Sunday Reflection

15th August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Reflection

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

Elijah under a broom tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feed us Lord God

with what we need,

both physical 

and spiritual. 


Sunday Reflection

1st August 2021

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

Photo by Pixabay on

Do we eat to live or live to eat? 

Do we hunger for more than just food? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feed on that which gives you life.

Sunday Reflection 25th July

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

Our newly twinned fridge

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

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

Even here in the UK people go hungry, not because there is not enough food to go round, but because they do not have enough money. Their lack of money stems from a unequal sharing of the nation’s wealth.  UK households waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year that could have been eaten, worth £14bn – ie the average family spends £700 a year on food it does not eat, whilst 1 in 8 people go hungry. In the last year 2.5 million people used on of the UK’s food banks.

What is the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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


as we are fed by your generosity,

so may we feed others 

for so is the kingdom of God 

made present.


Reflection Sunday 18th July

Readings for proper 11: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


“Woe to the shepherds”. What is the role of the shepherd, what do they do?

They look after the sheep, providing them with food, water and health care. Hopefully there is empathetic care such that shepherds see them not as any old sheep, but as their sheep. Shepherd as provide security, protection from danger: wild animals, thieves, bad weather. Shepherds hopefully plan ahead, ensuring that when they move their flock they will be moving them to new pasture with plenty of grass, or in the winter plenty of shelter and in the summer plenty of shade. Shepherds need to pre-empt situations requiring extra input: lambing time, shearing, the rut. Shepherds need to keep their flocks together, not letting the sheep stray apart,  becoming lost or isolated. 

Good shepherds do all this with love and  willing self-sacrifice (because it is their raison d’etre). Bad shepherds on the other hand are uncommitted to their flock, distracted by self-interest and easily loose the plot. The message that Jeremiah preaches is that God sees the short-comings, the wickedness of the bad shepherds and their treatment of God’s flocks. And in response God will raise up new, good shepherds and God’s flocks will be revived and will flourish. 

In the next paragraph, Jeremiah’s words speak of the coming messiah, the one we know as Jesus who is the ultimate good shepherd. This image of good shepherding is reprieved in today’s psalm.

But what does good shepherding look like today? Who are our shepherds? What if our shepherds were our political leaders? 

Do our political leaders ensure that everyone has enough food and healthy food? Or do they let some people go hungry and malnourished? Why are there so many food banks? What standards of nutrition are provided in schools, hospitals, prisons etc?

Do they ensure we all have access to clean water and do they ensure safe disposal of sewage (even if they have contracted this out to the private sector)?

Do they ensure everyone who is ill, whether physically or mentally, receives prompt treatment? Do they provide preventative treatments and programmes to promote well being?

Do they ensure the security of their ‘flock’? Do they have resources in place to prevent race and hate crime, to prevent traffic accidents, house fires – and fires in tower blocks? Do they maintain a properly funded system of law and order that offers everyone the right to justice?

Do they plan for the future? For the knowns such as climate change, and the unknowns such as pandemics?

Are they motivated by self interest or by a desire to care for their flock? What is the source of their motivation, their vocation?

Maybe it is not just politicians that are our shepherds, what about our business leaders, our civil servants, diplomats? The police and emergency services, the armed forces, medics and Carers, GPs?  What if they are our farmers,  environmentalists, teachers, researchers and scientists? What if they are our neighbours – and if so are we their ‘shepherds?

I rather suspect that God must look on us with dismay. If in Jeremiah’s day, God called out prophets to speak the truth, to expose the shortcomings of those in power, I am sure that God is today calling out to those willing to become prophets. Those prophets maybe you and me, for even if onl9y in small ways, we can call out the short comings of those in leadership roles, we can sign petitions, join marches, we can create prophetic actions in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and in the tradition of the actions of Jesus – who fed the hungry, healed the sick, questioned the authorities and challenged unjust interpretations of the law.

If in Jeremiah’s day, God was promising to raise up new, good shepherds, ones who would be in due time be followers of the Son of David, then I am even more sure that today God is still seeking out and raising up new leaders who will follow the example of Jesus, who are willing to commit body and soul to the well being of their fellow beings – both humans and creatures, flora and fauna. And it may well be that you and I are being called to be such leaders or shepherds, even if only in small ways. A Shepherd is perhaps the better image as it links us back to the calling that God gave Adam in Genesis 2, to tend and care for the earth and all that it contains. 

The passage to the Ephesians reminds us of the importance of inclusivity. Jeremiah talks of God bringing together disparate, scattered flocks to create one unified whole. When we look around us, we see the damage caused by separating people into them and us groups, of pushing people into haves and and have-not groups, of working against each other rather than cooperating, of seeking self interest rather than the common good. So it is good to be reminded that it is by working together that we create God’s dwelling place on earth. 

The passage from Mark’s gospel records how the disciples returned, having completed their mission to preach and bring healing to the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns and villages – of which we heard a couple of weeks ago, when they went out in pairs with neither purse nor spare clothes. It would seem that they return tired but perhaps also with lots of stories and questions that they want to share with Jesus. So Jesus takes them away to a quiet place – admittedly they don’t get long there before their rest is interrupted – as however much we want to be good shepherds, good missioners, good disciples, we are not superhuman, we need time to rest and recharge, to unload our burdens and to be refreshed.

Take time to unburden yourself with God – as in today’s psalm, God wishes to let you rest in green places and walk by quiet waters.   

Reflection Sunday 11th July

Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 85:8-13, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

The wonderful image of a plumb line: a standard of the upright, a measure of vertical rectitude, a gauge of righteousness! I have long admired this sculpture “The Plumb Line and the City” by Clark Fitzgerald, which is to be found in Coventry Cathedral. 

A plumb line is a length of string weighed at one end with a plumb bob. The latter could simply be anything that is heavy enough to pull the string taught, but can be a beautifully created shape such as in this sculpture with a sharp point that allows the viewer to see with greater accuracy how true the plumb line is hanging. Plumb lines were first used as a practical tool to ensure that walls were vertically straight. Walls that are not vertically straight are likely to collapse and/or fall over. Amos is shown a plumb line in a vision by God with the warning that God has held the plumb line up against the people of Israel and found them well short of true. Much of the Book of Amos is taken up with records of how different peoples and nations have sinned – abused the poor, greedily taken more than their due, killed and murdered, despised the righteous – and have carried on sinning, continuing to live immoral lives, even though they have suffered the consequences of their wrong doing. The people, to whom Amos must prophesy, seem ‘hell-bent’ on ignoring their plight, complacently living as if their actions will never be judged. But they have been judged by God and have been found to be astray of what is true. They are like a badly built wall that is listing and is about to come crashing down. It is a message that even the priest at Bethel doesn’t want to hear. 

This second half of Psalm 85 tells us of all the benefits that come from aligning our lives with God: peace, salvation, righteousness and faithfulness, mercy, and a plentiful harvest of good things. The focus of this Psalm that these benefits pertain to a people, to a community, rather than just an individual. Often we think of wrong doing and judgement in terms of the individual rather than the community. Maybe it is a western focus or a modern focus; it is certainly one that is made manifest in the question ‘Have you been saved?’ and in the ideal of the ‘self-made man’. But as we know, ‘no man is an island’ and (as Covid has so clearly taught us) no one is free from the repercussions of the actions of their fellow compatriots. 

The passage from the letter to the Ephesians is also about ‘we and us’, rather than ‘I and me’. The letter goes on to talk about Christ being the head of the church which is his body. If in the Old Testament to be an Israelite is to be part of the House of Israel, then so it is in the New Testament that to be a Christian is to be part of the body of Christ. 

The plumb line is not measuring the trueness or uprightness of an individual, but the trueness of a whole community, be that a local community, a city or a nation. It is certainly possible that one can have an individual who is entirely true and honest but whose goodness is overwhelmed by the falseness, the criminality, the carelessness  and/ or deceitfulness of the social structures within which they live. That one person’s goodness does not stop the overall character of the community, city or nation being less than true. I think that is where we find ourselves today. We cannot hold up a plumb line against our nation and say that what is measured is true and right. We have only to look at the number of people reliant on food banks, the quality of treatment being dished out to the homeless, prisoners, and migrants, the growing differential between the incomes of those at the top and the bottom of the jobs market, the difference between the amount spent on fossil fuel subsidies and that spent on government support for green infrastructure – to see how far short we fall. 

We have therefore a responsibility to be prophetic like Amos and to call out when we see that our government, our institutions, our businesses, our society, our churches, are not in line, are not true to God’s ways.

Sunday Reflections for Proper 9, 4th July 2021

Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13


Today’s readings describe different ways in which people encounter God. Ezekiel is filled with God’s spirit with a view to his becoming God’s prophet. The track record of prophets in the Old Testament suggests that this will not be an easy role, especially when God tells him that he is to prophesy to those who are rebellious. That introduces another type of relationship between people and God: those who ignore or are ignorant of God and/ or who chose to rebel, ie to live not according to the ways of God. 

The Psalmist likens the relationship between God and his faithful people as being like that of a servant, of one who is alert and dedicated to the desires of the one they serve. These are contrasted with others who deride God and pour contempt on God’s people. These sound familiar, similar to the characters in the Wisdom of Solomon (one of last week’s readings) who only focused on themselves and saw nothing at the end of life other than death. 

In the reading from Corinthians we hear of someone who is caught up in the spirit, someone who has an ecstatic experience of God. Although he is diffident, it is likely that Paul is talking about himself. His is a deeply emotional and spiritual relationship in which Paul lives at the extreme opposites of life: absolutely against Christ then absolutely for Christ; energetically travelling from town to town then staying put for several years; toughing it out in the front line, winning converts and enemies in equal numbers. It is likely that his spiritual highs were counterbalanced by lows, perhaps associated with Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’.

So to Mark’s Gospel where the home crowd in Nazareth have a very clear idea of what someone who is anointed by God – ie a messiah – should look like and it doesn’t look like Jesus. They cannot believe how someone like them – artisans from a small hill town – could be a conduit for the healing power and wisdom that comes from God. Jesus was too ordinary to be such a person! Yet they are the ones who loose out. Their view of Jesus prevents them from relating to God, they are not able to be open and receptive to the power of God,  and their hurts and sufferings go unhealed.

Jesus, disappointed with the response of the people in Nazareth, commissions his disciples – another  group of everyday people: small scale fishermen, tax officials, fellow artisans – and sends them out to be conduits of healing power and preachers of God’s message. Again the ability of those they encounter to recognise God’s presence determines whether they receive God’s blessing.

What then is it to be a child of God, a believer, a seeker of God?

It is to be open minded, to curious, to be alert, to be trusting, to be ready to risk ridicule. It is to set aside both self reliance  and self doubt. It is to be ordinary and it is to be faithful. You don’t need special clothes, or special training or even special equipment – not even  bread, bag, or money! But there is no guarantee that it will be an easy or effortless existence – but God will be with you all the way!