Proper 22

2nd October 2022

Reflections (the readings are at the end)

The Book of Lamentations contains a series of laments made in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian forces. In today’s exert, the writer mourns over an abandoned Jerusalem. Jerusalem now has no useful purpose: it has lost its identity and its raison d’être. It has been overtaken by events. 

 Not – thankfully – through war, but many towns cities in the UK feel abandoned. The vitality of their shopping centres sapped by empty units and boarded up shop fronts. Their hubs of industry and employment diminished as old manufacturing processes and products have become defunct, the skills of their workforce no longer of use. Derelict and disused sites cast a blighted shadow over the land. With the loss of jobs, goes a loss of self worth and civic pride. As incomes fall, so the reliance on overstretched public services rises. Residents become trapped unable to escape the encroaching poverty – and poverty brings a further deterioration of living standards. Levelling up, re invigorating the economy, re-equipping the people remains an unfulfilled promise. Borrowing from the writings of St Paul, since we are one body, we all suffer when one part suffers – but perhaps not so acutely in the wealthier suburbs. 

Why is Jerusalem in such a sorry plight? Because of its people’s sinfulness. Because the people chose to worship gods other than the one true God. Because the people choose not to live their lives in accordance with God’s ways. Rather they choose to be greedy, self interested and acquisitive. Might the same criticisms be turned towards us in 2022? Both our government and our economic model favours constant growth over sufficiency, personal gain over social good, tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. We are stuck in an economy that is tied to the fossil fuel industry which cannot see beyond the promise of profits, to the threat of the climate crisis; which refuses to listen to the prophets of the age and refuse to shift allegiance to renewable energy.

Today’s offering for a psalm is a further exert from Lamentations. The desperate state of affairs still weighs heavy on the writer but now there is also a sense of hope. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,’ asserts the writer, and ‘therefore I will hope in Him’.  Last week we heard how Jeremiah expressed his confidence that at some point in the future God’s people would return once to their city and its lands. Have we that hope, that vision, that our towns and cities can be place of happiness and self worth and sufficiency, where all can share in the wealth and vitality of a just society?

The Letter to Timothy is full of inspiring words. Our faith is a gift, a treasure entrusted to us by God! We are to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is a grace by which God gives a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline. I wonder if we exercise these powers enough? Or are they like muscles we forget we have and therefore forget to use? How should we be using these gifts? In declaring the good news: talking about and living out in our lives the Kingdom values that Jesus has shown. These are the values that our desolated towns need. These are the values that will restore justice, that will level up society, that will enrich lives and restore balance in the natural environment. 

Should we then be surprised by what Jesus says about what faith can achieve? Let us be confident in living by faith, living lives true to Jesus’s kingdom values, and let us share this good news so that  these values will shape the whole world.

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;

all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;

her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,

because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;

her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.

Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;

they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God– whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did– when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

Proper 17

28th August 2022 – readings are below

Reflection 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 2:4-13

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

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

and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

says the Lord,

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

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

cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

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

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

What can anyone do to me?”

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

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

Luke 14:1, 7-14

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

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

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

Proper 15

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 5:1-7

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

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.

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

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

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

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,

judge between me
and my vineyard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,
but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

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

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

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

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

Luke 12:49-56

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

father against son
and son against father,

mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,

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

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

Proper 14

– 7th August 2022

Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

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


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

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

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23, 24

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


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


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

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

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

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

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

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

Luke 12: 32-40

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

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

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

Feast of St Thomas

3rd July 2022

Reflection

Habakkuk, like Thomas, has a question for God. We have to go back to the first chapter in Habakkuk to learn what it is. Habakkuk is dismayed at what he sees happening in the world around him, where it seems that wrongdoing is being rewarded, and that the wicked thrive. He has repeatedly called on God for help. Whilst it seems as if God’s response is slow in coming, Habakkuk is still hopeful that God is noting all that is happening and will mete out judgment and punishment accordingly. So it is that today’s reading begins with Habakkuk faithfully stationed at his Watch post. God replies that a time of salvation and satisfaction will come. Habakkuk should not doubt because there will be a resolution in due time. God has a vision for how things will be and it will vindicate the faith of the righteous. 

We may have a lot of sympathy for Habakkuk, for looking round the world today it does seem as if things are going from bad to worse. There are heat waves of unprecedented scale across the globe. Even in Europe rivers such as the Po are dried up due to a lack of rain and snowfall. Harvests of rice in Italy and Spain are threatened. The war in Ukraine has disrupted grain supplies, hiking the prices worldwide and putting millions of people in Africa and the Middle East at risk of starvation. Floods in Bangladesh, in Brazil and Peru. Record temperatures in the arctic and Antarctic. Again triggered by the war in Ukraine, a rush to reopened coal power stations and to explore and tap new oil and gas fields in complete opposition to undertakings made last November to reduce carbon emissions. Amongst the global South foreign debts are rocketing, and  Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt.

It is not surprising that António Guterres, president of the UN, has warned that humanity is facing a prefect storm of crises, widening inequality between the north and south, which he describes as ‘morally unacceptable’!

Do we, can we, still believe that God is concerned and that God wills a just and equitable solution? And how is such a resolution to be brought into effect if humans continue wilfully and carelessly to frustrate efforts by a minority that would curb the effects of the climate crisis and provide for the well being of all peoples and living things? 

Can we take hope from the example of Thomas? He, not unreasonably, has been asking for evidence before he can believe what is surely unbelievable? Thomas is neither too frightened nor too timid to express his doubts. Perhaps it would do us good to openly express our concerns about a) the dire state of the world, and b) our lack of hope that things can improve? Once we are honest with ourselves, it should be easier for God to find ways of reassuring us. We do want to be able to echo Thomas, shouting out with assurance, ‘My Lord and my God!’

The suggestion from psalm 117 is that we should praise God and in that way be reassured of God’s faithfulness. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are not just the household of God but also a spiritual dwelling place for God. Our faith, our commitment to God, are important and are means by which the world can be transformed. We have a moral duty to live and act according to God’s will, and to do that which establishes heaven on earth.

Habakkuk 2:1-4

I will stand at my watch-post,
   and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
   and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
   make it plain on tablets,
   so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
   it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
   it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
   Their spirit is not right in them,
   but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all you nations!
   Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us,
   and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 2:19-22

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

John 20:24-29

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Third Sunday of Easter

1st May 2022

Acts 9:1-6

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favour for a lifetime.

6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.

7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favour, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.

9 I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper.”

12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Revelation 5:11-14

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honour and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Reflection

The short passage from the Book of Acts introduces us to Paul’s Damascus Road experience (although here he is still known by his Jewish name of Saul). From being an ardent antagonist of the followers of Christ, Paul swerves, U-turns, to become the most ardent evangelist. Why? Because he encounters the risen Jesus head on. Last week, in John’s gospel, we heard how various disciples met the risen Jesus and how in different ways they began to understand what was happening and who it was – and in what nature – they were encountering, when they met Jesus. The risen Jesus was not a human brought back to life, but the  God-who-had-become-human-and-had-ascended-once-more-to-the-God-head. It is his encounter with this Jesus that confounds Paul’s previous understanding of Jesus and his followers, and brings to new life in him an understanding of and relationship with the Christ. Indeed brings him new Life.

Thereafter Paul went on to transform other people’s understanding of Jesus, to nurture in them new Life, and did so with zeal, raising the profile of the  Way of Christ to new heights. 

Today’s Psalm too tells of the way of salvation as a process of transformation that echos both Paul’s experience and that of Paul’s ministry. The mission of Paul and his contemporaries, gave rise to the exponential growth of the Christian community – from its roots as a group of believers perhaps measured in hundreds, to a faith movement that, by the third century, becomes the state religion of the whole empire. Perhaps it is this that we are seeing in the extract from the Book of Revelation: the Lamb, once a creature to be sacrificed, becomes one to be credited all ‘power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ for ever and ever!

The gospel passage today comes from the end of John’s gospel. It is quite likely a later addition: in John’s account this is the first time we hear that Peter is a fisherman – the call of Peter away from his fishing career comes from the synoptic gospel. Without this information, there is not the sense  that Peter and his comrades are returning to where their old lives had broken off. Nevertheless this is the story that we are presented with as the final story of John’s gospel.

There is still confusion amongst Jesus’s disciples. They still do not instantly or completely recognise the figure they see as Jesus. This is not just the human Jesus who has been resuscitated. This is someone who is more. Yet even so this Jesus still understands what it is to be human, what it is that humans need – whether that is success in their work, food to satisfy their hunger, comfort, or indeed reassurance that past failures have been forgiven. And not just forgiven: Jesus assures Peter of his confidence that he, Peter, can fulfil the task which Jesus is giving him. 

I am sure many of us have felt the sense of inadequacy that Peter felt, that we are not up to the task, that we are going to fail and will let other people down. And often it is that very feeling of inadequacy that leads us to fail. In the Principles of the Franciscan Third Order, that for day 24 concerning humility, says “Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness”. This has often puzzled me, but I think it is reminding us that we should not rely on our own sense of ability but rather trust to the ability that comes from God. That was certainly Peter’s experience and Paul’s too. It should give us the confidence to continue with those tasks which we know to be right even if we can’t see how they might be successful. Success will come in God’s way and God’s time. 

I find it hard to believe that we humans will get our act together such that we can forestall the worst of the climate crisis, yet I am confident that God does not desire or will the destruction of creation. Somehow God’s will will prevail. 

Counting on …day 156

18th April 2022

Can we count on our faith to cope with and address the suffering the climate crisis is and will cause? Can we be sufficiently open to God’s guidance to know what to do, and sufficiently willing and committed to change our lives accordingly?

Easter-tide seems a good time to explore this for it is a season concerned with new life, new beginnings and new understanding. 

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