Evolution and Salvation

Lent 2023

This Lent discussion course is an exploration of how our understanding of evolution reflects on, our  understanding of salvation. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12a   For now we see in a mirror, obscurely but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part

The  discussion material is in five parts. 

Session 1 – Survival of the fittest 

Session 2 – Survival through cooperation

Session 3 – Ecosystems 

Session 4 – Ecosystems and keystone figures who dominate

Session 5 – Ecosystems and keystone figures who provide 

Session 1 – Survival of the fittest

At its simplest, evolution is the changing shape, character and characteristics of a living thing over time. The theory is that those with the best adapted shapes, characters and characteristics, will survive whilst others less well equipped do not, and that only the former  – the best equipped – will go on to produce offspring carrying forwards those same beneficial features. 

For example in a world of wolves and deer, the deer that have longer legs, stronger hearts, and faster pace, will survive and produce young with equally long legs, strong hearts and fast pace. Whilst on the other hand, deer with shorter legs, less efficient hearts and a slow pace will fall prey to the wolves and  their characteristic will die with them. 

We can see an example of this from recent history.

During the 19th century the peppered moth which typically had white wings peppered with grey, changed in appearance such that by the end of the century its wings were entirely black. The moth’s colouring was it camouflage, when resting on tree trunks or walls, preventing it from falling prey to the next hungry bird. But as industrialisation and its smuts changed the colour of walls and tree trunks, so  it was that the darker variants of the moth were the ones that survived. Over  the century the peppered moth became an insect with largely black wings. (Since the Clean Air Acts of the 1960s the colouring of these moths has again been subtly changing). A

1. Do we expect to find survival of the fittest as a biblical theme, or do we expect the Bible to be ‘above’ that? Is the ‘survival of the fittest’ God’s way or is there alternative –  Godly – form of evolution?

Take for example the story of Noah and the great flood (Genesis 6 and following), of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 5 & 6), or of Samson and the Philistines (Judges 15). Are these stories that tell of the survival of the fittest? 

2. Alternatively what about the story of David and Goliath? Is this about survival of the fittest? If so, what are the outstanding characteristics of the winner that ensured survival? What is it that makes David fitter?

In the prequel to this story,  the prophet Samuel is told by God to visit the sons of Jesse so that God can direct which should be anointed as the future king. Samuel looks at Jesse’s sons and is confident that God will ask him to choose the tallest or strongest or the most beautiful of the sons. But instead it is David, the youngest son – of the smallest tribe – that is chosen. But as the story unfolds, we learn that when the people get to express their opinion as to who should be king, they are looking for the strongest and the most successful warrior. They choose David, because whilst Saul has killed thousands, David has killed tens of thousands (1 Samuel 18).

Is there a difference between God’s understanding of fitness and that of humans? 

3. Or we might look at the story of Elijah. Elijah, a prophet of God, alternates between self doubt and supreme confidence. A lone figure, he is willing to challenge both King Ahab and his fearsome wife Queen Jezebel, and yet then he flees in fear wishing only to die.  When it comes to a show down with Ahab, he sets up a competition between himself and the prophets of Baal but does so in a way that puts himself at a complete disadvantage (1 Kings 18). What is the message that Elijah is giving Ahab about power, fitness, and God?

4. What do these stories suggest to us as to what is the key to survival in God’s eyes?

How does God appear to rate attributes such strength or height or popularity? 

What other unlikely heroes are there in the Bible?

Let us pause to consider the meaning of the word ‘salvation’. It can mean deliverance from harm, ruin, loss or in religious terms, from the consequences of sin. It can also mean preservation from such ills.  

One of the key messages of the Old Testament is the survival of the  people (people here being a group or nation rather than a single person) of God. When the people follow God’s way things go well for them; when they turn away from God, things go from bad to worse. When the people  realise their plight and  turn back to God, then things again return to favourable. The story of God’s people is a cycle of falling into sin, a period of suffering, and finally a time of restoration – of salvation. 

5. Is the story of salvation also a story of survival of the fittest – where the fittest are those that follow God’s way?  

Is  salvation in the Old Testament measured by the survival of God’s people? 

Yet the number of the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted. And it will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ Hosea 1:10 

If the LORD Almighty had not let some of the people survive, Jerusalem would have been totally destroyed, just as Sodom and Gomorrah were. Isaiah 1:9

 A time is coming when the people of Israel who have survived will not rely any more on the nation that almost destroyed them. They will truly put their trust in the LORD, Israel’s holy God. Isaiah 10:20

 6. It is interesting to note that these verses from Hosea and Isaiah are used by Paul in his letter to community in Rome, exploring how it is that both Jews and Gentiles will gain from God’s salvation. 

Can  salvation in the New Testament also be understood as the survival of God’s people – albeit a definition that includes both Jew and Gentile – or is there a greater emphasis on inclusivity and well being? 

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2: 46-47 

7. The creation story in Genesis 1 unfolds a series of stages which ends with a complete and harmonious world full of diverse life forms. The related refrain is that everything thing that was created was good because  God had willed it into being. The story doesn’t specify or explore the idea of  evolution but celebrates the harmony and goodness of all that has been created.  

Does this image of harmony and goodness match  with the world as we see it?

8. If the world is not a place of harmony and goodness, is this because the world once was in such a state but is no longer?  Or is it that that creation of the world a work in progress that has yet to achieve this state of harmony and goodness?  

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;  and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22,23 

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be thwarted. Job 42:1,2

9. As the world is not yet a place of harmony and goodness, can we understand salvation as the means by which such harmony and goodness can be achieved?  

Might evolution and salvation have the same goal? 

Are either achievable without God?


May the God of all love 

who created us,

be our source of wisdom.

May the God of all love 

who heals us, 

preserve us from all evil.

May the God of all love 

who desires our wellbeing, 

be our guide.



Session 2 – Survival through Cooperation 

Last week we looked at  evolution as survival of  the fittest. Whilst we might initially have thought that  means survival of the strongest, the fastest or the biggest, fitness can be measured in other ways such as the camouflaging ability of a butterfly’s wings.  With reference to Biblical stories, the fittest person or community might be the one most in tune with God.

If evolution is the survival of the fittest, the implication is that the least fit species die out. Darwin was ridiculed because it was understood that the theory of evolution suggested humans had evolved from apes. That people felt, was to undervalue humans because of course humans were nothing like apes, and to undermine the Bible because Genesis describes God creating humans from scratch with no intervening developmental stages, and to devalue God by suggesting that evolution not God was responsible for the design of humans. 

Standing back to look at the science. (Please not I am not a scientist by training but enjoying finding out about the way things work through reading and observation. Some of the ideas below come from reading Peter Godfrey-Smith’s ‘Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life’).

The first living organisms to emerge from the big bang were single cell organisms floating in the sea. One of the most studied single cell organisms is the E.coli bacteria. This bacteria can taste or small the chemical around it, distinguishing chemicals that benefit it (food) and those that don’t. It can move either in a straight line or by tumbling. If it senses an increasing about of good chemicals it will move in a straight line: if not it will go into tumbling motion. And so it has existed unchanged since it first appeared as a living organism.  Yet the world is not occupied solely by single cell organisms, however ‘fit’ they are. 

Rather some single cell bacteria paired up with others increasing the possibilities of what they could do. Some  developed  features such as becoming light sensitive. This would enable the organism to respond not just to levels of chemicals in its environment but to levels of light as well. That is an evolutionary step,  but not one that caused the extinction of  bacteria that only had the smell/ taste sensibility. The skill of being light sensitive could lead to the development of other features such as seeking out food or seeking out shelter from would be predators.  This process of acquiring developmental improvements ultimately leads to the appearance of more and more sophisticated sea creatures, land creatures etc. 

This process of development is not purely linear. Each developmental step can allow for variation. Light sensors can develop into eyes but that could be eyes on the side of the head such as for a horse or at the front as for a cat, or all around like the box jelly fish (it has lots of eyes). 

This type of development can be liken to a tree, with single cell organisms at the base and branches leading off in different directions . (A shrub of life might be a better description as there isn’t really a trunk)

1. At each developmental stage, is the new species inherently better than the one from which it has evolved? Are humans ‘better’ than apes? Are dogs better than wolves?

2. What advantages do apes have over humans in the way that they live? What skills do apes have that humans do not? 

What disadvantages do apes contend with in comparison with those that face humans?

Initially, at the dawn of time and for a considerable time thereafter, there were just chemically enriched seas and single cell organisms floating in that liquid. As geological time continued the landscape changed, land emerged from above the waters, and some of the life forms that had been sea dwellers became land dwellers. 

3. Is evolution actually an opportunistic process?

Is the availability of new opportunities or niches that can be filled or exploited the spur for change?

4. To what extent is the story of creation in Genesis 1 about species filling niches in the world as it evolves? What might this tells us about God’s vision for the world?

5. Does the theory of evolution that we have explored thus far, undermine the value of humans, or undermine the understanding of God as creator? 

As the landscape of the earth has evolved and as species numbers have grown both in size of population and in types of species, so the spaces and niches to occupy have frequently come under pressure. Who gets the space? Is it resolved by bigger/ stronger/ fitter species removing or displacing others – competition? Or it could be resolved through working together, finding mutually beneficial solutions – cooperation?

In the Galápagos Islands finches and iguanas have an interdependent relationship. The finches perch on the iguana’s back and peck at loose or dead scales, mites and insects that would otherwise harm the reptile. For their part, the finch gets a meal. (The finches likes wise have a cooperative relationship with other reptiles such  tortoises). The same relationship can be seen in the African Savannah where  ox-peckers groom grazing mammals such as wildebeest, kudu and rhinoceros. 

The aplomado falcon in South America will hunt solo when after small prey such as insects, but will team up with others when hunting a larger prey is this helps ensure more successful hunting and food for all. Jackals and cheetahs are also known to cooperate – the jackal distracts the prey allowing the cheetah a better chance of success, and the jackal is rewarded by scavenging the carcass. Not all cooperation is about improved hunting. Ostriches and zebras often live in mixed groups for mutual benefit. Ostriches have a better sense of smell than zebras, whilst zebras have a better sense of sight. Relying on warning from each other provides better protection from predators. 

Another cooperative relationship across species is between humans and dogs – hunting together – or humans and cats – cats eat pests that would otherwise diminished stored food, and at the same time receive a safe place to live. Likewise dogs may guard a dwelling in return for food.

Safety also comes in numbers as with shoals or fish of herds of deer. Herding behaviour also protects vulnerable offspring and may extend to child care offered by ‘aunts’ such as is seen with elephants. 

Cooperation is a good way of surviving! 

6. In the second creation story in Genesis 2, for the earth to flourish it needs water and someone to till the ground and care for the plants God has sown in the garden of Eden. These plants will provide the food for those that cultivate the soil. God supplies the water and creates Adam. Then God creates  a whole array of different creatures to help Adam in tilling the soil. Whilst Adam is happy to cooperate with God, to follow God’s way, all is well. But what happens when that cooperation fails? 

When Adam and Eve eat the apple, is it just the relationship they had with God that has broken, or have other relationships also been broken?

7. One of the great salvation stories of the Old Testament is that of the Exodus. For a long while the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt, their freedom has been curtailed. God rescues them from the power of the Pharaoh and the people set off under the leadership of Moses across the wilderness to the Promised Land. The Israelites can no longer rely on the Egyptians to provide them with shelter, food and water. Instead they have to cooperate with one another and with God. How might the Ten Commandments have helped instil the lessons of cooperation? 

8. Which of these stories provide teaching about the importance of cooperation? 

The parable of the two brothers, the Good Samaritan, and/ or feeding the 5000?

Which other Biblical stories speak to you about cooperation? 

9. Last week we considered how salvation can mean preservation as well as deliverance from harm or loss. In what ways can cooperation preserve us or deliver us from harm and loss? 

Are there any personal experiences of cooperation that have saved you that you might share?


May the God of all love 

who created us,

be our source of wisdom.

May the God of all love 

who heals us, 

preserve us from all evil.

May the God of all love 

who desires our wellbeing, 

be our guide.



Session 3 – Ecosystems

In the first week we looked at  evolution as survival of  the fittest. Whilst we might initially have thought that  means survival of the strongest, the fastest or the biggest, fitness can be measured in other ways such as the camouflaging ability of a butterfly’s wings.  With reference to Biblical stories, the fittest person or community might be the one most in tune with God, such as Elijah.

 In week 2 we looked at evolution as  a non lineal  process of  development  where  species evolved in  different directions depending on which opportunities they took or not. Development  did not make species necessarily better or worse than others but different. We saw how development might involve cooperation within or across species. In this session we shall explore how different species, whether or not they cooperate, live together as an ecosystem. 

‘An ecosystem describes a natural biological unit that is made up of both living and non-living parts. It is made up of a number of:

  • habitats – the place where an organism lives
  • communities – all the living organisms that live within a habitat. 

A community can contain a number of different species.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z2vjrwx/revision/1 

Ecosystems develop around a food chain. The base of a food chain is an autotroph. This is an organism that gains its energy either from the sun – photosynthesis – or less commonly, from oxidation of minerals –  chemosynthesis. In each case what the autotroph does it is to convert the energy it derives from the sun (or mineral) into organic material that others can then consume to obtain energy. 

These organisms that feed of the autotroph are known as heterotrophs. 

Ecosystems start as a very simple community which then grow in complexity as time passes. The initial colonisation of a new, barren, habitat is known as the primary succession.  

“Primary succession begins in barren areas, such as on bare rock exposed by a retreating glacier. The first inhabitants are lichens or plants—those that can survive in such an environment. Over hundreds of years these “pioneer species” convert the rock into soil that can support simple plants such as grasses. These grasses further modify the soil, which is then colonised by other types of plants. Each successive stage modifies the habitat by altering the amount of shade and the composition of the soil. The final stage of succession is a climax community, which is a very stable stage that can endure for hundreds of years.”  https://www.britannica.com/science/primary-succession#ref1272358

There is an evolutionary process at work whereby which living beings are the fittest species changes as the habitat changes. 

  1. In what ways can we look at the unfolding story of the Old Testament, and see a parallel with the concept of the primary succession? Who would represent the pioneer species?

2. Or is it rather that the Old Testament contains a series of such stories?

Does the story of God’s people in the Old Testament ever reach a state equivalent to the climax community? 

Ecosystems do not all – or ever – achieve an indefinite climax community. Things happen. Ecosystems falter or fail, and the evolutionary process has to start afresh. This is known as a secondary succession. “Secondary succession takes place where a disturbance did not eliminate all life and nutrients from the environment. Although dire, flooding, and other disturbances may bring visible ruin to a landscape, drive out many plants and animals, and set back the biological community to an earlier stage, the habitat is not lifeless, because the soil retains nutrients and seeds that were set down before the disturbance occurred. Buried seeds can sprout shortly after the effects of the disturbance pass, and some may have greater success from reduced competition and reduced shading.”


3. If we look at the Old Testament as encompassing a series of secondary successions, what are the ‘seeds’ that pass forward the means of life – of salvation – from one generation to the next?

4. Is it important that these traditions, these ‘seeds’ were and are being passed onto the generations of the New Testament?

The development of the ecosystem as an ongoing evolutionary process, even without the cataclysmic  events that lead to a complete resetting of the process. Within the different stages of development, species will necessarily adapt to the changes in the habitat they occupy and to changes in other species with whom they share an ecosystem.  We saw in week 1 how a species of moth adapted its colouring to suit the changing background colour of its habitat.

As another example let’s consider the peregrine  falcon. According to the RSPB, these birds require an extensive open terrain for hunting. The precise type of habitat is less important than availability of suitable prey. The chosen habitat must also include  areas such cliff-ledges, quarry faces, or crags, where they can nest. Over recent years peregrine falcon have been moving into urban areas, adapting their diet to prey urban dweller such as pigeons, rats and mice, and adapting to nesting on top of tall buildings – churches, office blocks and flats, even Tate Modern. 

5. Moses throughout his life time had to adjust to many changes – from being a Hebrew baby that had to be hidden away to the protege of the Pharaoh’s princess; from being part of the royal household to being a nomadic shepherd; from shepherd to diplomatic spokesman; from spokesman to tribal leader. 

Saul/ Paul too, went through a number of significant changes of circumstance – what were these and how do you think these changes  adapted his relationship with God?

6 In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites are a nomadic people travelling through land that they do not own. They have a portable tabernacle before which they can assemble to worship God. Once they have reached the promised land, they settle and become a people who live in towns, and they establish fixed places where they can assemble to worship God, and ultimately they opt a single temple built of stone. How might these changes have affected the way the people worshipped? Was the temple more or less accessible? Was it more amenable for regularly daily worship or a for extra special seasonal worship? How do you think these adaptations, changed their relationship with God?

7. Following the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon, how do you think the people (both those who were exiled and those who remained behind in the ruins of Judea) has to adapt their thinking about and their relationship with God?

8. From an initial group of disciples to a scattering of faith communities attached to synagogues or private homes, from local fellowship to a national faith under Constantine; from faith groups ravaged by marauders when the Roman Empire collapsed to a new Holy Roman Empire; from faith as general practice to a faith challenged by new philosophies and scientific developments; from faith as a social norm to faith as a minority view amongst a sea of other views – the development of Christian faith has not been straightforward. How important, in that succession of changes, has been the ability to adapt, to find a new niche within the world? 

9. Ecosystems evolve towards a climax community, when life and the number and diversity of specifies in the habitat attains a state of stability, one that easily flexes to minor changes, one that can expect to be there for the long term. What is the state to which the Christian Church is seeing to evolve? What would be  the characteristics of that state?

10. Is this the salvation, the kingdom of God ‘on earth as in heaven’, that God desires?


May the God of all love 

who created us,

be our source of wisdom.

May the God of all love 

who heals us, 

preserve us from all evil.

May the God of all love 

who desires our wellbeing, 

be our guide.



Session 4 – Evolution and Keystones

In the first week we looked at  evolution as survival of  the fittest. Whilst we might initially have thought that  means survival of the strongest, the fastest or the biggest, fitness can be measured in other ways such as the camouflaging ability of a butterfly’s wings.  With reference to Biblical stories, the fittest person or community might be the one most in tune with God, such as Elijah.

 In week 2 we looked at evolution as  a non lineal  process of  development  where  species evolved in  different directions depending on which opportunities they took or not. Development  did not make species necessarily better or worse than others but different. We saw how development might involve cooperation within or across species.

In week 3 we looked at development of an ecosystem and how it grows, and how it may have to be recreated if disaster strikes.

In this and the next session will be looking at how ecosystems are shaped or controlled by significant – keystone – figures.

Very few life forms live in isolation. Most live in conjunction with a large number of others, either of their own or of other species. Within that mixed group, some individuals and species will simply coexist, others will cooperate for mutual benefit, and others will have a predator relationship. An ecosystem is the combination of numbers and species  such that there is a state of balance. The development of successful ecosystems is part of the ongoing evolutionary process. However within an ecosystem not all relationships are equal. 

Keystone species are those that have a disproportionately effect on the community they inhabit. Whilst we normally think of lions and wolves as keystone species, here is an alternative example in an extract from the online Encyclopaedia Britannica: 

The starfish Pisaster ochraeceus is a keystone species in the rocky marine intertidal communities off the northwest coast of North America. This predatory starfish feeds on the mussel Mytilius californianus and is responsible for maintaining much of the local diversity of species within certain communities. When the starfish have been removed experimentally, the mussel populations have expanded rapidly and covered the rocky intertidal shores so exclusively that other species cannot establish themselves. Consequently, the interaction between Pisaster and Mytilus supports the structure and species diversity of these communities. In other communities in which Pisaster occurs, however, the starfish has little overall effect on the structure of the community. Therefore, a species can be a keystone species in some communities but not in others. https://www.britannica.com/science/community-ecology/Keystone-species

  1. The story of the Tower of Babel might be seen as an example of cooperation, for all the people came together – speaking the same language – to build the tallest tower possible. God however sees that their endeavour is not so much about cooperation as it is about proving themselves the equal of God.  Who is the keystone figure in this story?

2. In more recent times we have seen other peoples come together to overcome an arch opponent – the people of the former Yugoslavia in over throwing Tito, the break up of the Soviet Union as the peoples of each State sought independence, and the  just over half the British population in overthrowing their membership of the European Union. However once the one single objective had been achieved, the cooperation of the people was broken apart by the growing number of factors – faith, culture, politics, economic philosophy etc – that divided them.  

What do you think might have happened if the Tower of Babel had been built? Could the people have competently  taken on the role of God?

3. As with the starfish, do some – or maybe all – communities need a keystone figure who can maintain order, who can curb those who would dominate the community and overrun weaker more vulnerable members? 

4.  In the story of the Exodus, the overwhelming power of the pharaoh, as the keystone figure, is removed. Surely this would allow the Hebrews to thrive as a caring and loving community?  

Read Exodus 18:13 -26. By appointing judges, is Moses creating a network of keystone figures? How would these people maintain or improve the wellbeing of the new community?

5.  The prophets, Amos (4:1, 5:11), Hosea (12:7) and Isaiah (3:15), all take turn at lambasting the rich – the wealthy merchants, the rulers, the deceitful traders and the like – for taking advantage of their power to crush the poor.  Presumably theses rich people are not the keystone figures that God desires. 

In what ways might the prophets also be keystone figures? 

If so, are they acting in their one behalf or as agents for another? 

6. A similar message highlighting the dominance of the rich at the expense is reiterated in the Book of Revelation – 18:11-19. Who, in the vision of the writer, is going to replace these merchants and traders, as the true, God-chosen keystone figure?

7. Our current world is still dominated by the rich and the powerful who use their clout to oppress others –  Amazon, British Gas, Shell and Exon, as well as more discrete traders such as hedge fund managers and futures traders. 

How might a keystone figure prevent the suffering the poor and the marginalised? Who or what might such keystone figures be in our current economy? 

8. If we see Jesus as the essential keystone figure, we may want to pause and consider the prayer of St Theresa of Avila:-

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

How do these words make you feel?

9.  St Paul helpfully reminds us that it is not as individuals that we are expected to take on all the responsibilities of  being Christ to the world, but as a church. 

There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptised by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

How can the church be an effective keystone figure in its – 

a. local community?

b. Its nation?

and c. In the global community?

10.If the prophets are to be understood as keystone figures chosen by God to highlight and challenge the damage being caused to the community by ‘worldly’ or ungodly keystone figures, might God also be calling on today’s church to take on a prophetic role? 


May the God of all love 

who created us,

be our source of wisdom.

May the God of all love 

who heals us, 

preserve us from all evil.

May the God of all love 

who desires our wellbeing, 

be our guide.



Session 5  – Evolution and Keystones as providers

In the first week we looked at  evolution as survival of  the fittest. Whilst we might initially have thought that  means survival of the strongest, the fastest or the biggest, fitness can be measured in other ways such as the camouflaging ability of a butterfly’s wings.  With reference to Biblical stories, the fittest person or community might be the one most in tune with God, such as Elijah.

 In week 2 we looked at evolution as  a non lineal  process of  development  where  species evolved in  different directions depending on which opportunities they took or not. Development  did not make species necessarily better or worse than others but different. We saw how development might involve cooperation within or across species.

In week 3 we looked at development of an ecosystem and how it grows, and how it may have to be recreated if disaster strikes. Last week we looked at the role of keystone figures in maintaining balance and harmony within an ecosystem. This week we shall looking at different group of keystone figures and how they ensure the wellbeing of an ecosystem. 

So far we have thought of keystone figures as those that maintain the well being of an ecosystem by controlling those who would otherwise overdominate and overwhelm the ecosystem. But there is another type of keystone figure, one that enables the ecosystem to thrive by ensuring that availability of critical resources needed by all – or large part – of the members.  Again an example from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:- 

In some forest communities in tropical America, figs and a few other plants, act as keystone species but in a very different manner from the starfish Pisaster. Figs bear fruit year-round in some of these forest communities, and a large number of birds and mammals rely heavily on this small group of plant species during the times of the year when other food resources are scarce. Without figs, many species would disappear from the community.  https://www.britannica.com/science/community-ecology/Keystone-species

We can see parallels in human communities – 

Towns where a particular industry or manufacturer providing employment for all the resident dependent, is this a keystone figure eg  Corby’s steelworks , Dagenham’s car plant,  Bournville’s chocolate factory. It might be interesting to consider whether it is was steel works or the iron ore that was the keystone figure on Corby.  Likewise Canadian Prairies wheat might be considered the  keystone figure, and the cotton crop in the Southern United States. Both these are commercial crops, whilst as a staple food, potatoes, prior to the potato blight, were a keystone figure in Ireland.

In Sweden and other Nordic nations, the government fills a keystone role by providing high standards of social welfare for their peoples (and in return the people accept the price of higher taxes). The Labour government gained power in Britain postwar because they offered to be keystone figures of the ilk that provides for the welfare of the people. 

We also see examples in the Bible. 

In the Book of Genesis, Joseph becomes a keystone figure, for, having stored up wheat during the good years, he can ensure food for all in Egypt during the famine years. In the Book of Exodus God becomes the keystone figure providing daily food for the Israelites. Note that the manna is provided such than everyone benefits equally and with no chance for someone to garner extra to be sold later at a profit. 

  1. Consider the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus’ subsequent statement ‘I am the bread of life’. How does this story inform us about the role Jesus – and thereafter the church –  plays as a keystone figure? Is it about dominating or providing?

2. Read Acts4:32-34:  Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 

Who or what is the keystone figure in this story? 

How might we see a link between providing for the well being of the community and salvation?

3. Read Acts 6:1-5:  Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,  while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’  What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

The community of Jerusalem is growing in both number and complexity. Who or what is the keystone figure in this story? Can we see both characteristics of a key stone figure – one that maintains order and balance, and one that provides the necessities of the community?

4. As the Christian Church was evolving, St Paul was keen to ensure that in its new and vulnerable state it was not pulled apart by different traditions. He was particularly insistent that how they ate and shared food together shouldn’t differ depending on whether those who ate were Jew or Gentile. How might having a common table practice, allow such fellowship and worship to be keystone figures for the new faith?

5. What Paul did not want was for the new faith to divide along partisan lines and thus threatening its continued existence. He writes to the Corinthians of the many gifts that different Christians have to offer. What is it that feeds these gifts? Is that which is the common root of their gifts, a keystone figure that maintains the unity of the community?

We began our look at evolution by considering how individual species might evolve. We saw how evolution is prompted by the need to survive and favours those with the most apt characteristics. We saw too that evolutionary changes happen when a species exploits a new opportunity. We have seen how different species may live together in an ecosystem, and how the dynamic of those communities can be reliant on who or what is the keystone figure. The initial  proposition of survival of the fittest, can apply as much to an ecosystems as it does to a single species. What is it that makes a fit ecosystem?

From the online Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Diverse communities are healthy communities. Long-term ecological studies have shown that species-rich communities are able to recover faster from disturbances than species-poor communities. Species-rich grasslands  in the Midwestern United States maintain higher primary productivity than species-poor grasslands. Each additional species lost from these grasslands has a progressively greater effect on the drought-resistance of the community… And, in the Serengeti grassland of Africa, the more diverse communities show greater stability of biomass through the seasons and greater ability to recover after grazing.

The relationship between species diversity and community stability highlights the need to maintain the greatest richness possible within biological communities. …The tight web of interactions that make up natural biological communities sustains both biodiversity and community stability.  https://www.britannica.com/science/community-ecology/Effect-on-community-structure

6. Just as in ecosystems diversity is beneficial, so it is in Christian communities. This is why in question 3 above, the  apostles are keen not to let the fledgling community divide into those of the Greek tradition and those of the Hebrew tradition. Can you think of examples from the gospels of Jesus’ determination that the kingdom of God he proclaimed should be inclusive? 

Is this inclusivity limited just difference on Judaic practice, or is the inclusivity espoused by Jesus much wider?

Inclusivity is not just a new teaching in the gospels (although it is taken to high level). It is there in the Old Testament. 

7. Read Leviticus 19: 33-34 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

And from Deuteronomy 10:16-19 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and stiffen your necks no more. For  the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and accepting no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and He loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing. So you also must love the foreigner, since you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt

Why do you think it was important that the Israelites should follow these laws?  How do they protect and  bring strength to the community?

8. The story of Ruth and Naomi may have been an even greater to the traditionalist. The story asks them to accept that David, Israel’s greatest king, was descended from an outsider. In a similar fashion the story of Jonah asks the traditionalists to accept that God would send a Jewish prophet to bring salvation to a foreign city, and further more, would forgive their sins if they showed penitence. How often do we feel that ‘tradition’ holds back our churches from a) being more inclusive, and b) from being open to the idea that God can act in non-traditional ways?

9. If evolution is an ongoing process of adaptation and development in response to changes  in the habitat, in the places where we find ourselves, how willing are we to find ways of adapting and surviving, remembering that the fittest are those most in tune with God?

10. Looking back over all that we have explored, has – and if so how – has your understanding of salvation changed?


May the God of all love 

who created us,

be our source of wisdom.

May the God of all love 

who heals us, 

preserve us from all evil.

Epiphany: Baptism of Jesus

15th January 2023

Reflection (readings below)

The Gospel story today is full of drama. Be amazed! Be in awe! This is an epiphany moment – the breaking of the true nature and identity of Jesus. In this moment earth and heaven are in perfect communion. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is openly declared to be the Chosen One, the very unique and beloved Son of God. 

This is the chosen servant imagined in the words of Isaiah. This Chosen One would be as a covenant to the peoples, through whom salvation will be accomplished. Isaiah and the other prophets were all clear in their messages that salvation required justice. Salvation would be achieved through that justice that brings  healing for sick, sight to the blind, release for  prisoners and those trapped in darkness. 

I think that we and the churches too easily forget the importance of seeking justice – perhaps because  we can’t quite imagine how we can do this. Looking around our world there seems to be so much injustice. We only have to open our newspapers or turn on the television, to know that even in our own relatively affluent country, there are people who cannot afford to both eat and heat their homes; that there are people in employment who have to rely on food banks – and that includes nurses and teaching staff. We might have to read a little further and we would discover people who can either find an NHS dentist nor afford private treatment, farmers who cannot make a profit growing the food we eat, or people locked up 23 hours of the day because the prison system cannot afford sufficient staff.  

How indeed can we bring about justice in these situations? We can – as many churches do – support food banks. We can – as many of us do – donate winter fuel allowances to help run warm hubs. But justice needs more – system change. Change that will build in rather than exclude justice. Change that will equality and fairness the touch stone. Change that will always protect the vulnerable.

No one says that such change is easy to bring about. It can take  time and perseverance – something Isaiah clearly recognised. It will involve the transformation of the many systems that control our economic and social lives. Such change happens when opinions change, when tipping points are reached. The change often begins at the grass root level, and then grows. As Christians and church communities, we can call out and highlight injustice where we see it. We write to our bishops and our MPs and ask for change. We can be fact finders and information spreaders, ensuring that the truth about injustices and the need for justice becomes widespread. We can become campaigners and activists! We can, as St Paul, says be preachers of the Gospel –  empowering the good news of justice that underpins salvation and following the example of Jesus, God’s Chosen One. This is an awesome calling!

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Proper 16

21st August 2022

(The readings follow on after the reflection)


Both the psalm and the passage from Jeremiah concur: God is our creator, the source of being and of our ongoing existence from the beginning. Throughout life God is present and is our sustainer, our rock and stronghold, our hope – and the one who calls us to act. The writer of Hebrews describes the otherness of God – but this is not an otherness that is fearsome and terrifying. Rather it is an otherness reflected in joyful festivities and community and new beginnings and the saving grace of Jesus. Ours is a God who offers hope and salvation!

The passage from Hebrews presents us with a God who can and will transform the world. And in the gospel, we see Jesus doing just that. He transform the life of the woman with a deformed back (and presumably changes too the life of her family) and he transforms the local people’s understanding of God’s law, showing them a different way of interpreting the law and understanding the nature of the world God has in mind.

From our first reading comes the word of the Lord saying “ pluck up and to pull down, destroy and  overthrow, build and plant”. And that is what Jesus does in the gospel reading. He ‘plucks up and pulls down’ the traditional understanding of the law and ‘builds and plants’ something new and life enhancing in its place. Jeremiah, to whom the Lord had been speaking, was given the  hard task of taking that message to the people of Judah. Jeremiah knew that the people had strayed away from correctly understanding and living according to God’s word. He knew that if they continued this way of living that they would be overrun by one of the competing superpowers that then ruled the world. Jeremiah was nevertheless convinced that whatever evil befell God’s people, there would be a time of renewal and restoration – of ‘building and planting’ according to God’s will. 

Sadly Jeremiah did not see this renewal in his own life time,  but he believed that it would happen. Later in the book, it tells how Jeremiah bought some land in Jerusalem – even though the city was about to be overrun by the invading force of the Assyrian army – to show his confidence that there would be a future for God’s people in that city. Jeremiah showed the kind of faith we heard of a few weeks ago in the Letter to the Hebrews – ‘faith [that] is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’.

 Our hope is that the world will withstand the worst ravages of the climate crisis, and be restored –  be re-built and planted – as intended by God. To demonstrate our faith in this is to actively live as if that future were happening now. We are called to,show how the world could, and can, be transformed. The way we live should be an example of sustainable living. The way we live should demonstrate care for creation, care for wildlife and live stock (including the welfare of donkeys and oxen), and care for our fellow humans especially those whose lives are stunted by the complaints – the ills – of our current age. Those affected by drought and wildfires, by floods and the denuding of the soil. Those affected by disease and war. Those affected by poverty and discrimination. Those affected by rising sea levels and receding rivers.

That is what groups such as Christian Climate Action and Christian Aid are campaigning for. It is what groups like Toilet Twinning and Practical Action are working for on the ground. It is what A Rocha does in enabling Christians to be environmentally aware.
This is what we as Christian communities – churches – can be embracing and supporting. We need to show the confidence that Jesus showed in healing the woman – doing what is right, regardless of what others may be saying, regardless of convention says, because doing what is right is what God wants. We need to show confidence in demonstrating how the world God gave us can be healed.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Psalm 71:1-6

1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.

2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.

3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.

4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.

6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.

Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Fourth Sunday before Lent

6th February 2022

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” 

Psalm 138

1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.

7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Luke 5:1-11 

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.


The over arching theme of today’s readings is of being called by God. For Isaiah it seems to be a unique calling, as if Isaiah’s role is going to be unusual, out of the ordinary. When we get to the days of Paul, the number of people being called by God is growing exponentially. Paul doesn’t say so, but one senses that Paul anticipates that his readers will be the next generation of those commissioned by God to continue the spread of the good news. 

Isaiah, Paul and Simon are all clearly aware of their shortcomings, their failures, their sins. In calling them, God both recognises this,  absolves them and at the same time enables their transformation into spreaders of the good news, of salvation.  

In the ‘pericope’ or clip that Luke gives us, Jesus is preaching the good news to the crowds. But then it is as if he demonstrates this by way of a physical parable. He has chosen to borrow Simon’s boat. Simon’s overnight fishing expedition had failed. Normally Simon would have expected to make a worthwhile  catch of fish, but on this occasion the haul had been nil. Things had not been how they should have been. 

Jesus invites Simon try once more, and this time the haul of fish is beyond Simon’s expectation. Jesus has not just restored things the way they should be, he has transformed them spectacularly. The good news that God’s salvation can and does restore and transform life in all its fullness is made visible.

Isaiah was called to warn the people of Judea of the threat posed by the Babylonians to their future as a nation. This threat stemmed from the breakdown in their relationship with God, their arrogance  and their failure to listen to, and act upon, the wisdom of God. They needed to repent and change direction, to transform discern the ways in which they lived and how they should related to God. This transformation was, as recorded in the Book of Isaiah, a work in progress. 

Jesus called Simon to completely change career. He was to forgo his fishing job and instead to draw people into a new way of understanding God, of realising that the promised Messiah was Jesus, and that with him they would find healing and fulfilment of life. This was a calling that was to shared with a growing number of his contemporaries.

Paul’s calling also involved a change in direction, from persecuting anyone who threatened the age-old, traditional and exclusive understanding of the God of Israel, to that of  preaching a message that invited everyone, whatever their status or background, to participate in the salvation that God offered through the living presence of Jesus Christ. Again this was a calling that was shared by others, both then and through each subsequent generation, right down to us today.

I wonder what your calling might be? For me, it is endeavouring to honour God’s desire that we should care for creation, by  sharing the ways of living fairly and sustainably, and endeavouring to win the hearts and minds of others to be  equally enthused and engaged with God’s hopes for creation. Loving sustainably according to God’s wishes, God’s wisdom, will I believe restore and transform the world, over coming all the crises with which we are beset. 


30th January 2022

Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4

When these days are over, then from the eighth day onwards the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt-offerings and your offerings of well-being; and I will accept you, says the Lord God.

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.

Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and lo! the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord; and I fell upon my face.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.


Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet, one of those who had been exiled to Babylon. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by his captors must have had a profound effect upon him, and this is reflected in his writings. 

He writes that after 25 years of exile he has a vision. In the vision he is taken back to Israel, back to the city of Jerusalem and there he sees the restored – resurrected – Temple. The restoration of the Temple must have been such a hoped for desire for Ezekiel. It would have meant not just the restoration of the building, but of the worship of God, and of the restoration of the nation of Israel as God’s elect. 

Ezekiel is met by a guide who takes him on a tour of the temple complex, showing him all its walls and gate ways, its courtyards and rooms, corridors and pavements. His guide is equipped with measuring instruments such that he can know the height and depth and width of every part of the building. Having completed the tour of the outer precincts, Ezekiel is then taken on an even more in depth tour of the Temple itself. He is shown the various rooms and vestibules, their decorations, furnishings and equipment is all notes. The guide explains the use of the different rooms  – which ones are to be used for different offering, which ones for robing and unrobing, and which areas will only  be entered by appropriately robed priests. The Ezekiel comes to the eastward facing gateway and afar off he sees and hears the approaching arrival of the glory of God. As the glory fills the Temple, so he is lifted by the spirit into the safety of an inner court. 

Now it is not his guide, but the voice of God who addresses Ezekiel. He is instructed how he will offer sacrifices for seven days to consecrate the altar – and only them will the other priests be able to take up the routine of daily worship in the Temple. This is where our reading today comes in. Ezekiel is told by God that the east ward facing gate (the one  by which God entered the Temple) has been shut and will remain so. There will be one exception: the prince may enter and leave by that gate. Earlier Ezekiel records God speaking of his servant David as being one who is a prince among the people. The Hebrew word translated as prince can also mean ruler or leader. 

Ezekiel’s vision of the future that he is hoping for, is of a future where things are restored to how they should be. Where the temple is once more rebuilt in all its splendour. Where the role of the priests is clearly defined and irreversibly entwined with the return of God’s presence to the temple. Where the rule of David will be restored such that the prince shall enter by the east gate and dine within its vestibule before the presence of God. This view of salvation is one that envisages a return to the ‘good old days’. 

The second Temple complex, built by Herod,  comprised a series of  courtyards each with differing functions. At the centre was the courtyard of the priests where sacrifices were made and within which was the building that contained the Holy of Holies. The outer courtyards where men and women could both go, were places where people could meet, talk, catch up on news, arrange business deals, debate theology, make offerings, and pray. Here people, like Simeon and Anna , could spend  whole days amidst a bustle of activity that ultimately revolved around the worship of God. And it is here that both Anna and Simeon are given the insight that the child Mary and Joseph bring into the Temple, is the Messiah, that in this child is the bringer of salvation.  What an amazing experience! One which few others – in Luke’s telling of the story had had.  Only  the shepherds who came to the stable, and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and of course Mary, had received the message that this child was special. 

The outermost court of the temple was open to all, Jew and Gentile alike, but beyond that point only Jews could proceed further. Yet Simeon is prompted by the Spirit to see in Jesus one who will bring light and salvation to all people – gentiles included. This messiah in not just for those who have traditionally seen themselves as the exclusive people of God. This is a messiah for everyone. This, as Simeon goes onto prophesy, is someone who will open up new ways of thinking, new ways that will be so radical as to cause the world to be turned upside down. And so radical that people will be hurt in the process. What Simeon perceives as salvation is not a restoration of Israel as of old, but a complete transformation into something completely new. 

Sometimes it can be very easy to think that restoring things back to how they used to be is the answer.  It seems a safer, more reliable proposition than seeking something new – and possibly a quicker solution too needing less planning and preparation.  A year ago as we dealt with the worst of the covid pandemic, we dreamed of a better future. A future in which we would build back better. A future in which the inequalities revealed by the virus would be eradicated. A future in which we would be better neighbours. A future where we would all have a better work-life balance. A future where everyone  would have access to computers and a fast internet connection. A future where everyone could access green spaces to relax and recuperate. A future where key workers would be valued. A future where educational catch up support would be there for every child. A future where the air would always be clean and the song of birds would always be heard.

The  salvation which Simeon saw was the same that inspired Paul to takes the good news of Jesus Christ to both Jews and gentiles. The gospel he preached was radical, turning social norms upside down, rewriting religious expectations and demanding a new approach to daily life. It is in preaching this message of what is new about the salvation that comes through Jesus, that Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth  about love. This is a love that can break through ‘me first’ attitudes; that can break down the barriers of  inequality, prejudice and mistrust; that is the catalyst that ends lying and deceitfulness; that embraces the protection of the environment; that puts life and well being before profit. It is a love we need to nurture everyday so that we are proof of the transforming process of salvation.

“Love that  is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. A Love that never ends.”

Sunday Reflection

5th September 2021, Proper 18

Isaiah 35:4-7, Psalm 14, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Mark 7:24-37

Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.

Words we have desperately wanted to hear this week, whether that was as protestors trying to draw the attention of the Government and the financial world to the dire emergency of the climate crisis and of the need to ‘act now!’ Or whether it has been as those watching helplessly as families and individuals tried to to flee from Afghanistan. 

Yes – we want them to be saved, we want ourselves to be saved, from harm and hurt and fear. And we want to be saved from ourselves – I think we know that the cause of war and extremism, of failed diplomacy, rising global temperatures and the increased frequency of extreme weather events, is all of human making. 

Was that the feeling of the people in Isaiah’s community? Did they feel trapped in the space between feeling helpless and knowing that their predicament was the result of their own failures? They were a people surrounded by war; a people being swayed to go with this side or that side, as superpowers fought over their land. A people who feared defeat and heard the words of the diverging words of the false prophets and of God’s prophets. A people who did know that they had sinned against God and against their neighbours. Would God be able to – indeed would God save them? What would the future look like? Isaiah is giving them words of hope, reminding them of God’s greatness and creating for them a vision of the world God desired for them: heaven on earth. The psalmist echoes this with words encouraging and exhorting us to hope and trust in God. 

Yet I sense that God is not just going to intervene and wave, as it were a magic wand, and everything will be tip top fine. That certainly was not the experience of Isaiah’s audience: they suffered the humiliation of defeat and exile, and it was only during that time of exile that they learned to live once again in a renewed relationship with God and neighbour. It is at this point we turn to the epistle of James. 

Do we really believe in Jesus Christ? What a question! Not do we believe, but do we really believe? For if we truly believed then we would live as Jesus lived, act as Jesus acted. We would see the flaws in human systems that Jesus saw – and sees today – and would work to transform them. We would like Jesus, be able to say ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. 

But, says the writer of James, we seem to have been hoodwinked by the rich and powerful. We have been drawn into their mindset that says wealth, riches and fine clothes are the indicators that show who is most important, who should be in power, whose words should be believed. 

Instead we should be turning to the scripture and the royal law: love your neighbour as yourself. Here there is no hierarchy, no space of prejudice nor favouritism. Further more to love is not just to mouth the words; it is to enact them.  The epistle writer is quite clear: if we do not act, we cannot save ourselves. Our faith is only of use if it is enacted. A life jacket only saves you if you inflate it and put it on! Just having faith that a life jacket can save lives is not enough.

It seems to me that what Jesus so clearly demonstrated for us is that with faith in God, we can do all that is required to love our neighbours, to create heaven on earth, to save the world.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we see that there is not a time when Jesus cannot find himself called upon to do the work of God. Even when he goes outside the the Jewish territories of Judea and Galilee, there are people who need help. There are foreigners who are still neighbours. There are people who don’t expect much but still ask. There are people trapped by poverty and people trapped by disabilities. When the onlookers saw what Jesus was doing, they were astounded beyond measure.

Can we be as astounding? Can our belief in Jesus be such that we let ourselves be empowered by the strength and hope that comes from God? Can we put that faith into action so that by loving our neighbour, by creating heaven in earth, the world will be saved?