Proper 23

9th October 2022

Reflection (readings are below)

Today’s readings seem to have an overall theme of living lives worthy of God wherever and whoever and with whoever you are. 

Previously we have noted that Jeremiah bought a piece of land in Jerusalem to show his confidence that in the long run God’s people would return to that city. But before that would happen, Jeremiah knew the people would end up in exile. The people could just live mournful tragic lives waiting for the time to return to come – but that would be a waste of God’s gift of life. Instead Jeremiah counsels them to make themselves at home in their new place, to live to the full and to do so for the good of that land. By so doing God’s people will be showing in their lives the best that comes from God. They will be showing that whatever the circumstances God’s people are always positive and confident in their faith in God. And always appreciative of the gift of life.

In the Letter to Timothy, the writer is stressing the importance of Jesus Christ as being at the heart of the gospel. Whatever they endure, whatever circumstances they find themselves in, they can be confident that Jesus will stand by them – and even if they fail Jesus will still be there for them. They should always present themselves in the best possible way as faithful servants of Christ, and not wrangling over the how and the why between themselves. 

Whilst in today’s gospel, it is the least likely person who does the right thing, who honours God in the right way. 

And what might this say to us? Whoever and wherever we find ourselves we should seek to live life to the full following the ways of God, in union with – in step with – Jesus Christ. For us today that is in a country in which many people are facing a bleak winter with a real threat of being cold and hungry and unsure of the certainty of a roof over their head. We need to pray and act to care for our communities, being generous with what we have, showing solidarity with those in need, and campaigning to persuade those in positions of leadership to act with greater responsibility and compassion. 

We find ourselves in a country where biodiversity is under renewed threat – we hear of rivers being polluted, of woodlands being lost, of wildlife facing extinction, of soils loosing their ability to produce crops. We need to pray and act to care for our ecosystems , being generous with what we have, showing solidarity with those working to protect them, and campaigning to persuade those in positions of leadership to act with greater responsibility and compassion. 

We find ourselves in a world where many are facing hunger and starvation, homelessness and destitution arising from climate change, trade inequalities and a lack of justice. We need to pray and act to care for the most vulnerable – especially remembering how much of their suffering stems from our previous greed – being generous with what we have, showing solidarity with their demands  and campaigning to persuade those in positions of leadership to act with greater responsibility and compassion. 

Looking back over the last few Sundays, there is the call to promote the gospel, knowing that it stands for the kingdom values of love and mercy, justice and humility. There is the encouragement to trust in God, to hold on to hope – to be confident of the rightness of the values of God’s kingdom. There is the reminder to live joyful and find contentment with what we have. 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm 66:1-11

1 Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.

2 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.

3 All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name.”

4 Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.

5 He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.

6 In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.

7 Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;

8 Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.

9 For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.

10 You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.

11 You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David– that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

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.”