Sixth  Sunday of Easter

22nd May 2022

Reflection

“God …come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.” Thus begins today’s psalm, followed by the passage from the Book of Revelation which shows us a vision of what the earth could look like of God’s ways, God’s reign, was universally practiced. That is an image of hope we need to hold onto when we hear of the suffering caused by war, by free markets, by religious intolerance, by climate change. The world does not have to be so – if only we transform the way we live and the systems we live by to align with God’s will. 

The reading from Acts tell us of a call for help from Macedonia. We are not told what is the cause of their plight not what has prompted them to seek help from God/ Paul. Paul and his companions are in no doubt that what the Macedonians need is the Good News. Why? Because the message of the Good News is that God’s kingdom is at hand. The Good News assures people that they are loved by God and by their fellows, and that this love is not just words. The Good News is about practical, on the ground transformations that ‘heal the sick, cure diseases, excise demons, raise the dead to life’. The Good News doesn’t just sort out individual problems, it tackles the systems too. Fo example, where Jesus tackled the system that said you shouldn’t heal people on the Sabbath, the Good News today tackles the system that lets healthcare be a postcode lottery, that lets private companies make vast profits from Covid while failing reward NHS staff,  that lets private heath care grow whilst underfunding public hospitals, that lets CEO’s double their income while care workers struggle to earn the living wage. 

We, as Christians, should not close our ears to the cries for help that come from all over the world, that come from every corner of the UK, that come not just from our fellow human beings but from our brothers and sisters in creation – wildlife and domesticated animals, trees and plants, seas and oceans … Our response should be active – as was Paul’s. We are called to share the Good News – both it’s message and its actions. We must heal and transform both the lives of individuals and the systems in which they – and we – live. The time between Ascension Day (this Thursday) and Pentecost is now marked by global ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ campaign. Let’s use this time to begin, or resume with even greater passion, the transformation of lives and systems that will bring in the universal Kingdom of God.

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptised, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Psalm 67

1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

John 5:1-9

After Jesus healed the son of the official in Capernaum, there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

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.

5th Sunday of Lent

3rd April 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,

who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;

they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself

so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations, *
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

4 The Lord has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Reflection

The passage from Isaiah tells us that war and military strength are not the solution to problems in the kingdom of God. They are not solutions that bring in God’s reign. God’s way is new, is different, says the prophet. Perhaps not new to God but new to humans who are slow to perceive it! Wake up humans! God’s way inhabits the natural world, creating what is needed for life – water in dry areas, paths where it’s rough, things that bring life to creatures and people alike. The psalmist knows that when we recognise these occasions of restoration and transformation – those occasions when we align our ways with God’s ways – they will be times of joy and laughter and flourishing. 

How is it that we can seem to slip in and out of God’s kingdom, or more accurately, in and out of being aligned with God’s reign, God’s way? 

Paul in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, recalls how in the past he had closely cherished his Jewish heritage and assiduously followed its practices which he had been taught would keep him in alignment with God. But all that guarantee he has now forgone having found something even better: the life he knows through Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ brings resurrection – and resurrection means new life, means a new way of experiencing life, means a new way of living. It is a life not limited to this world and our mortal time frame. 

The story related In John’s Gospel takes place on the eve of Palm Sunday, on the eve of the most momentous week. Jesus, in John’s gospel, is a figure confident of his own destiny, who sees and understands how that destiny is going to pan out. Jesus has already raised  Lazarus from the dead; Jesus has declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die”. This is the eve of the week in which Jesus will ride publicly in to Jerusalem; in which he will continue to  declare his message that he is the light of the world; that through belief in him, people will have eternal life – new life which is not of this world; that he will be raised up for all to see in what will be his culminating hour of glory.  It is a week that will end with his burial. 

In the scene John depicts, there are two contrari protagonists. On the one hand Mary who it seems understands how this week will unfold, and Judas who it seems is either oblivious, or wilfully ignoring, what the state of play. Mary recognises the importance of what is going to happen and pours out this expensive ointment as her best acknowledgement of who Jesus is and of what he represents. It is her expression of adoration and love. It witnesses to her belief that what is to come will be worth so much more than this perfume. Judas, on the other hand, just wants to come across as the good guy – the one standing up for the poor. What Judas has failed to understand is that what the poor need is not just extra alms now, but system change. 

“I am the way and the truth and the life”: Jesus is the true system change. 

System change is what the world still needs. In the UK where an increasing number of people are facing poverty, what is needed is not just increased benefits, but a system change in which everyone is  awarded a wage on which they can genuinely live, in which goods are produced and sold at a price that reflect their true cost, in which animals reared as food are given genuinely good lives, in which taxes paid genuinely reflect the person/ company’s ability to pay, in which the real cost of fossil fuels is recognised and in which economic policies really do focus on zero carbon emissions. 

System change is about aligning the world’s systems to God’s ways – not just some of the time, but all of the time!