The Hebrew word translated as prince can also mean ruler or leader. 

Ezekiel’s vision of the future that he is hoping for, is of a future where things are restored to how they should be. Where the temple is once more rebuilt in all its splendour. Where the role of the priests is clearly defined and irreversibly entwined with the return of God’s presence to the temple. Where the rule of David will be restored such that the prince shall enter by the east gate and dine within its vestibule before the presence of God. This view of salvation is one that envisages a return to the ‘good old days’. 

The second Temple complex, built by Herod,  comprised a series of  courtyards each with differing functions. At the centre was the courtyard of the priests where sacrifices were made and within which was the building that contained the Holy of Holies. The outer courtyards where men and women could both go, were places where people could meet, talk, catch up on news, arrange business deals, debate theology, make offerings, and pray. Here people, like Simeon and Anna , could spend  whole days amidst a bustle of activity that ultimately revolved around the worship of God. And it is here that both Anna and Simeon are given the insight that the child Mary and Joseph bring into the Temple, is the Messiah, that in this child is the bringer of salvation.  What an amazing experience! One which few others – in Luke’s telling of the story had had.  Only  the shepherds who came to the stable, and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and of course Mary, had received the message that this child was special. 

The outermost court of the temple was open to all, Jew and Gentile alike, but beyond that point only Jews could proceed further. Yet Simeon is prompted by the Spirit to see in Jesus one who will bring light and salvation to all people – gentiles included. This messiah in not just for those who have traditionally seen themselves as the exclusive people of God. This is a messiah for everyone. This, as Simeon goes onto prophesy, is someone who will open up new ways of thinking, new ways that will be so radical as to cause the world to be turned upside down. And so radical that people will be hurt in the process. What Simeon perceives as salvation is not a restoration of Israel as of old, but a complete transformation into something completely new. 

Sometimes it can be very easy to think that restoring things back to how they used to be is the answer.  It seems a safer, more reliable proposition than seeking something new – and possibly a quicker solution too needing less planning and preparation.  A year ago as we dealt with the worst of the covid pandemic, we dreamed of a better future. A future in which we would build back better. A future in which the inequalities revealed by the virus would be eradicated. A future in which we would be better neighbours. A future where we would all have a better work-life balance. A future where everyone  would have access to computers and a fast internet connection. A future where everyone could access green spaces to relax and recuperate. A future where key workers would be valued. A future where educational catch up support would be there for every child. A future where the air would always be clean and the song of birds would always be heard.

The  salvation which Simeon saw was the same that inspired Paul to takes the good news of Jesus Christ to both Jews and gentiles. The gospel he preached was radical, turning social norms upside down, rewriting religious expectations and demanding a new approach to daily life. It is in preaching this message of what is new about the salvation that comes through Jesus, that Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth  about love. This is a love that can break through ‘me first’ attitudes; that can break down the barriers of  inequality, prejudice and mistrust; that is the catalyst that ends lying and deceitfulness; that embraces the protection of the environment; that puts life and well being before profit. It is a love we need to nurture everyday so that we are proof of the transforming process of salvation.

“Love that  is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. A Love that never ends.”

Epiphany 3

23rd January 2022

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offence.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

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.”

Reflection

Nehemiah, an important official (Cup Bearer to king Artaxerxes I of Persia) had been tasked with re-establishing the city of Jerusalem. He did this physically: rebuilding its walls and thereby asserting its role as a city on the same level as cities of other peoples in the region, such as the Samaritans and the Ammonites. And socially: rebuilding the people there as one community shaped by and bound together by the mosaic law. These residents of Jerusalem were a mixed bunch. There were those who were decedents of those who had not been exiled to Babylon but had remained in Judea. There were those who had over recent years returned from Babylon. And there were others who lived there but had no connection to the God of Moses. There had been tension between the groups and examples of some bullying and prejudice. And there had been examples of people marrying outside the faith and loosing their allegiance to God. 

In today’s passage, the priest Ezra is reading the Law of Moses to the assembled people. It is as if they are hearing it for the first time. They weep as if suddenly aware of their failings, their sinfulness, and are now penitent. They understand now that there is one law that defines the one way in which they are to live if they are to be one people.  They leave blessed and restored, united as the people of God. 

We in the United Kingdom are a divided, mix bunch of people. We know that great inequality exists between the different regions of the country, between different ethnic groups, between rural and urban communities, and between those whose incomes and wealth are growing and those who incomes and wealth are dwindling. We know that divisions exist between those who can afford food, heating, cars, private health care, and those who cannot. We sense that these divisions diminish life for all of us, that they are unsustainable, and will ultimately be destructive of the lives we lead. 

In 2020 as the first wave of covid struck, we suddenly realised how important were the people who stacked the supermarket shelves, who drove trains and buses, who emptied the bins  and cleaned the streets. We realised how much we relied on child care and teachers, and how very important were the medics in our hospitals and the research scientists in the labs. We clapped and praised them. 

We realised how very important our local communities were, how we could help one another, how good it was to know the people in our streets. We discovered what we could achieve when we all became good neighbours. We realised how important it was to have access to green spaces, to have places where we could walk, or run or cycle or just sit. And we rediscovered the pleasure of breathing fresh air, of hearing birds singing, and seeing the landscape clearly without the fog of pollution.

That was two years ago. Do we still remember how it felt? Do we still think that those people, those relationships, those places are important? Or has it all been caught up and lost in the mists of time as more pressing matters have come along? 

What might we learn from today’s reading that could be useful? The passage from Nehemiah tells us of the importance of rules held in common, of a shared sense of what is right and wrong, a shared sense that there is such a thing as the common good. In a multi cultural, multi faith  society it might be hard to find a set of commonly held religious rules, yet can we not all find agreement in the idea of loving our neighbour as ourself, in the importance of justice and fairness and equality? Can we not do all we can to encourage community groups, community focused neighbourhoods, community gardens, community centres and community shops? Can we not all agree that we should level things up so that everyone is on a level playing field and that everyone has equal opportunities? And can we not agree that laws and economic policies and taxation should be designed for the wellbeing of all and not just a few, and that in working for wellbeing this should include the environment?

The exert from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us an apt image for respecting each other as equals. The CEO cannot say to the shelf stacker, I don’t need you, and the banker cannot say to lorry driver, I don’t need you. If we were all pension fund managers, who would clean the streets? If we were all politicians, who would nurse the sick? In all our difference we are equally important, and need to be valued and respected as such. In a world which often equates value with pay, we need to bring a much greater equality in pay – ie to reduce the Gini coefficient. And overhaul our tax system so that it is both fair and so that it rebalances wealth.

The reading from Luke’s gospel gives us the words of Isaiah as Jesus’s manifesto. Empowered by the Spirit, he declares his ambitions for:- 

bringing good news to the poor – good news that must surely include relief from food poverty and fuel poverty;  

release for the captives which must surely include release from impossible debts both here and across the world, both for households and for essential organisations such as the NHS and the educational system, for the BBC and the Environment Agency; 

sight for the blind which must include vision and clarity for administrators and politicians, business leaders and investors;

freedom for the oppressed which must include freedom from individual and institutional racial prejudice, religious prejudice, sexual and gender-based, and prejudice against those with physical and mental disabilities;

a year of the Lord’s favour which must surely include enshrining kingdom values at the heart of society. 

Today’s readings can inspire our vision for a far better world, and being inspired, we should remember that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in various forms so that we can achieve this vision. 

Epiphany 2

16th January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,

until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.

The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;

and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 36:5-10

5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.

6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

7 How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

9 For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
and your favour to those who are true of heart.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection 

Today’s gospel is one of my favourite stories as it about enjoying life and creating an abundance out of very little. It is on a par with the feeding of the 5000. And with the two, you have the Eucharist – a story which does not explicitly appear in John’s gospel.

The first reading from Isaiah begins with the voice of the prophet shouting out; not keeping silent. Sometimes we are reluctant to shout out either loud enough or often enough for those in need of salvation? For the people of Afghanistan? For those children in the UK who don’t have beds to sleep in? For people whose wages are so low, they have to rely on food banks? For those struggling with mental ill health because of the pandemic?

In Isaiah’s case there is a back story. Jerusalem had sinned, had erred and strayed from God and had suffered the consequences. Having learnt from their mistakes, the time had now come for the restoration of Jerusalem,  a returning to their union with God. The people had been physically exiled but now they were returning to their God, to their land, to their roots. 

We in the 21st century have strayed from God’s ways, have become separated from the land and are seeing around us the effects of that rift. As we accept that our lifestyles  are the prime cause of the climate crisis, and our greed the prime cause of world wide injustices, so we are able to repent, to make reparations and to seek restoration and reconciliation – with God, with the land and with each other. Isaiah uses the concept of marriage to describe the strength and  joy that comes from the  renewed relationship between and God and the people. It is a relationship that abounds with delight. 

The writer of psalm 36 echoes the same sentiments, extolling the strength and the abundance that come from a relationship built of love and faithfulness. Here is an abundance of good living that delights both humans and beasts. It is a relationship that grows through the gift of  light – or as we might say, wisdom.

Last Sunday we recalled the baptism of Jesus and the moment at which he was filled with the Holy Spirit, a gift that came from above. Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus  in Corinth reminds them of the gifts they have received through the Holy Spirit: gifts of wisdom and discernment, of healing and miracles, of prophesy and discernment. The gifts of the Spirit are a sign of their union with God; those who speak or live in way that separates them from that relationship, cannot speak well of Jesus and vice versa. It is the gifts of the Spirit that will enable us to live lives that restore the world.

Finally to the Gospel. This story of transformation and abundance, and it is also a story about the celebration of restoration. We are not given any details about the bride and groom, although in a later passage we will hear John referring to Jesus as the bridegroom. The idea of marriage is often used in  the Bible as a metaphor for the relationship between God and people. So we might imagine that this wedding celebrates the restoration of the relationship between God and humanity, manifested in the union between Jesus and the community of those who love him.  It is a celebration that ends up overflowing with wine: each stone jar is filled with upwards of 100 litres of the best wine!

Notice the role Jesus’s mother plays. It is she who points out to Jesus what is needed, and it is she who prompts the servants to play their part. As followers of Jesus we are not automatons, but have differing gifts that we expected to use. And for some of us they may be the gift of observation, of discerning what is needed, of prompting or inspiring  others to action. The good news is about action and  transformation. Here a new use is found for the water jars; their former use may have been for cleansing rituals (maybe outdated rituals) but now they have been upcycled as wine vats. There had been a tradition of serving the best wine first, but now there is a new one: saving the best till last! This wedding reveals the  glory of Jesus. It is a wedding that is not going to be forgotten: indeed it is a union which continues to be celebrated every time we share the Eucharist.

First Sunday of Epiphany

9th January 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7 

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection 

Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we heard of the glory of God that rises above us when we are in darkness and which draws together the peoples of all nations along with the abundance that the earth has to offer. And we had the image of the star shining down over Bethlehem where God had become incarnate as a human child, attracting the attention and the worship of kings and the offering of gifts on such as scale as to unnerve the then Judean King, Herod. 

Today’s psalm looks to the natural world to describe the glory of God. This glory – this weightiness, this honourableness, this splendour, this abundance and dignity (recall how rich the Hebrew  word is) – is like the thunder of falling water, the breaking of cedar branches (think of the strength needed and the loud cracking noise), the liveliness of hills and calves, the energy of fire and storms! This description of glory sounds both energising and terrifying. Yet Isaiah also talks about the glory of God. He tells us that we humans are loved by God, that God knows us and calls us by name, and that he has made us for his glory! We should not underestimate how wonderful humanity can be, nor the the power of God’s presence. God knows how risky and dangerous and unpredictable life can be, and therefore God will always be there for us.

The ministry of John the Baptist was equally electrifying and terrifying. A figure standing out in the wilderness challenging people to reflect on the quality, the rightness of their lives, to be honest and own up to their failings, their greed, their apathy. His earnest desire was that they should not be going unprepared when the glory of God would appear in their midst. He doused those who were repentant with water to assure them that their past sins were expunged – but he also warned them of complacency. 

‘I may be washing your sins away, he said, but beware that  you do reform your lives, because there is one who is coming who will deal not in water but with fire! His will baptise with the Holy Spirit!’

The writer of the gospel then tells us of Jesus’s own baptism. The heavens break open and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven  You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

To be baptised with the Holy Spirit is to filled by – engulfed by – the glory of God. It is to experience that God know us and call us by name. It is to be empowered to live life as God’s children. 

The word Greek word translated as open also has the meaning of disclose which is a reminder to us that this is the season of Epiphany. Let us be willing this season to be open to the wonder – even the shock – of the glory of God that is being revealed to us. And to let that glory transform the way we respond both to God, to our neighbour and to the world around us. 

Second Sunday of Christmas

2nd January 2022

Isaiah 60: 1-6 

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 


Lift up your eyes and look around;
   they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
   and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
   your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
   the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
   the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
   all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
   and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 84: 1-8

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.

Ephesians 3:1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2: 1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection 

The glory of the Lord has risen, the glory of the Lord has appeared. It is a light shines in dark places and summons people. Not a search light seeking the intruder or the escapee. Not a light house beam flashing up warnings of danger. But like a light over the door way that says ‘Welcome, come in’. Like a street light that illuminates the road you should follow. Like a neon advertisement that says ‘Come! Be amazed! Be persuaded!’

The word used in Hebrew of glory is ‘kabod’ or ‘kavod’. The original meaning of the word was weight, but also has meanings of abundance, importance  and dignity. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that filled the tabernacle. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that went ahead of the people in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and  of fire by night. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that enveloped Mount Sinai. In the days of Moses the glory of the Lord leads the people through the wilderness to the promised land. Now, here in the words of Isaiah, the glory of the Lord is not only  bringing light to the Israelites, but to the leaders of the nations across the world. As the peoples and nations come together, they will gather an abundance of the earth’s gifts. ‘Lift up your eyes and see!’ says Isaiah. 

Is it that sometimes we don’t see the glory of God in the world around us, that we do not realise the abundance that the world has to offer us?  If only we had the eyes to see? If only we perceived that by caring for the soil by understanding the importance of its micro-organisms, it would produce bountiful crops. Instead we damage these by flooding the soil with fertilisers and pesticides. If only we perceived that by sharing resources equitably, we would remove the causes of war and migration. If only we perceived that by sharing vaccines and vaccine patents,  we could end the threat that covid poses.

The psalmist cries out his – or maybe her – earnest desire to be at one, to be at home with God. To live in God’s presence is to be happy! Happy are those who find their strength in God, who follow the pilgrim way. This seems to echo the idea of the Israelites following God through the wilderness. The pilgrims’ way is not necessarily straight forward but God will reveal his presence  to them, will hear the prayers of those who seek him, and will defend them.

The epistle reading today comes from the Letter to the Ephesians. Whilst it is probably not the writing of Paul himself, it is written as if from him because of his significant role in taking the gospel to people outside the Jewish faith. The good news, the Christian faith is for everyone! It is good news because it brings  to everyone the boundless riches (an echo of the glory of God?) that come through Christ. The writer explains that it is a mystery that was previously kept hidden but which now it is revealed beings a wisdom that will benefit in rich variety all leaders and authorities.

So to today’s gospel. Here we have people of wisdom who can read the signs of the times, who discern their significance of their pilgrimage as it unfolds. They think logically at first and go to the court of Herod to find the newly born king. 

Herod too has a certain amount of wisdom. These visitors have come from the east – outside the bounds of the Roman Empire. Do they perhaps perceive that this king is not just going to have influence in Judea but further afield too? Maybe both in their home land but in the lands currently controlled by Rome? Maybe a new world wide reign? If so, this is not a message Herod wants to hear. His wisdom may not extend to understanding God’s plan – or maybe he hopes to thwart God. Certainly he acts with cunning hiding his plan from his own advisers and instead using the services of the wise men to further his own objectives. 

The pilgrims from the east continue following the light, seeking the place where they might find God’s glory. On entering the house where Jesus dwells, they are filled with joy and ‘proclaim their praise’ showering one who is  Emmanuel – God with us – with rich gifts.

This Sunday’s readings are proclaiming the good news – the glory of God – that is there for all who lift their eyes to see. It is good news that, like Paul, we are urged to share with everyone.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

19th December 2021

Micah 5:2-5a

You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;

then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;

and he shall be the one of peace.

Canticle: The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Hebrews 10:5-10

When Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;

in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Reflection 

The prophet Micah describes the Bethlehem as one of the smallest of the clans of Judah – as if each town in the lands belonging  to Judah was a subset – or in terms of the Scottish clan system, a ‘sept’ – of the tribe of Judah. This would for example make Joseph, who was a of the tribe of Judah, a member of the  sept of Bethlehem being his home town. 

God’s chosen one, says Micah, will come from this little clan – we might thus describe him as  one of the little people. But despite this, he will establish his rule and will bring together all his fellows – all the other little people – and, shepherd-like, feed them. And for feed, we might understand this to be not just with food but with the all that will sustain them. And  who are these  little people? Those whose work is often overlooked, who do not wield power  or influence, those who are not valued, who are seen as dispensable – labourers and factory workers, carers and shop staff, those with mental or physical disabilities,  those who are homeless, jobless, stateless , and children especially those from poor backgrounds. And there are others who are also ‘little people’. Those who are humble, self deprecating, those who are child-like and transparent, those who do not boss others around, who do not think they have an inherent superiority or importance, those who willingly relinquish power and wealth. These are the little people that Christ comes for, these are the ones he calls to be his people, his sheep. 

And it seems to me, that anyone can become a little person. For we can all become child-like, become humble and open, we can all let go of power and wealth, of our sense of status and self importance. 

And when everyone becomes a little person, then will we have peace! 

The Magnificat reminds us that Mary was one of the little people. A woman – not even with the status of being a wife, a young person with no special status, a resident of Nazareth (a not very important place).. Someone who could describe themselves as a lowly  servant, but equally sufficiently honest to see that in God eyes they were important. In this paean, Mary understands that God plans for the ‘big’ people – those who are self important, proud, privileged, powerful, the rich, those indifferent to others – to be transformed – reformed – as little people. And this is how the hungry will be fed. This is how God’s will from the beginning of time is to be fulfilled. 

We have only to look around the world and see that if all the ‘big’ people became little people, then there would be food and resources for everyone. Will this happen this Christmas? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ was not to be the recipient of sacrifices and burnt offerings, but to be the recipient of a body. The human body is a gift we have all been given, from Adam onwards. It is a gift to be treasured and to be used aright: ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ says Christ. This response echoes that of Mary – ‘let it be to me according to your word.’- and contrary to Adam’s ignoring of God’s will. We too are invited to respond like Mary, like Christ,  and to offer ourselves – in our bodies – to be incarnate doers of God’s will. The writer of Hebrews further reminds us, that as Christ has shared our humanity, so our bodies too have been made holy. 

And in the passage from Luke’s gospel, we hear how Christ in the process of becoming full  incarnate –  a growing embryo in Mary’s womb. – is already transforming the world. The unborn John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb – just as I am sure, Elizabeth too leapt, if not physically, then metaphorically, recognising intuitively the astounding fact of God’s presence with them in human form. Will we leap with joy this Christmas as once again we re-member that God is present with us in our human body?

Sunday Reflection: third in Advent

12th December 2021

The Collect 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defence, *
and he will be my Saviour.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptised by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Reflection 

The collect calls out to God, “Stir up your power!” This is not about Christmas puddings. It has a feeling of a whirl wind, a tornado, that will rip through us. A feeling of an electrical force that will spin things into motion. A centrifuge that will separate pure from dross. In the gospel John summons up the same prospect: Now is the time to act! Something is coming for which you have not yet prepared! That which is fruitless, that which shows no penitence or regret, will be cut away and destroyed. Radically alter your lives now before it is too late! For the messiah is coming with wind and fire and will stir up and sift you, shaking out all that is chaff – separating it from what is good. 

Think how that can transform not just us, but the whole world! At the same time, does this sound rather too scary? Do we want to be stripped of our chaff? Do we want to radically change the way we live? Do we feel that there is anything in us worthy enough to remain?

The words from Zephaniah sound equally radical but in a different way for Zephaniah tells us that God will rejoice over us! God’s love for us must be incredibly huge and incredibly forgiving. Looking at the state of the world, the ways in which we have damaged it, the ways in which we harm our selves and one another through our failure to love, through our greed and selfishness, is it credible that God will rejoice over us? Yes says Zephaniah, God will rejoice over us and will renew us with love, restore

Ing what has been  lost, healing what has been damaged and making us a praiseworthy part of creation. 

Where John suggests practical actions people can take – being generous with what we have, not being greedy, not abusing any power or authority we have – the writer of Philippians commends attitudes: being gentle, joyful and prayerful. Let’s be guided by both these figures and let the transformative power of God work in ourselves and the world we inhabit.