Thoughts for the Week during the Covid-19 crisis
Sunday 24th January (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
We all understand that the very thought of an invitation to a party can only linger in the annals of our memories just now. Parties so often mark an important life event of a birthday, a wedding or just the fun of getting family and friends together. And it’s important to maintain the confidence that these days will return before too long, and until then we can indulge our minds and go to the wedding in Cana of Galilee with Jesus. We might not imagine that Jesus would choose a wedding party, in a small provincial town, for his first miracle rather than somewhere more prestigious and the fact that he was replenishing the wine stocks seems even more mysterious, especially when so few people realised what was happening on that day. It’s good to see that our season of Epiphany is still throwing up new and startling revelations concerning Jesus. So far, we’ve witnessed Jesus welcoming the wise men, Gentiles by all accounts from far countries, with a mind to follow the destiny of this new star and discovering something much more awesome. We have heard Jesus ask John for his Baptism, recognising his Jewish calling and now Jesus is demonstrating his generosity and great love for all mankind and the revelation of his God-given power. We recognise Jesus’ phrase yet to be uttered that ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’
Anyone might imagine that a few bottles of some inferior wine might help the party along, with the thought that no one was going to notice but God clearly doesn’t work like that, he is generous beyond our wildest dreams filling six huge jars firstly with water; and water tells of life, the spirit, and new birth. But Jesus goes on to transform that joy into the best wine; with the generosity of his divine bounty, always giving us far beyond what we need or deserve.
This whole occasion must have posed a lot of questions in the minds of the disciples and Mary, let alone the servants. For Mary it must have confirmed her motherly instinct that Jesus possessed some extraordinary capacity for God’s power within him as well as concern for his fellow humans.
As for the disciples, they could have come away with a rather false impression, congratulating themselves for ‘throwing in their lot’ with someone who was going to give them such a good time! And the servants must have just been mesmerised and thankful. Which only makes us wonder how often Jesus performs his miracles in our lives without our noticing.
John does help us answer one of our questions telling us that this miracle was a revelation and a confirmation of faith for the disciples. Even at this early stage they had been able to experience the exuberant, creative power of God at work bringing uncomplicated human enjoyment to this wedding feast.
God has sent Jesus into the world to truly express his love for us bringing life and his love to us all in full measure, transforming the world. Amen
Sunday 17th January (Revd Joe Knight)
The set readings during the season of Epiphany can seem a little wild. One moment we’re with the magi on their transformational journey, next we’re with Jesus being baptised, and today we’re with Jesus as he begins to call his disciples. Strangely, as this season draws to its conclusion, we’ll return to Jesus as a baby, focussing on his presentation in the temple. It’s strange that this too-ing and fro-ing is all about epiphany – moments of realisation, of revelation, where the light turns on and all is unveiled. For the Magi, they saw that Jesus was not only a king of the Jews but a king of gentiles, the King of kings. At Jesus’ baptism, we hear God’s voice and see the Holy Spirit affirming that Jesus is God’s Son. And, in our reading today, we witness a wonderful encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, and for those with eyes to see, the reading enlightens yet more detail about who Jesus is.
Quite clearly, Nathanael repeats both affirmations, that Jesus is the King and the Son of God (verse 49). But something else is unveiled. Nathanael has said that Jesus is the king of ‘Israel’, and our first thoughts might go to the nation and people of the Jews. But the name ‘Israel’ was first given to Jacob. Having stolen his brother’s identity, and his inheritance, Jacob wrestles with God in the desert until he admits his name is Jacob (Genesis 32). At that point, he is renamed, Israel. Another story we might remember about Jacob is the famous dream of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. At that point, God reaffirms his commitment to use Jacob’s family to bless all the earth, to renew the harmony once known in Eden.
When we go back to Jesus and Nathanael, we see that this is what Jesus has in mind. He says, ‘you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ What’s going on here?
Nathanael has said ‘you are the King of Israel.’ And Jesus has played with that word and reminded Nathanael about its origin. To be that king, is to be the one who carries the promise of God’s saving love, of God’s love for the whole world, to be the one who will bring blessing to all the earth. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet, and an encounter with him transforms everything.
That’s why, when Philip calls Nathanael, all he can say to him is ‘come and see’. He means, come, and meet the saviour, the king, the one who gives hope to everything and everyone. Come and see – have your eyes opened to see the world differently, to see that God is on a mission to change the world, and you’re invited.
This is why this passage is about epiphany. It’s about truly seeing the way things are, and the way they can be. It’s about seeing who Jesus is. And, quite incredibly, it’s also about seeing ourselves. The reading begins with the invitation ‘follow me.’ Not only are we invited to see Jesus, to understand that God is at work in the world, and to recognise the glimpses of heaven on earth, but we are also called to join in with that mission.
The epiphany is about Jesus, but we might see that our own identity is caught up in this revelation. When we see who Jesus is, we see who we are. And this is emphasised with Jesus’ own words to Nathanael, ‘I saw you’ (verse 48).
God sees you. He knows you. He likes you. And, in his great love, he has called you to follow him, which means living out there prayer, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.’
Where do you see glimpses of heaven on earth? And how can this new lockdown give you the chance to encounter Jesus afresh? What would that look like? Amen
Sunday 20th December (Revd Joe Knight)
The reading this week may well be a very familiar one, but, if we’re honest, it’s something we can often overlook. Maybe it’s because the Christmas message is so easily contained, boxed, and wrapped up, opened once a year then put in the loft until the season returns twelve months later? It’s easy to forget that the story of the first Christmas is a central feature of Christian faith.
And it’s also easy to underestimate the weight of hope, resting on the shoulders of a young woman, or better to say, resting (and growing) in her womb. As far as we know, Mary and Joseph had humble backgrounds, and though royalty was woven through their family heritage, they held no glory or power of their own. And yet, through the mouth of Mary we hear some of the most powerful words spoken in the bible: ‘Here I am.’ This stunning willingness to say ‘yes’ to God is complimented by Joseph’s wordless, but faithful action. We hear no words from him, but Joseph’s quiet obedience echoes Mary’s ‘yes’, and together they embark on a journey that will change the world, carrying the message of hope revealed to them by the angel Gabriel.
And it’s Gabriel’s message that we can often scoot over too quickly. We don’t encounter many angels in the bible, and the presence of angels in the Christmas story stands it apart, because something is happening with the birth of Jesus that is bringing heaven and earth together, and this is signified with Gabriel speaking to Mary in her house, Joseph in his dreams, and the Shepherds on the hill.
And Gabriel’s message is timeless and timely. ‘The Lord is with you!’ reminds us that God has come among us, he is for us and will never forsake us. ‘Do not be afraid!’ speaks to every generation and every individual. There is, perhaps, no other moment when hopes and fears are woven together so deeply, than with the life of a new-born child. And God enters into that, lives through it, and carries the hopes and fears of all the years right through to Easter and beyond.
And another: ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’ This reminds us that a miracle in our eyes is ‘normal’ for God. Yes, we often bear the weight of questions, the “why’s?” of our brokenness. But if the most impossible act has been achieved, if the Creator can become a creature, even to die a human death but rise again, then all our impossibles must be framed by God’s possibles.
A door is opened with the birth of Jesus, a door which brings heaven on earth and lifts earth to heaven. It stands open now, inviting us still, calling us to say with Mary, with Joseph, ‘yes’. Amen
Sunday 13th December (Nigel Hughes)
I would love to claim this as being all my own work, but it is not. I came upon it whilst researching and thought that it was just too good not to share with you. It was written by Scott Hoezee, from the Centre of Excellence in Preaching, and I have summarised the key points below-
“Among you stands one you do not know.”
Those are the words spoken by John the Baptist in John 1:26. Of course, at that time it was literally true that a quiet carpenter’s son from Nazareth was rubbing shoulders with lots of people, including the crowds that jostled together at the banks of the Jordan River, but no one had a clue that this nondescript looking man was the Son of God, the Word of God who had been with God since the beginning.
Among you stands one you do not know.
There is more gospel and Advent mystery packed into this little line than we may realise. After all, if the Son of the Living God is on this earth—if the Word of God through whom everything that exists had been made was walking the land of his own creation, then would not common sense tell you that he would be someone no one could possibly miss seeing? Should not everyone have been able to know who he was at a glance?
Among you stands one you do not know.
Jesus came down to this world in such a nondescript way that to most people’s minds he didn’t even look like a fake Messiah or some impostor Christ. The people’s expectation of who they perceived would be their Saviour were totally at odds with what they saw. Overcoming those expectations would not be easy and to convince them that you are someone you are not, then you have to work hard to sound and act the part.
Among you stands one you do not know.
Jesus did not even sound or act the part of a would-be Saviour of the world. You could have stood right behind him in the baptism line as you shuffled towards the water’s edge to be dunked by John and have no clue who was in front of you. You could be at a function with this man and even ask him to pass you the salt and pepper and have no idea that the fingers that would grasp the saltshaker were the same fingers that healed so many.
Among you stands one you do not know.
It is still true today, of course. However, after 2,000 years the Church has managed to make a name for itself; since we have built impressive colleges, universities, and seminaries; since we have fill libraries with the fruits of two millennia’ worth of Christian scholarship—because of all this we tend to think that there is something just obviously impressive about the Christian message and about the presence of Christ in the world yet today. To some in the Church are amazed to read the rantings of Richard Dawkins (God is a delusion) and Daniel Dennett (Faith is a pathology) and the late Christopher Hitchens (God is not great) and we feel that we need to hit back at these people. Hard. After all, aren’t they missing the obvious? How in the world can anyone miss seeing the manifest truth of Jesus’ presence in the world? But no.
Among you stands one you do not know.
It’s God’s way. It’s the gospel way. Salvation comes from the quiet strength, the gentle humility, the servant heart of God’s only Son. The Word who spoke everything into being was perfectly willing to come to this world less as a Word and more as a Whisper. He was perfectly willing to remain anonymous to the Herods and Caesars of the world so as to make himself known to blind people, deaf people, lepers, prostitutes, fishermen, and so very many others who were also the invisible members of the world, living on the margins of society, on the wrong side of the line.
Among you stands one you do not know.
But if today you do know him, if by the gift of faith you can recognise him, be thankful. It’s not an obvious truth to recognize. But once you do discover that this One is the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world, then you can but pray that the Holy Spirit of God will also open your eyes to all the invisible people among us all who in Advent and at all times sorely need to hear the best news ever proclaimed.
Among you stands one you do not know.
But now it is our task to imitate John the Baptist and do our level best over and again to point him out to a world that so needs all the grace and truth Jesus alone brings. Amen
Sunday 6th December (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
On a cold winter’s morning this could all sound too much like the very unwanted ring of an alarm clock, at least that’s how it would have come across to the Jewish people. Then I realise that it’s been a very long time since I’ve needed to set my alarm clock. During these past months, for some of us, life has taken on a completely different rhythm. There hasn’t been the need to leap out of bed to get the jobs done. Here we find ourselves caught up in the urgency of Mark’s message it’s too late for the ‘snooze’ button, there’s no time for dreaming. Mark wants us to realise that we need to get up and face the most important decision of our lives - it’s time for action. That’s Mark’s way of introducing his gospel, rushing in; he clearly feels there isn’t a minute to waste. He doesn’t waste time or words, and that goes for the whole of his gospel. He speaks as one with an urgent message to get across – the good news of Jesus Christ that he wants all of us to take on board - now.
Mark knows as well as any other Jew that the whole nation has been waiting for a sign from God; they could most probably quote large chunks of Isaiah’s prophecies, and so can we. God spoke through Isaiah bringing comfort to his people after the exile, now Mark has Isaiah’s words ringing in his head as he introduces us to John as God’s herald coming in the wilderness to ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’.
But still I don’t think the Jewish people had expected anything quite like this. It just doesn’t fit their expectations of God’s herald for their Messiah, and John isn’t giving the impression that the Messiah he is announcing will come to fulfil their greatest wish, to lead his people against the Romans. John is speaking about forgiveness and repentance and I’m not sure his dress-code inspires confidence either. John bursts into their lives shouting; we know that God’s words can come to us as a shout, a whisper or in silence, perhaps John feels that their ‘lock down’ existence had been dulled living under the rule of Herod and Caiaphas, so a shout was the best approach to wake them up. At Passover, year by year they would speak of their nation’s story to freedom; but what would this freedom look like. Now John says God’s spirit will come and live with his people becoming the very air they breathe. This is the promise they had been living for; this John tells them is now coming true – but are they ready?
It’s not surprising that some just thought that John was mad, a dreamer; maybe it was curiosity that brought the crowds out to see for themselves but clearly having heard what John had to say their lives changed; I’m not sure what our reaction would have been? John’s message was adamant, they must prepare now for the greatest moment in Jewish history, in world history. He tells them that all this time they have been looking in the wrong direction; it was time to turn around and go the right way, in other words ‘repent’, it was time to stop dreaming and wake up to God’s reality. John’s prophetic words wake us up to the anticipation of what is to come, Advent has only just begun and with it our opportunity to prepare for God’s coming. Amen
29th November: Advent Sunday (Revd Joe Knight)
It is the beginning of advent. It’s my favourite time of year, when, in the dark days of winter we put up extra little lights around our homes and neighbourhoods, remembering and making memories of love and cheer, and giving thanks for gifts received and the gift of giving.
The lead up to Christmas is often a chaotic one. So much so, that when Christmas Day arrives many people are relieved it’s all over! To them, Christmas day concludes a frenzied season, bustling with demands and distractions. But for Christians, Christmas begins a season of celebration, and advent prepares the way, rooted in the wonderful promise: He is coming, the dawn is breaking upon us, hence the Isaiah reading that says, ‘come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!’
Remembering this, though it is a season of wonder, advent remains a season of fasting. It’s not quite the same as a lent fast. For instance, we still (and should!) enjoy treats like chocolates and mince pies. The ‘fast’ in advent is a chance to embrace the sense of waiting for God, a waiting for God to turn the embers of our hopes into real experience, it’s a waiting where we acknowledge the darkness around us – we acknowledge our need for light, for a saviour.
I’ve been learning a little recently about an ancient rhythm of prayer called the ‘Great O Antiphons’ (*antiphons are the refrains used before and after a reading or canticle). The ‘o’ antiphons are advent prayers, dating back to the 6th century. And, for those of you with a keen eye on the lectionary, you may have noticed that the 17th December is labelled ‘O Sapientia,’ without giving an explanation of what it means! O Sapientia, meaning O Wisdom, is the first of the seven antiphons, prayed each day on the lead up to Christmas Eve. They recall the story of the Old Testament and the promise of a saviour. In fact, each antiphon inspires a verse from the great Christmas hymn, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. These prayers invite us to remember what life was like before Christ (both in world history and in our own story), to remember the yearning for God to come to the rescue. And they invite us to invite God, again, into our world and into our lives.
As we begin advent and a new Christian year, we look back and forward. The troubles of this year may make the darkness feel closer and heavier than at other times. And so, I believe we can draw great strength from this season of waiting. We know God is near, we know that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light, we know we can begin again, and so we join the great O Antiphons, and pray, ‘Come, Lord, do not delay, and make your home with us.’ Amen.
Sunday 22nd November: Christ the King (Revd Fred Long)
Dominating the "east" end of Coventry Cathedral is the tapestry of Christ enthroned in Glory. The work designed by Graham Sutherland and made in France measures 78 feet in height and 38 feet in width. Seated in majesty, Christ looks with compassion on the world and all who look upon him. Surrounded by the four classic symbols of the Gospel writers, stands between his feet, a life size figure of a human person.
This Sunday marks the end of the Christian Year, (and what a year this has been) and is celebrated as the Festival of Christ the King. Although we may feel dominated by the current conditions, I hope you are strengthened by the theme which runs right through the New Testament and finds expression in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come". No matter how insignificant we may feel each one of us stand within the glory of Christ. That message and mission of Jesus has been validated by God in Our Lord’s Resurrection and we look forward to the time when every eye will behold him and it is then, that judgement is made.
In the gospel for today we have an indication of the criteria of how we shall be judged. The simple explicit lesson for all of us, is that God will judge us in accordance with the spirit and love of Christ. God's judgement does not depend on the knowledge we have acquired, the fame or fortune that we have amassed, or the social rank or privileges that come our way but on the help we have given. Matthew 25: 31-46 makes us aware of the breadth and diversity of that help. We must help in simple things. The things which Jesus picks out, we are asked to explore and includes, providing sustenance, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and those isolated from the normal features of daily life. It is a case of expressing Christ's humanity with the people we meet every day. It is to be help which is not calculated but the natural instinctive reaction of being one who cares. The help which wins the approval of God is the help which is given for nothing but for the sake of helping.
Our Lord finally confronts us with the wonderful truth that what we do, our hidden actions are in fact given to Himself and all such help which is withheld is withheld form Himself. The Coventry tapestry speaks to me that wonderfully each one of us stand and are encompassed by the majesty of Christ and in the words of John "we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." Be joyful keep the faith and do the small things (St David of Wales).
Sunday 15th November: 2nd before Advent (Revd Joe Knight)
It may be difficult to believe, but we’re very close to the end of another church year. Next week, the liturgical calendar will reach it’s climax with the feast of Christ the King, a summing up of the Good News of God, reminding us of the God who made and loves the world, and shining a light on who he has made us to be. It’s been difficult to follow the sense of momentum this year as we’ve journeyed through Matthew’s gospel. But the message of Christ being the King of all the world has been there since the beginning.
Remember, chapter one introduces us to Jesus through his royal family tree, emphasising that the long awaited saviour – the King of kings – was born in a humble animal dwelling, and came to serve and not be served, who did not hide the gift of God in the ground, but, with every breath, word and deed, proclaimed the gift of God’s kingdom, right up to the grave, and even beyond!
In the reading this week, we find a challenge of Jesus. He is speaking to his disciples and asking them what they will do with the good news. The scribes and pharisees had been given the law of Moses, and before them, the people of Israel had been given the gift of God’s promise – that they would be a blessing to all the world. But what had happened? It was though that treasure had been buried, and they were not ready for the master’s return. Now Jesus focuses on his friends, his followers, and asks them the same, ‘what will you do with the gift of God?’
One day, I’d like to tell you about my Nan. Sadly, she passed away three weeks ago, but had lived a beautiful life. She lived in awe of God’s great love and faithfulness, and did not hide that joyful gift in the ground, but used her ‘talent’, her gift, and multiplied it many times over with the many hearts she touched. To me, she’s a true inspiration. She invested in the gift by prayer (at least 2 hours every morning), and let that deep-rooted faith blossom through preaching, volunteering, caring for the needy in a whole variety of ways; her life was a mission. And, when the Master came, she gladly welcomed his call.
I’d like to live a bit like that. To know that the gift of God is a vocation – to live as servants to the King of kings. And not just servants, but as friends (John 15:15). The good news of the kingdom is that there is a king, and the king is good, loving, trustworthy, ever-faithful, gracious and forgiving, kind, just, and always ready to pick us up in his arms and say ‘well done.’
One last thought. Jesus posed this challenge before taking it on himself by facing the burden of the cross. He knows it’s difficult. He knows we’re all sometimes tempted to hide the gift of God in the ground. He knows our suffering and weakness because he’s been there too. So, even in these strange days, we can encouraged that God’s kingdom is not hidden away, but in our lives and in our prayers, we can help put it on display, growing the hope of God’s good news in our challenging world.
Sunday 8th November: Remembrance Sunday (Nigel Hughes)
I thought that as today is Remembrance Sunday, that instead of basing my thought for the week on our reading as usual, I would instead briefly cover the role played by those who ministered to the armed forces in times of conflict. The presence of religious leaders among armies is an ancient custom. The Bible records that the Israelites brought their priests with them into battle. The Romans did as well, and had their pagan priests perform ritual sacrifices and read auguries from animal entrails on the eve of battle. The Middle Ages produced a number of sword-bearing warrior-priests, but, by the Renaissance, chaplains played chiefly a non-combatant role in the military. By the time of Henry VIII, Chaplains, as they were known, had become more established and, by 1645, the status of Chaplains was regularised, and most Regiments had their own chaplain.
However, Army chaplains came into their own during the First World War with its extended periods of trench warfare and the ensuing heavy casualties. 179 British Army chaplains lost their lives during the conflict, with three of them being awarded the Victoria Cross. The role of chaplains expanded and changed during the Second World War. In addition to celebrating the eucharist and administering the sacraments, chaplains would visit the sick, and wounded, those who were incarcerated, and also offer religious instruction. Furthermore, chaplains were charged with strengthening moral and unity across the units they served, maintaining high morale, encouraging, and assisting soldiers to write to their families, censoring letters, actively participating in mess duties, and assisting medical staff in treating the wounded. During the Second World War, 96 chaplains from the British armed forces were killed.
The armed forces today have more chaplains (or padres as they are also known) on active service than at any time since World War II. Their role has evolved considerably as greater demands are placed upon our military forces globally. They continue to serve God as they operate on the front line supporting the needs of the service men and women who are keeping us safe. They offer a safe haven for all who may have troubled minds or who may need guidance and support. They are a gift from God in the service of our country.
Sunday 1st November: All Saints' Day (Nigel Hughes)
We should not be surprised that mountains are mentioned frequently in the Bible because they dotted the landscape where the stories in the Bible take place. As a result, mountains and hills are mentioned more than 500 times in Scripture. So it was not unusual when Jesus decided to climb the mountainside in order to address the large crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. In doing so it reminded me of another teacher, Moses, and another mountain, Sinai, from which Moses subsequently received the gift of the Ten Commandments. The sermon that Jesus then gave was considered by many to be equally significant.
The Sermon on the Mount also begins with a list, but, unlike the Commandments, it was not a list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”. The list that Jesus offers us is not telling us what we shall do but instead it describes what we need to do in order to receive righteousness. Jesus is not insisting that we become people who starve to see justice done (verse 6), but that we become people who hunger for God’s love and, as a consequence, will be blessed by Him. God will look upon us with favour. He will watch over us and receive us into His kingdom.
But I would suggest that if these words which we know as the Beatitudes are a description of reality, then it begs the question of what world do they describe? If we consider what is happening globally today, then I would suggest that, sadly, it does not describe our own world today.
“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus in verse 5, but in our modern world the meek don’t always get a fair deal. “Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus in verse 7, but in our world, illness and mourning may be tolerated for a while, but soon we will be asked to pull ourselves together and move on. “Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus in verse 8, but in our world such people are often dismissed as being hopelessly naïve.
I would ask you which of the blessings do we see set out and followed around the world by those in positions of power and responsibility today when they insist all is well and we are in good hands. We see examples on our news and in our papers of how difficult that is to achieve. Therefore, I would suggest that there is perhaps a different set of beatitudes by which we live today:
“Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs. Blessed are the wellconnected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed. Blessed are you when you know what you want and go after it as if nothing else exists and to the detriment of others, for they believe that God only helps those who help themselves.
So, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we must admit that the world Jesus asserts as being fact then, is not the world we have made for ourselves today. However, whilst I may have painted a world of doom and gloom, we must throughout it all never lose our faith or confidence in our love of Jesus, because we know Jesus not only declares but also embodies what must be done if we are to achieve the new world which he spoke about all those years ago.
An old poem promises that a day is coming when every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that a crucified man is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Everyone will see at last that the one that was hung upon a cross in shame, the one who in poverty of spirit was forsaken by everyone, even at the end by His own Father so it seemed, is Lord of all. Everyone will come to recognise and subsequently admit that belief in our Lord they will be comforted at last in the power of resurrection.
So, until that day, the Beatitudes must stand as a daring act of protest against the current order. Jesus cannot very well insist that we be poor in spirit, but he can show us how to look upon such people with new eyes, and so gain entrance to a new world. On All Saints Day, the Beatitudes testify that it matters deeply who we call “saint”. Because when we learn to recognise such people as blessed, to call them saints, then we pledge our allegiance to that new world even as we continue to participate in its future realisation.
Sunday 25th October (Nigel Hughes)
We all have an undying love for Jesus as we know how he suffered for our sins. Throughout his ministry he preached and taught about having compassion and love for all. In the past few weeks Matthew has portrayed him as being passionate to the point of physical demonstration (21:12), stubbornly mysterious in insisting on his authority to teach and act in radical ways (21:23-27), and subversive in his use of story as an ideological weapon against his opponents (21:28-22:14). We have seen the conflict escalating further with a series of confrontational verbal duels between Jesus and various religious authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus passes their three test questions with flying colours (22:15-22, concerning taxes; 22:23-33, concerning resurrection; and 22:33-40, concerning the law), before posing a question of his own that stuns his adversaries, leaving them speechless (22:41-45). In this reading we witness the last two duels: the question about the law posed by a “lawyer” (professional theologian) on behalf of the Pharisees (verses 34-40), and Jesus’ question concerning the identity of the Messiah (verses 41-46). We have no reason to doubt Matthew’s words and in doing so we need to confront the possibility that our Lord discovered that, sometimes in this life, there are things worth getting worked up about, things worth arguing about, things that call for those who are able to be both loving and formidable in the cause of righteousness. I believe the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that the Jesus depicted in these stories sees no contradiction between his formidable actions and the love he preaches. This may cause us to reconsider what Christian love actually looks like in daily life. Many would say that too often in the church, “love” is used as an excuse to take the path of least resistance instead of the path of excellence. When telling the truth would be uncomfortable, we practice evasion and call it “love.” How frequently “love” is code for smiling at biblical illiteracy and perhaps turning a blind eye to theological disappointment. Our definition of “love” is often suspiciously easy on and for us. But I believe that this is not the definition of love that Jesus is working with in Matthew. The Jesus we see in these stories thinks that to love God with the whole self, with “all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind” (verse 37) is demanding and risky. Following the path of love leads him to jump into debates and conflicts with his whole self. Love leads Jesus into all kinds of situations that are not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Eventually, love gets him killed. Of course, we are none of us Jesus. For us, charity always demands humility. But there is much to learn by seeing the love of Jesus in action. The same love that inspired Jesus to eat with the outcast, reach out to the untouchable, and embrace the powerless, also drove him to confront the demonic, outmanoeuvre the manipulative, and correct the clueless. Jesus was no pushover and the story of his ultimate decision to relinquish power for the sake of his Father’s mysterious will is all the more fascinating against the backdrop of these accounts of his prowess in the face of his enemies. Jesus is a lot more complicated than we sometimes pretend, and the love he taught demands that we expand our whole selves for God and neighbour by striving for excellence in all we think, say, and do.
Sunday 11th October (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
The very thought of receiving an invitation seems but a distant memory to most of us, so I wonder how we might react. First of all there’s the anticipation of the joy such an invitation might bring, then there’s always that question of what to wear and a thought about the delicious food we may expect. On the other hand it might be just more thing for us to cope with right now and we can’t work up any enthusiasm. Jesus knows us so well; we’re already involved with his parable. But then we realise that this invitation is like no other because Jesus is inviting us, and clearly has been throughout the centuries, to enter into the joy of God’s wedding banquet with his church. He is inviting us to come, and to be a part of all that he is doing with us. I appreciate that when I’m taking a wedding service the congregation are a very important part of that occasion. Most of all they come with their enthusiasm to add joy, they come to pledge their support for the couple both now and throughout their lives together. Surely that’s what Jesus is inviting us to do, to come with the anticipation of joy and the willingness to support all that will happen.
During this parable we detect an undertone of ambivalence from his guests, not only to the invitation itself but to the effort it will need for them to respond, prepare, and dress-up ready to give themselves to the celebration. For us, who might have sent out invitations in the past, we sense that huge feeling of disappointment, even anger, at this lethargy. There is some urgency for God’s invitation now, the feast is ready, and we know in hindsight that Jesus’ life is coming to an end. So at the last minute the invitation is opened up to all of us to enter into God’s celebration of his feast.
We may not have expected to be invited; we may not really know quite why we have come except to accept the invitation but most importantly we need to come prepared to join in putting on the marriage garment of Christian joy of heart, ‘the fruits of the Spirit being love, joy, peace patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’. Then and only then are we ready to participate in the feast.
Sunday 4th October (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
Matthew is such a brilliant orator longing for us to hear Jesus’ next parable and, as ever it’s not straightforward, there’s some unravelling to be done, but then I think Jesus wants us to tussle with it so that we can discover the joy of God’s message for ourselves in the same way that he hoped the priests and teachers would in his audience.
I know that I’m in the company of many experienced gardeners so there could be empathy for God, the gardener in the vineyard, planting, weeding, watering, pruning, all in the cause of a great harvest. Gardeners tend to be passionate about their work, they will go to any lengths to protect and nurture their produce, and so it is with God as he nurtures us. Jesus is taking our minds back as he refers to a vineyard with a wall, a vine-press, and a watchtower, to God’s prophecy in Isaiah Chapter 5 v 1-7; to build a vineyard to produce a fruitful crop. The landowner and the vineyard are code for God and Israel; the fence being the Torah, the law given to Moses, designating Israel God’s special people, as he desperately tried to save his special people from sin and self-destruction. Now Jesus want his audience to ‘spot the difference’ from these references to Judah’s story, a land called to bear fruit, but sadly failed him, and to God’s actions since; the rejection of so many prophets and now the inevitable forthcoming death of his own dear son.
So we have to ask ourselves what sort of fruit does God find in our society, our community, our Church. We know that we have had a wonderful fruit harvest this year and good vegetables but is that reflected in the church and our world, will God smile with the joy of a good and plentiful harvest of more people who have come to know of God’s unconditional love for them, especially during these difficult times, with support and kindness or will there be grief and sorrow in sour and scabby fruit, squandered time and selfish actions? Jesus hardly draws breath before he gets us to consider the consequences. This time Jesus puts himself into the guise of the stone rejected by society, as indeed he was, that he will become the cornerstone for our worldwide Church. And with Jesus as the cornerstone to our faith we are assured that we have a firm foundation to build our faith on and our commitment to serve God, with the potential that he has given us, to bear good fruit. Amen
Sunday 27th September (Nigel Hughes)
How often do we find ourselves asking a question only to realise at virtually the same time that we already know the answer or that the question has a blindingly obvious answer? I seem to find myself doing it more often these days. My wife of course puts it down to my age, smiling at me, tongue in cheek, as she says it in that knowing way that she has. Voltaire the famous French writer and philosopher once said that we ought to judge a person by their questions rather than their answers and, I would suggest there is certainly wisdom in that. We find many examples throughout Matthews Gospel of people asking Jesus different questions and his answers are always considered and remarkably striking. We find John the Baptist and Pilate asking questions about his identity; whilst John asks if he is in fact the one that they have been waiting for. The Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, chief priests, and elders on the other hand all seek to ask questions in order to try and trap Jesus. The disciples ask him questions such as “who is greatest amongst us” or “what good deed do we have to do to receive eternal life?”.
These questions are all revealing. With the exception of John and ironically Pilate, the questions are all self-serving. Those who ask Jesus questions want to trap him, or impress him, or get something from him. And to every one of those pointed questions Jesus offers and equally pointed answer, which reveals the truth about the Kingdom of God, the King, and God’s subjects. Here in Matthew 21 we find Jesus doing exactly that. He answers a question by posing one of his own, and once again uses a parable to illustrate it. Jesus neatly turns the trap around on the chief priests and elders who are trying to set him up. Suddenly they are lost for words, refusing to answer lest it incriminate them in front of the people. The parable sets up a comparison of two sons. One saying he will do as his father asks but does not and the other says he will not but then does. For everyone who hears this it forces them to ask the question, which one am I? The one who presents as obedient whilst causing havoc or the one portrayed as a ‘black sheep’ but who in fact is not? Does that resonate with us?
Jesus’ parable is, in the end, a challenge, in which he asks us how we will respond to the truth of the gospel. It shows us that those who believe they have failed to live in the right way, will be given entry to the kingdom of heaven first. It gives us hope, it shows us the goodness that is God’s love, and it nurtures us to try and do better in our lives and service to our Lord. Amen
Sunday 20th September (Nigel Hughes)
When we hear this story of the generous land owner, Jesus indicates that the reward at the end of the day’s labour that is shared out is distributed equally, in fact we hear that everyone gets exactly the same regardless of the time spent working. This is one of the parables that really makes you think hard as it appears to contradict the sentiment that Jesus expressed when he said we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. It goes against our notion of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
So, on the face of it, this story does indeed sound “unfair” to us now as it did to those who heard Jesus say these words 2000 years ago. Is it fair that those who work the longest are not rewarded for their extra effort? When we first heard this story our initial feeling was probably no. However, if we reflect on the events that took place that day with the landowner returning several times to the marketplace, then perhaps our initial sense of injustice might just be misplaced. If we consider that, on his first trip to the marketplace at the start of the day, there can be little doubt that the landowner would have picked the strongest workers, the fastest, the fittest, and, possibly, the most enthusiastic. He was picking the ones who would work hard all day and give him the best results. So, when he returned to choose extra workers then once again, he would again seek out the best of those waiting. This would continue each time he returned. So can you imagine who might be left waiting when he went for the last time? The elderly, the infirm, the inexperienced, those who were injured or disabled. All of whom would probably have struggled if forced to work all day. Yet all of them would have had the same needs, desires and aspirations as those workers who were chosen at the start of the day. All they wanted was to provide for their families, to have a sense of worth and to build some financial security. Yet the randomness of life denied them the opportunity to work the full day to be as successful.
So the generosity of the landowner in this case should sway our thinking away from those thoughts of injustice to that of a landowner who just wanted to give value and opportunity for life to even the weakest within the community of workers. Today we live in a free market economy ruled by supply and demand and where people are paid for their skill set. However, over the last few years we have seen the division between the average worker and those who they work for growing ever wider. It is not uncommon to hear of Chief Executives earning more than 100 times that of the average worker. I believe that Jesus’ parable calls into question the way that our world operates and how it devalues people and, let us be brutally honest, exploits many who work long hours in appalling conditions so that those in wealthier countries can have cheap products and grow wealthier. Jesus is trying to help us realise; that good news is not just for the privileged few but for everyone, and that, for as many times as it takes, God will return, seeking us out to join him in his labour.
I believe that the kingdom of heaven is like this, as God seeks us all out and all are rewarded, all are given the dignity of work, all are rewarded with life and hope, rewarded with a future; rewarded for a great effort or little labour at the 11th hour. So, I would ask that we pray for all those who are facing uncertainty wondering whether they will have a job to return to once this furlough period ends. Let us pray that they receive the support they need to enable them to provide for their families and give them hope for the future.
Sunday 13th September (Revd Joe Knight)
In 1989, Dimitrios, the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church appointed the 1st of September as a day of prayer for creation, the day when the Orthodox church celebrates its new year with a celebration of God’s creation of the world. Today, this commemoration has grown into what’s known as the ‘Season of Creation,’ a time in the church calendar between September 1st and October 4th (the feast day of Saint Francis).
This season is celebrated by all major Christian denominations and grows each year. It’s a great time to think about, and pray for, God’s gift of this world. Historically, this time of year focused not only harvest festivals, but to the harvest itself - whole communities would work the fields to gather in crops and prepare for winter. The knowledge of our dependence on creation and its creator was literally at our fingertips. Today, it’s not so tangible, but our reliance on the world’s resources, and our responsibility for its care is no less important.
Recently, I had the chance to reflect on this by writing a blog post for the diocesan website. Here’s an excerpt…
One the most brilliant and evocative questions ever asked of Jesus must be that famous line, ‘and, who is my neighbour?’ In responding, Jesus outlines one of the most well-known parables, the one about the good Samaritan, who, we’re told, ‘showed mercy’ or ‘had compassion’ on the beaten-up man on the side of the road.
Crossing the boundaries of race, kindred and foe is a profound Christian experience rooted in God’s transformative love, a love for all he has made. And, in recent years, we’re remembering something in the church’s long memory, that Christian love extends beyond the bounds human difference, but to all creation.
It was Saint Francis, among others, who took the idea of loving one’s neighbour to mean loving all God’s creatures. Chesterton wrote of the magnificent saint, ‘Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost a sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister.’ Every created thing was, at the very least, a neighbour to be loved.
The focus of this year’s Season of Creation is Jubilee – that biblical sense of restoration. In the light of Covid-19, and in light of continual news reports of a struggling natural world (e.g. record breaking wildfires in the America, the 68% decrease of wildlife worldwide in the last 50 years, and more), the time is now to pray for restoration and to find new ways of living that helps restore our connection with God’s wonderful world. Also, we can pray that restore that idea that loving God and loving our neighbour extends to all the God has made.
Sunday 6th September (Revd Joe Knight)
There are many things going on in the world right now that I find deeply troubling. And that’s OK. At some training, this week I was encouraged to practise lament, being reminded that over a third of Psalms are laments. In this kind of prayer, we lay our hearts before God in honesty and in trust, believing in his loving faithfulness.
One of my laments at the moment is to do with American politics, and how, time and again, I read the news or speak to American friends, and realise there is a great gulf of cultural difference between our two nations. It’s difficult to describe. But whether the issue is racism, or the climate, or care for the poor, what is just as troubling is the fact that instead of reconciliation, division appears to be the prize worth seeking. It’s shocking, and sorrowful, but we live in time when stoking division wins power. I don’t know why. But I don’t believe it’s good. And my heart sinks when I see churches colluding in this bizarre game.
But how should the church live in such times? I think our reading begins to give us a vision of something different, something hope-filled. The reading comes just after the parable of the lost sheep. In this beautiful parable, Jesus says our heavenly Father is a good father; he does not want anyone to be lost. If everyone else were ‘found’ but you were ‘lost’, he would come looking for you. This shows the great worth and value of each individual person, which is just what we need when thinking about reconciliation. Our reading about forgiveness and making amends is built on that premise - that God loves the other, that he would search out the other no matter what.
This is why Jesus’ practical advice on how to reconcile with someone who wrongs you is so compassionate. For the wronged, and the wrong-doer, it gives numerous opportunities to reconcile before more drastic or legal action is taken. But the purpose is the same: through listening and agreeing together, you gain a brother or sister. But more than that. Jesus is not just giving practical advice. He is stating something about the reality of life. When reconciliation happens, he is there in the midst. When we seek reconciliation with others, his presence is there, God is with us, doing his work – seeking and finding the lost, bringing them home, and growing the family of God. We need to pray for a church like this. We can pray that God would make us into a people who practice this, a people who humbly seek reconciliation and forgiveness, sharing God’s mercy with all we meet, because we know that they are deeply loved by our good heavenly Father. In God’s grace, may the world find greater unity and healing, to move forward together with such a vision. Amen.
Sunday 30th August (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
Decisions, decisions there are too many decisions, we might say, and some of us find it more difficult than other to make those decisions. Whether it’s a case of sending the children back to school, which Uni or college to go to, to travel on the bus into Gloucester or to go back to the office or stick with ‘zoom’ meetings; all these are important decisions that could have far reaching consequences.
Jesus too is asking us to make, what could be, the most important decision of our lives, it will most certainly have far reaching effects, and it’s only us who can answer. You will just have read the continuation of last week’s passage, so we know there is tension in the air; because Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem and we all know that means only one thing. We heard Jesus ask his disciples ‘who do people say that I am?’ and they come with all sorts of answers from John the Baptist to Jeremiah. Then came the vital question for them and its Peter who declares Jesus as Messiah, Son of the living God.
So now Jesus can continue with his teaching, or so he thinks, trying to prepare the disciples for the suffering that is to come. Clearly, it’s a step to far for Peter to hear his mentor and Saviour speak of such things. What more natural than to want to protect his master from suffering and death. But we can see that the desire of human love would frustrate the purpose of divine love. We know that decisions always have consequences, for us this will be our greatest decision we will ever make, to follow Christ and work for his kingdom here on earth.
Maybe we need to pray – Lord, give me grace to follow where you are leading me, to see the right path and know what is hindering my faith. Strengthen me to let go of the old when you are calling me to the new, knowing that in your will there is life and not loss. Amen.
What do you think of the scripture reading? If you are with others, maybe discuss the passage and include anything that inspires you or raises any questions for you.
Sunday 23rd August (Revd Fred Long)
The Gospel for today comes at a critical stage in the ministry of Jesus. The end is coming ever nearer, and Our Lord needs all the time alone with his disciples that he could gain. He has much to say and so much to teach them. So he withdraws to an area twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee, an area that was mainly non-Jewish. Confronting Jesus has been a multitude of followers who have displayed a divergence in their understanding of who he is. So then at Caesarea Philippi he demands a verdict from his disciples. He begins by asking what people were saying about Him and who they took Him to be. The disciples give a number of answers that reflect that diversity of what people are saying about Him, and who they took Him to be. It is then that He makes it a personal challenge, "But who do you say that I am?" At that question there may well have been a moment's silence. It falls however, to Peter to make his great discovery and not be afraid to confess, "You are the Christ."
The passage teaches us that the discovery of Jesus Christ must be a personal discovery. You - what do you think of me? A person might know of every verdict that has ever been passed on Jesus and give a competent summary of his teachings by the greatest of thinkers and theologians and yet still not be a Christian. Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus, but it always consists in knowing Jesus. Jesus Christ demands a personal verdict. In our Baptism and Confirmation service we are given the opportunity to make such a response. "Do you turn to Christ" and for the person of faith they reply, "I turn to Christ." It is this fact that is at the heart of the Church's belief and Christian soul, in their journey of faith.
To each one of you, in the words of St David. "Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the small things" God Bless: Fred Long
Sunday 16th August (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
During these past few months I wonder if we’ve noticed our emotions being rather more marked; the highs all the greater and the lows more devastating? For many of us there will have been times when we have had to receive difficult news which is hard to bear, especially when we might feel powerless to be able to immediately help. And we will also have received some wonderfully heartwarming news and we justifiably feel elated ready for a gathering to celebrate but then the realisation dawns that we can’t. Up and down it's exhausting just saying it, we had better get ourselves another cup of coffee!
So I feel sure that we can empathise with the woman in our gospel reading; she’s probably been caring for her daughter for a very long time, and meanwhile bearing all the ‘slings and arrows’ that have been thrown at her as to the reason for her daughter’s suffering. During our last few gospel readings we might have noticed that they too have expressed the full gambit of human emotions, from exhaustion to elation, from fear to joy, from anger to acceptance, from disbelief to awe. We marvel that God in his creation has given us all these emotions with which to express ourselves and Jesus acknowledges and welcomes that.
We may not claim to be an aggressive debater but as a parent we know all that changes. What really gives Jesus joy is that this woman knows herself to be on firm ground and, even as a Canaanite woman, she is fervent in the knowledge that Jesus has the power to cure her daughter, she is persistent.
God longs for us to be excited and exhilarated by our faith in him and we can see that he positively welcomes our endless prayers. I know we all feel frustrated when our prayers seem to go unanswered and we could be tempted to give up. But it’s then that God clearly wants us to show that emotion he has given us, to be even more expressive. Unanswered prayer humbles us and forces us to persist in the faith that in God alone we can put our trust.
Sunday 9th August (Nigel Hughes)
Have you ever noticed that it is often in the most challenging times of our life that we sense God’s presence most clearly? Now, whilst I am not saying it should be this way, or that God only appears when we most need Him, I do believe there is something about facing significant challenges that helps us to clarify our priorities and cut through the many distractions of everyday life that enables us to see God more clearly. I believe this is what is going on with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading.
If we consider that, after feeding the thousands who followed him into the wilderness, Jesus commands the disciples to head across the sea without him. Jesus would often do that as it gave Him time to be with His Father. Of course, you know that trouble is not far away, and it is whilst the disciples are crossing the sea that a storm arises that threatens to engulf them. They spend the better part of an anxious night navigating the waves and, in the early hours of the morning, Jesus strides across the water to meet them. It is understandable that, in their tiredness and terror, they would mistake Jesus as being an apparition, a wave-walking ghost, whose appearance only served to alarm them further as he draws near. Jesus reassures them that it is He who is coming to them and His encouragement works as Peter asks if he might join Jesus out on the water. Having been given his Lord’s assent, Peter is confident but soon remembers the height of the waves and depth of the sea and loses heart, whereupon Jesus reaches out and grabs him, remarking on Peter’s lack of faith. However, it is at that very moment that the lights suddenly seem to go on and the disciples see Jesus as if for the first time, confessing, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And yet if we consider that, only a few hours earlier, Jesus had fed several thousand helpless and vulnerable people then it tells us something about our humanity and that the disciples are not alone when it comes to missing the obvious. I know that I have frequently overlooked God’s presence in the peaceful and pleasant portions of my life only calling out in earnest when my life took a difficult turn. I am sure that you can all thing of the times when this may have happened to you.
But this story does not only tell us about ourselves, it also tells us about God. No matter what it is that reminds us of our need for Him, we can be certain that He will respond. Just as Jesus reassures the disciples and reaches out to grab hold of Peter, so God responds to us with the compassion and support that we often need. However, like Peter stepping out of the boat on the lake, God also invites us to be more adventurous in our faith as well. God wants more for us than simply safety and stability. He calls out to us to stretch, to grow, to live the life He has promised us by trusting that He is with us always.
Sunday 2nd August (Revd Joe Knight)
The feeding of the five thousand is one of my favourite stories about Jesus. We meet him on the search for solitude and then, all of a sudden, the crowds draw in and the day is given over to teaching, healing and acts of compassion. And then, we focus in on the end of the day. Evening approaches, everyone is tired, everyone is hungry, and they don’t know what to do.
We might feel we’re in a similar situation. Over the past six months we’ve known solitude, and, though we’ve missed out on the crowds, that time is drawing to a close, the evening approaches. A new day is ahead of us, but right now we’re in that twilight time of transition, moving from one place to another, from worship in our homes to worship together. And though lockdown has given us much to celebrate and be thankful for, we still might feel tired, hungry, and unsure of what’s to come. It would be easy to feel uneasy about the small things we have.
And yet, it’s quite amazing that our readings recently are encouraging us in our faith, to see the beauty in small things like mustard seeds and yeast, to believe that even with our small beginnings, that God can do more than we can ask or imagine. What Jesus did on the lakeshore shows us that we can offer him all we have, even if it’s very small, and he will do the rest. He invites us to trust him with our small gifts, our lack of time, our fragile faith, our limited skills and to work with him to see wonders in our midst; to see the isolated find friendship, to help healing the sick, to give hope to the hopeless. And Jesus not only calls us to work with him, to participate in his kindness, but also to receive his kindness. Yes, he calls us to offer and use what we have, but he also calls us to sit and receive from him, to be fed by him, refreshed and renewed by him.
So, in this time, when we’re not sure what to do and we’re not sure what’s to come, when we’re at the end of one day and new day approaches, we can rest in God’s care, trust in God’s power, receive God’s gifts, and be renewed in hope, hope in who God has made us to be and the calling he has placed on our lives. This is the time, once again, but perhaps like never before, to offer all we have to Jesus, whoever we are, to join in with Jesus by living in his presence each day, and to celebrate the wonder of his kingdom drawing near. Amen.
Sunday 26th July (Revd Brian Brobyn)
Today, Jesus continues to describe the kingdom of heaven, the way we talk about God and the way God is at work in this world. And, his words are rather surprising. He does not describe a kingdom that is far off in the distance, in some exalted place up there or somewhere out there. No, he describes the reign of God by using analogies that are literally very down to earth – a mustard seed, some yeast, a thief and a merchant. In his stories, he uses examples of an annoying seed and a corrupt agent. He describes qualities that seem hidden, and he uses some rather corrupt characters in the process. The parable of the mustard seed is one of the best known of Jesus’ stories. Mustard seeds are so small they are almost weightless. They can easily go unnoticed. They can lie hidden and undetected in a large sack of other seeds. I can imagine an unsuspecting farmer unwittingly sowing a mustard seed in his field as he is sowing wheat.
Mustard is actually a wild weed. It is something farmers would try to get out of the field because, once it is sown, it is hard to get rid of. Jesus uses the example of a bothersome weed that grows from a small, hidden seed but, when germinated, becomes a huge bush that tends to take over the field. Jesus is describing the way God is at work in this world. And, he compares it to a miniscule, annoying seed that can hardly be seen, but grows and is transformed into a life-giving tree as it becomes a leafy haven where the birds can make their nests. In this little parable, unnoticed beginnings of the work in the kingdom of God are contrasted with great, even surprising results. Have we been looking for God in all the wrong places?
Then, Jesus goes on and uses another example – yeast or leaven. Yeast was an unwanted agent. It is also something women would attempt to get rid of when cleaning their homes in preparation for Passover. In Jewish tradition, yeast was a symbol of corruption and impurity. It was considered evil and unclean. However, in Jesus’ parable, we find out that yeast becomes the agent of miraculous growth of God’s kingdom and it permeates every part of the dough. Like a woman who spoils the flour with yeast, God is fermenting the kingdom of heaven within the world, within our communities, and within each one of us.
That kingdom permeates all of creation and it has transforming power in this world. In light of these stories, do we have eyes to see God’s reign hidden in everyday life? Are we able to trust God’s transforming presence and love in the midst of everyday life? Or, are we too often looking for God in all the wrong places?
The kingdom of God is still under construction and we are still under construction. But, that kingdom is growing. The good news is that God so loves the world that God is continually at work in our lives and in the world, in order to draw us, in love, closer and closer to God’s self and to each other.”
What do you think of the scripture reading? If you’re with others, maybe discuss the passage and include anything that inspires you or raises any questions for you.
Sunday 19th July (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
I’m certain my fellow allotment holders and vegetable gardeners have experienced just this same problem that Jesus has also observed. You’ve prepared the ground to a suitable tilth, carefully sown the carrot seed, watered it and waited! So why is it that so many other seedlings have germinated beautifully with just a few carrot seedlings struggling to hold their own? Now I have to admit to trying to remove the weeds in the row, inevitably with disastrous consequences! I’m condemning the weed seeds at the outset.
So now I’m wondering if as we read the newspaper or listen to the television news we are tempted to do exactly the same thing; by judging an announcement for a new initiative at the outset and not giving it a chance to work. Times are tough and it could have become easier to condemn rather than to praise a new concept and consider its possible benefits.
Jesus tells us unequivocally that God’s seed is good; he was able to look at his finished creation and declare that it was ‘very good’. Jesus explains by telling us that suffering does persist in the world not because of God’s indifference, but because of his mercy. And for each hour that he delays his judgement more souls will be saved from the greater suffering on that final day. Our role is clear, there is good seed in this row of carrots, some just germinate slower than others, and it’s our work to identify the good seedlings and to nurture and encourage them to fruition. It’s not for us to judge and uproot the weeds, God is our judge.
As Fred bid us last week ‘Be joyful, keep the faith and do the small things’ - because the small things have the capacity to germinate and grow. What do you think of the scripture reading? If you’re with others, maybe discuss the passage and include anything that inspires you or raises any questions for you.
Sunday 12th July (Revd Fred Long)
Currently on the bank of the drive at Unlawater House amidst the ivy, shrubs weeds, bushes and trees there is growing an impressive, isolated cluster of wheat. How the original seeds arrived in that location one can only speculate - yet they have taken root and now the stalks stand strong and vertical, supporting full, bright green ears. If the weather continues with a good mixture of rain and sun, this small patch of soil will transform into a fine, golden bounty.
A similar scene could have been witnessed by our Lord, and then used by Him in ministering to the crowd assembled by the Sea of Galilee - subsequently becoming today for us the Gospel reading. His powerful imagery, however, helps us to use the parable of the growing seeds as a stimulus for our own theological reflection.
Observing the Unlawater wheat has provided me, not only with a subject to write about in this homily, but has given me an opportunity to share additional personal insights, which hopefully we can all share. Today the Church is rooted in a society which is diverse and variegated - just like the vegetation on the bank at Unlawater. Surrounded by the enormity of social and cultural differences it can appear that we are overshadowed. Yet the Christian life and activities continue to have meaning, being valued and in its quiet and seemingly "insignificant" way, enriching how we live and the many personal lives we touch. Jesus expressed the fact that a single seed can grow and bear fruit, the yield being a hundred, sixty or thirtyfold. We will often have no knowledge of the impact of our presence in the lives of others. All that we can do is thank God, grow and hope for a bountiful harvest. Remember that the seed of God can take root in the most unlikely of places and manner. The Church normally is identified and given meaning by its building and community worship, but we have, during the pandemic, responded to these unknown and oftenalarming times, by quietly drawing upon prayer, the Word of God and the support of those around us.
As we come out of lockdown, our current experiences should not be forgotten but used as another opportunity to enrich and sustain our faith. Be joyful, keep the faith and do the small things.
Sunday 5th July (Revd Joe Knight)
There was an ancient custom in the Hebrew tradition that allowed parents to take rebellious sons to the community elders and accuse them of being ‘a glutton and drunkard.’ The son would be tried by the elders, and if found to be rebellious and leading others astray, they would be punished, even stoned to death! In our reading today we see the community accusing Jesus of such an offence. They’ve had enough, they don’t want to change, they want to be rid of Jesus, despite the miracles, the teaching, the growing followers. And yet, Jesus claims that they are the ones behaving like rebellious children, moaning and wanting all the attention! The lectionary misses the verses where Jesus warns of the judgment they will receive. But we quickly learn that he is not condemning them, he is inviting them to come, to know rest, to let go of burdens and receive peace with God.
These past months have forced us to live in different ways, to find new rhythms of life and worship. And, as society continues to awaken, it would be easy to fall back into old, familiar rhythms. Some of those will be welcome, but I wonder how we can form life outside of lockdown with rhythms of rest? In the Message version, this is the key phrase in the passage. Jesus invites us, ‘come to me,’ he says, ‘get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’ The unforced rhythms of grace! What a beautiful thought? So much of our news is filled with people rushing back to the beaches and the shops, and the government wants to ‘build, build, build.’ I’m not sure that’s the prevailing desire of the people, but it would be easy for us to rush back into the frenzied way of life that consumes more than it can produce or afford. In such a world, a world looking for ‘recovery’, the church can shine a light of hope by practicing a life-style that is settled, grounded on hope-fuelled rhythms of grace and rest. Of course, rest does not always mean being inactive.
Elizabeth Clark once told me that a yoke is placed on two cows so that one will teach the other how to walk the field properly. The yoke allows the two to work as one, in harmony and in rhythm with one another. And so, in rest and in work, Jesus invites to live and walk with him, to be fastened to him, to let him guide every step, to accept his way, knowing that whatever he requires of us, it won’t be ill-fitting or burdensome. As we move into a time of prayer, spend a couple of minutes in quiet, and focus on Jesus’ words, as he says to you ‘come to me,’ and take time to respond to his call.
Sunday 28th June (Revd Brian Brobyn)
Today's gospel is all about the mission that Jesus sent his new recruits on and their role in mission, even what they should do if rejected. Today the message is the same for us. In order for the Kingdom of God to grow we need to welcome the stranger, the sojourner into our midst. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me (Matt 10:40) Our problem is in this very verse – how welcoming are we? How easy is it for the stranger to come into our Church and join us in our worship? (Aside from Covid regulations) How easy is it for us to talk about our beliefs and our hope embedded in the Lord Jesus? The reading message is like a relay race, Jesus is handing on the baton. He's sending out his closest disciples to continue his own mission proclaiming and putting into practice the good news of the kingdom of God. In this chapter the 12 disciples have been appointed and then Matthew records the instructions that Jesus gave them for mission. They were to heal the sick, drive out evil spirits, witness to Jesus and announce that the Kingdom was near. It would be a difficult task and they would need to risk hardship, rifts with their loved ones and even their very own lives. Why, then, should they bother? Why should we bother with mission? Today Jesus sums up the whole purpose of their mission. The people who listen to them, the ones who welcome the good news they bring, will receive a reward. The key for me is in this word we use so often – WELCOME. It’s 2 words put together WELL COME.
This immediately brings to mind that wonderful verse spoken by Jesus – Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will refresh you. WELL COME! Have you ever thought why we are sharing this this morning – It is the baton in the relay race of life. Like the original disciples, we are called to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, the good news of God’s love. What a privilege, what a responsibility! But talking about it isn’t enough it needs to be put into practice, just like the disciples. And whoever welcomes you welcomes the one who sent you – and I don’t mean me. Cling onto Jesus’ words “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” WELL COME – Come unto me. Jesus didn’t just preach about the kingdom of heaven: He opened the door to all who would listen to the Good News, in Jesus, is the word of God, love in action. Pass it on!
Sunday 21st June (Revd Joe Knight)
I’ve just finished another zoom call, this time with other curates for some training on ‘discipleship.’ It’s been a good time and raised some fascinating questions. We tend to think of discipleship in two different ways. Either personally, about whether we feel we are ‘a good Christian’ (whatever that may mean?!), or we may think of making disciples, of spreading the good news and evangelism.
I wonder what you think about when you think of discipleship? When you think of your faith, do you think of yourself as a disciple of Jesus? I wonder, if someone asked you why you are a Christian, how would you respond? The training with this focus is quite timely. Our gospel reading this week is set in the context of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, to take the good news of God’s kingdom to nearby towns and villages. Nigel spoke last week about being sent as workers in the harvest and being equipped for the task. But our reading today takes the challenge of that vocation much further and makes some shocking claims. There is the uncomfortable challenge to family loyalties and the even more unsettling consequences to disowning Jesus. It’s clear – following Jesus is not going to be easy. What would be easy, is to read these words with a tone that could make us feel a little unnerved. But the central theme here is loving God above all else, about living for him above all else, and Jesus is letting his friends know what’s at stake. Being a Christian is not simply about being a good person, and it’s not restricted to faithfulness to one’s family, being a Christian is about a relationship with Jesus that affects our whole life. It’s where the love of God impacts every aspect of our being and doing.
To help us understand this, it’s important to know that God is not only a divine judge, but a loving Father, who – because he so loved the world – gave up on his own family ties for the sake of that love. He gave his Son for you. His Son was judged for on our behalf. I had been attending church for many years before this became clear to me, that God’s love is not a general love, but it’s specific, it’s personal. It’s for me, and it’s for you – the whole of you. Enjoying and growing in this love is the beginning, middle and end of discipleship. It helps us live the way we were meant to live. It helps us know that God calls each one of us, and gives us gifts to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others – to spread not only the message, but the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-20). Yes, this means a radical change in life’s priorities, but that is what love does best, God’s love enables us to be what he has called us to be.
Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk who lived in 1600s, made a choice one day to do nothing else in his life except to love God. From then on, everything he did he did for the love of God, whether it was repairing shoes, doing the washing up, or attending prayers. In each task of every day, he found a way to do it for the love of God. I find that an inspiring way to think of discipleship. I wonder how that might inspire you? What might that look like for you in the week ahead?
Sunday 14th June (Nigel Hughes)
Jesus’ message to his disciples in which he tells them that the harvest is plentiful but that the labourers are few is a message which, in our current situation, may resonate with us even if not in the same context that it was meant by Jesus. I am sure most of us will have heard or seen the reports in the news media asking for local help in harvesting the crops which were growing in our fields across the country. Without that help, crops would be ruined leading to a shortage in our shops and, as a consequence, people would not only go hungry, but communities would suffer the longer term financial impact. Thankfully, the response to those calls for assistance resulted in people from all walks of life stepping forward to lend a hand in gathering the crops and so the shops are still able to provide us with the foodstuffs we need. Those cries for help were answered. Of course, the metaphorical message that Jesus was conveying to his disciples then was about the harvesting of a different crop. Jesus and his disciples had been travelling extensively throughout the land, showing compassion, curing illness and diseases, and spreading the brilliant news of God’s new Kingdom. In doing so, they had been sowing the seeds of a new harvest which, like any crop, needed to be nurtured, nourished, and grown further afield in order to feed all who were desperately hungry for the spiritual ‘food’ of the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew that his flock needed more shepherds to tend and care for them so, of course, the obvious choice would have been his disciples. After all, they had accompanied him throughout most of his ministry and had borne witness to all that he had done. Goodness, how must they have felt? Can you imagine how you would have felt when Jesus gave you that power and authority? Think about it for a few moments. When I did it sent a shiver down my spine. On one hand, they must have felt excited that they were being trusted with such a mission and yet, surely, they would have felt a sense of trepidation. We know that it was a great success. We also know that this would not be the last time that Jesus would send them out to preach, heal and sow the seeds that would grow into the new covenant, the Church of Christ that we know today. Even upon leaving them, he told them that they would do even greater works than he had done (John 14:12), and, of course, that is exactly what happened.
Let us not forget that the power and authority that was at work in the earthly ministry of Jesus and his disciples then is still very much alive with us today. We have seen so many wonderful examples of our Lord at work in our community and across the country over these troubling times. This has shown that the seeds of God’s love and goodness continue to be sown and that there may be some shoots of renewed hope for a new harvest to come in the days ahead. Let us give thanks and praise for that to our Lord. Amen
Sunday 7th June (Revd Sarah Hobbs): Trinity Sunday
I wonder if you’ve been zooming recently or are you a ‘skyper’ or ‘facetimer’. It’s so exciting to actually see your family and friends after such a long time and there’s so much news to exchange, you probably feel you could chat for ever and even take them for a tour of your kitchen or the sights of your garden. What can become difficult is how to bring the chat to a satisfactory conclusion because there’s always one more vital piece of information you need to share.
I get the impression that it’s the same for Jesus, though in his case he manages to be succinct and to the point. It comprises only four verses positively packed with vital information, the final verses of Matthew’s gospel. After Jesus’ resurrection he fulfilled his promises to the disciples that they would see him; as is so often the case, it’s up a mountain.
Firstly, for the disciples, it seems almost too good to be true being with Jesus again, like old times – but clearly something is very different. We can all pick up on the intensity of the meeting; there is an urgency as the disciples listen intently to Jesus as he shares the authority that God has given to him with them, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus gives them their instructions to – go out – teach and baptize to every nation in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As Christians we too are being commissioned now to be the listening ear, the consoling and encouraging voice, the accepting eyes and the arms that want to hug. It’s for us to take Jesus’ work forward – but most importantly not in our own power alone, we are never meant or expected to do that. Jesus reminds us from the very start of the gospel that he is the Emmanuel, God with us, and now he tells us again ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’. Amen
Sunday 31st May (Revd Ann Sargent): Pentecost
Breathe on me breath of God…………….
Our breath has been a focus for many of us during these last days and months. The invasion of our air by this unseen virus has led us to hold ourselves apart from each other for these days, guarding the space between us. The breathing out and breathing in of so many has played on our hearts, as we think of those who have been particularly hard hit by this disease struggling to find their breath and gasping to hold onto life. It is the day of Pentecost, Jesus before ascending to heaven breathed on his disciples, opening wide the gates of heaven and beckoning us into the eternal life he has set before us, here the promised Holy Spirit is poured out on the gathered disciples and all people. All the people not just the extra Holy ones. As a world community never was their a time when we needed this life giving breath more.
My question to myself throughout this time has been how do we live these days well? Over and over again I have returned to the truth that we can only live these days well if we allow ourselves to be shaped and transformed by the Holy Spirit and attend to God’s breath within us. This is the breath that carried us into being and sustains us whether we notice it or not, offered freely but requiring room. Our calling as a church is to create a spacious place where we allow the Spirit room to breathe within us. We are currently physically separated from one another, yet, as we come together in prayer as a benefice today we are invited to discover our oneness as a worshipping community. To take a moment to notice the different nuances of each other rather like the myriad of languages surrounding those early disciples, to celebrate who we are together as the People of God in these communities. The challenge of Pentecost is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform the barriers of old experience and even pain into bridges of trust and love so that we can learn to be God’s people once again. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we can continue to seek to make Christ present in the communities we love and serve.
Breathe on me, breath of God, fill us with life anew, that we may love the way you love, and do what you would do.
Sunday 24th May (Revd Fred Long)
Near Llandudno in North Wales is Ormes Head. Many people, often visitors, decide to go to the top walking or by tram. The road winds its way up the peninsula until it finally reaches a cemetery. At the times I made my first visit, one was faced with a notice, “No Road beyond the Cemetery”. Many people turn back but those who know or who are adventurous or who have faith to explore beyond, find that there is a path which leads through the cemetery leading to the summit where you can view the splendour of Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. To the characters on the first Good Friday the thought, No Road beyond the cemetery, must have been very real. The journey through the graveyard was then as it still is for many today surrounded by fear and disbelieve. Yet on Easter Sunday and the following days the disciples are to explore and witness to a new and powerful understanding, Christ is alive, Christ lives. The gospel accounts of the meetings with Our Lord is dominated not be his words but by his presence.
Easter celebrates that by a mighty intervention God has given us a visible assurance of his fellowship with us, which has an eternal dimension. And so we come to the Ascension. The incident is told in the simplest of languages, but the drama is dramatic. Jesus leads his followers to Bethany and raising his hands blesses them and during that act is parted from them.
Many questions can be raised but St Luke records that those gathered reacted not with terror, not even confusion, but that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Why? Because they knew that they had a saviour from whom nothing - nothing at all – could separate them any more. St Paul put it thus “I am persuaded, that nothing (he means life or death) can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.” For the disciples the Ascension becomes a sign that the victory of Christ is complete, his glory, becomes our glory.
As a Christian we enter through our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Each of us are invited to look beyond our immediate situation and see and experience the love of Christ which we receive through the Holy Spirit. To all, may the Joy of the Lord Jesus be with you and all those you love. Amen.
Sunday 17th May (Revd Joe Knight)
This week we’ve been given a glimmer of hope in the midst of being apart. From Wednesday, most (but sadly, not all) of us were given permission to leave our homes freely, and that we are now free to meet one other person of a different household. For many, this new freedom will be a welcome break in what has been a difficult time. For others, being shielded, this freedom is something still to look forward to. But I wonder what we mean by that word ‘freedom’? It’s been used a lot recently. Our Prime Minister has thanked us for allowing our freedoms to be restricted, and throughout the world (particularly in the US), there have been protests and law suits against the ‘attack on personal freedom', many calling the lockdown ‘house arrest'. But I’m not sure there is such a thing as personal freedom without neighbourly responsibility. And the lockdown has given us the chance to exercise our freedom to care for others, by staying at home. Last week, we read Jesus’ claim that he is the truth, and in chapter 8 of John’s gospel, Jesus has said that ’the truth will set you free’ (8:32). Jesus came to set us free, to live life to the full (John 10:10), which means living life as it was meant to be lived, in a loving relationship with God.
The love of God is the context for this week’s reading. It’s when we encounter God’s love for us that our lives are freed to know him, to hope in him, to live each day with him, even if we are locked in our houses. And, in our reading today, Jesus promises that he will be with us wherever we are, through the Spirit of Truth, or we might say, the Spirit of freedom. By God’s Spirit, God makes his home with us, and we find our home in his love. Isn’t that wonderful?! But Jesus goes further, because this love cannot be kept to ourselves. Jesus has said that if we love him, we will obey his commands. So, what is his command? Well, it’s found in the previous chapter and part of the same conversation. Jesus said, ‘a new commandment I give you, love one another’ (John 13:34). And there we have found the true meaning of freedom: We are loved by God, and God lives with us by his Spirit, freeing us to know his love, and to share his love in the world. The freedom God gives may be personal, but it is not private, it does not come without love of neighbour. This week, then, I wonder, how can you share some love, joy and hope with someone? A phone call perhaps, or a card, a quick chat 2 metres apart?! I hope that we can all find creative ways to know God’s love and to share it in the days ahead. Because, as we do, we make a space, a home, for God to dwell. Amen.
Sunday 10th May (Nigel Hughes)
It seems a little at odds that on this, the Fifth Sunday after Easter, our Gospel reading takes us back to the Last Supper prior to Jesus’ death. Jesus had already washed his disciples’ feet, foretold of his betrayal by Judas, and of Peter’s imminent denial of him. Put yourself in their shoes for a short while and consider how you would have felt upon hearing that news. One blow after another and, to cap it all off, he has just told them that he will be leaving them shortly. No wonder they were feeling anxious and concerned.
Jesus responds sympathetically, calling them back to their relationship of trust and assurance. He is not abandoning them but is returning to his Father. A destination he assures them that will also be theirs as there are many rooms within his Father’s house and he would be preparing a place for them. How reassuring that must have sounded? Or did it?
Would we doubt? Would we have questions? Well, like Thomas and Philip, I am sure we would. When we experience difficulties or periods of duress, a little like we are now, then of course we seek and want answers that reassure us. Thomas looks for specific answers whilst Philip seeks to know more about the Father – to see him. Jesus’ response is surely one of exasperation and one that that should resonate with us when he says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” To know Jesus is to know his Father. In these words, Jesus is making his most unambiguous claims about his own identity and asking them to trust him.
Trust is not always easy to give; it can be destroyed easily by careless words or actions. However, the words of Jesus are never careless, and his actions are always considered. He walks by our side everyday and we should take strength from knowing that, like the disciples, to be with and know Jesus is the most reassuring message that we could ever be given. Amen
Sunday 3rd May (Revd Ann Sargent): Jesus as the Gate
In this metaphor, Jesus draws upon a practice shepherds in the middle east still do today. Using either a dry-stone walled pen or a cave, the shepherd leads their sheep into the pen with a narrow opening of rocks for passage. The pen offers shelter and security for the sheep. By sitting or lying in the narrow gap, the shepherd serves as the “gate” the only way in or out of pen.
In these days of uncertainty, it is reassuring to reflect that though separated by social distancing each of us is welcomed into the sheepfold and it is Christ himself who lays down to protect us in these painful and difficult days. He lays there, whatever we are facing, dwelling with us and inviting us to dwell within him through illness, fear, bereavement, loneliness, anxiety as well as in joy. He protects, nurtures, holds and heals setting the hope of our inheritance as children of God before our eyes and inviting us as his Easter People to rest with confidence and boldly live this eternal life that has already begun. You may like to open the door remembering Easter Eve when we carried the Light of The Risen Christ into the heart of our homes and reflect on how Jesus abides with you now right here in the place where you are.
O God, you search me and you know me. All my thoughts lie open to your gaze. When I walk or lie down, you are before me, Ever the maker and keeper of my days. (Bernadette Farrell from Psalm 139). https://youtu.be/mEGc3_D19Vo - this link will take you to a youtube link of the whole song.
It is as you are that Christ cares for you not as a tidied up version of yourself, limping or skipping into the sheepfold, his love is the same, not measured or rationed just poured out, an invitation into life in all its fullness that we claim together. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia
Sunday 26th April (Revd Brian Brobyn)
The Emmaus Road: a road that reveals Jesus’ companionship, conversation, challenge to believe, and renewal of hope to all those who follow Him. Two of the disciples of Jesus, discouraged and frustrated, begin to travel to Emmaus, their home. As they walked, they talked of the events of the week, and then Jesus came along side of them. For whatever reasons their eyes were kept from recognizing this third person as Jesus, the Risen Lord. Perhaps they were so preoccupied with their own disappointments and problems. The important point is not that they did not recognize Jesus, but Jesus recognized them as His own. His coming to them and walking along side of them illustrates the truth that Jesus promises, "I am with you always." (Matthew 28:20) The road to Emmaus is a road of companionship that indicates Jesus’ desire to walk with each of us. It further illustrates that Jesus is with us even when we do not recognize Him! It is also significant that when the two disciples in Emmaus recognize the Lord, he vanishes from their sight. When they recognize him, they no longer see him. They must understand and live by the power of the presence of Jesus, not through physical eyes and tangible experiences, but through the eyes of faith, the proclamation of the gospel, and continued faithfulness to the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus is the greatest empathic listener. He is able to listen to our hurts and discouragements with the ability to enter into our pain. These two had no idea they were talking to the One who had been crucified and raised. The One who would turn their pain and sorrow into joy. Do we? Do we know that Jesus desires to converse with us through the means of prayer? Like these two we can tell Him whatever is on our hearts and minds. He wants to listen and talk with us. Jesus challenges our belief. We cannot live without faith. Jesus told the two on the Emmaus road that they were foolish for not believing the prophets. Would He say that to us today? How slow are we to believe? We know the truth that He is risen, and one day will return to earth. Do we believe? Do we live like we believe? The Scriptures communicate the spiritual truths we need to know, and Jesus exhorts us to believe and to live out that belief. When arriving back in Jerusalem they found the eleven together and with great zeal in their renewed hope they said this … "THE LORD IS RISEN!" Let us, as the new disciples of Jesus, declare the same – THE LORD IS RISEN – HE IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA. AMEN
Sunday 19th April (Revd Sarah Hobbs)
Fear and disbelief, we will all have experienced them and most probably the reasons are as numerous as the people who give them. In our present predicament we have the opportunity to appreciate just how the disciples are dealing with their particular situation. In misery and despair they feel confident they have locked themselves in against all their greatest fears. Having heard rumours from both Mary and Peter, and Mary having to admit she didn’t actually recognise Jesus at first; what were they to believe; was their fate now sealed and would the authorities be out to condemn them to the same fate as Jesus. Surely this is us too, we have shut ourselves in behind locked doors, in our case many of us sharing a fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus. We too have a fear for the unknown, a fear of experiencing the same devastating fate as so many others; we stick together either in our households or by ‘phone, we wait, uncertain of the outcome, seeking reassurance from the News broadcasts. I think we might have become used to the fact that no locked doors can hold Jesus out; but for the disciples it was essential proof as he showed them the marks of his crucifixion. He had managed to pushed his way into their deepest fears and dispel them with his words ‘peace be with you’ and he blessed them with the familiar words ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’; those same words we heard said over us when we came asking for confirmation; and he gave them a job to do. I am forever grateful to Thomas for speaking our words of doubt for us; we might well have questions to ask right now – why – why has so much misery and sadness and suffering been inflicted on so many. But maybe if we can remain in God’s presence we will come to realise just how much he too is suffering to see such pain and anxiety. During our time of lockdown there is clear evidence that Jesus’ love is forcing its way into all areas of society as we hear of new initiatives for support for one another in any way we can, this, I believe, is the work Jesus has given us to do in his name. Captain Tom Moore has certainly captured the imagination and generosity of many this week.
Easter Day (Revd Joe Knight)
This is an unusual time. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. And yet, as in times of great famine, war, and pandemics, our world today is dominated by death and the fear of death. News outlets provide us with daily updates on how many deaths have occurred due to COVID-19, and day after day, we come face to face with the fear and loss that so many are experiencing. In light of this, some may question whether it is appropriate to sing and celebrate Christ’s conquering of death, on a day when thousands will die. What does it mean for them? What does it mean for their families? And yet, far from being insensitive, seeing the world through the lens of Christ’s resurrection is the most apt and poignant way to respond to the grief and disruption we face. Two years ago, my uncle died on Easter Saturday. He was diagnosed on the Tuesday, we lived through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in the shock of his deteriorating condition. If there was a job to do, Phil always got on and did it, and he made no mistake when that came to his own death. On silent Saturday, sat in his favourite chair and in his favourite shirt, he fell silent, as did the room, and we quietly saw him go to be with Jesus. The following day, attending church and sharing bread and wine with friends and family, remembering Christ’s death for us, and celebrating Christ’s resurrection, it was difficult to sing ‘oh death where is your sting.’ Not because I struggled to believe it. Not because I felt no pain. But because the weight of those words was so palpable. I believe the whole congregation, which Phil was an elder of, had a deep experience of the love, life and gentle care of Christ that morning. Our friend had gone away. But because of Jesus, we had hope. The hope of Christ’s resurrection began to heal our wounds, even then, because we knew that death was not the end, death does not have the final word. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed right now. But this Easter day reminds us about the world we live in. We do not follow Christianity because we think it’s the best option among other religious choices. We do not follow Christ because we think he gives some wise teaching of how to live in a world that accidentally evolves, creating its own history of its own accord. No. The world belongs to God, who created it, loves it into being, and is Lord of its past, present and future. We live in a world that God so loves that he gave his own Son, so that all who believe – all who trust in his loving kindness and mercy – may not perish, but live; live in fellowship with him now and forever. On the first Easter morning, Mary thought she heard the gardener. And she was right. Creation was being made new. God the Gardener was tending it, nurturing it back to life. The weeds and pests were dealt with, the time of spring had come. And, despite all we may face, despite our sorrows or fears, this is our world. Salvation has come. There is hope. We can journey on in faith, in love, in the joy of the Lord. For Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Palm Sunday (Revd Brian Brobyn)
'Ride on, ride on in majesty; in lowly pomp ride on to die.' How very pertinent these words are. This was a time for extravagant gestures – a time when anything else would appear just mean and calculating. Jesus sent two disciples into the town to borrow a donkey. The scriptures read, 'Fear not, daughters of Zion, your king will come riding on an ass's colt.'
Jesus rode the donkey for the last two miles, from Bethany and Bethphage, via the Mount of Olives, into the holy city. They had no rich trappings to adorn the donkey so they used the best they had – the cloaks off their backs. Even though he travelled in a lowly form, riding on a donkey, it was infinitely better than his usual transport, on foot, but now, at least, he was mounted. His ride into Jerusalem was planned to highlight his lowliness – he was not afraid of the power and the malice of his enemies within the city – but he rode into the city on a donkey – not a fine horse as a king should have done – but a donkey; and a borrowed donkey at that. When you consider it, it was typical of the whole life of Jesus. He was born in a borrowed stable, he went out onto the sea of Galilee in a borrowed boat, he ate his Passover meal in a borrowed room and was buried in a borrowed sepulchre. But, when you think about it, for someone who was as humble as Jesus, with no possessions at all, borrowing would have been the only answer.
As Jesus rode on into Jerusalem, can you imagine his surprise when the streets were packed with crowds cheering and shouting ‘Hosanna’ ‘Son of God’ ‘Hosanna to the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord’ This was a greeting usually used by priests when pilgrims arrived for the feast. The crowd wanted to own him as a king – Messiah. They heartily wished him well, both with their cheering and with their ‘Hosannas'. Hosanna, of course, means ‘Let the king live for ever.’ The excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd was so great as they descended from the Mount of Olives, that the Pharisees were afraid that it might cause trouble with the Romans, so they asked Jesus to silence his followers. Jesus said to them that if they were to silence them, the very stones would cry out instead. Now, it is widely believed that the disciples did have something to do with agitating the crowd into a frenzy of excitement. But what a fickle crowd this was – one minute they were calling out that the king should live for ever, and not much later they were calling out, ‘Crucify him’.
As Jesus rode on, people threw down their coats before donkey. This must have been another extravagant gesture. Our Gospel tells us that they broke branches off trees and threw before him. John reports that they were carrying palm branches. This was, at the time, a symbol of victory, which probably gave rise to the term ‘triumphal entry’.
Can you imagine the feelings going through Jesus that day? He knew that he was to be insulted, humiliated, beaten and then crucified. What terrible turmoil he must have been in – after all he was human with all our human feelings and emotions.
This was supposed to be his ‘Triumphal Entry’, and some think that this turned out to be somewhat of a misnomer, but I don’t think that at all. It is, I agree, a battle and war situation, but at the end of the day Jesus did triumph. He triumphed over death. He triumphed over the grave. He won a victory for us, and wiped clean the slate for all mankind. Jesus showed us that the only way to God is through him. He threw wide open the gates of heaven for us all, and he stands on his cross with arms wide outstretched to welcome us into his kingdom. Jesus didn’t die in vain if each of us turns to him and throws open our arms and welcomes him into our hearts.
And we, in our humble human way should respond by giving him all our love, all our prayers, and when we get the chance of God’s grace and mercy, let us grasp it with both hands, let us learn from the mistakes of others, and, above all, let us greet him with our Hosannas. Hosanna – let the king live forever – and may we serve him every way we can, for as long as we live. Amen.
Sunday 29th March (Revd Joe Knight)
On Wednesday just gone, the church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, the moment when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Saviour of the world. It may seem strange, in the middle of lent, to remember a story that has a distinctly Christmas feel. And yet, perhaps, in our present circumstances there is no better time to be inspired by Mary’s magnificent ‘here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me just as you say’ (Luke 1:38).
The message of Easter is that the Son of God was given for the world, and our focus is drawn to the crescendo of this self-giving love, Christ’s death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection. But the annunciation invites us to reflect on the whole of Jesus’ human life. It reminds us that before God gave his life for us, he gave himself for us. God was willing to become small, vulnerable, helpless. The One who carries the universe was willing to be carried. The One who envelops all things, became enclosed in the darkness of a womb, isolated, alone, dependent.
‘This is how God shows his love for us,’ the apostle John wrote, ‘he sent his Son into the world so that we might live’ (1 John 4:9-10).
A week into church closures and tough restrictions on leaving our homes, I’ve found it inspiring this week to pray to a God who can identify with all our human experiences, our joys and our hardships. And, though I don’t plan on these ‘thoughts’ to focus on the coronavirus every week (you’ll be pleased to know!), we can be encouraged that God has come near us, he brings hope in the darkness, and friendship when we feel alone.
Out of that isolation and dependency of the womb, God birthed something truly awesome, a new creation, a new way to live, mercy and grace embodied in his Son. I wonder, in the midst of our isolation and dependency on others, what might God birth today and in the coming weeks? Can we say, as Mary said, ‘here I am’ to the new thing that God might do?
Sunday 22nd March (Revd Joe Knight): Mothering Sunday and the first Sunday with no church services.
In Lent we reflect on the wilderness experiences in life. The wilderness, a friend reminded me this week, is the place where people in the Bible often went to meet with God. In the wilderness, in the quiet, in the space, God can be discovered in fresh and surprising ways; transformation often comes in midst of difficult and disorienting times and spaces.
Moses had a decision to make. He could go to the promised land and have his dreams come true, or, stay in the isolated wilderness. For Moses, the defining aspect of this choice was whether God was with him or not. He could stay in the wilderness with God, or, receive all of God’s promises, but be alone, without God.
What would you choose? Is God’s presence more important than God’s promises?
Moses chose God’s presence, and God stayed with him as he journeyed on.
My friend remarked, the coronavirus has propelled us into a wilderness experience, a wilderness not of our choosing, but what will we choose? How can we make the most of this time? In this wilderness, when many of us are separated, we can remember that God is with us; though we may be isolated, we are not alone; though it is difficult, we can face these times with hope in our hearts, because God dwells with us even in hard times.
The wilderness can be distressing and uncomfortable. So, I want to encourage us, as we begin a season of not meeting together for Sunday services, that we can remind each other of God’s closeness with prayer, phone calls and acts of kindness. And, please, if you are finding this particularly difficult, do ask for help if you need it. Yes, keep praying. But, please, keep talking - with neighbours, family and friends. Let’s all help one another to choose to make this time in the wilderness a time of flourishing, where ‘the desert and parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom.’ (Isaiah 35:1-2)