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.’

Proper 13

31st July 2022

Reflection (scroll down for readings)

Last week we heard how Hosea  chose as Gomer, a prostitute, as his wife and how their family rapidly grew in size as Gomer gave birth to two sons and a daughter. We can imagine then that Hosea had some experience of the trials and tribulations of parenthood, how as a parent you want the best for your children, and yet you know that if you are too rigid, imposing your own way,  it will lead to rebellion. It is hard as a parent to stand by and let your children go their own way and make their own mistakes. And often there comes a point where your compassion as a parent pushes to you to dive in and rescue your children. You forgive and forget their mistakes and offer instead love and help.

So it is, observes Hosea, with God: “My people are bent on turning away from me…[yet] my compassion grows warm and tender.” 

Hearing those words fills me with hope that we are not doomed because of our human rebelliousness (quite what our future will look like, I am not sure and it may not be that rosy for some time time to come). The psalmist too offers hope: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.” The Hebrew word “חַסְדּֽוֹ׃” (chesed) here translated as mercy, has the meaning of kindness and steadfast love, of loyalty and of truth. It is not a word that might simply mean withholding due punishment, but rather a more proactive remedying of the situation. God wants the best for all of creation. The psalmist goes on to talk of how God does this, delivering those who ask for help, putting their feet on a straight path, feeding the hungry and satisfying the thirsty. 

Why is it that we do not seek God’s help? Why do we not attune our hearing and listen to God? Do we forget that in Jesus we have the lived out expression of God’s will, the Word?

The writer of the letter to the Colossians sees a divided world, a world in which some do good things and some bad. He contrast those things that are from above – heavenly – with those that are earthly.  In this I think he is drawing out the difference between those who consciously follow God’s way and those who do not. In this sense earthly things are not what God has created, but that way of living that ignores God, that does not wish to accept that God – like parents – knows best. 

In today’s gospel reading we don’t know what the parents of the two brothers have said or done, but there appears to be a dispute as to how what they have inherited should be shared. As is often the case, Jesus doesn’t give a straight forward answer but rather poses another question: this wealth that you are craving, is it going to make you happy? 

It seems as if this family’s accumulation of wealth might make one or other of the brothers happy, but more likely it will make both of them unsatisfied. Neither wants to forgo what they see as their rightful share of the wealth. 

When we look around the world today, both between regions and nations, and within our own country, we see a great inequality in the distribution of wealth. And when it comes to a question of sharing out that wealth more equitably, those who have are very reluctant to be generous with what they have – even though they can see that others are suffering from lack. We in the global north have accumulated great national wealth from years of industrial development that has relied upon the cheap import of labour and resources from the global south, and yet we are unwilling to share that wealth with people suffering hunger and starvation in east Africa. We are unwilling to share it with indebted nations such as Zambia and Sri Lanka. We are unwilling to share it with small islands communities in the Pacific whose lands are threatened by rising sea levels. We are unwilling to share it with people in Afghanistan, in Peru and Columbia whose livelihoods are being washed away by the affects of climate change. 

Instead we are like the farmer, with our multi national oil companies, continuing to build larger and larger oil producing sites, whilst ignoring that the scale of this greed is diminishing our chances of enjoying a comfortable future. Jesus in his parables, and the prophets before, all spoke of the foolishness of pursing wealth at the expense of others, and still we do not listen, still we do not change our behaviour. We persist with an ‘earthly’ rather than a heavenly mindset. 

Lord may our prayer that ‘your kingdom come’ be genuinely meant. 

Hosea 11:1-11

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,
the more they went from me;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.

I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.

The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.

My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;

for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;

when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.

They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3 He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastes; *
they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

5 They were hungry and thirsty; *
their spirits languished within them.

6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He put their feet on a straight path *
to go to a city where they might dwell.

8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.

9 For he satisfies the thirsty *
and fills the hungry with good things.

43 Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the Lord.

Colossians 3:1-11

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter

8th May 2022

Acts 9:36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

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.

Revelation 7:9-17

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever!
Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Reflection

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, “ The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” And what is the good news? That the Kingdom of God is near; indeed those who believe are citizens of that kingdom. When Jesus in turn sends his disciples out to preach the good news, he instruct them to heal the sick, cure disease, to exercise authority over demons, and, in Matthew’s gospel, to raise the dead. The message is clear that the reality of God’s kingdom is not just about words but deeds too. So it is in the Book of Acts that we see the good news being preached not just with rhetoric but with actions too. In today’s example, Peter raises Dorcas from death. But the story also shows us in other ways what the reality kingdom of God looks like. Dorcas, clearly a citizen of God’s kingdom, is renowned for her good deeds. Her fellow citizens, the local Christian community, are equally committed to making the kingdom of God a reality in the concern that they show. Time and again the Book of Acts relates stories of the first Christian communities where their love for each other shines out as beacon for others to see. Do our church communities shine as brightly?

Psalm 23 is often loved because of the idyllic image that it presents of green pastures and still waters. Such ease and comfort is surely what the kingdom of God is made of? But when we look around the world today, do we see much in the way of green pastures and still waters? Rather we see battle grounds, land that is either flood-ridden or drought-bitten, people and communities struggling to survive against a tide wave of poverty and oppression. For activists struggling to bring about change – to bring in the values of the kingdom of God – it can feel as if the kingdom of God is not at hand but is rather a fast disappearing fantasy. Psalm 23 offers something of more comfort – God’s companionship when things are tough, when the way ahead is dark. Waking becomes an act of faith but with the assurance goodness and mercy to come.  As with the community to which Dorcas belonged demonstrated, when things are tough, we do need to rally round and support one another. If nothing else we can pray for those activists who are standing up for the kingdom values – for the safe passage of asylum seekers, for the provision of food for those inadequate means, for the proper funding of the NHS, for the ending of fossil fuel investment.

The passage from the Book of Revelation tells the same story as Psalm 23 but in more florid terms. Those who have walked through the valley of death are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb: they do indeed come to find rest where they no longer hunger and thirst, where they are comforted and refreshed. 

Those who believe, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom, those who recognise the voice of the shepherd, have the gift of eternal life. They will know the comfort of Jesus’s presence even in the depths of winter.

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 170

1st May 2022

Never give up hope! For weeks now I have been convinced that our grape vine has died. Its two  main branches have shown no signs of life – rather the bark has been peeling away – and the stubs where last years shoots were pruned are dry and hollow. But then, I glimpsed a couple of small pale green shoots – it is alive and we can look forward to another year of leafy sunshade and luscious fruits in due season. Signs of hope are to be treasured and praised. Thanks be to God!

 Counting on …day 144

7th April 2022

Hope is a great gift. It gives us the confidence to smile and keep going, even

when the odds seem stacked against us. Hope is often to be found in small things. A weed, against the odds, pushing up between the paving stones.  Spotting a first ladybird. Taking time to enjoy the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee. 

Lent Reflection

Meadow Sky Summer Landscape Sun Tree Hawthorn http://www.maxpixel

The hawthorn tree – crataegus monogyna – is native to Britain and grows to a height of 15m. It has a shrubby shape which provides safety for nesting birds. The hawthorn bears white, and sometime pink, blossom in May and hence is also known as a May tree. It can provide food for 300 different insects, and its fruit, haws, are eaten by various birds and small mammals. 

The early green leaves can be eaten freshly picked – known as ‘bread and cheese’ or as a salad. Its haws can be made into jellies and sauces. Hawthorn is widely used for hedging and provides good shelter for livestock. The wood is used for carving and for veneers.

Symbolically hawthorn represents hope.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Love is a magical shelter where you will feel yourself safe beneath it. Mehmet Murat ildan