4th Sunday of Lent

19th March 2023

Reflection (the readings are below. NB there are alternative readings for Mothering Sunday which I am not using)

It is very easy to label people and the only to see the label. The disabled person. The black man. The pregnant woman. The autistic child. The asylum seeker. The climate refugee.  Or in the case of today’s gospel, the blind man. The label is not un-useful. If we know someone is blind  we can try to communicate in ways that don’t rely on seeing. If we know the woman is pregnant, we can take into account that she may have particular needs about what she eats or having a space to sit. But the label shouldn’t stop us from talking to the person who is blind about things we can see, about what is happening in the world, about their views on current affairs. Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you aren’t aware of the world around you. The label shouldn’t stop us from expecting the woman who is pregnant to have views about economics or theology or the best whiskeys.

In the gospel story some people are so used to seeing the label and not the person, they are not sure who the man is once he can see – they thought he looked liked the blind man! In many ways people make the same assumptions about Jesus. Many of them, including some of the Pharisees, labelled him as a sinner, and therefore saw his every action as sinful – and by contrast saw themselves as ‘Godly’.

Who can see the real person? In the passage from 1 Samuel it is God. To his father and his brothers, David was always going to be ‘the youngest son’, the one to run errands, be that herding the sheep or delivering food to his  brothers if they were away from home (1 Samuel 17). Even Samuel discounts David – or rather the ‘youngest son’ – and expects to anoint the eldest son, or if not the eldest, then certainly one of the elder sons. It is God who sees the real person, who knows that David is the one who has the characteristics needed to be a king. 

In the gospel, the disciples see the blind man as a topic of theological debate – was it his sins or his parents’ sins that caused him to be blind? But Jesus sees him as he truly is, a person through whom God’s glory can be revealed. He perceives in the man an intelligence and an independence of mind that allows him to be receptive to God’s presence. 

The words of the 23rd Psalm, reflect the writer’s own receptiveness to the presence of God in his life. God has been his guide and his companion, the one who understands his needs, his hopes and his fears, the one who sticks by him through thick and thin. The psalmist is surely someone who, in the words of the writer to the Ephesians, lives as a child of the light. Someone who does ‘ find out what is pleasing to the Lord.’ 

How do we find out what is pleasing to the Lord? By being open to God, open to new ways of seeing and hearing and doing.  By being aware of what is happening in the world, by being aware of what causes suffering and pain. By finding out how suffering and pain can be alleviated and how they can be prevented – for God desires mercy and goodness for all. 

This last week storm Freddy has savaged Malawi and Mozambique causing destruction and suffering on a vast scale. The people of Malawi and Mozambique are not just numbers who either survived or died, but individuals with friends and families, homes and communities, hope and fears, who are in dire need of assistance. 

Can we offer assistance? Can we be good neighbours? Donate to charities such as Oxfam which are meeting people’s immediate needs. Press our government to forego outstanding debt repayments to allow money to be spent instead on climate adaptation and new infrastructure. Speak out about the climate crisis and how it is the root cause of the extreme intensity of this storm. Point out how governments and corporations across the world are failing to  address the issue of climate and justice. Adjust our own lifestyles so that we too become part of the climate crisis solution.

Let us do what is pleasing to God.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Second Sunday of Lent

5th March 2023

What is the right way of living well? 

To live well sounds like the offer that God makes to Abraham: to be blessed and be made great. 

To live well sounds like the promises made in Psalm 121: to have God watch over you, protecting you from danger by day and night.  To be preserved from all evil – which in other words is the meaning of salvation. 

Paul in his letter to the Romans, describes the relationship Abraham has with God as being one of righteousness. Abraham has a right relationship with God – it is based on faith (it is interesting to consider whether this is God’s faith in Abraham as it is God who makes the first move; or Abraham’s faith in God – or maybe the faith of both). What Paul is keen to assert is that God’s promise to Abraham of blessing, is a gift of grace – freely given – a gift that cannot be bought.

Paul uses the analogy of a worker who, having been paid for the work he does, has no further call upon or relationship with the employer. That is not the nature of righteousness. What Paul doesn’t explore is the relationship between someone who works for free or someone whose commitment to the work, to the employer, goes over and above the financial wage. Whilst the former has no ongoing interest in the business or the employer, the latter surely does. Indeed in the latter scenario the relationship is of mutual trust that together they share the same interest – the success of the business or project. The worker is not solely – if at all – interested in the financial reward, but has an interest in the well being of the business or project. 

If we were to transfer this to a family or community setting, we could distinguish between those members who are only  interested in what they are getting out of the relationship (hot meals and clean clothes) and those who are interested in the well being of the whole family / community. Those whose commitment is not just to self but to everyone else. Those whose commitment means they will stay within that group when the future looks grim, when things are difficult. Isn’t this the essence of a Christian community, of a church? 

Can we see parallels between these reflections on righteousness, on the right way of living , and what Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus? Just as there are two ways of being part of a family or community – the self interested loner, and the mutually concerned lover of all – so Jesus talks of two ways of being born, two ways of coming into being in the world: the purely human and the divinely inspired. The purely human is easy to see in the physical birthing from our mother. The divine is less easy to see – God’s Spirit has an intangible quality, it has the quality of a free spirit. It cannot be bought over the counter. It is not a wage for services rendered – indeed who could repay God for service received? But at the same time there is much we can do to be open and ready to receive that inspiration – in prayer, meditation, in contemplation of God and God’s world. We can shape ourselves by the ways we live and by the way we care for others. We can shape ourselves to be receivers of the Spirit, to be Christ-like. 

Living well is living not for self interest but for the whole enterprise – be that family, church, community etc. Living well is living in a trusting, faithful, Spirit shaped relationship with God. Living well is being concerned for the well-being of the victims of the Turkish earthquake. It is being concerned for the wellbeing of those who – even on benefits – cannot afford to buy food. It is being concerned for the wellbeing of  amphibians who lack places to breed because there are so few wet ponds and ditches following another dry winter. It is being concerned for the wellbeing of the economy when it is controlled by the few who commandeer the profits as their gain. It is being concerned for the wellbeing of activists -modern day prophets – trying so speak truth to power. It is being Christ-like. 

Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?

2 My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5 The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.

8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

First Sunday of Lent 

26th February 2023

Reflection (readings below)

Consider the contrast between the Garden of Eden and the wilderness. 

The one green and verdant, full of trees that are not only beautiful to the eyes but have fruits that are good to eat. The other a barren place of rock and sand – and who would be able to eat stones? 

The one where the humans fail to trust God. The other where the human places all  his trust in God..

And then consider the similarities. 

In both is the challenge of whether one’s  existence is dependent on God – the snake in the garden, the devil in the wilderness. 

In both God cares for the humans, and provides for them – clothes for the ones of the Garden of Eden, ministering angels for the one in the wilderness.

In both the experience is the start of a new venture – for the ones in the garden of Eden, a calling to live in and cultivate the barren earth; for the one in the wilderness, a calling to live on earth as it is in heaven.

In both the experience reinforces the understanding of the need to trust in God. 

It seems as if it is only when Adam and Eve realise their own nakedness – their absolute exposure – that they realise their true need of God. That is perhaps something we can empathise with. It is often when we are at our wits end, when we hit rock bottom, that we become truly aware of our need for God. For Jesus this trust is implicit in his very being. Perhaps that is what marks him out so clearly as the Son of God. 

We often liken Lent to a journey. A  journey maybe of self discovery – of understanding our weaknesses, our false self-confidence, but perhaps also discovering the gifts we have been given. I am sure Adam realised that one of the gifts he had been given by God was the ability to till and tend the earth and to grow plants that would satisfy their needs.  A journey of discovering our need for God, for discovering the joy and love that we can experience when we make time to come alongside God. A journey in which we discover that we are not solitary travellers on the road, but that there are many fellow pilgrims who will  keep us company,  who can guide  and encourage us, who can console and heal us when our feet are sore and blistered. And of course foremost amongst these is Jesus who has walked this path before.

Where will this path through the wilderness take us? To a world that is green and verdant, full of trees that are not only beautiful to the eyes but have fruits that are good to eat. To a world where all humans place their trust in God. A world where God’s loving care is always felt. A world which is as it is in heaven. 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

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.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 5:12-19

As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned– sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Sunday next before Lent

19th February 2023

Reflection (readings below)

The overarching theme of today’s readings is that of glory. 

God’s glory settled on Mount Sinai for six days and on the seventh day Moses goes up the mountain and enters into that cloud of glory – a glory that appears like an all consuming fire. 

Jesus ascends Mount Tabor and from a cloud,  God declares that Jesus is his beloved son  in whom he is well pleased. The disciples with Jesus, not only hear God’s voice, but see God’s glory shining through Jesus. It is like a blinding light. 

In both these encounters God’s glory isn’t something unobtrusive, something you might blink and miss. It is unmistakeable!  But how many of us have had such full on encounters with God? Perhaps we are more likely to just glimpse God’s glory, to catch a sight of it fleetingly. 

Nevertheless I suspect that glimpsing God’s glory is more common than we imagine. Think of sunset radiant with bright colours. Think of a sunrise as the great orb of the sun appears above the horizon. Think of the gold-dusted interior of a fully open crocus. Think of light dancing on the surface of a lake. Think of lucid movement of an incoming wave on the sea. Think of the minute detail of a single bird’s feather. Think of the smile in the eyes of someone who loves you. Think of the out-of-this-world experience of arriving at the top of a mountain and embracing the view. 

Last seek’s reading from Genesis described how God declared each thing created as being good. The Hebrew word is ‘towb’ meaning good, or beautiful or pleasing. If everything God has created is, in God’s eyes good, well pleasing, then we should not be surprised to see glimpses  of God’s glory shining through all manner of things, places and people. It maybe that we need to sharpen our eye sight, or re-attune our hearing, and be more alert to what is around us – for I am sure we are surrounded by the glory of God but don’t notice because our attention is elsewhere.

As Ash Wednesday approaches, maybe we can use this Lent as a time to pay more attention to the world around us, to be open to God’s presence and to be entranced by God’s glory. 

Exodus 24:12-18

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 99

1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.

2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.

9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2 Peter 1:16-21

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Second Sunday Before Lent

12th February 202

Reflection (readings are below)

I don’t know whether you have noticed that’s growing number of hat and boots that are made to look like animals  (Wellington boot that look like frogs, slippers that look like rabbits) or that make wearer look like an animal (hats with cat ears, hats that look like bears or dog, frogs or dinosaurs, headbands with reindeer antlers, scarves with animal paws). Is this because we love animals – or find them cute? It might be because we admire them and want in some way to affirm that. It may be that we see in them characteristics we wish to emulate – to be brave like a lion, to be self-contained as a cat. 

On the other hand there is a growing fashion for dressing pets in clothes from a simple neck scarf, a fair isle jumper, to a complete wedding outfit. At the same time you can also buy your pets their own animal shaped biscuits, chocolate treats, icecream, beer and wine, even mince pies and Easter eggs.

Is it that we want to love and care for our pets  as we do for ourselves. That we want to include rather than exclude them from our daily/ family life? Sometimes it maybe that our love is selfishly  focused on our needs and not that of the pet: pets don’t need wedding dresses.

God loves birds and flowers no more and no less than God loves us humans. We are all in our differences loved and cared for. 

When humans were created in the image of God, it was that we should reflect, if only partially, the nature of God – the loving and caring-ness of God. The writer of Genesis 1 says that we ate to subdue and have dominion over the rest of creation – but surely only in the way that mirrors how Gos would subdue and have dominion?

God not only loves perfectly, God also knows perfectly. God know and understands each and everyone of us. We do not have such perfect knowledge yet we can look and listen to all of creation in order that we can know and understand and love  each other better. 

One area that we are learning about is that if mental health and well-being, realising that we do have brains and bodies that think and behave differently  and that have different needs. It can be hard for some people who feel that they don’t fit it. Or who find that the way the world around them is organised seems alien and unhelpful. By better listening and looking, we can value each other with greater care. I think Jesus would have told a parable about unicorns given the opportunity. Always be yourself unless you are a unicorn; in which case be a unicorn!

Genesis 1:1-2:3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 

Second Reading Romans 8:18-25

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. 

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 25-34

Jesus taught his disciples, saying: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you— you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

Proper 5

5th February 2023,

Reflection (readings below)

The frustration Isaiah expresses is still a contemporary one. People then as now, can easily delude themselves. They do one thing, ask for the complete opposite, and are surprised when they don’t get what they wanted. Then the  people of God spent their days doing everything that angered God, spent the same days asking God for guidance, and were completely surprised when their lives fell apart. Now the people burn fossil fuels, invest in fossil fuels, rely upon fossil fuels, whilst asking what they can do to avert the climate crisis, and are surprised when the crisis keeps getting larger!

Cue Paul writing to the church on Corinth which really did want to have everything every which way. Last week we heard how they all wanted to be followers of Christ but also wanted to be followers of Apollos/Cephas/ Paul, and be able to accuse the others of being in the wrong  for following instead the ways of Paul/ Apollos/ Paul. They didn’t want a divided church, they just wanted it to be the church  after their own persuasion. ‘Don’t make the message complicated. Keep it simple, stupid! Then make sure that what you do matches up to you say’.  The message, says Paul,  is simple: know Jesus and him crucified.

The KISS acronym was a  principle reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson a design engineer of jet engines and used frequently as a design principle by the US navy and military. A similarly framed slogan ‘ Does exactly what it says on the tin ’ was developed  for Ronseal products in 1994. Maybe Jesus would have reworked it to describe the best salt as  ‘Salt  that tastes salty’. If salt isn’t salty, it isn’t salt.  Maybe it’s sugar, maybe it is silica powder – it’s certainly  not salt. There should be no ambiguity in describing salt as salt, no pretension, no deception, no flowery innuendo. 

Certainly with Jesus there was no pretension, no deception, no flowery innuendo. He was what he was,  the messiah, the one who opens up the kingdom of heaven for us all. In John’s gospel we hear Jesus declare ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. 

If we are Christians, we are called to be like Jesus. Salt has to be salty to be salt. Christians have to be ‘christainy’ to be Christians! We have to have that defining taste, that defining flavour, that defining way of speaking and acting, that says Jesus and him crucified. 

Paul’s phrase here has often puzzled me. Of all the things one could say of Jesus – healer, teacher, prophet, the risen one – why crucified? It can’t mean that all Christians are called to be crucified? Could it be a word that describes the absolute willingness to ensure that what is right happens, that what is truthful is told, whatever the cost. Does it describe the absolute willingness to do what is needed to bring in the kingdom of God, to do what God asks rather than what we want?

What do we need be doing to bring in the kingdom of God? Isaiah tells us what God was saying to him then, words which have not less there relevance since:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Read today’s newspaper and see how much of the first half of the message is still true today. Look at our own actions: how much of the second part are we doing? Are we still salty salt?

Isaiah 58:1-9a, 

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Psalm 112:1-9

1 Hallelujah!
Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumours; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honour.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 

Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of those commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Feast of Candlemas

29th February 2023

Reflection (readings follow on) 

The temple was at the heart of the life of the Jewish people. It represented God’s dwelling place on earth and was the place where the priests day in day out formally worshiped God with prayers and the singing of psalms, sacrifices of animals, the burning of incense, etc. This was the chosen place for Jewish men, women and children to offer worship through prayer and through the gift of animals to be offered as sacrifices. It was where the came to celebrate the festivals of the Jewish year. It was where they came to offer prescribed sacrifices for cleansing. It was where they came to offer donations for the care of the Temple and for the care of poor. It was where lepers came to prove to the priests that they had been healed. It was here that people came to listen to and learn from learned scholars. It was here too the religious courts were daily in operation for those who sought justice. 

The temple had its own staff – priests and levites, scribes and judges, guards, makers of clothes and musical instruments. There were money changers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice. There were those who mended and repaired the buildings. Those who cleaned it.  There were tourists too – Gentiles who could access the outer court and colonnades and take in the grandeur and scale of the site.

As you can imagine from the time it opened each morning until it closed each evening, the temple complex was a crowded place!

In to this busy space comes just one among many families – Mary, Joseph and their 6 week old baby. Who will notice them? What could make them stand out? Yet two people do spot them, do seek them out: Simeon and Anna. Both are prompted or guided to seek out this family and their young child, for it has been revealed to them that this was not just any child but a child that was unique. This child was going to change the world. Both Simeon and Anna declared this to all who will listen.  I would if we would be so attuned to God’s word or so vocal it revealing its truth?

Simeon in his outburst declares that this child, this bringer of salvation, brings salvation not just for the people of Israel but for the gentiles too. This is an all inclusive salvation that God is bringing to pass. Yet at that time the temple was divided into areas where only priests could go, areas restricted to Jewish men, areas where Jewish men and women could go but not gentiles, and then an outer area Jews and gentiles could both congregate. The salvation that Simeon foretold would transform all that. It would be a salvation in which, as Paul put it, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female for all are one in Christ.’

In our  day and age we should challenge ourselves to revisit this all inclusive nature of salvation. There should be neither rich nor poor, neither  powerful nor victimised, neither above the law nor outside the law, neither male nor female, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, neither first world nor third world, for all are one in Christ. I think we should go further, recognising how our relationship with the world around us is now understood – how dependent and interdependent all parts of creation are – to declare that there is neither human nor non human, neither wild nor domesticated, for all of creation is one in Christ.

Malachi 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old days and as in former years.

Psalm 84

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.

9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

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.

Epiphany 3

22nd February 2023

Reflection (readings follow on below)

The word epiphany comes from the Greek and means to show or shine on. From this comes the idea of revealing, displaying or making manifest. A light shines onto something and what is in view is made clear. 

At the beginning of this season we heard the story of the magi. They had, it seems, devoted their life to looking at the stars (which are in themselves lights) in order to discover new truths about the world. They see a star and see it as pointing to the birth of a new and important king. The star itself doesn’t in fact reveal all they need to know, and they head to Jerusalem to consult Herod and his wise men to hone their understanding. Finally they do find the child and in worshipping the child, gain a new revelation. The child’s life is threatened by Herod and they depart by a different route. I am sure that throughout the remainder of their lives they continued to seek further enlightenment the child they had worshipped.  

The prophet Isaiah has been called to call the people back to God, for on’y then will they escape the danger that threaten them and their world. In today’s passage light comes not from a star but from God. The light is a gift from God to the people that brings them joy and release from the burdens of oppression – the physical oppression from their enemies and the spiritual oppression of sin. It is a light that shows them the way out of their troubles. It is a means of enlightenment.

As we look around our world today with war and conflict, oppression and injustice, climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need enlightenment. It seem that we can seek enlightenment in two ways – both of which are not in opposition to each other. Through seeking God’s light and renewing our spiritual well-being. And through seeking enlightenment about the natural world in which we live and about which we are not as well versed as we might be. In seeking to understand the world around us, we learn truths about God, about the amazing connectivity and interdependency and life enriching wonder of creation. In seeking to know God, we learn of God’s ongoing love for creation.

Isaiah 9:1-4

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptised in my name. (I did baptise also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptised anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptise but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Epiphany: Baptism of Jesus

15th January 2023

Reflection (readings below)

The Gospel story today is full of drama. Be amazed! Be in awe! This is an epiphany moment – the breaking of the true nature and identity of Jesus. In this moment earth and heaven are in perfect communion. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is openly declared to be the Chosen One, the very unique and beloved Son of God. 

This is the chosen servant imagined in the words of Isaiah. This Chosen One would be as a covenant to the peoples, through whom salvation will be accomplished. Isaiah and the other prophets were all clear in their messages that salvation required justice. Salvation would be achieved through that justice that brings  healing for sick, sight to the blind, release for  prisoners and those trapped in darkness. 

I think that we and the churches too easily forget the importance of seeking justice – perhaps because  we can’t quite imagine how we can do this. Looking around our world there seems to be so much injustice. We only have to open our newspapers or turn on the television, to know that even in our own relatively affluent country, there are people who cannot afford to both eat and heat their homes; that there are people in employment who have to rely on food banks – and that includes nurses and teaching staff. We might have to read a little further and we would discover people who can either find an NHS dentist nor afford private treatment, farmers who cannot make a profit growing the food we eat, or people locked up 23 hours of the day because the prison system cannot afford sufficient staff.  

How indeed can we bring about justice in these situations? We can – as many churches do – support food banks. We can – as many of us do – donate winter fuel allowances to help run warm hubs. But justice needs more – system change. Change that will build in rather than exclude justice. Change that will equality and fairness the touch stone. Change that will always protect the vulnerable.

No one says that such change is easy to bring about. It can take  time and perseverance – something Isaiah clearly recognised. It will involve the transformation of the many systems that control our economic and social lives. Such change happens when opinions change, when tipping points are reached. The change often begins at the grass root level, and then grows. As Christians and church communities, we can call out and highlight injustice where we see it. We write to our bishops and our MPs and ask for change. We can be fact finders and information spreaders, ensuring that the truth about injustices and the need for justice becomes widespread. We can become campaigners and activists! We can, as St Paul, says be preachers of the Gospel –  empowering the good news of justice that underpins salvation and following the example of Jesus, God’s Chosen One. This is an awesome calling!

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

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 10:34-43

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

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Naming of Christ

1st January 2023

Reflection (readings follow on)

Today is the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ and New Year’s Day.  The first day of the first month is a logical day to begin the new year, but how is it that this day, of all days, is the first? Different cultures and groups celebrate the start of their new year on various different days. For the Israelites it was the first day of Nisan (ie sometime in March as that calendar is lunar). For the Chinese it is a day in late January or early February. Islam follows a lunar calendar and this year’s New Year will be in July. In the church the liturgical year starts on Advent Sunday in late November. The tax year starts on April 1st and the school year from some date in September. There is no one factor that determines New Year’s Day.

That the 1st of January is the Feast of the Naming  and Circumcision of Christ is, as the gospel records- and in line with custom – because it took place eight days after his birth. This naming and circumcising marked him out as an Israelite. What the gospel accounts lack is any indication as to the date when Jesus was born. For the first couple of centuries no one felt the need to affirm the date of Jesus’s birth – as with the feast days of saints, it was the date of death that was commemorated (usually a more certain date). The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in Rome on December 25, 336CE. This day may have been chosen as 25th December also coincided with the winter solstice – according to the calendar of the time. (Since then calendars have been refined and adjusted).  

Whilst in the Roman era, the new year started on 1st January this did not remained fixed for all time. In Angle Saxon England 25th December – the solstice – was most commonly observed as the beginning of the new year. Later under Norman influence, the new year began on 25th March – the spring equinox – and this was the custom until 1752, since when the new year has begun on 1st January. So in a curious roundabout way this Christian Feast of the Naming of Christ is the first day of the new year! 

Today’s readings celebrate the importance of naming and of new beginnings. The first begins with a blessing that God gives so that God’s people may be blessed, and in blessing them they are named Israelites. The name Israel was first given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God and the name means ‘one who struggles with God’. The name suggests a dynamic relationship between God and God’s people!

The Psalmist is overawed by the difference between God and all the wonder of God’s creation and the smallness, the lowliness, of humanity, and at the same time, the Psalmist is amazed that even babes and children know how to praise the name of God. There is something truly amazing about the relationship between on one hand God, and on the other, humanity. This amazing relationship unfolds even further in the words of Paul. God has not just named us as God’s people, God has adopted us, through the birth of God’s only begotten son, as children and heirs of God. It is no surprise then that the name given to Jesus – Yehoshua – means the Lord is Salvation. We are people called to struggle and to be saved!

So today we begin the year of our Lord 2023. May it be a year blessed with care and compassion and action to safeguard the future of all that God has created. 

Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm 8

1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What are human beings that you should be mindful of them? *
mortals that you should care for them?

6 You have made them but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn them with glory and honour;

7 You give them dominion over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under their feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.