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.