Reflection by Rev Donald McCorkindale, minister ASKM
Here we are at the end of another year -
yes we are at the end of the church year.
Next week we begin an Advent journey;
a journey of joyful anticipation and expectation as we journey towards the incarnation,
the birth of Christ the King as a babe in a manger.
What might it mean to celebrate Christ the King Sunday?
We celebrate the reign of our Lord Jesus,
the reign of kingdom values of love and justice and peace
set against the worldly empire ways
where there can be violence and intolerance and hatred.
this last Sunday before Advent,
is sometimes called stir up Sunday.
There is the tradition that the Sunday before Advent was the time to prepare all the ingredients for the Christmas pudding and to stir them up.
There is also a traditional prayer often used on this Sunday, with its words, ‘Stir us up o Lord, we beseech Thee.’
I wonder if we need a bit of a stirring up in the church.
In the midst of these difficult times,
and I'm thinking not only of a Covid situation but
the difficult times we knew we were facing before Covid hit us,
as we address decline and crisis and maybe even chaos within the church.
Our parable today asks us a question,
‘What have you done?’
What have you to cause Christ the King to say,
‘Well done! It’s that little thing you did you did for me.’
It's the parable of the sheep and the goats.
How can a shepherd tell them apart?
Well apparently goats ears flop down and sheep's ears point up.
But it may not have always been that way
and there is some archaeological evidence to suggest that in Jesus time the similarity or the difference between the beasts might not have been as we imagine.
It’s a difficult parable, and they all are.
One of the difficulties in this story is that when those likened to the sheep who have done the good things -
when Jesus says to them,
‘Well done, the least little thing you did for them, you did for me.'
and those who are deemed to be righteous, good, loving, kind, serving the kingdom ways say,
‘When did we, when did we help you?’
Those people hadn't seen it as an intentional outworking of keeping in with God.
Maybe as soon as we realise we acted in a way to please God then we negate the effect of what we've done?
Today rather than asking you what have you done to cause Christ to say to you, ‘Well done!’,
rather than go down that way, let me put it the other way round
and say to you,
‘Well done, for you has been doing the little things that Christ has notices and you have been serving Christ the King’;
in the little actions, the little things that know you have been doing,
the phone calls and going the extra mile helping a neighbour,
picking up a prescription, doing a wee bit of shopping for someone else.
Serving Christ the King does place great demands and expectations upon us
it's a serious business
and yet sometimes,
sometimes our most effective, most loving may be when
when we simply be, when we are the people that God has made us to be.
Not pondering why,
not counting the cost,
not looking for any reward.
It's then that we’re sheeplike.
And, you know, sometimes sometimes I'm a bit goat-like,
sometimes you are a wee bit goat-like,
we all can be.
When we fail to grasp the opportunity to do the loving and kind thing.
And that's okay,
it's okay particularly in these Covid limiting times.
We need to be easy on ourselves.
Maybe it’s when we are easy on ourselves that more naturally comes they are loving and serving others.
Not a forced must do to keep in with God,
must do to notch up a few more points,
but loving and living out our part in God’s covenant with all the world.
A covenant promise of peace and love and justice.
Remember how the parable began -
all the nations will be gathered together,
and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
the nations, the nations of the world will be put to the left or the right.
Our aligning with the values of Christ the King, usher in kingdom of God. The little things I can do, you can do, make a difference.
The little things matter and Christ the King says,
‘Well done, you did that for me!’
When all those little things are added up,
that is good news, good news for all nations.
God bless us in these words, this reflection
and all the little things that we can so to make a difference. Amen
Prayer, from Bridget Cameron of Ardnamurchan Parish Church
You made this beautiful world we live in.
We marvel at the changing seasons saying,
“How great thou art”
Help us to be good stewards and to be thoughtful and a good example in the way we use the resources of the Earth.
Lord help us to pray with understanding as we remember the needs of others.
Comfort all who are ill or sorrowing,
those who are concerned for dear ones in these uncertain times of the pandemic.
Uplift those who have difficult choices to make,
May they know of your continuing love.
Loving God we think of those who hunger for food or justice,
those who lack homes or human dignity.
Help us to be generous with our means and our prayers to improve these situations.
Remember your Church in our communities,
as we worship in new ways.
Be with the children and young people of the area as they too have new ways of learning.
Help them to know of your caring love.
We thank you for all who work in the caring profession,
in hospitals, hospices and care homes.
Grant them strength and peace as they deal with so many difficult situations.
For those in government grant them wisdom and good judgment in their decisions.
Give your light to all the world and all people,
that respect and tolerance will grow amongst them,
and peace will encircle every nation.
Hear our prayers as we believe that through our prayers
you guide, heal and bless us,
Through Jesus Christ our Sovereign Lord.
Reflection from Ella Gill, Church of Scotland reader.
Over the last few weeks we have been considering some of the parables which Jesus taught.
Jesus painted pictures with his stories – stories set in familiar surroundings for the people he was addressing.
His stories had many layers for the people listening and have many layers for us as we look for meaning for us now.
The story we hear today is in a format we hear in other parables – there is a master and there are servants and usually the master is a depiction of God or Jesus and the servants are either ordinary people or Pharisees.
We will have heard these stories many times;
But beware, we can sometimes get a bit complacent as we hear the familiar stories and by doing so do not pay attention to what is really being said.
As we read this parable, we are already a step ahead as we hear there is a master and there are servants and we are predicting the outcome – relaxing into the story, thinking I know what’s coming here and maybe not taking too much notice.
but that is not what happens here – we are in for a surprise
as we get towards the end of the story and listen to what the 3rd servant says to his master that we might think – he’s being very critical of his master.
And then when we see the master respond and feel
– hang on that’s harsh, that’s not fair – and it should prompt us to go back and really examine what has been going on here.
And when we do that – we see what might be a biblical version of The Apprentice – that rather unpleasant portrayal of young people vying with each to show how they can gain the approval of the boss and at the same time outdo the other competitors.
We see that the master is not God or Jesus – it’s not clear who Jesus is talking about – possibly the Pharisees, but it could be any landowner, and the abilities of the servants which are being rewarded are not kingdom values but are the basest of earthly values.
You will be familiar with this parable but today – listen to it or read it through this new perspective.
Let’s look at the story.
We are told that there was a man and he was going away and so ordered his servants to be in charge of his property and he gave each a sum according to his abilities -
It is obvious that the master had more faith in some than in others because he gave them differing amounts of money – 5,000; 2,000;1,000 gold coins.
We are told the varying amounts were because of their abilities.
So far so good.
It is only on the master’s return that we can see the fuller picture.
The servants come into see the master one by one.
The master is delighted with the servant to whom he gave 5,000 coins because he has doubled it – we are not told how- but that was obviously what the master wanted – the measure of the servant’s ability is shown in the measure of the return and the servant was rewarded with even more responsibility.
The 2ndservant has achieved the same but to a lesser extent – but has doubled the amount and is rewarded similarly.
They are clearly from the same mould as the master.
And now the 3rdservant;
The master and the 2 other servants are in the room as the 3rdservant speaks plainly.
He describes himself as being afraid, but is he?
It would have taken a great force of character to say what he said next;
He might have been frightened but he was very brave – he was on dangerous ground.
He says – I know you are a hard man and you reap where you have not sown and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed
Remember the others are listening as the master is told he isa thiefand takes advantage of the work of others.
When challenged like this the master does not deny the accusations but repeats them – with no indication of regret.
‘You knew did you that I reap harvests where I did not sow and gather crops where I did not scatter seed.’
He says you should have put the money in the bank and I would have got the interest – in other words -he is saying to the servant, you didn’t have to do what the other two have done – you could have just put it in the bank.
But it is as if the servant just doesn’t want anything to do with this money which he buries as if he is dealing with stolen goods.
Removing himself from both the money as well as the way it was gained.
The master describes this behaviour as ‘bad’ and lazy’ and you don’t get the feeling that it is just the loss of interest on the money which is upsetting the master but also the lack of compliance to the way he would have his servants behave.
The first 2 servants were successful in the master’s eyes and he heaped praise on them;
They had followed his lead by making money - probably unethically and immorally and not only that – taking pride in what they had done.
The servants had been put in charge of the money – they hadn’t been told to double it – but they knew that to gain favour that would be what the master would expect – and so 2 of them doubled the money they were given – we don’t know how but we can imagine they would have learned from their master how to do this – following his lead of dishonest practices.
Sure enough, they were described as good and faithful servants!
This situation is as common today as it obviously was then and in this parable Jesus is drawing attention to how difficult it can be to try and live ethically and morally in a world with different values.
Values which are far removed from the Kingdom Values of love, honesty and faithfulness.
How hard it can be to stand alone
To stand apart when it would be far easier – and financially rewarding or popular – to ‘go with the flow’ and join in with the crowd – endorsing what is happening.
Have you been in such a situation?
It might be in a social situation when you feel that your values are at variance with those around you – with social media it can be too easy to get caught up in an exchange and sharing views which – if you stood back, or paused – you might think – these comments are not kind and are destructive – would I like to receive these comments.
If the answer is no – then step back – the comedic way in which some critical views are presented encourages the exchange.
But there is no reason to endorse them by sharing them and giving credibility where credibility is not due.
In the work environment it is not so easy to step away from opinions and practices you find affront your values.
Within the demands of your job you could be expected to carry out tasks which you find incompatible.
Last week end Remembrance services were held and wreaths were laid at memorials and many thought of relations who had lived through – or died – in recent conflicts. In this environment one can easily imagine that many found what was expected of them affronted their moral code.
Remaining separate while still living and participating in society, whether that is at work or at home, can be a challenge.
But it is a challenge which can be met and has to be met if we are to follow our conscience.
The Coronavirus restrictions have given us a bit of practice recently – creating space between ourselves and others while still functioning in society - we are now well versed with the concept of ‘bubbles’ in our communities and at work.
Separate and yet together.
He may have felt afraid, but this servant was brave enough to follow his principles – and not only that – he told his master in no uncertain terms what he thought of him
Perhaps he is the first ‘whistle blower’
And his fate is the same as many other whistle blowers – out on his ear for speaking the truth and refusing to be drawn into the same working practices as the master and the other 2 servants.
A high price to pay – but a much dearer one would have been to lower his standards and ignore what his conscience was telling him.
Prayer for today
Father God, We come before you today, just as we are.
Help us to be open minded and ready to listen, to hear your words of wisdom.
You have made each of us different;
each of us unique and each of us ready to contribute something special to your work in the world.
Help us not to compare ourselves with others but to know that we are good enough for you.
Remind us that no one else can do what we can do;
you have given each of us different gifts and talents to do your work in our own unique way.
Forgive us when we use those gifts and talents for only ourselves.
Lord God, you remind us that none of us lives only for ourselves, but that we live in community, connected and dependent on one another, and on the world we live on.
Help us to live in love, caring for one another, building up one another, because you first loved us.
May we always be aware of the needs of others.
May we never be silent in the face of injustice and suffering.
May we seek to work towards inclusion, equal opportunities for all so that we share each other’s burdens, sorrows and joys.
Help us to use our gifts and talents always for good, so that your kingdom is seen here on earth. Amen
Something to do
Think seriously and realistically of the things you are good at. If you are feeling brace, ask a friend to help. Not just the things that are on your report card but those things that are the added extras. Perhaps you are good at crafts, or baking, or computers, or, or ….
You could write these things on post it notes and stick them up somewhere you can see them.
When did you last use these gifts and talents to help someone else? Which person in the story do you most resemble?
No matter who you most resemble, imagine that, over the next week, you used your gifts and talents as much as possible. Would that make a difference to those around you? These are all gifts and talents given by God and to be used. Any time we use these God-given gifts and talents we are bringing a touch of heaven to earth.
The reading is here
Reflection on Matthew 25: 1-13, Remembrance, by Rev Fiona Ogg
Think of the Macdonald’s logo, or the Apple logo - what they are?
Each has a meaning deeper than golden arches or an apple with a bite missing.
For many years most people couldn’t read so symbols were very important -
almost a language - just like emojis are now!
Flowers were the emojis of the day
Even now - think of the significance of being given a red rose!
In some countries white flowers are for when someone dies.
A red poppy is recognised as a symbol but for what?
We remember those who have died / been lost / injured / given so much during times of war
We remember how much each person is ready and willing to do and sacrifice for others.
When we see the poppy perhaps we’ll remember
Great-grandfather was away in the war, abroad fighting,
or somewhere in this country working in a factory to support the war effort.
When we see the poppy perhaps we’ll remember that
while Great-grandfather was away,
great-granny and her friends worked in the fields
to make sure there was enough food for her family -
when we see the poppy perhaps we’ll remember
those who were medical and dealt with so much pain and hurt.
When we see the poppy we remember so much
Today is Remembrance Sunday -
an annual event when people round the world will stop,
take time to remember and reflect on the deeper meaning of the symbol of a poppy.
This ritual of marking events is felt to be important - it always has been.
Many such are recorded in the Bible.
For example, Jesus of Nazareth especially timed his visit to Jerusalem
to coincide with the annual celebration of Passover.
Jesus was crucified and died.
Following very closely after Jewish Passover,
Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as Easter,
and wear the symbol of the cross to remind them of this.
Building of the theme of sacrifice that happened at Passover,
Christians, link into a deeper understanding that, for them,
Jesus was ready and willing to give his all
to be the sacrifice that saved and saves people from separation from God.
Easter marks, amongst other meanings,
the release from the past,
and a new life and hope that come living and dying for others.
When we see a cross,
we remember that Jesus was ready and willing to give his all
so that people could have the hope of a something more than this current life.
When we see a poppy,
we remember the people who were ready and willing to give their all
so that their loved ones too would have the hope of freedom and something more than this current life.
In the reading today, we read of a group of bridesmaids.
Weddings are new beginnings, a trust in a different future.
Half were wise, prepared, ready and willing to participate.
In the dark of the night their light shone out.
The other half were not wise, nor ready, unwilling to participate
and remained in the dark.
In the darkest of times,
those who are wise look for light of hope.
When we see the poppy
we give thanks that in difficult times,
people find they are strong,
have more courage than they know,
are ready to commit to serving others.
To trust there is something more than this current life.
and find the light of hope.
When we see the poppy we remember so much.
Each year, as a wreath of poppies is laid at War Memorials
And these words are spoken
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember them.
When you see the poppy,
remember it is so much more than a flower -
I wonder, what will you remember? Amen
Prayer, (from Common Order, p411)
God of goodness and truth,
we offer our broken spirits for your healing,
our searching for your guiding light;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of light and love,
you desire that all your people should live in your peace.
Grant us the humility to seek your forgiveness
and the will to practice it in our dealings with others.
Help us in days to come
to seek the good of the world,
to work for the increase of peace and justice,
and to show tolerance and open-mindedness
towards those whose character and customs differ from ours.
Grant that our remembrances this day
may be consecrated for practical service,
and the world made better for our children’s children.
Receive our prayers for the well-being of all people;
especially those who mourn and are sad,
for all in distress,
both know to us and unknown.
Hear us for the peace of the world,
for the wise resolution of conflicts,
and the release of captive
and oppressed people everywhere.
Grant that the people of the world
may do your will and live in your spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
who gave us this prayer -
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever, amen
Reading is here
All Saints Day by Rev Donald McCorkindale
Today is All Saints Day - a day when we remember all the saints - not just the ones like Andrew that has his own special day coming up at the end of November or St George that we might remember in April or David at the beginning of March. All Saints - a day to remember all the people of God past and present who have done great things and who have done the little things well and faithfully. We are all Saints - the Scriptures calls the people of God, the Church of God, the ‘saints of God’. Maybe there is a sense in which were not saints yet! But we are on a journey - a journey in which we become more Christlike - more Saint like. When asked what a saint is a young child once replied ‘A saint is someone that the light shines through’ - he may have been thinking of a stained glass window - but how right he was - a saint is one through whom the light shines! There is an aspirational thought for us! Maybe something of being saintly is to lead an authentic life. In the gospel passage today Jesus encounters the religious leaders of his day and he is able to say ‘yes they are they the respected leaders and you must do what they say - but don't do what they do. Maybe not so much respected as ‘recognised’ as the leaders. Jesus could see in them are a disconnect between what was said and what was done - and maybe in our own time and over recent months many of our political leaders have found themselves caught between what they said and what they were seen to be doing.
An authentic genuine life where what you see is what you get, is maybe something that Jesus expects of disciples no gap no gulf between belief and behaviour. On this All Saints day as we also think something on the reformed and reforming nature of our church we remember that we are a church always in need of reform. And I want to say that 500 years on from those Reformation days that would divide the church, so much of what divides the denominations has of course been healed in more recent times and it's good that there is so much ecumenical working across denominational divides. The church is always in need of reform and our own Church of Scotland is of course wrestling with big questions of radical restructure, and radical change, structural reform. As convener of the business committee of the General Assembly and as an Assembly Trustee I have been involved in many of those conversations recently and I keep coming back to the thought that I heard from a change management consultant many years ago who said ‘that there are only three things that you can change - structures, policies and mindset and you have to change them all - and the most difficult is always mindset!’ And as I think on that and think on the need for the church to be reformed continually I remembered that the church is not anything other than the gathering together of the Saints of God
It's you and me and together, we need to recognise our own need for continual reform. How can I be a better version of myself tomorrow as opposed to yesterday. We need to reflect upon our life our beliefs, our behaviour that we might be seen to have something within us of God. Something other... something beyond the ordinary and mundane of our existence. On this All Saints Day, let us remember that the church is a school for sinners much more than a rest home for the saints! Together we journey to become... to become more Christlike to become more saintlike.
Happy All Saints Day to you all - Saints and Sinners! Amen.
Prayer, from Nick Fawcett’s A Common Worship, Year A
We come before you today, ready to listen, to hear your words of wisdom.
We thank you bringing order out of chaos,
shaping the universe and creating the world.
Especially today, we thank you for the men and women of faith, all who, across the years and our own lifetime, have given us an example to follow.
We thank you for the Abraham, Moses, Deborah and Ruth,
for the prophets and those held by church to be saints.
Forgive us when we fail to live up to our inheritance and faith.
Forgive us when the way we behave gives you a bad name.
Forgive us when we treat others without the grace, compassion and mercy we take for granted from you, God.
We pray for the world.
In these unsettling and worrying times,
may we be bearers of light, hope, love to all around us.
Help us to reach out to family and friends, near and far, by phone, email, internet, letters, any way we can and share your love.
We pray for all today’s faithful,
may we continue to follow in the footsteps of those before us.
May we remember we are part of a great company of your people, stretching across the generations.
Thank you for our place in your family.
Loving Father, we offer this prayer in the name of Jesus
and the power of the Spirit. Amen
Something to do
Last week you were encouraged to sit for a moment and think about loving yourself and you love others.
This week, how about thinking of how you have showed that love to others. What acts of kindness have you shown to others?
Where does that kindness come from?
Deep within? Yes, well - but …
where does that kindness come from?
Something bigger than yourself - the company of God’s people?
How about from God?
Perhaps you could make a list of think of those around you who would like something kind in their life right now.
If you are a child - you could do a job for your parents - without being told!
Or even, (shock!) do you homework without being reminded?
If you are an adult, don’t rely on others to be kind! Or on the kindness of others towards you. How about making sure your neighbour has seen someone today - even from a distance. Send a note / post card / email to someone you might not normally be in touch with.
There are so many ways to share God’s love through kindness. the list on the fridge door might help give you a boost when you need it.
You, too, are one of God’s people, the saints -
go out and live up to God’s expectations!
The reading for today's reflection https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A34-46&version=NRSV
Reflection on Matthew 22:34-46, by Rev Fiona Ogg
Today is Bible Sunday -
one day to highlight the most important books ever.
According to the Guinness World Records by 1995 the Bible had sold over 5 billion times!
Next was Mao Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book at only 850 million.
So, the Bible’s a record breaker.
The Bible is a collection of writings that tell of God’s relationship with people,
and their relationships with each other -
of how one relationship impacts and influences the other.
If we believe we are made in God’s image,
how does how God love for us show in how we treat others and ourselves?
O wad some power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!
Robert Burns To a Louse
Oh that some power would give us a gift to see ourselves as other see us.
How do others see us?
How do we see ourselves?
How does God see us?
Let’s have a look at today’s passage and try to understand a little of God’s relationship with us -
and of our relationship with God, others and ourselves.
Anything we say or write or do is open to interpretation -
no less so any passage from the Bible.
To truly understand an underlying meaning,
we need to know context.
We’ll look at the meaning of ‘heart’,
then consider what’s at the heart of our relationship with God and with ourselves.
The most well known verses of this passage are verses 37 - 40.
The NIV reads -
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Other versions use strength or might instead of ‘mind’ -
scholars suggest these are closer to the original meaning.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength / might.’
Mind didn’t mean anything to the Jews of Jesus time.
Jewish understanding was that theheartsustained life.
The mind was not known of,
it was assumed that intellect was seated in the heart.
Your heart was more than the organ pumping blood around the body -
your heart is where you understand things,
your heart made connections -
your heart was / is the centre of your existence.
Wisdom dwells in the heart,
which also discerns between truth and error (Proverbs (14:33).
From ancient days, many Jews say a morning and evening prayer, the Shema (Deut 6:49)
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might (or strength).
This dedicates each day to God
and is one of the cornerstones of Jewish faith and tradition.
Shema reminds Jews of the primary importance of the heart,
for the heart to be first in their relationship with God.
This is the context in which Jesus uses the word, heart.
In this section of his writings, chapters 21-25,
Matthew records Jesus repeatedly challenged by the religious authorities;
Jesus’ unsettling presence showed up how much their hearts were not engaging with interpretation of the law.
The Sadducees had tried to trick Jesus in a legal tangle about marriage and now, the Pharisees thought they’d have another go at challenging Jesus.
Jesus’ answer reminded the Pharisees of the importance of this centring on the heart of God - love God first,
then others as yourself -
God, others, yourself.
Shema clearly links love, God, others, self, heart, soul and strength.
Where do we usually put ourselves in this list?
We often ignore the last bit reads ‘othersasyourself’.
Putting others first seems noble and self-sacrificing
but that’s not what we are told to do.
Unless we look after ourselves
we won’t be of use to anyone else.
I’ll be tired, hungry and cranky.
We can be so self-critical!
If I keep telling myself I’m rubbish,
I’ll start believing it,
others will pick that up and believe it too.
Would I allow others to talk like that of eg my child?
Think again of that quote from Burns -
what would we give for the power to enable us to see ourselves as others see us?
Christianity teaches that God sees everyone as ‘His’ children -
and God doesn’t put us down!
God sees and accepts us as we are,
then encourages each of us to think of all we can be.
Honest self-acceptance and a healthy love of self are not un-Biblical or un-Godly.
God’s love for each of us is characterised by heartfelt grace, forgiveness, mercy.
there is nothing that will stop God loving us (Romans 8:37-39),
‘(my) unfailing love for you will not be shaken … says the Lord,
who has compassion on you’ (Isa 54:10)
and ‘we love because He (God) first loved us’ ( 1 John 4:190
God loves us, cares for us, is gentle with us -
yes, challenges us like Jesus challenged the religious authorities -
because God has a heart full of love and care.
‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’
If God loves me, how can I not love myself?
So go, put your feet up,
have a cuppa,
be gentle on yourself
and remember that God loves you.
Then, go out and love your neighbour as yourself. Amen
We pray for your presence with each one of us in our different places as we share your word and praise your name together today. Please support us to encourage others with love and understanding.
Prayer, by Eilidh Canning of Ardnamurchan Parish Church
Thank you for the many blessings of beauty and love you reveal to us when we need to lean on you, especially in recent times, when we feel disconnected from our communities and forgotten by friends and loved ones. Thank you for being our constant guide and companion when life is challenging.
Remind us every day of your precious love. Remain our source of strength and endurance as we battle with diminished hope arising from the wrongs and desperate need we see around us and, in our attempt, to tackle the spread of this deadly virus currently threatening our World and those we love.
Help us to reflect that bright hope you bestow upon us in the things we do and say, especially towards those who are lost or discouraged and need to learn about the love and forgiveness you freely give to all who ask of you.
We know you never meant for life to be easy for us, and we humbly accept your will and ask that you continue to shape and guide us into the people you want us to be as we work together towards a world where there is acceptance, respect and love for everyone.
In Jesus name. Amen
The reading from Matthew 22:15-22 can be found at this link https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A+15+-+22&version=NRSV
Reflection on Matthew 22:15-22, by Rev Donald McCorkindale
Politics and religion are things not to talk about in company - some say! Perhaps it’s because they alway beg the question ‘who holds truth?’.
My truth may not be your truth - because we have different values at our core that define who we are and how we behave and interact with others.
Conservative or Socialist, Nationalist or Unionist, Democrat or Republican? Literalist or liberal - different fundamental values and beliefs which have shaped humanity thru’ the generations. For the faithful Jew of Jesus’ day the question of politics and the practice of faith go together. Many would say this is as true in our time.
Specifically for the Jews who questioned Jesus, the focus of attention was on their relationship with their Roman landlords.
For some, the Torah - the God given law - was without question the only rule of Law and life - and particularly the version of Torah as prescribed by the Scribes and Pharisees. These Leaders kept developing God’s law, defining the law more and more, initially by way of clarifying the law in particular circumstances, but as is - often the way in those circumstances they could be accused of overcomplicating it.
Jesus is being invited to critique their work. The questioners are out to entrap him, waiting for him to damage his credibility in the face of Jewish Law or give them reason to accuse him of downright rebellion.
But here, in this encounter, Jesus is more circumspect than we see him in other conversations. If the prosecuting Pharisees were attempting to box Jesus in, then Jesus instead shows mastery in being able to slip away without creating cause for ‘Sentencing’. In the subtlety of his words he leaves them, and the listener, plenty to ponder and reflect upon.
For the Pharisees, the Torah influenced their whole relationship with Roman authority and civil law; including the question of “does the law of God permit you to pay your taxes?”. The Pharisees were rejecting Roman rule/taxation, yet there were other Jews, the Herodians, who were supportive of taxation under Roman oppression. This faction perhaps recognised the ‘good’ that could be done through a fair system of taxes that allowed for the betterment of society (or wanted to keep in with the Romans in order to maintain their position in the power hierarchy!)
There is a common assumption that taxes imposed by external rulers are a bad thing but not everyone believed that. Maybe even Jesus in his answer to the conundrum posed by his questioners had a degree of sympathy with such a view. The question of taxes is of course a relevant one for our own societies - in our own times.
Without tax revenue the furlough scheme - ‘Job Retention Scheme’ as a response to the pandemic would not have been possible; and it is inevitable that the economic cost of Covid-19 will need to be paid back through taxation for years to come.
Taxation then is not just a question of moral integrity or religious interpretation, it is woven into the fabric of how societies work and is huge factor in whether our societies work fairly - or not.
Although the Pharisees may have a motive of entrapment at play in asking Jesus a question about taxes, we recognise that the theme of the conversation is a sincere one.
For a people of faith, what relationship is to be encouraged with the society, and civil authorities, in which they live?
Jesus, with a delicate argument, leaves the Pharisees in no doubt about the interconnectedness of religion and civil life when he points out that the coins in their very own pockets, portray the head of the Roman Emperor himself.
The two cannot be separated. As People of faith we are called not only to live in the world but to influence it towards becoming a world of fairness and justice.
What are the values that define us? Will we take time to reflect and review - are the Kingdom Values Jesus taught part of our being - and acting. What are the values that we are called to use as we challenge the world’s unfair systems, and seek to establish the society that God desires for the world?
We lay our broken world
in sorrow at your feet,
haunted by hunger, war and fear,
oppressed by power and hate.
Here human life seems less
than profit, might and pride,
though to unite us all in you,
you lived and loved and died.
We bring our broken towns,
our neighbours hurt and bruised;
you show us how old pain and wounds
for new life can be used.
We bring our broken loves,
friends parted, families torn;
then in your life and death we see
that love can be reborn.
We bring our broken selves,
confused and closed and tired;
then through your gift of healing grace
new purpose is inspired.
Come Spirit, on us breathe,
with life and strength anew;
find in us love, and hope, and trust,
and lift us up to you.
CH4 721, words by Anna Briggs©️This is the Day, Wild Goose Publications
Something to do and think about.
When did you last make pictures of coins?
Take a handful of coins, especially if you have any foreign coins in the house. Lay them flat, take some paper and crayons, or old pencils. Lay the paper over the coins and rub over the coin to leave an impression of the coin on the paper.
Look at the different coins and think about the different governments that rule over the countries the coins come from. Who gets the money? What is done with the money?
Who likes paying taxes! Yet, think of how they share financial resources that enable the sharing of health care, education, roads, police, fire services and so much more.
Each time you have a coin in your hand, take a moment to think about what is represented by the coin. What does the coin now represent?
The reading from Matthew 22:1-14 can be found from this link https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A1+-+14&version=NRSV
Reflection on Matthew 22:1-14, by Rev Donald McCorkindale
The bells were ringing because there was a wedding.
The streets are lined with people because there was a wedding.
The crowds had begun to gather because there was a wedding.
But this time no one arrived. Oh no!
Where were the guests who had been invited to the wedding?
Where were the well-dressed invited to the wedding?
Where were the important people invited to the wedding?
No one came. Oh no!
Some said they were too busy to come to the wedding.
Some said they didn't have a hat to wear to the wedding.
Some said they needed more time to come to the wedding.
So no one arrived - oh no!.
The king told his servants to invite everyone to the wedding.
The king told his servants to invite all the crowds to the wedding.
The king told his servant to invite anyone to the wedding.
Does that mean us? Oh no.
But the king wanted everyone to come to the wedding,
the food is already - so come to the wedding!
I'll give you the outfits - so come to the wedding
So everyone replied - oh yes!
So everyone who was waiting was invited to the wedding.
Everyone who was watching was invited to the wedding.
Everyone who was poor and least was invited to the wedding.
And they began to celebrate - oh wow!
Are we invited to go to the wedding?
Shall we go, now, and go to the wedding?
Is there a place for us to go to the wedding?
There is! Let's go - oh yes!
There is a place for us at the wedding!
It's a celebration for all, this wonderful wedding!
It's a ‘kingdom of God’ this picture, this wonderful wedding!
It's a story of welcome, this wonderful wedding!
Are you invited?
You are invited.
So often the in the Scriptures the image of the feast is used as a metaphor of God's abundant goodness. A feast, a table prepared for the sheep of Psalm 23. That Psalm we reflected upon a few weeks after Easter - and here we are again as we continue in our journey through the Covid pandemic. What does it mean for us to know that we are in the company of the one who comforts as a shepherd and cares for his sheep?
I'm always fascinated with the way that Psalm begins with talking about God and concludes talking to God.
We are invited, we are invited into a relationship with Almighty God.
The parable that we heard from Matthew chapter 22.
It’s a difficult parable.
There are certainly things I'm not sure I fully understand.
There are bits that I do.
It's a parable that speaks of all being welcomed -
We like to think that we are invited to the parties, don't we.
When we are, we have to make a response -
and maybe there are things that we we want to know before we're going to say yes.
What expected of me - is there going to be some responsibility laid upon me?
Well when we think of the invitation that comes from God, yes.
Yes it's a big ask
and there are responsibilities that go with sharing in God’s plan and purpose for the world.
When were invited to the party we might want to know who else is going to be there -
we might want some time to think if we really want to go to the party.
Maybe we feel there is no need.
Maybe we feel but we don't want to go to some religious party when surely science has all the answers.
I mentioned at the beginning the Science and Faith conference being organised by Grasping The Nettle.
These are real and important issues for us all in our 21st century world.
Where does faith,
where does the response to Gods invitation,
fit in in our world today?
Here is a kingdom parable,
a parable that seems to allow into Gods kingdom some unlikely characters.
What do we expect other than that Almighty God's invitation is going to be for all!
it is, as I've said, a parable with its difficulties.
There are bits that I'm really not sure that I understand.
What of the clothes, the garments?
What also the one who was cast out from the party?
Before I dwell too much on the bits I don't understand -
I hear in this parable something of words of challenge to the church -
that has to realise that sometimes it has forgotten kingdom ways -
and has become an institution,
with its own culture and tradition and rules,
that sometimes keeps people out.
And maybe what is true of my church,
is true of my community,
Here is a parable that speaks of kingdom values of invitation and welcome to all.
All are invited!
All are welcome -
rich and poor,
black and white,
doubting and certain,
the holy and not so,
the messy the tidy,
the gay, the straight,
the introvert, the extrovert,
the accepting and the questioning.
God says all are invited,
all are welcome to the adventure of life and love and faith
Praise the Lord!
Give thanks for the Lord is good and his love is with me for all time!
Thank you God, that I am invited to Your party:
it’s a party like no other,
a party were I don’t have to dress up,
don’t have to put on a party face
or make small talk.
At this party, I can be myself -
it’s how you would expect me to be.
Help me to accept myself as you do.
It’s a party where I can relax and feel at home with you, God.
Lord God, at this party I’ll meet friends and stranger -
and they’ll be themselves too!
It’s as ourselves that you welcome us.
It’s at this gathering that despair is transformed to hope,
fear to joy, loss to new beginnings,
loneliness into acceptance and community.
So many new relationships will be started at this party in God’s house, God’s kingdom.
Not only at times set aside to worship you, God, but at all times,
may we also be welcoming hosts to those who share our lives,
even for five minutes.
May the party bags be full of prayers for others,
the gifts of love to share,
acceptance, welcome, support, wisdom and hope -
we pray these gifts will wrap our lives in the values and attitudes of your Kingdom.
As you include us in your party, may we, in your image, include others too.
Something to do
If you were to be able to have a party just now, -
Who would you invite to your party?
Anyone at all -
Who would you like to have in your home?
Who would you like to introduce to who else?
Who would you leave off the list?
How would they all fit in together?
Big question … Why these people?
What is it you value enough about them to put time and effort into hosting them?
What is it about yourself that God values enough to invite you to ‘His’ party? And, what about the others there?
Maybe, along with the gifts in the party bag mentioned in the prayer, these questions are in the party bag for us to wonder upon?
The reading for today is found here https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+21%3A33+-+46&version=NRSV
Reflection on Matthew 22:33-46 - The parable of the tenants. by Rev Fiona Ogg
The point is, ladies and gentlemen,
that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Greed is right. Greed works.
So said Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the 1987 film Wall Street.
Greed continues to surround people, each and every day.
CEOs salaries are many times the salary of their lowest employee.
TV Adverts play on people’s greed for more and more … stuff!
‘Get your new settee for Christmas!’
Great-Aunty Agatha may notice the settee isn’t as saggy
but she’ll get more support and joy from sharing and being part of the family,
the children playing, the chat and relationships being celebrated.
Christmas celebrates the closeness of the relationship between God and humanity,
the sharing of God’s love and the closeness of God’s kingdom.
In the developed world, most people have more stuff than needed,
but seem unsatisfied and greedy for more -
the impulse buys, must look in this shop incase there’s anything I like …
Recently, many have had a clear out -
perhaps in part, having so much stuff while others have little just feels wrong.
What gives more fulfilment, gives a sense of worth and value -
spending time and energy on the acquisition of stuff
or on our relationships with others?
Restrictions of movement have perhaps shifted priorities,
reminding many of the need, as well as want, of relationships.
Maybe we need to think about needs instead of our wants,
and also our attitudes towards our possessions, and their purpose.
In this country, the basic physical needs of most people are met;
a roof over-head gives shelter,
food on the table nourishes,
beyond that, what really is the purpose of excess stuff?
Of course, stuff adds layers of interest to life,
but there’s a point where we simply have too much stuff.
Our energy is spent looking after stuff that is of little or use -
yet we won’t give it away or share it with others.
It’s easy to forget, like the vineyard tenants,
excess doesn’t really belong to us -
but is meant to be shared.
Current restrictions have reminded us that basic emotional needs are hugely important.
Good relationships with ourselves and with others
give us so much worth and value that cannot be substituted by excess.
We feel more confident, feel valued,
we have worth,
we have a place amongst the group of people we live with,
and that group has a place in the wider world.
Individually and collectively,
fulfilled emotional needs build a sense and framework of cohesion,
to support for individuals through the bad times
and celebrate in the good.
But sometimes families, groups, communities
build a wall around themselves
and push out those they feel don’t belong, or fit,
so they can keep for themselves what they have,
and no sharing.
Lives are impoverished and diminished by this attitude
and the context is of want or greed - not need.
Instead, time and energy are better spent building up people and communities to live lives of fulfilment and thrive!
Jesus reminded Israel, and reminds us today there is something more,
something deeper than our greed -
something within us,
spirit connecting with spirit,
that acknowledges we are rooted in something bigger than ourselves.
Are these connections evidence of being linked together as part of God’s Kingdom?
Matthew explores the confrontation between human attitudes and God’s attitude.
The religious leaders were so immersed in their own attitude of greed
they had become oblivious to the needs of others.
The 700 year old story Jesus told of the vineyard was quoted from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 5)! And it speaks to us today over 2000 years later.
It’s a chronic problem -
greed affects humanity as a whole,
always has and, sadly, probably always will.
Parables, each time we read or hear them,
invite us to tease out the meaning;
we are encouraged to delve deeper into our spiritual needs.
The parables slowly reveal creation as God meant it to be
and reveal the timeless truth of the prophets and Jesus
that, in faith, we are encouraged to clear out of our lives what is really not essential,
to make way for new purpose, new hope and fulfilment for all.
The story of the vineyard provokes a sense of outrage at the greed of the tenants
and the injustice of the murders of the servants and of the son.
Why? The injustice of greed!
The tenants may have worked hard and want to keep for themselves the fruits of their labour
but this ignores the fact that it isn’t actually theirs to keep.
Whose is the soil that nourished the vines?
Whose is the vineyard?
These belong to the owner of the vineyard.
Whose if the world in which we live?
Where did the gifts and talents come from
that allowed the tenants to look after the vines?
that allow us the fruits of our labour, the necessities and stuff of our lives?
iI’s deeper than the superficial story.
Our gifts and talents are God-given and not only for us but for those around us too.
Greed feeds only the individual.
The vineyard tenants were interested in only themselves
and when the servants and son came,
they were reminded that all we are
and all we have is God-given
for the benefit of all -
we are expected to share the fruits of our labour with the needy.
What they had was not theirs to keep for themselves.
What we have is not ours to keep for ourselves.
In God’s kingdom,
what we have is for a share of God’s creation.
God is generous -
the vineyard flourished!
in God’s kingdom,
there is enough to go around!
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
May we mean it, amen
Prayer by Maris Buchanan
We come to you in prayer -
we want and we need to have this time with you.
We know that you have created this world for us -
perhaps not in six days as we know the days
but in six periods of time.
You created all the wonders of the universe -
the climate, the landscapes, the natural resources -
every single thing that enables life and prosperity.
At this time of harvest in our country,
we are especially thankful for the produce of our lands
and we ask that you guide us in the wise use of all that we receive.
We must gives and share, giving with love and kindness.
But we know, Lord, that over the years
we have not cared for all your wonders, all your gifts as we should.
In many parts of the world there is hunger and war;
accidents and natural disasters are occurring.
People are dying from illnesses hitherto unknown.
We cannot understand all the things that are happening
but with your help and forgiveness, Lord,
we can seek and be guided
to the knowledge to overcome disease and disaster.
Guided by your love we strive to ensure safely and equality for all.
We must ask, Lord, for your guidance for the way ahead.
Let us close now with the well known words of Francis of Assisi
who reminds us of our responsibilities,
of our duties to others and to our environment.
St Frances prayed -
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Something to do
Have a look at the newspaper or watch the news - then think of various world and national leaders. It could be politicians or it could be leaders of organisations such as Google, Apple, the WHO, UN, social influencers …
What makes them look like a leader?
What would you think should be on their CV? School qualifications and or work experience and why are those important?
What qualities and interests would you like to hear in a personal statement?
What about how they see the future - or how they treat others?
What kind of behaviour would you expect from them?
How would you expect them to behave and respond when things go well, or when things go badly?
What would make you respect or reject that person?
How do we treat our leaders?
In our faith how do we understand leadership and authority?
Leadership and authority are different things. We will be led by people who do not always have authority. Authority involves trust, and people trusting someone into the future, to make choices on things yet to be experienced.
The reading from Matthew 21 can be found at this link https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+21%3A23+-+32&version=NRSV
Who are the people of authority and power in your life - yes, even adults have people of authority and power around them.
Might be a medical person, the teacher of your children, the police - or maybe the leaders in your community?
What is it about that person that makes them a person of integrity to you and enables you to accept that their authority and power?
If they are a medical - is it their medical expertise?
A teacher, - is it their ability to engage develop others?
police - is it their ability to bring justice?
We accept authority and power over us because we expect these people to have deep and thorough knowledge of their area of expertise,
to use their expertise with a degree of empathy and care for the well being of those around them -
and at the same time take personal responsibility for their own use of their power and authority.
Overall though, we accept everyone is entitled to an off day and that they had their flaws. Yes?
My parents were figures of authority and power in my young life. When she was caught out doing something she’d told my brother and myself not to do, Mum’s favourite saying was ‘Do as I say and not as I do!’ She’d laugh, admit her mistake and show us how to try to do better in the future.
That’s one of the ways we learnt to deal with mistakes and off days, with integrity.
Don’t brush it off, accept responsibility for the mistake, learn from the experience and try to be better in the future.
We all have those moments -
but do we, knowing our own failings, try to cover up by bragging about how virtuous we are, how our integrity remains intact -
we certainly don’t make a profession out of it.
What happens to our perception of integrity when we think of MPs -
you laughed just now, didn’t you!
There are people who have abused their authority and power in some way or another.
Even when that person does take responsibility for their mistake,
asks forgiveness and seeks to move on,
the public perception is that the person is no longer trustworthy,
even those who really did deserve rehabilitation.
Forgiveness and rehabilitation is one point but
the main point is that those in authority and power over us should always strive to be people of integrity,
using that authority and power wisely and to good effect.
Matthew wrote about how Jesus epitomised this.
The second half of Matthew’s Gospel tells of the growing conflict between Jesus and those in power and authority, in particular, religious leaders.
In chapters 14-20 we read of the expectations the people had of the Messiah,
and then we read of the contrast,
of how Jesus was not a military leader but a prince of peace;
Of how in God’s Messianic kingdom, shown in the life of Jesus
we can all see how the power and authority of God are used so that the lives of all,
not only Jews, men, materially wealthy are bettered
but those with little materially, or spiritually, or emotionally, the forgotten and marginal in society are important too.
Yet, those who should have known better, the religious leaders, Pharisees, were amongst those expecting a military leader and when Jesus was being hailed by the ordinary people as a that kind of Messiah, the religious authorities were worried about how the Roman authorities would react.
In chapter 21, we read of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, like a king - being cheered in by a crowd, but riding on a donkey! That was different, what did it tell of the status of Jesus when he rode as one of the people. Next he went to the temple and threw out those who were making money out of worship - these were actions that challenged the power and authority of the religious leaders.
The religious leaders didn’t expect this Messiah!
The religious authorities didn’t see their mistake; they made a virtue of thinking themselves superior and right; they couldn’t see they’d misread their job description and fallen short of God’s expectations.
They asked Jesus, ‘By whose authority are you doing these things?’ Trying to get the Pharisees to think it through for themselves, in typical Jesus teaching fashion, he answered with a question. Tying themselves in knots only to answer, they were all woads and bluster, with no substance or integrity, instead of admitting Jesus’ authority is from God, they said, ‘We don’t know.’
Jesus told a story of two sons, one son said yes but didn’t do a job, the other said no but did it! Jesus linked the unworthy of society with the son who said no to the father but did the job, inferring that those who said yes and did nothing … well, Jesus left the religious leaders to work out for the parallels for themselves.
Talk is cheap - actions speak louder than words.
The religious authorities and power bragged, blustered and boasted of how virtuous they were
but didn’t actually look after the widows and orphans,
didn’t feed the hungry,
didn’t care for the sick and marginal -
their integrity was in tatters -
they didn’t practice God’s values of generosity, kindness, peace, patience, sharing, caring and love.
During this creation-tide season we can see the accepted values of the world being turned upside down by the values of God’s kingdom.
A kingdom in which honour is gained by serving others
not expecting them to serve you
Forgiveness is essential,
because we all make mistakes.
True wealth is gained by sharing what we have.
God’s kingdom - an upside down kingdom where everyone is welcome and power structures are flipped on their head - a new kind of creation. Amen to that!
you turn the world inside-out and upside-down
God of boundless love and unlimited grace,
or is it the right way around?
Jesus speaks to us of the first being last and the last being first.
Show us the messy and marvellous path of love
that will turn us inside-out and upside-down
but also know it finally leads us the right way around.
So we pray for those in places of privilege and power; that those who give empty words and empty promises might be fill the words with justice and the honesty of humility.
We pray for those under the thumb of privilege and power:
for voices silenced, breath suppressed, lives destroyed.
You see justice and exploitation,
you see hatred, violence and cruelty,
you see the destruction of hope, the denial of love -
help us to see it to and teach us to share your anger.
May we open ourselves up to your power and authority,
to channelling that energy into serving others.
To fighting evil and working for your kingdom
Encourage us to be of that same mind,
of that same spirit,
of that unity in Christ,
that first created the world as you would have it be. Amen.
The reading from Matthew 20:1-16 can be found at
Thanks to Rev Donald McCorkindale for this reflection.
Matthias Claudius, during the 18th Century was onetime Commissioner of Agriculture and Manufacture in Germany, for a time a bank auditor and a newspaper journalist - he was a bit of a poet too... and in 1783 Das Bauernlied - the peasants’ song was published. You have heard of it - we began our worship with it - and in English it’s known as ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ - the great Harvest Hymn.
Matthias like many of his generation had turned from the Church being persuaded by the 18th Century view that humanity was its own saviour and master of its own destiny. History repeats itself. And repeats itself also in the stories like Matthias’ turning point when following serious illness he turned again to the maker of all things, and the God who loves and cares for all people and for all creation.
The beginning of September through to 4th October, St Francis of Assisi day is now marked as Creation Time. In past times in mid September or early October we have gathered in Church Buildings and brought our Harvest gifts to be shared with others in the community and though the local Foodbank... a time to celebrate and give thanks for all the fruits of creation - the produce of land air and sea... and to reflect upon our part in sharing not only God’s good gifts - but God’s justice for all.
In this Harvest Thanksgiving celebration we might have focussed on a more traditional Harvest Bible reading. Such as Deuteronomy 26 where the people are reminded to
Recount the story of redemption from slavery... ‘So the Lord brought us out of Egypt
with amighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and
wonders. Hebrought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk
and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and
the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things
the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
We could - but let’s stick with the passage from Matthew - as we continue our journey with the Revised Common Lectionary. This parable speaks of God’s immense justice for all. How do you feel about the story... does it rip your knitting... does it make your blood boil... that the people who worked only an hour got the same as those who worked all day. We are so conditioned by the accepted economic model - the more you work the more you get. But Jesus is presenting a radical thought - what if everyone had enough to meet their needs... to feed their family, keep a roof over their head - and enjoy basic human rights and needs. What is everyone was content with ‘enough’?
Chris Hughes is one of the richest men on the planet. Chance had it that a college roommate would be one Mark Zuckerburger - Chris was part of the founding team that brought Facebook to the world. Chris Hughes is thoughtful, humble and honest about his luck... so says a review of his book ‘Fair Shot - rethinking inequality and how we earn’. Chris Hughes presents a meditation on the great issues of the 21st Century Economy. From a position of wealth and having known having less... he proposes the possibility of a fair income for all - irrespective of ability to work, or availability of work.
Jesus’ parable points us there too - towards the extravagant love and justice of God - who wants good things for all creation... and invited us to share in being part of the solution. As the wealth-poverty gap continues to widen around the world... we do well to pause and take stock…
Perhaps like Matthias Claudius we pause and wonder at the beauty of creation, and sing - ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above - then thank the Lord, then thank the Lord for all his love.’
These last few months have brought devastation and sadness, luck to some and mis-fortune to many... and the realisation that life is fragile... job security fleeting... wealth transitory... life is unfair at times…
God invites us to remember what we do have... to support those who do not have... and seek to be a part of the journey to justice, peace, security, goodness and love for all.
Prayer for others and ourselves
Lord God, in the reading today we heard about a vineyard owner
giving all the workers the same pay,
even though some had worked for longer than others.
Those who start work at the beginning of the day
expecting their full pay, and getting it,
yet when they see others getting the same payment,
they feel cheated.
We pray for those who feel suddenly undervalued -
who wonder, ‘Am I not worth more?’
We pray for those who start work at the end of the day,
expecting less, but receiving so much more!
When they see others getting the same,
they felt overwhelmed.
We pray for those who suddenly feel they have a value no one else sees.
Yet, Lord God, our perspective is not your perspective.
We pray for all who see the situation from only their point of view -
it’s not that we are undervalued, or overvalued
but that, in your eyes God,
we are all valued and have worth.
The harvest for each worker was gauged against their own expectations.
Still today we judge ourselves against each other,
and the feelings that come from those comparisons are how we value ourselves.
The harvest of our expectations, of ourselves and others,
is not as you would value us.
Our prayer is that we stop judging ourselves and others by our values -
the harvest of that is greed, jealousy and unhappiness.
But that, through worship, we see judge ourselves and each other by your values -
the harvest of that is knowing each person has worth,
each will find more equity, justice and fulfilment.
May there be a harvest of
love amongst the hateful,
compassion amongst the needy, justice for all.
May we know each of us is loved beyond measure,
all are treasured, because you Lord,
desire a harvest of love for the world. Amen.
Setbacks and new starts.
Is the Bible relevant to life today? Yes! But, contextualisation is hugely important.
It’s full of stories of people who have the similar feelings and problems as we do but whose context was different. Read a passage though a couple of times and check out what happened before it and after. This sets the passage in the wider context of the what else is going on. Often passages are read and understood out of context and therefore lose their meaning. There are many great commentaries and study guides, on bookshelves and online to help with this; please do use them to help you hear the timeless messages of the wonderful God inspired library of books that is the Bible.
Today’s passage from Matthew …
If we read only the verses mentioned we lose the context of Jesus outburst and we miss that at this stage of Jesus’ ministry he is highlighting the different expectations people have of him - is he the Messiah (Saviour) Jews expected to lead them out of slavery by the Romans, or is he the long-expected Messiah of the Bible who will turn expectations upside down and replace them with, what are called, Kingdom values?
Jesus explored with small groups, here his disciples, who they thought that he, Jesus, was. This was a turning point with Jesus challenge to his followers to see him as more than an earthly Messiah. Then came Peter’s revelation of Jesus as Biblical Messiah! But Jesus urged his followers to hold onto that knowledge as the time was not right for full disclosure to the world.
Have you ever had a great experience when you got something so right you felt like you could almost walk on water! Peter had! He had realised just who Jesus was. Jesus not only Peter’s friend, a man, a prophet, healer and teacher - but so much more. Peter blurted out, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Perhaps the writers of the Bible left out the exclamation marks but Peter’s words fully deserve !!!
The astonishment Peter felt was a ‘Wow, awesome!’ moment, He would open his mouth and say what everyone else was thinking but didn’t want to say. Jesus confirmed Peter was right and went on to say he’d build his church ( followers of Jesus, those realise Jesus is the Son of God ), on Peter; Peter was the foundation stone, the first person in Jesus’ church.
Soon after that, Jesus started talking of his death and resurrection. Perhaps, although he heard all Jesus said, Peter only actually listened to the bit about his death? Peter, characteristically, immediately said, ‘Never, Lord, this shall never happen to you!’ Such a human response to hearing of the coming death of someone you love.
Jesus answered vehemently, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’
Put yourselves in Peter’s sandals. After the euphoria of realising who Jesus really is, suddenly Peter is brought to earth with a crash. ‘Satan’! What’s that about??
Imagine Jesus’ outburst, Jesus pauses, takes a breath then explains. His sights set on the bigger context, greater mission, of showing God’s love to all, in ways that challenge the prevailing mind-set. In human terms Peter was tempting Jesus to pull back from ultimate commitment to God’s cause.
When faced with a huge, scary, difficult, life changing, challenge it’s so tempting to encourage ourselves and loved ones to step back and take an easy option.
For example, at the start of the Covid restrictions it was predicted that some people would decide to use the time to seriously re-evaluate their life - am I working to live or living to work, where do my family and friends fit in to my life, what about my stress and anxiety levels?
We have an opportunity to pause and wonder about achieving a more fulfilled and happier life.
We can continue focussing on the hamster wheel of work, or the restraining memories of bad experiences of the past - or look at the freedom offered by leaving all that behind and embracing other values to live by.
From verses 24 to 28, Jesus explains the need to let go the past, to leave the old life style of focussing on self and the expectations of the world, or, in faith, in future nurture one’s soul and live as Jesus did, for others, showing and sharing God’s love and compassion for all.
As The Message puts it. ‘Look, does it make sense to truly become successful, but then to hand over your very soul? What is your soul really worth?’
Peter really did experience a setback with the response of Jesus but in that was the hope of a different, and better, future. That’s what faith in God offers to all. We can all reset and restructure our lives round a different set of values; God’s values bringing to life our soul and making life worth living.
There has been much in the media about the resurgence of community spirit, and much of that has been driven by people of faith: this will only last if we all reset to values of Jesus, living with the love, compassion, justice of God’s kingdom and bringing new life for all.
May your soul thrive in living out the life of the kingdom of God. Amen
Rev Fiona Ogg
Prayers - Meditation, from Spill the Beans, Issue 36, p 13
Peter:God forbid it Lord!
Jesus:Get behind me Satan!
Peter:This shall never happen to you!
Jesus:Don’t try and trip me up!
Peter:I’m telling you what’s best for you!
Jesus:I’m telling. You what’s essential for me!
Peter:Do you realise what you’ve said?
Jesus:Do you understand what I’ve said?
Both:No, I don’t think so.
Peter:I and the rock.
Jesus:You are the stumbling block!
Peter:I have concerns of you.
Jesus:I have concerns of God.
Peter:You are supposed to establish
Jesus:I am supposed to establish
Peter:The earthly kingdom
Jesus:The heavenly kingdom.
Peter:You cannot die!
Jesus:I must die!
Peter:Do you realise what you’ve said?
Jesus:Do you understand what I’ve said?
Both:No, I don’t think so.
A thorny issue to become a stumbling block: the very idea of God being nailed to the cross.
A cross of suffering and shame and scandal - a stumbling block itself.
A reminder of death to our self. Amen.
Reading from Matthew 16: 13-20 - Who do you say I am?
Reflection on Matthew 16:13 - 20 - Stepping out in faith: who do you say I am?
That account from Matthew’s gospel is one that’s also told in Mark and Luke. It’s a pivotal moment in the gospel story. Jesus had taken his disciples away up north - up to Caesarea Philippi - away up in the north where the river Jordan begins its journey... down through the Holy land, down to the Dead Sea. but away up there in the north - Caesarea Philippi - a Greco Roman city. Very much the hub of all things cultural and indeed religious - a melting pot of many different ways and beliefs. And it was there that Jesus asked his disciples “who do people say that I am?”
Some say you’re John the Baptist others say Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
I suppose there have always been different ideas... different things said about Jesus. Some of them right, some of them misunderstanding. I always remember hearing one of my university lecturers preach and I suppose having a wee jibe at his own academic profession. Preaching on this passage he said Jesus led his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and said ‘who do people say that I am?’ and they said ‘you are Emmanuel you are the revealer of the revealed; you are the second persona of the una substantia, you are the logos incarnate’ - and Jesus said. “what?”
Well sometimes we can over complicate. It was Simon... Simon who responded on behalf of the disciples and said ‘you are the Messiah the son of the living God’ and Jesus said to Simon ‘you are a rock and on this rock I will build my church.’
And Peter - Simon Peter the rock did indeed go on to become the leader of the emerging Christian church. But leaders are nothing if there are no followers and the church would be built on the affirmation of faith of disciples then and disciples through the ages. The church built on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God. And so our passage here is a challenging pivotal point not just for Peter and his fellow disciples then, but for followers, for you and for me today.
In these challenging times as faith practices are disrupted when we can't be in church buildings and we are discovering new spiritual habits - what does that mean for the church as it continues to awaken and re-awaken faith in Christ developing and re-shaping and sustaining faith?
I’ve heard some speak recently of the realisation of something almost sacramental in a meal shared with family and friends. I’ve heard of folk who spoke of hearing a church bell ringing and hearing in that a call to pause and to reflect upon the important things in life, and many appreciating anew the sheer wonder and joy of moments shared in the beauty of creation and nature.
Jesus’ question then and now who do people say I am who do you say I am also causes us to reflect upon another question - who am I? Who are you in the light of your engagement in the things of faith. Who are you?and who are you becoming?
Let me leave the final word at the moment to Peter in this reflection:
‘Who do people say I am?’
It was your question, Jesus!
Your question to us, not mine to you or anyone else!
It was you who asked what people are saying about you, who they think you are.
I had a feeling it was a leading question; a loaded question;
not really the question you were heading towards.
Of course people think you’re like another John,
preaching repentance and talking to crowds out in the wild places.
Or Elijah - with your command over natural forces and the miracles you’ve done.
Or Jeremiah - not being popular with the authorities and not appeasing people.
But you’re more than a prophet and greater than any other teacher.
Any you don’t care much what people make of you.
You do your work with a passion.
‘But who you you say I am?’
Your question, remember!
Not one I was asking of you.
What kind of answer did you expect?
We could all echo what our people had been saying …
you’re like John, yes, like Elijah, like Jeremiah …
but more, more than any of them.
But not one of us said anything.
Except me, opening my mouth as usual,
and still remembering what you’d said bout how it is what comes out of us that shows us up.
The thing is, it felt like it didn’t come from me, well, not just from my own thinking,
but something bigger, deeper, sudden but so sure.
You are the Messiah.
You are the Son of the living God.
And you confirmed I could not have known it, said it,
from my own ordinary human knowing alone.
But you had more to say,
‘Who do you say I am?’
Jesus, I never asked you that question!
Whether I wanted to hear it or not, you told me who you say that I am,
‘Simon,’ you said, ‘you are Peter - ‘the rock.’
And I wanted to say I am no rock, Jesus!
I am no foundation stone for any building!
I am no starting place for a community!
Why would you trust me with a set of keys,
let alone the ones that open doors to your Kingdom and to heaven?
Why would you give me the authority, the responsibility,
to make choices on earth that will be echoed in heaven?
But if I can be so sure of who you really are,
how can I doubt what you are saying of who I really am?
That’s a whole other question, Jesus …
(Reflection from Spill the Beans)
Dear God, we come as parents, teachers, crofters; we all have so many different labels; we are all individuals who come to worship you. God, you know who we think we are and you accept us and our worship. Thank you for bringing us together through love of you, many individuals labelled as followers of Christ.
You have called each of us by name, shown us your love in so many ways, through our relationship with you and Jesus, love shown through family and friends. We may not know it but you are always with us.
We seek to share your love with all around us. Forgive us when we fail and help us respond with courage to the requests you make of us to be your presence in the lives of others. Bless us with confidence and hopefulness for the future.
We pray for those around us who live with us, hurt with us, feel with us, die with us and love with us. We pray for a world where indifference and political correctness far outweigh passion for justice. May we never shy away from using the gifts and talents you give, to speak out against individualism, fear and persecution.
We pray for those we know who need your love in their lives - the old and young, the sick and dying, those who are hungry for food and comfort …
God of all, we ask for you blessing on all we are and on all we do. May we be the little rocks on which your kingdom is built where we are. Amen.
Something to do - Who am I?
Look up your name and find out what it means. What do you think, does it suit you and do your family and friends think it suits you? What other names are you called eg Mum or Dad; do you have a nickname; what about at work, what was your title?
Do these names label you and do you feel you are defined by them - what about the you, the you only you know. You are also known as a child of God - how do you feel about that? God knows you inside out and knows who you are and loves you regardless of who you think you are.
A few years ago we were on holiday visiting friends who lived in Hong Kong - it was the first time we’d been to the Far East and the whole holiday was great. We really enjoyed being with out friends and catching up - as you do.
Exploring the markets was fascinating - they were crammed into mazes of tiny streets, the goods on sale were so varied, colourful, even smelly - the senses were overwhelmed. The whole experience was fascinating and mind blowing.
One market in particular came to mind when I was thinking about this reflection - and that was where, sadly, live animals were on sale. I’ve since seen similar when I’ve been in Peru.
Having developed world values and expectations, I’d really like to condemn the practice of selling live animals but for others it’s normal a livelihood, which challenges my perceptions of what is held to be right or wrong. And, I eat meat! We really have to think about why these practices happen - and, in partnership with the market traders, all work together on what is the best future for all, people and animals.
Seeing an animal caged up usually gives us a feeling of unease. Seeing people caged up also gives more than a sense of unease - it’s wrong.
Slavery has been much in the headlines recently - rightly, it’s been condemned. The Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, tells, in the early pages, of God rescuing the Israel from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible there are many stories that remind the Israel that they were once slaves and so to treat any slaves they had in a different way to how others would treat slaves. The standards are so very different from ours but were the Human Rights of the day.
In the New Testament, we read of Jesus trying to convince the Israel that they were once again slaves - slaves to the institution, the theory and practice, of Judaism as taught by the religious leaders, the Pharisees. These practices, interpretations and religious legalism had become the foundation of Jewish cultural and social world, and woe betide you if you didn’t live your life the way the Pharisees decreed! The free and loving heart of being God’s special people had gone.
Jesus vigorously attacked this slavery; to use last week’s image of stepping out of a boat, Jesus stepped out of the safety of the boat of traditional acceptance of the way things were, focussed his eyes on God, walked across the waters of the deep (the seas were places of chaos and danger to the Israel) to show Israel another set of values to live by. Rather than being enslaved by the past, or by adherence to rules, what really mattered to God was that people freely lived with hearts that honoured God’s values of kindness, compassion, grace and love.
The passages we read or heard today show this as the core concern of Jesus. When the Pharisees and teachers of law asked Jesus why his disciples broke the rules by not washing their hands before they ate, it wasn’t because they were concerned about hygiene or infections, but because the disciples were breaking the traditions of the elders. Jesus stinging rebuke makes clear he sees the double standards of these law abiding leaders who say what should be done but whose hearts are far from God’s values. What comes out of their mouths exposes this gap.
What each of us actually does, and the way we do it exposes what is really in our hearts. Our actions rooted in the motivations of our hearts, Jesus is clear, show who we really are.
Jesus continues, v17, to expand on this theme, even if, as his disciples tell him, it offends the Pharisees. Why does it offend, because Jesus speaks out clearly of what he sees of the inner life of many Pharisees - they are enslaved by unclean thoughts ( not thoughts that flit through the mind but what is dwelt upon ), sexual immorality slander and so on; it is these that make a person unclean not lack of hand washing.
Immediately after this is a puzzling episode of an encounter with a Canaanite woman. Three thoughts on this.
First, Jesus behaviour, to begin with, mirrored the way the Pharisees would have dealt with her; of how other Jews would have been expected to deal with her. Canaanites were shunned ( for various reasons ) by this Israel, not have been part of mainstream culture and society, therefore she was deemed unworthy of help.
Secondly, in saying that he came only to the lost sheep of Israel, Jesus reminded the disciples and the Pharisees of the expected limitations of God’s grace.
Thirdly, the woman argued persuasively that she was also worthy of help. She accepted her Canaanite and gender inferiority but wouldn’t accept these as limiting the possibility of God’s grace. Jesus seemed to change his mind and helped her.
Was the start of this episode an example of how Israelite culture and society would have her treated? Was Jesus always going to heal her daughter? Was Jesus really only there for Israel? So does that mean he changed his mind? If Jesus changes his mind, does God do so too? Wow!!
No, Jesus was not enslaved by the expectations of the Pharisees or Israelite culture and society, Jesus reminded those around him God was not enslaved by their expectations and that God’s love and grace was for all, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Nothing will limit, hold back, enslave the grace, compassion, values and love of God. It really is for all who step out in faith.
After all this, Jesus went along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and four thousand more people came to him to experience the grace, compassion and care that come from God. Jesus was a busy man!
Today, still, people are in need of God’s love. Let’s be the ones to freely share that. Amen.
Prayer for today's worship.
God of grace and of mercy, we dedicate this time and our attention to remembering we are in relationship with you, Lord, and you with us. We are your people and you are our God.
We come the open hearts and minds - freely and willingly ready to have new insights to what this relationship means to the way we live.
Help us to discover and encounter grace, compassion and love from you, God, and to be ready to live with those at the heart of all we do.
There are times when we may be angry, or sad, or thinking only of ourselves and we know God is always ready to listen to our concerns. Forgive us when we turn away, wanting your love for ourselves alone. May we not be held back and enslaved by those feelings, but always ready to share God’s love.
We pray for those in pain and in fear, we pray for the planet, for our neighbour and for ourselves. We pray for those who experienced and remember the horrors of war and we give thanks for the end, 75 years ago, of the war in the Far East.
We thank God that love is freely given, and freely returned, in abundance.
May we go into today and into tomorrow, thanking God that love is freely given and freely returned, in abundance. May we know we are surrounded and enfolded in God’s love, now and always, amen.
Today's reading allows on from the feeding of the five thousand - it's set in the time between then and the following morning.
A reflection on Matthew 14: 22-33 - Jesus and Peter walk on the water. From Rev Donald McCorkindale of Srdgour, Strontian, Kingairloch and Morvern
A priest, an imam and a rabbit walked into a bar... and therabbitsays... Oh... I think I’m a typo! Actually that wasn't the joke I was going to tell...
Three clergymen went outfishingone day... a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian and a Baptist... out in a little boat on the loch they weren't catching much when the Episcopalian announced that he had left his lunch on the shore... and he jumped out of the boat and walked across the water to the shore and came back with his lunch. Moments later the Baptist announced that he was going to go and pick up some other fishing gear he had left in the car... stepped over the side of the boat... and walked across the loch got the things from his car and came back to the boat. The Presbyterian, somewhat bemused didn't want to be left out... and announced that he was just nipping out and would be back soon. He stepped over the side of the boat, what a splash there was... and his two friends reached out to grab him and pulled him back to the safety of the boat. Nothing else was said as the 3 returned to shore by more convent all means - rowing the little boat. While the Presbyterian was drying himself off... the Episcopalian said to the baptist... do you think we should let him know about the stepping stones..?
To which the baptist replied - What stepping stones!
I remember once - back in the days when we met in church buildings - asking the question... What things that Jesus did, do you finddifficult...
Walking on water was the first answer... and the one I wasn't expecting... I was thinking of things like - turning the other cheek, going the extra mile... loving those who persecute, bug us and annoy us...
So what are we to make of this story of Jesus... and Peter walking on the water. It is a timeless tale... when we reachbeneaththe surface of the waves... to a story of faith, trust and possibility of the things that lie beyond our comfort zones.
This is not a story about being called to walk on water.
As with last week’s miraculous feed of the 5000 here the ways of the Kingdom of God areenacted... Kingdom values... of trust, faith, being open to the seemingly impossible... and knowing that even in our sinking moments... Christ is there with an outstretched hand to help us.
It can seem as though Jesus ischastisingPeter -
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” scolds some of our modern English translations. “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” - there is I think leeway in the Greek. Given the intimacy of the moment and the immediacy of Jesus’ help, a more pastoral tone might be - “Little one, you lack confidence in me. Is this what has caused you to waver?” It matches the comfort that Jesus has already voiced from the midst of the storm. “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
Christ does come to you and me... in many ways... in the actions, love, teaching of others...
This is not a story about imperfect faith and transactionalgrace—you do this for me and receive this grace and goodness in return. Sooner or later we all sink like a rock. This is what it is to be human. And yet, Jesus chooses to build the church with waterlogged stones. Jesus acknowledges the storm, recognises and validates the fear. He encourages the exuberant Peter and then stands with Peter in the midst of the storm.
Have courage - don't be afraid... words we find often in the Bible - some say 365 times... one for each day of the year... actually more... Greek here - something like be of good cheer... goodheart... courage... from the French Coeur... don’t be afraid of the step into the unknown...
Don't actually step out of the boat - you’ll get wet. Butsymbolically- there are places to step out of... new places to walk towards...
With lockdown restrictions, there is understandable fear... and a longing for this to be over and return to normal... it has also been a time for individuals, families, communities, businesses, nations... to step in in new directions... to newadventures...
What’s yournext step... every adventure starts with a first step... and there may be stepping stones to help you... friends along the way to share the journey and help you...
Maybe your next step is to take time as Jesus did to be alone with your thoughts and prayers, dreams, plans and intentions...
Is there a way you can reach out for others... with a phone call, letter, a social media post...
A new hobby... maybe the I’ll do it someday thing... is just right for a time such as this.
And a prayer from Bridget Cameron of Ardnamurchan Parish Church.
Is there something you have been putting off... I can’t do that! Something to take you beyond your comfort zone...
be of good heart... don’t be afraid... step out, step up and know that the outstretched arms of Jesus and others will be there when you sink... and sink and fall and fail you will... and I will - it’s part of the journey to the other side of the lake - the adventure of life and faith and love.
God of peace
We pray for your people as we gather in new ways to worship you.
For our parishes and communities
who miss the opportunities to gather together in fellowship.
We pray for our young people as they return to school,
and those who have decisions to make for their future.
We remember our brothers and sisters around the world,
especially those who live in poverty with the lack of
clean water and scarcity of food.
We pray for the people of Beirut
as they struggle in their grief from the aftermath of the blast
that killed and injured so many.
We pray for those struggling with the effects of the last months,
strengthen and encourage us all, Lord, as we find new rhythms of life.
We thank you for your continuing love,
and knowing you are always there to hear our prayers.
Lots here today - a link to shared worship, the reading for today, a reflection, prayer and something for us all to think about.
The neighbouring minister, Rev Donald, and Rev Fiona work together on producing a service of worship that included contributions for various folk from the congregations. here's a link to this week's service. https://www.facebook.com/AKSMparishes/videos/713959286067683
Here's the reading from a version of the Bible called 'The Voice'. This is a version written to be read aloud and includes some explanations to help us understand the context. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+14%3A1-21&version=VOICE
Reflection on the seeds of something new.
There was once a king who ruler over his people and courts from a city that was in turn ruled over by a foreign empire. Had it been today, his family, in their magnificent palace, would have featured in Hello and, through the tabloids and social media; their various activities would have fed the seemingly insatiable appetite of public interest.
Held up in public like that, much as he mimicked the ways of the ruling empire, many of the people in his lands might have aspired to live in such a way. Just as, many people across the world today look to their leaders as role models and influencers.
Now, this king held a huge party.
He invited all his friends, anyone he thought he could impress and at the party showcased all he thought his guests would like to see and experience. The king’s excesses reflected his power, his authority to do anything he wanted and especially to display his values and attitudes. Food, drink, dancing girls, anything you wanted - and when his daughter in law, who had danced for the drunken, stuffed guests, asked to be rewarded for doing so, the king gave her what she requested, the head of a prisoner; he could do anything so he was happy to oblige.
The prisoner had dared to suggest that the king was misusing power and authority - dared to criticise the king and remind the king of responsibility for the welfare of the ordinary people. And so, at this magnificent feast, the bloody head of the troublesome critic was paraded in front of the guests and the king felt even more important; attention was focussed on him and his ego was bolstered by watching the reactions of his guests.
Meanwhile, out in the countryside was the cousin of the dead man. He wanted to be alone for a while.
This man had dedicated his life to living by values and attitudes were so very different from those being lived out at the palace. This man reached back into the holy books and reminded people there were other ways to live. In his presence people felt welcomed as themselves, the hungry, those will little to give, those who were suffering in any way. This man helped them and assured them they mattered and were valued - all were welcomed just as they were. No pretence, no dressing up, no need to stoke the ego of this man.
The comparison was striking and ordinary people flocked to be with this man - and even in his bereavement he opened his heart to them, inviting them to bring their problems, their sick, the widows, children, those in need. He healed and welcomed those rejected by society. He taught and they listened and though they didn’t always understand what he said, many wondered about the meaning of what he was doing and who he was.
The way he lived his life, his values and attitudes, caused them look at what was happening around them and wonder which way of living was better?
The seed of something had been sown. But what was it?
Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at some of the teachings of this man, Jesus, who taught using what were on the surface to be stories but were so much more. These parables were and are not only moral and ethical truths and, more importantly and deeper, a way of telling people that, in Jesus, God’s kingdom had arrived.
Using everyday images, like farmers sowing seeds, or a woman making bread, Jesus told stories that puzzled. There were those who heard the teachings and dismissed them for one reason or another ( too difficult to understand, meaningless, can’t be bothered) and there were those who decided to listen, to really listen, and allow the teachings to rumble around in their heads and thoughts, to be worked on and, eventually, make sense.
Perhaps Jesus was living in a new way - perhaps his announcement of God’s kingdom was for real! Jesus focussed attention not on himself but on God’s kingdom, right there in front of them. Here was the living example of how people would like in a kingdom in which there would be welcome, healing and justice!! This wasn’t something for the future but a hope for now!
Watching Jesus, accepting his teaching, following his values and attitudes led people then, and today too, to question about how they live. ‘If I am become a follower of Jesus, how will these values and attitudes speak to me, how do I understand what Jesus is doing?’
Through his stories / parables, Jesus sowed seeds of hope for different future!
NT Wright, a commentator and theologian puts it, the parables ‘are expressions of Jesus' shocking announcement that God’s Kingdom was arriving on earth as in heaven.’ ( N. T. Wright,Simply Jesus, p88. )
The examples of the party at the palace and the picnic in the pasture brought the contrasting values and attitudes of the two kingdoms into focus. The contrast continues today and it is the responsibility of those who have become followers of Jesus, to live in such a way that it’s evident we are people of God’s kingdom, actively living for others as well as selves - no one else can do it for us.
We may feel like the least in the world but so did the Jews. In God’s kingdom it’s the least that are the starter yeast in the bread, the seeds in the soil of everyday life, the little lad who shared his dinner. Which kingdom will we decide to be part of?
A kingdom rules by fear, power for its own sake, greed, self or others, or a kingdom of sharing, justice, hope and love - Jesus asks us to decide … so, it’s your decision, which set of values will you live by?
For Jesus and God’s kingdom, love wins! Amen
We remember when we could gather together to worship you, God,
and that we can still worship you anywhere at any time.
Now, we worship you from home
knowing that others are worshipping you now too.
We thank you we are not alone but still part of your worldwide family.
We think on the events told on in the reading today -
of how Jesus gathered people to him,
of how people wanted to be with Jesus.
Through Jesus your love for all was seen;
there was feeding, healing of souls, teaching, serving.
Thank you that we are able to copy Jesus, each in our own way,
and share the seeds of your love with all around us.
Forgive us when we can’t be bothered to do this
and we look very deliberately to our own comfort first.
Strengthen us to look outside ourselves first,
so that we are known to be kind, generous,
helpful and always having the for others.
We pray for those who are frightened to venture out,
for those in trouble of any sort,
those who are dealing with illness, physical or mental;
bring calm and healing.
remind us that your Spirit gives us power to be with people as bringers of Your peace;
may we be your people on earth, working to bring
Your kingdom values and attitudes to all we do.
May we, and those we love, be blessed by and with the knowledge of Your love and care,
and go out into the world restored and renewed. Amen
Something for us all to think of.
You will need: leftover food, a few cans of food, leftover packaging from food parcels or delivery boxes, leftover clothes after you have cleared out, old batteries, spectacles, phones, used envelopes with the stamps on them, or similar items. Display all your items on a table in sections: clothes, food, flowers, paper, cardboard, glass, and so on.
As you look at the items, think of what could you do with them. For example: crisp packets can now be recycled, where in your local area can you go to recycle them? What are the local charity shops in the area?
In the feeding of the 5000, there was still bread and fish left over and it would have been put to good use. We need to our best to put our leftovers to good use in any way we can. We can have compassion for other charities and also for our environment.
Reflection for Sunday 26thJuly 2020
“31 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”NIV version
From today’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel, Matthew 13 v 31-33 & 44-52
No matter how large the plant, it starts life as something small – a seed. I understood that early in my childhood. But what puzzled me about the mustard seed was that it didn’t grow into a large plant. Now my experience of mustard seeds was in punnets of mustard and cress bought in a shop or of mustard seeds grown on damp cotton wool on a saucer at home. Mustard was a plant about 2 inches high so how could Jesus talk about birds nesting in its branches. I also knew that Jesus was always right and always told the truth. Hence the puzzlement.
Well of course, if I’d allowed the mustard seeds I planted to grow in soil, thinned them out and looked after them, they would have grown into larger plants but still nowhere near large enough for birds’ nests!
The practical answer to this conundrum lies in the fact that the mustard referred by Jesus is a different variety which does grow to 6-8 feet high, and sometimes taller still, with stems or branches spreading out. Birds flock to these plants to eat the seeds and do sometimes nest in them.
So, what is the relevance for us today?
The Church, like a plant had small beginnings – a baby in Bethlehem, then 12 disciples. The Church, Christ’s body on earth, to be the vehicle for nurturing seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s Kingdom – for scattering the seeds wider and tending them; for seeing where seeds are springing up and helping them. From that one small baby and those first disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Church has spread to all continents – God’s Kingdom has become known on all continents but it is still not accepted in the hearts of all people.
During recent weeks and months we have seen many examples of Kingdom seeds springing up as people actively care for others, think about the needs of neighbours and beyond, offer help. Shopping has been done, deliveries made, contact increased whether through phone calls, social media, email, video calls. (How many of us had even heard of Zoom before lockdown?) Then there are those who have worked so tirelessly in the health and social care sectors – sometimes literally sacrificially, also those who’ve kept working in jobs so important to keep society running – shop workers, utility workers, delivery drivers, ‘bin men’, reporters and those providing entertainment - the list could go on.
I’m not suggesting that we were an uncaring community before or that people didn’t work hard, certainly not, but the amount of help and care has definitely increased, as has the level of pressure on many workers. Perhaps we appreciate those workers more than we did. This pattern has been replicated in many, many places and in many, many countries.
I hope and pray that this caring, helping, warmth, thinking of others, of loving and generosity will outlast the pandemic. Are we going to nurture the growth of these Kingdom seeds? Are we going to allow God’s Spirit to flow through us to tend them?
One challenge we face is the easing of lockdown and increased numbers of visitors. I think that we have been in a very protected environment here with relatively few comings and goings. This is changing and understandably many feel anxious and possibly even threatened by an influx of people from elsewhere, from areas where the virus has been more in evidence. I can share some of those feelings, but I also try to remember that the beauty, space and peace we have surrounding us, like all gifts from God, is a gift to be shared. Shared particularly with those who have been confined in large towns and cities with little or no outside space, where population density has made it difficult to feel safe going outside even to buy food, where children have had little or no opportunity to run around and play.
Are we going to extend the care, love and warmth to visitors?
Caring for and showing love to our visitors involves keeping them safe as well as keeping ourselves and each other safe. The virus has not gone away and the safety guidelines need to be followed.
Perhaps the way we receive and care for our visitors will enable seeds of the Kingdom to be nurtured in their hearts and in the hearts of those around us. God can even work through the pandemic to bring about his Kingdom, to make it grow.
You may wish to hold a seed – mustard, tomato, sunflower, apple pip, …
Lord I look at this tiny seed resting in my hand. Rain falls on the earth and then the seed contains all else that is needed to burst into life, to grow, to live, to produce more seeds and more plants, more life. Some seeds will produce trees that will live for hundreds of years.
Your creative power lies hidden in each tiny seed.
Lord you provide us with so much variety – many different plants for food, wood for construction, flax and cotton for cloth, many different plants for beauty – colour, fragrance, shape, texture. As I look at the seed, I wonder how many colours it contains, how many different shapes and textures it contains – stem, branches, leaves, flowers.
As I look at the hills and garden around me, I stand in awe – millions of plants from millions of seeds and each one known by You.
Lord, open our eyes to the wonder of Your creation; open our hearts to our responsibility to care for Your creation. Help us to use all that You provide wisely, in Your service.
Help us to see and acknowledge where we fail to care for Your creation, for Your world – a place of beauty that You created with sufficient gifts for all. May another one’s need never be caused by our greed or by our apathy.
Lord in your mercy forgive us when we fail You in our lack of care for our brothers and sisters and for all Your creation.
Prayers of intercession
We pray for all who work on the land – for farmers, for gardeners, for conservationists. ….
We pray for those struggling to feed a family from a dry patch of earth.
We pray that more environmentally friendly policies may be developed and followed by governments – that we may play our part in healing not harming your beautiful and bountiful creation.
We pray for all who are suffering throughout the world –
the sick, the hungry, the unemployed,
the frightened, the anxious, the confused,
the bereaved, the lonely, the exhausted.
We remember especially those in countries that do not have the health and social care systems that we enjoy.
May the hearts of all in positions of authority be open to Your Spirit of wisdom and love so that they may always seek the common good.
We pray for your Church throughout the world – may we be attentive to Your Spirit and be active in our love. May all in need feel the support of Your loving arms.
We pray for those now seeking some rest and re-creation in time away. May their time in our areas be a time of blessing and may we find refreshment as we serve.
May we scatter, plant and tend seeds of Your Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The reading for this Sunday is from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Reflection on this reading
We reap what we sow! So the saying goes … but is it true?
Today’s parable is one of three featuring sowers, seeds, soil, wheat and harvest - all very relevant to the context of first century Middle East, subsistance farming and repressive occupation by Roman Empire. But relevant today? Good question.
When lockdown started people were, understandably, afraid. So much was unknown and worrying, resulting in communities being suspicious of anyone judged to be an outsider. The atmosphere was, on the whole, quite divisive - either you were one of ‘us’ or you weren’t.
Recently, public opinion about issues of race has been similarly judgemental - either you agree with us or you are against us.
Perhaps I’m in a minority but I find judgementalism quite worrying. People are beyond reluctant to listen to or ponder on the opinions, thoughts or context of others - a person is deemed to be good or bad - and, in ‘my’ opinion, if they are wrong, they are not worthy of my time and attention.
Judgementalism results in divided families, communities, nations - and can escalate to unrest, discord, violence, even wars.
Today, we continue to reap what we sow.
Back to Jesus day. About 50 years after the death of Jesus, there was civl unrest in Galilee, the Holy Land. The response of the Roman Empire was to flatten Jerusalem, drive the Jews out of the rubble of the city and out of the region. Jesus had warned that this would happen but when the Israelites thought about freedom from Roman rule they put their hopes in their version of the values of an earthly kingdom, ie violence, and an avenging Messiah.
Jesus taught about a different kind of kingdom, aimed at peace and governed with tolerance and love; God’s kingdom.
This was surprising to the Israelites. To the unhappy and ignored masses, and to the controlling interpreters of legal and religious authority this wasn’t well received. In their opinion, they judged Jesus as wrong.
Against this background, it was difficult, and dangerous, for Jesus to speak out openly about a different perspective of the kingdom of God, and so he taught in parables. This gave Jesus more time to share the teaching. Parables were stories that were dismissed as irrelevant, too difficult, nonsense, by many who, although they heard the stores, didn’t really listen.
They had ears but didn’t listen!
Parables told of situations ordinary people could relate to; had echoes of the readings they heard in scripture readings, and that would rummage around in their minds - like some songs become ‘ear-worms’ for us!
Farmers could relate to the story or a farmer sowing seeds and, when the plants were growing, finding out there were weeds in the field. There’s a weed called bearded darnel which, in its early stages, looks so like wheat that it’s difficult to distinguish. Farmers knew that, in pulling up the weeds, the roots of the wheat would be disturbed. Best to leave the plants until harvest when it would be easier to separate the wheat and the weeds, and put the rubbish on the fire to be destroyed.
The story resonated with the farmer’s experience - but was there a deeper meaning to be found. The farmer would have heard, regularly read out in worship, Isaiah chapter 28 which uses farming stories. Everyday life and knowledge of scripture combined to make seeds of thought to settle into the fertile soil of the open minded in Jesus audiences - what crop would grow in the life of the farmer and their families as they talked over the stories / parables they heard?
Parables became ear-worms teaching and developing faith in those who really were listening.
This parable ended in the reapers, directed by the Son of Man, making decisions about which stalks were good and which were bad.
Parables are times of decision making.
In Israel, as in every community, are those who encourage violence as a solution. When encouraged to revolt against the Romans would Israel seek conflict or peace? The people as a whole chose conflict resulting in great destruction. Sadly as in many human experiences, the good and the bad were gathered in and destroyed.
But it’s difficult to distinguish between the good and bad. How do we judge if someone is good or bad - not just a mistake or a single act but bad to the core? This parable suggests that we are too quick to judge - wait until the end - even then, it’s not our decision! Judgement will come to all in the end and God will judge.
This is an intense parable - they all are. Jesus meant them to be teased out. The disciples were in the fortunate position of being able to ask Jesus to explain the parables. Followers of Jesus today can ask for help to understand. As you and I let parables rumble around in our mind, connections will be made here and there, and will reveal deeper meaning to us. There are may decision points in our lives, sometime at moments of crisis, and it’s then the lessons we’ve learnt from pondering the parables and questions of faith will come to the fore and help us.
Are we wheat or tares?
Do we have ears to listen to the deep messages?
Will we reap what we sow?
May we be deliberate in listening and in pondering.
May we be guided by the spirit within.
May we be strong enough to resist making judgement, on others and on ourselves, and leave that to God.
May we constantly seek to be kingdom people, growing good and strong and true, shining examples of God’s love to the world today. Amen
God of all, we worship you,
and are thankful you accept us as we are.
We come parcelled up by many labels;
attached to us by others
and some we have attached ourselves.
It’s not easy for us to release ourselves from our own labels
and harder still to release others from those we put on them.
But God, in your presence we can be free of them all
as you see us for what we truly are.
‘She’s the clever one’,
‘He’s the shy one.’
‘What a good lad!’
‘You’re just trouble!’
‘Too thin or too fat or stupid or lazy or … ‘
God, you see past all that;
we stand before you freed from labels of our own making and the life-cluttering labels of others. You welcome us as we are.
We need only one label: we are labelled as yours.
Thank you. Amen.
From Spill the Beans, Issue 35, p62
The reading is here, from Matthew 13:11-9 and 18-23
One of the things that gives me great joy is my garden. ( Not the front ‘field’ but the smaller garden outside the kitchen door. ). Quite a few weeks ago I sowed a load of flower seeds into a raised bed. There were marigolds, sweet peas, zinnia, cosmos and sunflowers and euphorbia and so much more! During that spell of good weather I watered them, kept the dog off the soil and waited eagerly for the seeds to do something - germinate would have been a start! I sowed a second lot of seeds and the photo on the front is the result. I’m really delighted that some of the seeds germinated - maybe others are waiting until after lockdown …
I wonder if I feel the way God must do at times; sowing seeds with and of love and being hopeful, ever hopeful, for something to germinate and grow and light up lives and bring joy and movement and colour and meaning.
In both stories we have three main ‘characters’ - the sower, the seed and the soil. If one was taken away the stories would be meaningless. Today, the focus is on the sower.
In the parable the immediate interpretation is that the sower is a farmer. There would have many amongst the listening crowd who understood the story that level - a farmer going into a prepared field and liberally scattering the seed onto the areas that would have been expected to be good growing conditions for the seeds. The farmer would then have cared for the germinating seeds as best they could, but there was no guarantee about growth and yield. The farmer would have waited in hope for the harvest. The farmer and their family’s future depended on the harvest!
At a different level, the question is, who is the farmer; is it God; is the farmer Jesus; is it me?
Pause and think about that -
A parable is beyond a moral tale - it’s story that has many layers and needs time, like a seed, to work its way into the soil of our imagination and thoughts. Ponder on this - what is the meaning of this story? Take time and let the story roll around in your head, teasing out some of the thoughts and questions that arise.
This week’s question - who is the sower?
We’ve already had a little think about God as the sower. Do you have an image of God forever throwing out seeds of life and creation knowing that many of the seeds will fail. Yet, God keeps on sowing with great determination, great generosity, abandon - nothing will stop God doing so, God will not be put off sowing seeds of life.
Pause again and think about this.
Do you have an image of the sower being Jesus? Jesus sowing seeds of hope through his teaching, healing and caring. Jesus, dead like a seed but through the mystery of his resurrection growing hope and joy in the life of every follower.
Pause again and think about this.
Do you have an image of the sower being you and me? Not you OR me but you AND me! All who follow Jesus are sowers of the seeds of God’s love. Two weeks ago, on the 28th of June, the reflection based on Matthew 10: 40-42 was about interconnectedness; ‘Wherever God’s people are, we are already in the presence of God.
God is the sower; Jesus is the sower; you and I are the sowers.
In the Spectator magazine of 20th June, Douglas Murray ( an atheist ) wrote about the ‘disappearance of the church from our national life’; while acknowledging the many local church leaders, ‘vicars and priests who have tried to keep things going in their communities, offering Zoom service, Bible reading and the like’, he bemoaned the lack of clamour from national church leaders for buildings to be open during lockdown and for worship to continue in its traditional format.
I’ve been asked more than a few times if I’m looking forward to starting work again, and whether I’ve had a good break. Oh goodness, I wish!
Murray’s comments, and the questions I’ve been asked, are interesting as they seem to ignore the quiet, unassuming continuity of the everyday work of the local faithful as of less importance than the public practices of our church traditions.
Over the lockdown, the faithful have continued being sowers of seeds of hope and of love to their communities. Living faith is not public performance, it’s that simple.
Many people have voluntarily phone checked their neighbour, delivered the shopping, picked up medicines, shared a printed copy of the reflection, cooked a meal for someone else, kept in touch via the internet with distant families and friends, given of time to help in any way possible. These may be seen as ‘small’ actions but what we each do and say has huge impact - these are the deeds of sowers of love and hope.
Obviously, not all are people of faith but, again from the reflection on the 28th, God is not separate from humanity; inside each person is a spark of God, we call it God’s Spirit. People of faith accept it is God’s Spirit within nudging us to do the work of God and to be the image of God in our attitudes and values. We give God the glory for this work.
As people of faith, we can sit back and be dismissed, or we can share the hurt and call out those who dismiss what we do. Sowers of hope and love should be ready to speak of what they do, to question the challenge, be ready to forgive the dismissive voices and in doing so, share the love.
If faith is going to make inroads to our communities we are going to have to acknowledge and say we are sowers! Our lives are faith in action and we won’t be defined or dismissed by others. We are people who copy the example of Jesus and of God, who sow seeds of love, of care for others, and act of God’s plan of a good and valued life for all.
Perhaps the soil into which we sow seeds are our families, friends and communities. As with the sower in the parable, we can’t guarantee what will happen when the seed lands, only time will tell, but we can sow as abundantly and widely as the original sower. We can believe that we have the God-given task of being sowers of God’s love and hope - don’t let others dismiss the value of this!
The seeds in my raised beds are reluctant and so may be the seeds of faith around us but we are spreading the seeds of change and hope and life, one seed at a time.
Who are you in this story? YOU are God’s sower! Amen!
God of generous grace and liberating love,
we give thanks for all the good gifts you have showered upon us:
in creation, in each other, and especially in Jesus,
whose stories help us to see and understand the world differently;
whose life was the living example of your love;
whose death was the start of something new.;
a movement of relationship that continues today.
We pray for farmers, who work night and day,
to bring produce from the land:
who are constantly pressurised by big supermarkets to lower their costs;
the people in poor lands who struggle with subsidence farming.
On this Sea Sunday, we pray for fishers.
For those who spend days and weeks on the ocean,
apart from their loved ones.
May they be able to rely on their training to keep them sage,
and on their friends and fellow crew to support them through good times and bad.
We pray for those in rich places who feel isolated and lonely,
and whose future is insecure.
God who scatters love as generously as the farmer scatters seed on the land,
we give thanks for all that enables us to grow and thrive
in body, mind and soul.
We pray for children who do not have the nurture they need in early years,
and for parents who cannot provide what they do not know.
God of love,
we know that you offer us love, value, worth and acceptance
that is beyond every deficit of love, we pray,
and enable us to share in this work.
In an age when the seeds of despair are broadcast through images and sounds,
news and opinions, information and cruel lies,
we give thanks for seeds of hope,
for all that good and vital connections, that social media has made possible.
We pray for those who have been harmed by something with so much potential for good,
We pray for young people
concerned about the future of the planet,
who must now be wondering even more,
what sort of lies ahead for them and their children;
and we pray for older people
questioning all that they thought sea secure.
May we find out security and our hope in you,
whose love is in all, and for all,
and available always in plentiful supply.
The reading is from Matthew 11:16-19 and 25-30
Everyone and looking upstream for answers
At the beginning of June, we started a mini-series with the theme of ‘Everyone.’ We’ve thought about the inclusive nature of faith and belief in God, by following Jesus and acknowledging the Spirit within.
Does the message of inclusiveness really mean anything today?
One of the main headlines over recent weeks was the death of George Floyd; a tragedy highlighting the abuse of power, intolerance and lack of justice that dominate societies around the world today. Floyd’s death has resulted in riots, acts of violence and widened into an increasing public awareness of racism and slavery. In many countries, statues have been damaged and people hurt in demonstrations. By focussing on the violence of past slavery and racism, more acts of violence have been triggered today.
Is that the right outcome - what lessons have been learnt from the past?
Many of the great public institutions of today were initially financed in ways that are now unacceptable.
In Bristol, Edward Colston was a slave trader but also a philanthropist who built and supported schools, almshouses and a concert hall.
The popular hymn, Amazing Grace, was written by John Newton, initially a slave trader but later rejected the slave trade and became a clergyman.
Those are facts and cannot be undone. Colston’s statue was pushed into the waters of the docks yet Amazing Grace continues to be sung.
I offer no judgement beyond suggesting, history is complicated and the present is rooted in the past.
What about my past; is all I’ve done totally worthy of praise - or are there incidents and beliefs in my past that I’d rather not now be judged upon?
Does the past have to dictate the future?
Over the last few weeks, we’ve recognised that everyone has a past, yet God still values and welcomes us today. God invites us to step away from enslavement by the past, to learn to live freely and lightly. In God, we have a different future.
Matthew presented Jesus as the new Moses. ( By the way, Moses own past included being a murderer! ) The family of tribes that made up Israel had been held in slavery by an Egyptian pharaoh, a king; God had heard their pain, made pharaoh release them from slavery and enabled Moses to physically lead God’s people away from the past slavery into the freedom of the future in a new land.
Jesus, this new Moses, lead, and still leads, God’s people away from the slavery of their past into the freedom of the future. In Jesus, the future is unshackled by wrongdoings of the past. Each and every day gave / gives the opportunity for a new future!
How good is that thought!
Generally, this message is ignored and the past continues to hold us tightly in its grip; being in this enslaving rut seems to be humanity’s comfort zone. The message of the Bible, amplified by the life of Jesus, is that each of us can change the way we see our past, the way we see our present, the way we see the world today, and the way the future could be for all.
There is no need to burden ourselves with the prejudices and attitudes of history, of the mind-sets, understandings and repression of the past! If a child born today is surrounded by those who teach him / her that they are going to live well / or not because of their ethnicity / gender / cultural religion / physical abilities / or anything else that child will, more than likely, grow up accepting these adult-given burdens. The attitudes and values absorbed during the first seven years of life are the frame of reference of many an adult. What you and I say and do, around children and each other, will change the future.
Can we be encouraged to recognise the past, learn from it and move on; to acknowledge the past, yours, mine, and that of our society, is complicated but need not hold us back. If the present is rooted in the past, need the future be a copy of the past, or can it be better?
The head may accept this but what about hearts?
The Bible emphasises again and again the importance of how children are raised, and of adults moving on. Abraham and Moses physically moved their families and peoples away from the past. The prophets constantly urged people to move mentally. But it was, and is, our hearts Jesus came to change.
Jesus’ life showed us the inclusive message that what binds us together is so much greater than what drives us apart, and if enough people believe this and act on this, although every problem might not be solved soon, there can be meaningful and lasting change.
Of course this is counter-cultural, but so is much of the teaching of the Bible. The values and attitudes of the faithful are common values that cut across the expectations of the world, through race, gender, the past, even victimhood, giving hope and building a better future for all.
Matthew recorded Jesus inviting people to come to him and be freed from the heavy burdens of expectations and of the past - the result will be a light heart, energy and joy, a zest for today, the future will look quite different. Everyone can have the chance of a better and more fulfilling life in a caring, inclusive and supportive community.
May we all be blessed with freedom, given by Jesus, from whatever holds us to the past.
May we be blessed by the inner nudging of the Spirit, showing the possibility of something better today.
May we all be blessed with acceptance and value, find a welcome and rest in the Lord, now and always, amen
Lord, even when weary and burdened, we come to you to find rest; especially when weary and burdened!
Lord, lighten our load and replace it with your load of love.
Even when we are reluctant to hold over our baggage and burdens you wait for us.
Forgive us for not sharing these with you.
There is nothing you will not help us with
and we thank you for your help.
We think of the things that divide
our families, our community and our peoples;
that keep us from seeing in each other your image.
We ask for your help in moving beyond
our mindset, prejudices, expectations of others;
our tribes, gangs, teams, definitions, denominations.
Help us be ready to share the yoke of others,
to help lift burdens,
to share your grace and love with all.
We ask this humbly, hopefully and wholeheartedly,
so that your kingdom may be seen
through our lives, our values and attitudes.
In you, God, we trust. Amen
Based on the prayer in Spill the Beans, Issue 35, p44
Here's the link to joint worship with Ardgour, Kingairloch, Strontian and Morvern.
Reading - Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet
in the name of a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward;
and whoever welcomes a righteous person
in the name of a righteous person
will receive the reward of the righteous;
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple —
truly I tell you,
none of these will lose their reward.”
Reflection on Interconnectedness
Never mind Zoom, Google meets and huddles, Teams, Skype, ( other group meets are available ) and the inter-net, let’s think about the original way we are inter-connected.
We all pray, God please do this, or that, or make this happen, or save that situation.
Do we hope God will get off the clouds, materialise in the midst of a bad situation and suddenly all will be well. Of course we do!
‘Oh God, take away this pain, heal this beloved family member, and so on …’. There’s a time for these prayers, want an instant connection with God and the deep hope for a miracle. Absolutely.
But it’s not those emergency prayers I’m thinking of but of the everyday ones, like the teenage prayer I mentioned a couple of week’s ago asking God to help me get great results. In my adolescent, naive mindset I hadn’t quite grasped that God had already given me a brain and memory and it was up to me to use them! ( I got the message, eventually … )
The nurse caring for a covid or cancer patient is the answer to prayer -
God works through their knowledge and hands.
That’s a connection.
The teacher helping someone to unlock the skills needed for reading is the answer to prayer -
God works through their patience.
That’s a connection.
The carer feeding and washing their charge is the answer to prayer -
God works through their caring hands.
That’s a connection too!
In this way, you and Iarethe answer to prayer. Even when we don’t know it! So many times we are positioned to be God’s presence with others. We are welcomed, we are the connection and that’s when, effectively, it’s God who is being welcomed.
We are all in the presence of God.
This week’s reading tells us that when anyone receives or welcomes a believer, then they are welcoming the person, and through that person they welcome Jesus, and when they welcome Jesus, they welcome God.
So interconnected that the theory of six degrees of separation doesn’t hold - this is an instant connection with God.
These are awesome promises!
Wherever God’s people are, we are already in the presence of God.
The Christian writer, Richard Rohr writes, ‘We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.’ God is not separate from humanity; inside each person is a spark of God, we call it God’s Spirit. People of faith accept the Spirit within nudging us to do the work of God and to be the image of God in our attitudes and values.
The verse that mentions a cup of cold water is particularly interesting. It’s about giving and receiving. Giving what many would dismiss as such a small thing to do that it doesn’t merit any attention. Receiving, knowing that even this small thing is so very important because of what it represents. The cup of cold water would have been drawn from a well; which took time and effort; it was was given out of the household supplies; it was a response to a need. The person who gave and the person who received were both / each in the presence of God.
The small things matter. Jesus sent out the disciples to work in the world - that’s you and me today, Take note of the inner nudgings, give thanks for the small things, give and receive gratefully, attitudes and values matter, look for God in others.
This reading reminds us to be aware of the presence of God within and without - it’s all inter-connected.
May you aware of the presence of God in and around you today and always. Amen
can I pull up a chair?
Can I sit with here a while with you? Not too long though,
I don’t want to outstay my welcome.
You see, Lord,
It is so good to feel
wanted and welcome,
not to be turned away
or greeted with a “what now?”
I try, Lord, to be like you:
not to bristle when someone expects something from me; not to let my impatience show; to give people space and time.
I know, Lord,
that in saying “welcome”
it opens up possibilities,
some good and some that well, you know...
will take all my patience.
And in sitting with you awhile I am reminded again
what “welcome” looks like and feels like.
Thank you, God,
for letting me sit awhile.
I will leave you in peace now. Amen.
From Spill the Beans, Issue 35, p37
Reading- Matthew 10: 24-39 (NRSV)
Furlough - the process of giving someone temporary paid absence from employment.
Pension - a payment made in consideration of past service.
Foodbank - a charitable organisation that distributes enough food to avoid hunger.
Social services - state-provided welfare services eg health care and education.
Imagine living in a society that had none of these - if you were in trouble, what would you do?
Seriously, what would you do?
To whom or what organisation would you turn,
and who or what organisation would be willing to help you?
Governments have an obligation of to look after the people within their jurisdiction; there’s a kind of contract between the inhabitants and the government. We are obliged to pay taxes to enable this duty of care.
Would you pay tax voluntarily, to look after others, support them and contribute to their welfare?
In the first century Middle East, there were no support networks, except family and a little bit of charity.
Jews paid temple taxes to support the religious rites and, in theory, those in need. But as sometimes there was corruption and lack of support. At various times, Jesus spoke out against this dereliction of duty and care, Matthew chapters 5 & 23 in particular.
Family was the default fall-back for support, of any sort. The Bible is full of stories of family dynamics, with fall-outs, making up, happy and troubled times - but it was always to family that people turned to for help. ( The story of Ruth is an exploration of family responsibilities. )
Experiences of family were sometimes positive, sometimes negative, much like families today.
Lockdown has really brought families back into the spotlight.
There has been much discussion about
the loneliness of the elderly,
the struggles of parents with childcare and education,
of how children have been missing friends,
how the elderly have mastered the various ways of connecting over the internet,
how much parents are learning about their children’s school work,
how children are able to mix school work and outdoor time,
how board games and family time has become more important.
Good and bad, families still matter.
Matthew’s Gospel was written at when, following and exodus from Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Jews were refugees across the Roman Empire. Matthew wrote to a Greek speaking Jewish group wrestled with this and with the challenges of becoming part of the early Christian movement. Political and ethnic persecution combined with breaking away from traditional religious views made for volatile family relationships!
Families were under tremendous strain with divisions and tensions very apparent, and it would have been easy to become judgemental and critical of other family members. Within close and wider family groups, duties and obligations of care to each other would be tested to breaking point. Even then, individual members should have been able to rely on the wider family for welfare and support. But, perhaps naturally, people put their own interests first.
Into these tensions, add in a new interpretation of these duties and responsibilities based on love not obligation. Because you wanted it to be, care for the other was as important as care for self. Doing something out of duty comes across as detached giving the other person no worth or value, there is no connection, no relationship, families can fall apart and, in Matthew’s time with no-one else looking out for you, that could be fatal.
God’s kingdom is of values, attitudes and love rooted and grown from within a person - instead of rules and traditions grafted on from outside.
Jesus life had reminded people of God, God’s love motivating from within, compassion going beyond the letter of the written word, beyond rigid adherence to tradition. Clinging to these was said to be soul destroying ( v28 )! Understanding faith as motivated by active love would, Jesus predicted, destroy families and split the wider family that was the Jewish nation, ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ ( v34 ).
Jesus life of love was a practical example of God’s Kingdom - showing that all lives matter, where love should encourage people to rise above individual circumstances to see the needs of others, putting individual lives into a communal context, outwardly focused yet inwardly powered by God’s love.
Jesus reminds his followers that they will be members of a new world-wide family, brothers and sisters in Christ and with God as Father. God is the head of this family, God’s household is beyond any family restrictions.
In God’s family widows and orphans are looked after, the hungry fed, children valued and nurtured. All will be looked after and supported. All practical needs will be met.
In this new family, based on the sharing God’s love, grace and understanding are offered, healing of relationships, patience with each other, investment of time and effort into making sure each person has the best opportunity to flourish.
Times of tension always expose the fault lines in families. This teaching of Jesus’ reminded his early followers and reminds us that we are part of a bigger family.
May we all remember the bigger picture of God’s loving household - we are all part of a large, diverse, opinionated, gentle, forgiving, fun, challenging and wonderful family, God’s family and God loves us all, even more than the best human father.
Happy Father’s Day
Almighty God, we thank you for all your life-giving care.
We remember that you value each and every one of us.
That in relationship with you, we find our true selves.
Forgive us when we turn away from others and show lack of care.
Forgive us when we put ourselves first -
not just when we are tired and weary, having a bad day,
but when self-interest becomes a way of life.
Help us to turn away from that,
to repent from living like that,
and help us to live lives that show your love.
We pray for those in need of your love.
We remember the lonely, those who are ill,
parents and children struggling with each other,
those whose livelihood is threatened by lockdown.
We pray for ourselves as we live with the consequences of lockdown.
And the worries about the future.
Help us to remember you love and care for us in a way we don’t,
And never will fully, understand.
We know you, God, hold us in love,
so much that you know the number of hairs on our head,
you know us inside out,
and value us for what we are.
Bless us in our lives and loves, with family and friends.
In the name of Christ and the power of the Spirit, we pray.
Here's a link to the reading, Matt 9:35 - 10:8
Two weeks ago, the topic of the moment was Black Lives Matter; since then the focus has shifted to anti-slavery and racism.
What do people of faith think about all this? How do they respond?
Again and again, for as long as I can remember, I’ve thought, I’ve always believed ( what I said last week ), all lives matter! I’m happy to stick by that and to repeat it in public - All Lives Matter!
As children, sometimes my bother and I played cowboys and Indians. I always took the part of the under-dog, the Indian! I felt empathy with their plight and really wanted them, at least sometimes.
As I grew up I realised these games highlighted some of the bigger issues, eg racism, slavery and servitude of peoples deemed by society to be of lower caste, judgementalism, lack of access to education and justice, and more. Around the world, in all societies, is a lack of recognition that All Lives Matter. ( Please let me know ( nicely ) if I’m wrong! )
Today’s passage records Jesus telling his closest followers, the disciples, to go only to the Jews and no one else. At end of Matthew’s Gospel ( see last week’s passage ), Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. What changed between the two passages?
Let’s have a quick look at this episode, set it in the wider context of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel and see how it talks to us of today’s issues.
Matthew’s Gospel was written in Greek for a Greek speaking audience around 50 years after the death of Christ. Matthew strongly emphasised the Jewishness of Jesus and encouraged his readers to live according to Jewish laws - yet, at the same time, Matthew attacked the Jewish leaders of the day. It’s confusing and complicated, like life!
The Jews were the under-dogs of the region. So heavily taxed by the Romans and their own leaders that sometimes, to keep bread on the table, Jews sold themselves and / or their children into slavery. Their own leaders, political and religious, failed to stand up for them. Jews had thought Jesus was the long-expected one who would lift these tyrannies from them and free them to enjoy the Promised Land. But that hadn’t happened; Jesus had been crucified, their temple destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were being made homeless, scattering across the Roman Empire.
Their dreams were just that and hope was in short supply. Now, that’s a point of connection. Whoever you are, across the world and across the ages, you are not the first, nor will be the last, in this situation and because of God’s relationship with people, God knows how you feel. You are not alone! You matter!
In the Bible, there are hundreds of mentions of slavery, literally hundreds. At the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, the Jews were once again the lowest of the low, many of them slaves. At one time all Jews had been slaves of the Egyptians, until God worked through Moses to have them released. Each year at Passover, Jewish tradition and ritual still reminds Jews of this. The rules and regulations in the Bible telling how to treat slaves; while seeming antiquated to us, these were the human rights of the day. Jews were meant to betheexample of God’s values, championing human rights, justice and resulting in a caring and compassion society.
How the Jews lived, despite their complicated past, their attitudes and way of life, mattered.
The Bible is a record of the Jewish people turning away from God’s loving values, society disintegrating one way or another, then a leader rising up and reminding them of God and that they were created to be God’s special people. Once again, during Matthew’s time, the Jewish leadership and people had, on the whole, forgotten this way of living and all were suffering.
The Jews may have been the problem but they were very much part of the solution. Their way of living really mattered!
Looking at the whole of Matthew’s Gospel leads to wider understanding. First Jesus sent the disciples to appeal to the Jews to live in the way expected of those in relationship with God. When that appeal failed, Jesus sent the disciples out to all nations.
This very small group of twelve Jews who believed and followed Jesus, now understood to be the Son of God, were tasked with leading all nations back to relationship with God. They preached and healed and cleansed and forgave and showed that all lives mattered. Not all responded positively but, despite their past, many were open to hope and new life and so Christianity began to make an impact.
Today, you and I are the ones called to relationship with God. No matter our past, what’s important is now. Acknowledge the past, slavery, injustice and so much more, learn the lessons, turn from the past, respond to and accept the call; take on the responsibility of living out God’s values. The way we deal with the past, the way we bring up our children, the way we treat others, our attitudes and behaviour all matter and show God values. God knows, not only do our lives matter but how we interact with others too. I say again, ‘All lives matter!’ Amen
Almighty God, we who are your disciples today worship you.
You call us to follow Jesus, to be like him in every way,
and that’s challenging - Lord God, help us.
Help us to live a life of love;
by serving out neighbours,
by being kind,
by being generous,
by welcoming others, even strangers,
by forgiving those who hurt us.
Forgive us when we fail
and help us move into the future
determined to be more like the people you created just to be.
We bring our prayers for others,
for those grieving, lonely,
fed up with being isolated and missing company,
we pray for those worrying about the future,
less income, loss of job and security -
may they find security in knowing they have your support
shown through their friends and community.
We pray for those in positions of leadership
with difficult decisions to make -
may they be guided by a spirit of duty to all,
and with clarity of thought in decision making,
and may we be supportive, generous and honest.
Help us who follow Jesus to you God
to go into the world with your Spirit strong within us,
sharing love, faith and discipleship with all.
May we be blessed by our relationship with you.
May that blessing be with us,
and those we love,
now and always, amen
The reading is from Matthew 28:16-20
Reflection on what ‘All nations’ might mean.
Black lives matter!
Shall I change the photo on my Facebook page to a black circle to show solidarity with the cause?
Maybe the question is not ‘shall’ but ‘should’ I do that, or more importantly why? I have to stop and ask myself why.
Of course black lives matter, but so do white ones, and Asian ones, and lives lived with disability, and with loneliness, and tragedy and so much more - all lives matter! And, so, I won’t change my photo unless there is something that highlights that all lives matter.
God knows! The Bible is a record of how much God really knows all lives matter. From the beginning of the human story there are tales of people doing good and bad, sometimes terrible things to each other and to the world. People wouldn’t listen to those who spoke out against the evil and eventually Jesus showed humanity what it meant to try to live in peace with all. Jesus was martyred for the cause of all that is good and right but his legacy of love lives on as the Holy Spirit working within each of us, bringing hope of a better tomorrow - and shouting out …
‘All lives matter!’
Some might be skeptical of this point of view and think it a load of waffle but … let’s stop and have a little look at the Bible and see if it just might make some sense.
Most ancient peoples believed that life began with just one couple. The Bible records the couple being named Adam and Eve; their first two sons were Cain and Abel. The lads fell out and Cain killed Abel. It looks like the brothers fell out because one was jealous of the other; of course, we are now so much more sophisticated that jealously would never happen in a family today!
From the start, the Bible is full of stories of families behaving badly - murder, rivalry, jealousy, incest, manipulation and so much more. The recorded stories give us something to learn from - throughout all the stories there is a thread of unease, something is wrong. We learn that God is concerned about our behaviour and attitudes but is ready to help us to work through the worst of circumstances and find our way back to what is good.
God ‘heard’ Abel’s blood crying out from the ground!
God knows, all lives matter!
If we can’t live well as families, the building block of communities, then how can we live well as society?
Research show the very early years of life are crucial to development of empathy, compassion and inter-personal relationships. If, within families, we, for whatever reason, are not able to pass on these skills to our infants and youngsters what chance is there for adults to show each other that all lives matter.
In the Psalms (139: 15-16) we read God, ‘knew me from before I was born’, and the ancient prophet Jeremiah quotes this (1:5), Psalm 127 tells that children are a blessing, Proverbs has advice on how to nurture children, Jesus included them in his care (Luke 18:16 and Mark (9:37) and is recorded as suggesting (Matt 18:1-3) that children are better at understanding the truths of life than adults! Children and their upbringing really matter to God. Care and nurture of children have a huge impact on the kind of adult they will become.
Obviously the vast majority of children are loved to bits by their parents and the adults around them. But, families and communities can give children the impression their lives matter more than any one else’s; this can result in adults with the attitudes that brought about the situation in America, of discrimination against anyone perceived to be ‘other’.
In faith communities, we call each other ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ we reach out to our common roots and look beyond differences of colour, gender, ability etc. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:28) ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ Jesus didn’t see differences - all lives mattered.
Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit to all believers. I wondered if the visible flames of Pentecost were a sign and confirmation of something already in each believer, linking them in relationship with each other and with God.
The more I reflect on this relationship, the more it likely it seems. That God knows you from before you are born is a suggestion of an existing link, a relationship, between God and each of us. As children are brought up, the knowledge of this link can be ignored and pushed to one side but it’s still there.
Maybe the protests that are spreading across the world are a germination of something rooted deep within us making us aware of the lack of justice in the lives or our sisters and brothers; their lives matter.
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers to go and make disciples ofallnations. The disciples, complete with their doubts, were representative of the Jewish people, who were to be representatives of God’s attitudes to and care for the world. Jesus didn’t instruct his followers to go only to the whites / blacks / those from the Middle East / men / women / etc but to go to all - it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, what your background.
Your present and your future matters.
It’s your life that matters.
All lives matter to God. Amen and God bless.
Lord God, creator of all there is; planets, stars, plants, sea, animals and humans, in diversity, wonderfully created. We praise God that we are part of this wonder.
Lord God, we believe we are made in your image, with the power to create and nurture - to pass on attitude and values, and love and care and compassion and a sense of justice and right.
Forgive us when we put ourselves first - over and above anything else. Forgive us when we forget we are part of something way bigger than ourselves and that how we live matters. Help us to life with respect for others, for creation and for you, God.
Grace is what God shares with us when we don’t deserve it.
God, you forgive us with grace and mercy because you love us, all.
Help us to care as you do. Until, one day when all of humanity shares your values and love, we may all rejoice that God’s kingdom is come.
We ask this because we are followers of Jesus and because God’s Holy Spirit lives within.
Compassion and grace in the midst of Corona. A reflection on Leviticus 16 ( verses 21 & 22 are the focus )
(NB Written before the current controversy!)
The word ‘Corona’, in the instance of the virus, refers to the shape of the spikes that surround the surface of the virus - they are like little crowns.
Across many cultures and societies, kind deeds, compassion, gentleness and grace are held to be amongst the crowning glories of any individual. Evidence of this is the, currently, elevated status of those who show these attributes - why else would we clap NHS workers each Thursday at 8pm, or celebrate the kindness and generosity of Captain / Colonel Tom.
How do you feel about that - is it right that these attributes or characteristics are celebrated? Is there a philosophy, religion, faith system that does not hold these dear?
And, if they are such highly prized characteristics and values, why are they so easily put to one side as soon as we collectively and individually feel threatened or scared?
One quick glance at the media and we demands are seen for answers about so many different aspects of the current situation - when will the vaccine be available, why isn’t there clear information about the easing of lockdown, it’s a scandal that this, that or the other is happening, or not. Within communities across the land angry questions are voiced about how dare that person go for a walk. Anyone thought to be a stranger in our midst is, at least, eyed with suspicion and questioned about the validity of their presence in ‘our’ community. Perhaps there is a very good reason for being present eg standing in for a sick member of staff, or supporting a close relative through a bereavement. On social media, shared and retweeted, are videos are that stoke fears, worries and anxieties.
When those trying to manage the crisis can’t immediately answer questions there is an outcry - without consideration that the answers may not yet be available.
If equipment and vaccines are not available there is a demand for heads to roll - without consideration that there are people working round the clock to supply the need.
Or, the ultimate in ethnic scapegoating, one nation blaming another for the crisis.
To quote a recent headline, these suspicions are a ‘lust that always rages during a crisis.’
Yes, people are, across the country and across the world, worried about corona, about loved ones getting corona. There is worry about the long-term impact of isolation, on what the lockdown is doing to education, wider health issues, businesses - and so much more!
There seems to be a huge need for a scapegoat; and anyone who isn’t ‘me, or us’ will do.
But - perhaps it might be an idea to stop - take a breath and step back. Have a look at the wider picture.
How about admitting these are unsettling times, acknowledging we live with uncertainty, realising the overwhelmingly vast majority of people are simply doing their best to stay healthy and sane in difficult circumstances. The blame game isn’t helpful.
It’s nothing new.
The Bible tells of an ancient tradition of providing communities with a scapegoat. (It’s amazing what you find in the Bible!). The shameful actions, deeds and words ( ie the sins ) of individual and the community were all to be accounted for, acknowledged and to be put aside, clearing the way for a fresh start.
On the seventh day of the tenth month each year, the people were to gather, there was fasting, ritual cleansing, no work, nothing to come between people and God. Before the mercy seat of God, the people and the community came together to recognise they had turned from from God’s ways; the priest would place his hands on the goat’s head, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto a goat that was then sent out into the wilderness and left to fend for itself. Because of the mercy of God, the people were released from the past and there was a fresh start.
Today, real goats are not abandoned to the wilderness but society’s worries and fears are taken out on symbolic scapegoats, the ones who can’t or won’t answer back, who don’t have what is needed at the right time, who are thought to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rightly, or wrongly, some people are being made scapegoats, abandoned and rejected by society.
What happened to kindness, compassion, gentleness and grace?
Maybe it’s time for us all to recognise that we are all worried about the immediate and the long-term impact of corona virus and unsettled by the changes coming in it’s wake, But, these feelings are no excuse to blame, judge or make scapegoats of others. It’s time for us all to recognise that we are all hurting, grieving the loss of the past; for us all to stand before the mercy seat of God, with fellow human beings, and to start thinking of how to make a fresh start.
Jesus teaches us that spirituality involves self-discipline and examination. Perhaps instead of criticising others we should ask ourselves what we are doing about our anger and then, giving thanks for the mercy God shows us, share and show that mercy to others.
Reflection on John 17:1-11 - Prayer
Reading available here - https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+17%3A1-11&version=NRSV
During the week past, I posted up a few questions about prayer.
Do you pray?
What do you pray about?
When do you pray?
What’s the difference between mindfulness, meditation and prayer?
I’d like to suggest some answers to these questions, but not in the above order.
Let’s start with wondering - what is understood by prayer?
In the context of today, should we be using words like mindfulness or meditation?
Do mindfulness and meditation include any context of God?
Meditation is a way of becoming aware of one’s self, trying to fully comprehend my place in a situation, place and time, to finding ‘enlightenment’. Meditation can be helped by concentrating on an object or concept to focus the mind, to stop the ‘monkey mind’ jumping around. To become fully present here and now, aware of current surroundings and situations and not to let anything negatively impact my well-being is perhaps the goal of mindfulness. Generally, both seek to realign thoughts towards positivity and inner peace, an interior and personal experience.
There are crossovers between the practices of meditation and mindfulness with prayer, undoubtedly, and meditation can be used to help focus prayer - but prayer goes beyond self and seeks relationship with God. Further, there is a recognition that the sought after relationship cannot be at the expense of others, and this explains why prayers for others are so important to those of faith.
Prayer is an instinct that is in each and every one of us, regardless of individual belief systems.
When a sad situation is reported in the media, there is an outpouring of love and prayers. From a society that rejects and pours scorn on faith that’s an interesting response. What is that about?
When people are up against some situation they struggle with, then they often turn to prayer. ‘There are no atheists in a foxhole.’ (This quote is attributed to US Military Chaplain, William Thomas Cummings, in a battle against the Japanese during WWII.)
When the unexpected happens, without conscious thought, we very often exclaim something like, ‘Oh God!’. The terminology may be an expression of cultural context rather than suggesting the person is a believer, but within each of us appears to be an instinctive reaction that appeals to something outside ourselves to help us.
Perhaps our reaction to circumstances shows we instinctually acknowledge, in some way, we are part of something bigger than ourselves - something with which we need to communicate? Do you pray? Perhaps the answer, whether we like it or not, is ‘yes’.
What do we pray about? Anything and everything!
As a teenager I prayed, fervently, that God would help me get through my exams! I didn’t quite realise then that I’d have to study hard to get good results ….
But wait, perhaps I should have been
praying thanks to God for those skills and talents that would have helped get the results hoped for, and the wisdom to use them well;
praying that I might have used the results to find some sort of work that enabled me to make a responsible living;
and praying to be able to share those skills, talents, time and money with others:
to be part of God’s family looking out for others and seeking that all might live life to its fullest.
Prayer one aspect of building of a relationship between myself, God and others.
John recorded Jesus praying to God, to whom he talks as his Father. Jesus praised God and reminded God of what Jesus had done on God’s behalf. Jesus pleads on behalf of his followers, asking that they realise they have seen God through what Jesus has done; and Jesus goes on to pray that God will protect his followers as they continue to behave as if they were one with Jesus and with God.
This prayer is one in which Jesus asks God to help each follower to realign their lives, words and deeds, hearts and minds, to how Jesus lived, to how God wants us all to live. It’s not self-centred beyond the desire that we change internally, but relational in that we are called to live and care for others through the sharing of God’s love for all. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that ‘Thy kingdom come.’ - it’ll come when we share it.
Prayer is so much more than meditation or mindfulness.
Prayer is not self-centred but relational.
Prayer is a 24/7 way of life, in relationship with God and with others.
Prayer is more than a short reflection …
To end with, I invite you to join in this prayer -
I praise you for all that you have done for me -
whether I’m aware of it or not,
you God have guided me throughout my life.
All that I am and all that I have comes from you.
I pray that my life-style choices will not be negatively impacting others.
I pray that I use my God-given brain to understand, as best I can, the implications of all I do.
I pray that the way I live today is not adding to climate change.
When I turn up the heating, how much extra CO2 will be added to the climate;
will that in turn increase changes in weather patterns around the world;
will that mean more cyclones that devastate lives in north-west India and Bangladesh?
I pray that when I buy a cheap cotton t-shirt I ask, has the cotton been intensively farmed;
have the chemicals sprayed on the crop caused health problems for the farmers,
or irrigation depleted local water supplies?
Are the farmers, and workers, been given enough pay to allow their children an education and their families proper health care and general support.
I pray I might be aware of these and so many more issues.
Lord God, turn our thoughts from ourselves to others;
may we see where there is need,
hear the voices of those who cry out,
and respond with compassion and love.
We pray for the world as passionately as Jesus prayed for us,
so that eventually we will all be one with each other as Jesus is with You. Amen
Reflection on John 14; 15-21, by Ella Gill, reader in the Church of Scotland.
As I was reading through this passage from the Gospel of John it brought back memories of being taught English grammar at school.
How to recognise the difference between a verb, noun, adjective and so on.
Doing words were the verbs
Describing words were the adjectives and
Things or objects were nouns.
Today we can get a bit mixed up because some words we have used asnounshave becomeverbs– if we were going to have the Olympics this year instead of it having been cancelled, we would be told that some of the athletes would ‘medal’ or ‘podium’.
When using mobile ‘phones we might be told ‘I’ll message you’.
But this is all because we have become lazy in our speech – missing out the rest of the sentence which should be there – ‘the athlete mightwina medal’.
‘I’llsendyou a message’.
Our language has changed over time both in meaning and in its use.
We can see this in many situations; in our conversation, in phrases we might use in our speech and in the sort of language we find acceptable or not acceptable.
Sometimes we don’t realise how much things have changed – compare the way you would speak now with the way your parents would speak.
Compare the way you would communicate with the way your parents would.
Would it be an email or a long letter written with a fountain pen in beautiful handwriting?
All these changes, even subtle changes can influence our understanding of the original meaning.
The inadequacy of the words used can confuse the message and our appreciation of what was really meant can elude us.
The different translations of the Bible try to bridge that gap but the question remains;
What is really meant in the conversations and teachings of Christ as we read them in the Bible?
What do they mean for us today?
In Scotland in 2020.
In this reading from John, Jesus says;
‘If you love me, you will obey my commandments.’
In his gospel John does not use ‘love’ as a noun – a word for an emotion or a state of being as we might.
Brotherly love, erotic love or compassion.
No, in John it is a verb – a doing word – a word which implies movement and action.
And for John that action is obedience – for John in his narration of Christ’s life, love means obedience.
But what does it mean to us?
Maybe it means striving to be like Christ.
Maybe it means doing the best we can even though we know we fail and will fail.
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you. “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.
“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. My Father will love those who love me; I too will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Reading through the rest of the verses we can see that a great deal depends on us loving Jesus.
The promise Jesus makes to us depends on that love – He says’If you love me’.
If – we love Him
Loving as in seeking for the good in and for everyone?
Loving as seeking justice for all?
Loving as in seeking to restore God’s harmony to the earth and to his people?
Andifwe do this, He says he will send us a‘helper’.
In the Bible the Greek original translation ‘parakletos’ means a bit more than Helper or Comforter as the word appears in our Bibles;
– it means someone who is called in to bolster you up.
The word ‘comforter’ or ‘helper’ nowadays suggests someone who would calm and sympathise and maybe even let you rest, but when the Greek was written centuries ago, it meant much more.
It meant someone who would stiffen your backbone, make you brave – help you to face up to what you had to do, supporting you when life was getting tough.
Perhaps a parallel would be a spiritual personal trainer in this day and age!
A trainer who will set objectives just for you
designed for you
and teach you how to achieve them.
When you slack – or feel as if you want a day off – or meet obstacles as you undoubtedly will – the helper will spur you on so that you keep going.
A helper and maybe not too much of a comforter.
Travelling towards that goal which has been set for you – just for you – or maybe for you and the Helper.
Jesus is saying to us If you love me– if you try as much as you can to abide by my teaching –I will ask the Father and He will send you another helper to be with you forever –you will receive help and strength to stay the course.
Look at the teachings of Jesus, look at the way He communicated with people, look at the demonstration of His love for mankind He made with His sacrifice.
Look at all these things and remember;
Love is a verb.
Love is a doing word.
Father God help us to strive, each day,
to follow your commandments,
to live as you have told us,
to be better, to do better,
to strive to better this world.
May we go out in our daily lives,
in courage, in boldness,
confident that our path has been laid,
ever guided towards you.
We give thanks for your love,
for life through you.
May we have the courage
to show the power of love,
as you have,
to all whom we meet,
to all your creation.
We exist in the midst of your
unending care, and rejoice
in the knowledge that knowing you
means knowing love,
today and every day.
The Bible passage can be found at this link
Reflection on John 14:1-14 - VE Day and my Father’s house
What’s your household like?
Is there just yourself and all is calm and quiet?
Or, are there three generations living with each other and it feels like there is hardly ever a moment of calm?
For many, it’s somewhere between these two.
Whatever it’s like, it’s still home, special and hugely important.
It’s place where we expect to be loved, cared for and nurtured so that each of us can live life to the full while considering how that might effect the whole family -
and this is modelled by those are the head of household.
But, who is, effectively, head of household?
Now there’s a good question - is it the two year old little prince / princess, the dog (that’s us), a parent, or the quiet grandparent in the corner who just has to lift an eyebrow and that’s enough for everyone to know what to do?
In the past families usually lived close together, not necessarily under the same roof though that was often the case.
This still happens in some parts of the world today.
Around the world it could mean several smaller buildings within one family compound.
In a mansion house in the UK, each part of the large house might be home to a different part of the family and other parts of the family in a house in the grounds - one larger family within one larger household unit.
Or, living on the same street may be different households of the one family.
While in each distinct family group there are the usual family dynamics, within the wider family there may be one person who becomes the family ‘matriarch’ or ‘patriarch’.
In the Biblical model the ‘patriarch’ was head of the family.
No matter the size, combination of generations and relatives, the patriarch was the most senior man, effectively CEO of each family unit.
The reputation and character of the wider family was very much a reflection of this man.
Using this understanding of the physical household and the importance of the patriarch, how does that help in understanding this passage?
Giving an imagine of God as Father, patriarch, Jesus talks of the household of God and explains that he, Jesus, is the embodiment, the living example of the values, the character, the attitude, the work of God. All the good stuff the disciples have seen Jesus do are all examples of God’s household - healing, peace and so much more, care, compassion, kindness, goodness, value and worth given to each person, joy, much joy in feasting and being with friends, restoration of relationships with each other and with God.
All these are what it means to be in the household of God.
It is a household that we are not to have concerns about.
Within this household there are many dwelling places -
there is no mention of a limit to the number of people expected!
A dwelling place where you can find rest and comfort, relax and (wonderful old-fashioned word) abide.
A household in which a place will be prepared for us, we will be made welcome by Jesus himself, our host, welcoming and showing us around.
Although Jesus had talked of this previously the disciples who had been with Jesus and knew him intimately still didn’t get it!
Thomas and Philip ask Jesus to explain it all again.
As you read the passage, you can hear the exasperation in Jesus voice?
This image of God’s household is not for the future alone -
it’s for now too, as Jesus showed!
Friday was the 75th anniversary of VE Day - Victory in Europe.
World War II was a time when the fabric and family of Europe tore apart. Eventually the war ended, bringing reconciliation and rebuilding, of fabric and family.
Rebuilding of relationship developed into the EU.
As within all families there is always tension when relationships change and members struggle to accommodate new thinking and ideas. Whatever the rights and wrongs, last year, these tensions resulted in Brexit.
The family of Europe had fallen out but this time remained on speaking terms -
In marking the VE Day anniversary perhaps we should celebrate that the nations have learnt to live with one another, each in their own rooms but within one household!
Maybe the lessons of the past have taught there is a better way -
one that never gives up or despairs but gives peace and a chance for all to thrive.
Maybe, the lesson of faith is that when we individually embody the values, attitudes, characteristics of God, we will discover a welcome in God’s wonderful, many-roomed limitless household. Amen.
(based on prayer from Nick Fawcett. “For Such a Time as This”. Apple Books, For those who live and work through war and this crisis)
Thank you, Lord,
for those who work on the front line during any crisis,
confronting head on all manner of challenges.
Thank you for hospital staff, local surgeries, care and nursing homes -
for doctors, nurses, consultants, support workers, carers
and so many others who work behind the scenes.
Thank you for shop workers and delivery people
keeping open supply lines
and making sure we have enough of the essentials.
Thank you for all involved in the military who kept and keep us safe -
for all, at home, who worked so hard to sustain and support the military and to keep going the infrastructure of the country.
Thank you, Lord, for all who care, treat, comfort, sustain,
sometimes, oftentimes, at real personal risk.
Thank you for their dedication, professionalism, compassion
and giving of themselves above and beyond the call of duty.
Support them all through the pressures we face.
Help them all to cope with the extra pressures, limited resources, emotional and physical demands made of them.
Help us all too.
May we too cope with the extra pressures and limited patience.
Through their lives and ours,
may we see what it means to care and share the love for others
that is rooted in the love, care and compassion of God.
May we see that whatever we face,
God is with us,
helping us deal with the here, now and how. Amen
Bible reading John 10:1-10 - The parable of the shepherd.
Reflection by Ella Gill, Church of Scotland Reader.
Context for the reflection
The image of the shepherd is familiar and much loved in both the Old and the New Testament.
We sing it in our hymns and read it in the Bible.
We see the word shepherd in the Psalms and in the books of the Prophets– especially well known is Psalm 23 which is one of the other readings for today.
In the New Testament Jesus uses many images of ordinary life to illustrate his message and in the reading today, he uses shepherding and all that is involved with that.
Even in our churches today the word carries on in the Latin word for shepherd – pastor.
Living in Ardnamurchan we see plenty of sheep and, because we do, it can be tempting to assume that we understand the meaning behind this parable – but, beware, there are many pictures and meanings within this story which we can miss if we are too blasé.
There is much to be learned from this parable – as with all parables – but I think there are two main messages in this story in John 10;
the first is about the shepherd and who he is;
the second is what the gate is telling us about our relationship is, or what our relationship can be, with Jesus.
Life 2,000 years ago in the Bible lands was very different from present day in Ardnamurchan.
The land was poor and arid, but it would support sheep if the shepherd led them far enough to find wholesome grass and water. He had to keep a close eye on his flock because they were at the mercy of wolves and thieves and so he would live with the flock day and night.
He would get to know the sheep and the sheep would get to know the shepherd during the years they were together.
He would know the ones who were likely to wander off or be stubborn and not want to move, the ones who were feisty and the ones who were submissive, the leaders and the followers.
They got used to his voice and the tone of his voice and what he was telling them to do. There were no sheepdogs and so the shepherd would have to recruit one or more sheep to use as leaders for the rest.
If they were in open country at night, they would all be vulnerable to attack, and so the shepherd would guide the flock to one of the sheep pens which were scattered about the area. These would be for the use of everybody and so within one pen there could be several separate flocks spending the night in safety.
The pen had only one entrance and as the sheep went in the shepherd would put his stick across the entrance so that he could slow each sheep and check them as they went past to make sure it was alright.
After all that, he would sleep across the opening, literally becoming the gate. No one could come in without him being disturbed and the sheep could not wander out into the night.
If they were in a town then the sheep went into a locked sheep pen where there was a gate keeper who controlled who went in and out so only legitimate people would be allowed in.
As you can imagine the job of being a shepherd was far from glamorous.
When sending priests out it is reported that Pope Francis said to them ‘This is what I am asking you to be – shepherds with the smell of sheep’.
Shepherd of biblical times would surely have fulfilled that requirement!
By saying that Pope Francis was saying that he wants his priests to be leaders or pastors who have an intimate knowledge and experience of what it means to provide for their flock, to keep them secure and to foster their trust.
In today’s parable who is the shepherd of the story?
Every detail of the shepherd’s life lights up the picture of a good shepherd whose sheep hear his voice and whose constant care is for his flock.
In this parable Jesus uses the people’s knowledge and understanding of all that is involved in shepherding and says that he is the gate, he is the door through which people can enter into a fulfilling relationship with God.
What can we in 2020 learn from this story?
If we are the sheep in the flock, is there a message for us in this wonderful picture –
Jesus came to show us how we could have a personal relationship with God – just as we are and in the story we see someone who shows;
Understanding of our fears
Understanding of what we are capable of
Someone who fosters peace and security.
But – at the same time – someone who understands that there will be predators who will be out to destroy our faith and trust.
Why does Jesus say he is the gate and what does the gate mean to us?
The sheep slow down as they go through to a secure night’s rest.
It is the meeting point between the shepherd and the sheep. The reinforcement of the personal relationship.
A moment of stillness in the business of the journey to check that all is well.
After the safety and security of the night’s rest and then;
In the morning the voice you should recognise will be calling you out for the next part of your journey;
Do you know the voice you are hearing?
Do you trust it?
Reflection on John 10:1-10 - why should I follow Jesus?
Over the past few months, we have been looking at the readings from the gospel of John which have taken us through Lent and Easter to the present day, the 4thSunday of Easter.
The readings have reminded us of Jesus’ miracles, but in the Gospel of John they are called not called miracles, they are called signs.
Perhaps that is a better word to describe the work which Jesus was undertaking.
We are used to signposts on the roads we travel.
At one time they would be the only indication of the way to go, but we still need them nowadays to make sure our satnav is working correctly!
They tell us how we can get to our destination and, although we might take a wrong turning or two, they usually guide is to where we should be.
We can perhaps understand the purpose of the signs in John better if we look at the beginning of his gospel.
When John the Baptist is baptising in Bethany, he is accompanied by two of his disciples and, as he sees Jesus walk by he says, behold the lamb of God.
The two disciples hear what John says and they begin to follow Jesus.
Jesus turns around and says – what are you looking for?
What are you looking for?
The gospel writer John is also addressing that question to us - what are you looking for?
There are many things we are looking for in life
For those without food and shelter the answer is plain
For those with health issues
The answer is clear
But once our living needs are met the answer to that question might reflect wants rather than needs.
This is where things can go wrong – where we can make wrong choices – putting personal gain at the top of a need list – not recognising that it is a want.
How many would acknowledge that they have spiritual needs once their physical needs are met.
This is where the signposts are needed to guide us and keep us right, to help us fulfil our spiritual needs.
In our reading for this week Jesus describes himself as a shepherd, a good shepherd.
One who will look after his sheep, care for them and instil their trust so that they will follow him knowing that they will be safe.
One who knows each of his sheep.
Jesus is inviting us to think of ourselves as his flock.
To allow him to care for us.
Jesus is asking us to follow him, to hear his voice and have the confidence to follow.
Let’s look at what we are being offered;
For those who are seeking enlightenment - he says I am the light.
For those who are feeling despondent and without hope– he says I am the light of the world.
For those who feel as if they have lost their way – he says – I am the way.
For those seeking the truth – Jesus says – I am the truth.
For those looking for meaning in the face of illness and death – he says I am the resurrection and the life.
What are you looking for Jesus asked the disciples.
What are you looking for Jesus is asking us.
Within in Jesus and his teaching we will find all we need for a fulfilling life and faith.
To be part of his flock and to follow his lead are where all the signposts are pointing.
Many of the Psalms and writings in the Old Testament use the image of a Shepherd to describe the qualities of God.
One which are all very familiar with is the 23rdPsalm which is a prayer of thanksgiving.
Its familiarity gives comfort at times of difficulty akin to the Lord’s Prayer.
Many of you will be familiar with the lovely book ‘The Lord our Shepherd’ by Douglas MacMillan in which the Psalm is compared with life as a shepherd in Ardnamurchan. The imagery used in this book bring the relationship between sheep and shepherd to life in this day and age – especially in Ardnamurchan.
Psalm 23 is one of the lectionary readings for today and I am using the words as a basis for ourprayer.
Father God, we thank you for all you do for us,
When times are peaceful and good, we often forget that it is because of you.
Forgive us please.
And, although we try to follow where you lead, there are times when it is easy to stray.
But we give thanks that through your grace and mercy
we are welcomed back into the fold.
Teach and help us to trust,
To trust that all will be well,
so difficult when there are troubled and confusing times.
Debate over what to do and what not to do.
The world is in turmoil at the moment-
in every direction we see problems which can seem overwhelming.
Leading us into dark and depressing places.
Enable us see that in these times we should turn to you
And trust you to lead us through that valley of shadows,
through the many valleys of shadows and darkness.
But remind us that where there are shadows there has to be light.
The light of your love and care guiding us onward.
Showing us the way out of the valleys and into the light.
To our journeys end.
With your grace and mercy, we will follow your signposts and journey together.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Amen
Bible reading Luke 24:13-35 - Travelling to Emmaus. (NRSV)
On our road through life, who is our travelling companion?
If, at the turn of the year, someone had told you what life would be like in only three months time, would have have understood or believed it? Probably not, but now we have experienced life in lockdown we understand and believe it.
Last week’s reflection was of how Thomas needed to learn about Jesus - of how, for him, although he’d been told and seen the love of God through the person of Jesus, Thomas needed to experience something for himself before he understood it.
It’s very much through having an experience ourselves, or having someone right alongside you explaining at our pace, and not theirs, that we learn best. The teacher can see if we are understanding, see if that understanding is genuine or not, and help guide us on to the next point.
If we think back to last week’s mention of school days, the teacher would have known which pupils were struggling and would have done their best to help and encourage, but might not have had time for individual tuition.
Here’s a story - once there were two people going on a journey. They chatted over what they’d experienced over the last few days of their visit to the big city, but they didn’t fully understand what it was all about. They were puzzled and confused.
They saw a man walking along and the man walked on with them.
What were you talking about asked the man? The travellers told the man what had happened. They must have seemed doubtful about their understanding because, as he did have the time for individual tuition, the man slowly, attentively and carefully explained the events in Jerusalem, unpacking the reasons for all that had happened.
By the end of the day’s journey, the travellers understood so much more than previously. They wanted to express their thanks to the man and invited him to stay with them that evening.
It was only during the meal, when the man took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, that the travellers realised the man was Jesus! What a surprise! Such a surprise that, in the middle of dark night they returned all seven miles to the city to share the news with their friends.
We are so often like the travellers on the road, going along, muttering to ourselves and puzzling over why things happen as they do. Unlike the disciples … wait a minute - these were disciples, not two of the remaining eleven, but from the wider group who followed Jesus regularly, who had been with Jesus very often with the past three years and they still didn’t ‘get’ what Jesus was doing!!!
Unlike these disciples, we don’t always have the luxury of someone physically alongside explaining why thing happen, though in retrospect we ourselves often realise why, but, in Jesus, we do have someone who will help us deal with how we react to events.
It may be that as we travel on through faith, there are times when it feels like the moment those travellers, disciples, experienced the knowledge of Jesus presence with us - or perhaps our travelling companion may never make themselves known, or we ignore our companion. Which ever it is, Jesus is always there, the presence of God at our side.
These travellers and disciples learnt through watching Jesus, listening to Jesus, having one-to-one teaching and being given the chance to practice and explain to others. It was their turn to pass on their faith to others.
Now, is our turn to pass on and explain hw Jesus the travelling companion has influenced and changed us. Will we do this with the energy, enthusiasm, emotion, depth of care and compassion of Jesus? No pressure but, how will you do that today?
May we feel the presence of Jesus and the love of God, always with us, even through these troubling days. May we know courage, strength and love enough to share with compassion that love with others, friend or stranger. May we be ready to share with others our knowledge and experiences of faith in Jesus and God. Amen.
God of the road,
as we journey along our daily paths
how wonderful it is to know you are there with us,
every twist, turn and bump of the way.
By nudges and shoves, God,
you guide and show us the right paths to take.
Lord God, you live in us,
in our thoughts and words and deeds,
inspire as each step of the way.
Forgive us when we ignore all the inner promptings;
ignore the concerns of others
and turn away from you, God.
When we turn back to you, God,
set us again on the right path,
assure us of your love and continued care.
We think of others who are struggling;
those facing illness and pain,
those who are feeling so very isolated just now
and see no way past today, never mind tomorrow.
There are so many needing the love of God in their lives,
help us to know how best to show God’s love to others.
Lord, God, may we know your presence with us all;
hear our prayers, amen
The Bible passage is John 20:19-31 and can be found
Prayer written by Bridget Cameron of Ardnamurchan Church
We thank you for all you have created as we see the beauty of the Spring.
The colours of the flowers,
the singing of the birds
and the splendour of the sunrise and sunset.
In these difficult times
your love is constant and enriches our lives,
giving us purpose and hope today, and for the future.
We thank you for the kindness of those around us.
Our loving and Heavenly Father who provides us with our needs
we remember those who have had their lives turned upside down in these unusual times.
Embrace them with your love.
We thank you for your faithfulness and long suffering patience with us when we have times of doubt and concern.
For Your gift of the Holy Spirit we give thanks
and your greatest gift, your son who is our Saviour, guide and friend for ever, to Him be all the glory.
Reflection on how Thomas came to faith
Do you remember the old school days?
Children lining up to enter the building,
even at secondary / high school;
pupils sitting in rows,
alphabetically to start with,
girls here and boys there;
and how, as the school year went on,
the pattern changed to reflect levels of academic ability.
Rules obeyed, mostly unquestioned,
and while teachers talked children listened.
Similarly, in Jesus day, though school was only for boys,
it was the most academically able who completed the whole system.
Academic success was and is held in high esteem by wider society.
Each system dependent on the rule of authority and discipline,
and, woe betide any who challenge it.
2,000 years ago, the Pharisees were the ultimate authority in Jewish society,
determining the curriculum at school,
what was acceptable in law,
interpreting the model of culture and society within which the Jews lived.
Those who questioned this were labelled, trouble makers,
ostracised, pushed out of society to live on the margins,
always be looked at with suspicion,
thought to be somehow ‘lesser’, not quite good enough.
Not quite good enough for what?
‘Streaming’ into academic and vocational groups has,
as with any system, good and bad points.
In theory, individuals find a place best suited to their learning styles.
But, results have been implicated in producing a two-tier society,
(using labels now, thankfully, less used),
blue and white collar workers
management and others, them and us.
All are born with God-given skill sets,
gifts and talents valued by God,
if not by culture and society.
Where’s the proof of this?
The Bible includes, eg, accounts of God raising smelly,
dirty shepherds from the edge of society,
to be kings.
Even though he abused power and women,
organised the murder of those in his way,
King David was, and is, held to be the best ever king of Israel.
Jesus himself chose followers from school drop-outs
and the Christian Church has honoured these as saints.
School drop-outs brings us back to Thomas.
Jesus treatment of and relationship with his disciples
challenged the Pharisees established two-tier, them and us,
system of rule and authority.
Modern theories suggest a pyramid of different learning styles;
The smallest group learn best through listening and reading,
then through seeing demonstrations,
through discussions of what they’ve been told, read and seen,
through practicing and experience
and finally, the largest group,
through teaching others ie passing on their experiences,
one way or another.
Thomas experienced all these styles,
including practicing what he’d learned and experienced (Matt 10:1-4),
but that didn’t mean when something new happened he would automatically accept it.
He may have been someone who didn’t learn / accept / believe through being told something
but needed to experience it before he could accept it and work with it,
and, that was good enough for Jesus.
God and Jesus never impose faith
but allow us individually to come to faith on our own terms.
Jesus’ final words be have challenged Thomas
(our assumption, not his understanding!)
but give encouragement and hope
to generations and the millions of Jesus’ followers
who have believed without seeing Jesus in flesh,
and who have, in some mysterious way,
experienced his presence in their lives.
The Learning Styles Pyramid theory suggests,
and it is borne out in practice,
is that experience has the biggest impact on our lives,
taking us beyond what we’ve been told
and into a deeper understanding of any situation.
Through our experiences of faith, following Jesus,
we find a relationship with God.
Through words and example,
we pass on our experiences of faith
so that others will learn about relationship with God.
May you be ready to tell of your experiences of God,
knowing that God values whatever gifts and talents you have,
no matter what society may think.
May you know deep down that God loves you,
doubts, questions and all.
Go and be a blessing to others.
Amen and God bless!
Final Prayer about being in lockdown, John 20:19
There were other doors
once locked in fear,
in a time of waiting
It was an uncertain,
questioning time -
longing for what had been known
and treasured before.
Into that space,
calming and soothing,
came these welcome words -
“Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you in every worry,
in every sleepless night,
in every loss experienced,
in every comfort now distant.
Peace be with you in every certainty,
in the shared burden of these days,
in the unexpected connections,
in the gift of another sunset and sunrise.
Peace be with you and yours,
the deepest peace,
the strongest peace,
the peace that passes all understanding.
Christ is our peace
and is in our midst.
His words echo again -
“Peace be with you.”
Reflection on John 20 - The Resurrection of Jesus.
How can God let this happen !?
Cried the family and followers of Jesus .
Jesus, who had just died and been put in a cave for the Sabbath
until his body could be buried the following day.
The loss and anguish of the hopes and dreams that had died with him,
all to be put aside and buried.
How can God let this happen !?
Cries the world today - anyone impacted by corona virus.
The loss and anguish of hopes and dreams that die because of those,
all to be put aside and buried.
But, what if God didn’t let this happen?
The ancient texts of Genesis tell an interpretation, a story, of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Humans deliberately ate the fruit and at that moment they knew, had awareness, of good and evil.
However humans became aware of good and evil, it was a turning point. Humans had, by their actions, shown God they’d rather live without God - they could deal with this knowledge on their own.
God was pushed away …
It’s easy to blame God for all that goes wrong rather than look to how we humans might have contributed to the dis-eases of the world. We shout and scream at injustice - and in those cries is the admittance that something is wrong.
This is not how life is meant to be!!!
Jesus was betrayed by those who pursued their own agendas. Humanity is also betrayed by those who pursue their own agendas - at the expense of everyone else.
And yet … in the midst of all this there are those who push back with kindness and gentleness and compassion and courage and goodness and peace and patience, and bring healing to all around them, to every situation.
They bring ease into dis-ease.
They bring love to hatred.
The love of God whether it’s acknowledged or not.
God reached out.
Through Jesus, through people, God reached out to show and encourage us that there is hope for a better way.
On Easter morning the stone was rolled from the tomb, not by human hands but … somehow, in the mystery of that early morning, love had burst out. Love that could not be overcome, even by death. God’s love for all, to give us each a chance to turn again to what is good and true and right. Inviting us to love in such a way that all have second chances, to show that all are valued and have worth.
God reached beyond the tomb.
We might feel like we live in God-less times but each of us has the chance to bring a touch of heaven to the world. Easter and faith, give us a chance; will we keep it to ourselves and be content for the world be unchanged - or, will we enter the tomb with Jesus and emerge, restored in our souls, to run and share the good and joyful news?
This Easter, will you take the chance to reach out and accept the hand of love, grasp the hope God offers, and offer love to others?
How can God let this happen !?
God reaches out through Jesus and offers new life and new hope.
Have a joyful, life-changing, hopeful Easter.
Lord God, Easter is a season of new beginnings;
we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus from the darkness of death,
and we praise you for that.
Yet, today, when the roads are empty
and we keep our distance from each other,
when life has changed so dramatically,
it’s hard to think of new beginnings.
Help us to remember that we do have reason for hope.
We thank you for all those working so very hard to look after us
and make sure we have what we need.
We pray for the people and nations that are struggling.
We pray for those affected by violence, famine and fear.
May there be hope in their lives too.
We bring to you all that holds us back,
the baggage of the past
and fears for the future,
and we lay them at the foot of the cross.
As we step back,
turn around and see the empty tomb,
may we be strengthened by the hope we are given,
that we can trust in strength and love coming from you
that will give us a new beginning.
We thank you for the assurance
there is nothing in heaven or earth
that can separate us from you love,
no situation, however dreadful it may seem,
is finally beyond your power to save and change.
We rejoice in the opportunity
to take up your offer of new beginnings,
Take the changes and chances of this life,
and help us, whatever we may face,
to trust that your love and purpose will overcome all.
Give us new heart,
remind us of the resurrection and of faith rising again,
love is not defeated.
Speak to us your words of peace
and may our souls find rest.
Based on Nick Fawcett’s Easter prayers in Prayers for all seasons, book 2.
If you feel inspired to sing today, why not look up a hymn on YouTube. Here’s a link to a page full of recommendations for listening to ‘Thine Be The Glory’. www.youtube.com/results?search_query=thine+be+the+glory+hymn
Easter Saturday reflection on grief.
Easter Saturday is the day when all was quiet.
The dead are taken away and we wait for the funeral.
It's such an odd time when arrangements are in place and we wait.
For those without faith, death and grief can be the deep dark abyss of mourning (mentioned in a previous post). A black hole sucking the joy and life out of us.
For those with faith it’s no less painful, but there is something else. I don’t know the word for what I’m thinking of but it’s like a black hole that gives back some of what we’ve lost.
To start with, grief is all consuming.
But, we still need to eat, sleep and live. At first we may not want to or be able to do any of these - that’s normal.
Each in our own time, we will start doing these again.
We will never again be unmarked by grief. I often think of grief as, to start with, an open wound that, with time, becomes a scar. We can refuse to leave it alone and it won’t heal. Or we can learn to live with it; it’s always there and it may well still hurt, at times, but it won’t ever go away.
On Easter Saturday those grieving the loss of Jesus were in a dark, numb limbo.
Christians know Easter morning is coming, and that gives hope and reassurance that love will break the bonds of grief. There is a new perspective to be had. Love will reach through grief. For those we have lost, our love doesn’t end - and deep inside us we know, somehow, that the love of those lost is still with us.
That’s the difference and that feeling is the word I can’t give you. The Bible tells of God’s love giving a deep peace beyond our understanding. In a letter to a group of early Christians in the city of Philippi, Paul wrote, ‘ … the peace of God, which transcends (is beyond) all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
Today, beyond whatever grief you have or hold, may you be blessed by feeling the peace of God in your life. Amen.
Reflection on John 13:1-17 & 31b-35 - Love one another
In this passage, by washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus assumed the role of a servant.
Servants were marginally above the status of slaves. They had few rights and did those tasks society deemed almost the lowest.
Yet, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It would have been shocking and perhaps that’s why no questions are asked, until Jesus washed Simon Peter’s feet. Simon Peter was the man who always asked the questions others maybe thought about but didn’t ask, spoke out and acted impetuously. Jesus explained that no one is greater than their master (God) and if the one who is God’s Son (Jesus) set the example of washing the feet of a disciple then who are they not do that for others, not to act similarly as a servant?
Over the last few weeks, society has realised how much it depends on those who do the jobs no one else seems to want to do. Suddenly, care workers, rubbish collectors, delivery drivers, shop assistants and so many others are in the spotlight - just who are essential workers?
In verses 13-17 Jesus tells his followers that although they may call him Teacher and Lord, which He is, He is no higher than the servant who washes dirty and dusty feet. In verses 34-35, Jesus returns to this theme, echoing the words recorded in the Old Testament book of Leviticus (19:18), ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men (all people) will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Today, society and the cultures around the world are becoming increasingly aware that those do the ‘lowliest’ of jobs, those people should be valued just as much as those who do the ‘highest’ of jobs. those who work hard for little recognition or pay are worthy of our respect.
In this time of confusion, Jesus message again reminds us what really matters, that all people are worthy of respect and should be valued, loved - that’s the lesson God wishes humanity to learn - and act on.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Matthew 21: 1-11, NRSV
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Reflection on Matthew 21: 1-11 - Jesus entry into Jerusalem - Pam Sunday
For the last few weeks we’ve been reading and reflecting on the account of Jesus’ story as told by his good friend John. This week we turn to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
In this episode are themes that cross over the bridge of time to help us today;
this reflection is about identity.
There is no doubt we are living in strange times.
The NHS is amongst the best set up health care systems in the world and provided a centralised health-care system freely available for all. There has been contingency planning for such an event as Covid -19. Spare a thought for those in other countries where this is a dream.
The food supply chain is maintained, education adapting and life re-forming into some sort of new or temporary ‘normal’.
‘Normal’ now includes restrictions on freedom of movement and realisation we all have personal responsibility for the impact of our action on the lives of others. It’s as if the clock is turning back to a time when society was happy to queue, to help neighbours and stay at home if you bad cold. On the other hand, we watch the news and see empty shelves because of panic buying, scrabble over loo-rolls and castigate those out for a walk.
What does this tell us about our society or culture today? Is our identity determined by the different groups that make up society (kind of top down), or is it from each individual (bottom up), or a mix / blending of the two?
In the first half of John’s account of Jesus life, which we looked at last week, signs and events point towards Jesus identity as the Messiah, the one who is the saviour, who shows people how God meant people to be, to live, with others in the world. (There is more, much more, but a short reflection cannot tease out all the meanings of Messiah; nor would a long reflection! ) Each sign or event resulted in a clash with the religious authorities, the Pharisees.
Because he spoke out for compassion and care and against injustice and misuse of power, Jesus had already been threatened with death by the Pharisees of Jerusalem. By raising Lazarus, who lived close by, Jesus, almost certainly, signed his own death warrant. It was love for others, in this case Lazarus, that moved Jesus to this act (John 11: 33) tells us, ‘he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.’ Jesus knew the risks, the implications, of what he was doing but continued regardless.
According to Matthew, Jesus then entered Jerusalem, on a donkey, surrounding crowds waved palm branches, cloaks and coats, cheered and proclaimed him to be the Son of David (from a royal family line), who came in the name of the Lord (which Lord, Roman overlord, Jewish king Herod Antipas or Jewish Rabbi) and cheered, hooray, much as a crowd would have for the triumphant entry of a liberating lord or a king returning home.
Who was this Jesus the crowd were cheering? Jesus identity was the problem.
The Pharisees had built their identity to be intermediaries between God and God’s people, the Jews. God’s laws had been given by God to guide the Jewish people in a way of living to show, individually and corporately, concern for others, kindness, care, compassion and love for all. The Jews should have been an example to the rest of the world but the Pharisees used their manipulated interpretation of law to serve their own interests, giving themselves power and authority over the lives of ordinary Jews. Within the Pharisees, there was a strong outspoken group able to sway the opinions of the others, or at least to ‘encourage’ the silence of any who disagreed. Love for and service to others was not at the heart of their lives or being. Jesus reminded them of who they were not.
The Pharisees cultivated the equivalent of the ‘woke’ culture today where society is divided into those who agree and live by one set of rules and standards and those who don’t. In this divisive culture, what does our response to Covid-19 tell us about ourselves?
Too many questions? Maybe, but this time is giving us pause, individually and collectively, to think about our identity, who we really are, how we want to live. Covid-19 has brought out the best and worst in people - brought out the true identity of individuals and communities.
Jesus told us he fulfilled the law (Luke 4:21). This means, Jesus obeyed God’s law, as did the Pharisees, but, unlike the Pharisees, Jesus interpreted the law as God intended, with love, kindness, compassion for others resulting in a network of connectedness and relationships leading to building stronger and better communities. At the heart of Jesus’ identity is an intentional building of relationships with each other and with God.
As an alternative to divisiveness,
may the intentional building of relationships be at the heart of what we each do today.
May we build stronger and better communities.
May these communities build a world-wide network of support and love for all, just as God first intended. Amen
Prayer - For a world in need, and a coming together in this time of crisis
It’s not just here, Lord;
this horrible virus seemingly affecting everyone
It’s spread across the world,
one moment here,
nowhere apparently beyond its reach,
so many people in so many countries living now under its shadow,
wondering what the future holds for themselves and their loved ones.
Help me to keep that bigger picture in mind,
rather than turning inwards in narrow self-pity.
Help me to remember the needs of those far afield,
as well as those closer to home;
to think of others,”
“to think of others,
pray for others,
and do what I can to help others,
whether near or far.
So much divides us, Lord –
person from person,
nation from nation –
denying our common humanity.
If nothing else,
may this crisis teach us that we are one world, despite our differences,
and may we learn from it truly to work together,
for the good of all.
From: Nick Fawcett. “For Such a Time as This”. Apple Books.
This reflection is based on John 11, which can be found at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11&version=NRSV
The death of Lazarus.
While in lockdown it’s great to have something good to read so why not this full story?
John, the writer of the story, was a close friend to Jesus, and recorded this eye-witness account of an incident most find unbelievable. How can someone who was dead be brought to new life?
A month ago none of us would have quite believed what we see around us - quiet roads, shops shut, businesses that have stopped trading (hopefully only for now). This too is quite unbelievable. Can our lives restart too?
Two thousand years ago, a simple cold or tummy upset, a cut or a scratch could lead to death. No antibiotics, no anaesthetics or dedicated health service. Sickness was to be avoided at all costs!
Today, we assume the health service will cure all ills. Corona virus has turned this assumption upside down. NHS workers, who we applauded this past week, know the risks and carry on because of their love, care and concern for others. They know that their courage and intervention will give the possibility of a better outcome than would have been expected previously. We thank you.
We are, however, now aware that sudden death is so much closer that we thought possible.
With the death of their brother, Martha and Mary grieved the loss of their loved one, and of the way they had lived together as family. They grieved their change of status and of all the assumptions they’d have made about their future. Jesus saw all this, felt their pain and grieved with them.
When our way of living dies, we grieve. Today, we are grieving the loss of physical contact with family and friends; we are grieving the interactions of daily life, shopping, chatting in the tea room, playing together at school; we are grieving our plans for the future and wondering how much we’ve lost. God sees all this, feels our pain and grieves with us.
God knows God can offer new life to us, just as God did through Jesus to Lazarus, do we reach out and accept new life?
Lazarus would live again, but life had changed. He’d always be known as the man Jesus raised to life, he and his sisters would always be questioned about that experience.
After corona virus, our lives will have changed. Around the developed world todays generations have, unexpectedly, to come to terms with living with uncertainty thought unbelievable only such a short time ago. For numerous reasons, past generations lived with uncertainty and many in the developing world still do.
In years to come, our grandchildren will ask, ‘What did you do during the virus?’ A further question might be, how did you cope, what was your attitude?
Those who are able to have stepped up, volunteering and helping keep others supplied with shopping and medicine, phoning and checking on neighbours and friends. We see and experience the strength and support that comes from care and concern for others. Altruism perhaps but, ultimately, where does that come from? A question for us all to think about.
The love of God reached out through Jesus and called Lazarus from the tomb to face a new life, full of questions and curiosity. Perhaps because of the virus we too will face a new life full of questions and curiosity; questions about what really matters in life, were our priorities the right ones, what about our relationships with family and friends, with the environment, the world? Curiosity about how did we get through this, where did the impetus, the altruism, come from to start up all those support networks, and what will be the long-term implications be of this upset to what we called normal?
How can someone who was dead be brought to life? Today the question is how can communities and relationships thought dead be brought to new life? Through recognition we are all in this together; the realisation that through love care, concern, justice and resetting of priorities, we can all have a new life.
People of faith recognise and share that God is the genesis of new life. May you acknowledge God’s blessings in your life, and live with the hope and assurance of a better tomorrow because you find new life today.
Health and sanity my friends, God bless!
Loving God, thank you for life,
for all the people who bring joy to our lives, for all the people who make us angry,
for all the people we disagree with, for all the people who love us.
Life is a wonderful mystery,
for us to savour.
Death is a strange mystery,
which leads us into the next phase.
Facing death, our own or another’s,
is difficult and something we would prefer to avoid, if we could.
Grief consumes us at times and makes it difficult to continue to live life to the full.
Hear our prayers, Lord,
for the people who are facing their own death today.
For those people who are coming to terms with illness,
or facing long and difficult treatments or investigations.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord,
for the people who are already grieving the loss of a loved one.
For those people caught up in the anger and despair that loss can bring.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord,
for the people who care for those at the end of life, in hospitals, hospices and care homes,
for the doctors and nurses, the health care assistants, the porters and the clerks.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord,
for the people who care for people in their homes,
for the staff who travel to their patients and provide a way for people to be at home.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people who live in places where there is no NHS,
where health care is limited and end of life care non-existent.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord,
for the people who are forced to provide care themselves for their loved ones,
who struggle to cope with their own feelings and lack of experience.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers this day.
Give us patience to await your answers
and strength to be the answer when you ask it of us. Amen.
( Spill the Bean, Issue 34, Page 54 )
This reflection is based on John 9, which can be found at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+9&version=NRSV
Wow has the world changed in the last few weeks and days!
Something that seems to have started on the other side of the world has spread and is totally changing our lives here.
We are suddenly realising how interconnected we all are.
We see our lives and networks in a new light.
In the reading today -
It’s a long episode,
but interesting to read of the attitudes of the various people and groups one to the other.
We read of a man who is blind for no known reason,
given sight by Jesus,
trashed and turned out of town by religious leaders
who can’t cope with this miraculous event;
Jesus deliberately goes and finds the man to talk to him,
make sure he’s ok and reassure him.
Today we are all struggling to explain and cope with the very rapidly changing world around us. Perhaps this outbreak of the corona virus will never be fully understood,
but we do know it’s time to deal with events,
look out for one another,
to support, reassure and encourage one another,
as Jesus did the man.
There is a huge difference between ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social-distancing’.
There may be some in society who will ‘self-isolate’ themselves,
and for some that may be right thing to,
but for the vast majority of people
‘social-distancing’ may be the right approach.
When we isolate we push others away
only to discover it’s a lonely place to be -
physically alone, mentally and emotionally too.
Isolated and disconnected is not good.
Distancing means we keep in touch with one another,
Making sure each others needs are met,
making contact by phone or email or social media.
We remain connected, although at a distance.
The religious leaders of Jesus day sought to socially isolate the man
because they didn’t understand that the love of God,
in the person of Jesus,
was there for all people.
Jesus saw from a distance what was needed -
he found and talked to the man.
We can’t be physically with each other as we’d like to be
but we are there for each other at a distance.
May we see the needs of each other,
may we be there for each other,
may we see we are all interconnected
and all in this together.
May we see that the care and concern we have for each other
is rooted and grounded in the love of God,
shown through Jesus Christ
and nudged into being in each of us through the Spirit.
PS. Happy Mothering Sunday! May there be cake!
It’s hard to understand healing
when so many are sick.
It’s hard to understand blessing
when so many are in need.
Yet, God comes to us
in the midst of sickness,
in the midst of need,
in the midst of brokenness.
And God sees us - sees to our very hearts.
And God loves us - loves us to our core.
May our gifts and talents be used for healing.
God, take our hearts and fill them with the love that never ends. Amen
Based on a prayer from Spill the Beans, Issue 34, Lent, Easter and Pentecost 2020, page 45