Tag Archives: adventbook2016

Week 4: Friday Matthew 26:1-31

Extravagant love

 She loved him more than words could tell
Her heart was overflowing
She poured her love out o’er his head
In form of precious perfumed oil
Bought after many years of toil
Worth a fortune, so they said…
Why waste it on his head?

They said the money spent was waste,
The oil should have been sold in haste
To feed the poor – not this disgraceful
Wasteful generous anointing
Of this one man’s head.

“The poor” he said “are always there.
Just this once, her loving care
Of my needs for the future day
When dead and cold in tomb I’ll lay
Is right and proper”. So He said.

I wonder – when the dread day came
When hung he on the cross in pain
Bearing all the sin and shame
Of humankind – did thought remain
Of act of kindness, act of love?
Of oil pouring out above
His head, now crowned with thorns?

Before that cross, that bleeding brow
We kneel now, and we wonder how
We too can show our love right now
For him who died and rose again
And reigns on high – yet still the pain
Continues here on earth.

Babies die with nought to eat,
Refugees with bleeding feet
Trudge wearily along the street
To nowhere.
Even in this land of ours,
Peaceful, rich in hope
Homeless have no place to go
Hungry children whimper low
Christmas morn for them is bleak,
No gifts unless there’s less to eat.

So that is how we show our love
For Him who came down from above
To save us all from sin and shame.
Loving others – that’s the same
As loving Him – he said as much
As day by day he healed by touch
And word and deed.
So we now feed
The hungry
Out of love
For in so doing we feed Him.

 

Week 3: Saturday Matthew 27:27-38

This passage came as a shock.

Wright’s commentary gave new insights – I’d never before made the conscious connection between the Sermon on the Mount and the events surrounding the crucifixion, although I’d always seen in the crucifixion narratives a deep integrity with all that Jesus lived and taught up to that point.

Powerlessness. That’s the word that sprang to mind as I read the penultimate paragraph on p89 of the book where Wright ponts out that similar atrocities continue to happen and asks what our response is.

Powerlessness.

Jesus, who had demonstrated such authority and power over sin, guilt, sickness and even death, was in this moment powerless – this is, above all, the moment when he, “though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2)

Powerlessness.

The disciples looking on could do nothing – the full might of the occupying forces was ranged against their Lord and Master, and would crush them instantly, like an insect underfoot, if they gave any sign at all that they objected.

Powerlessness.

Maybe above all, the powerlessness of his mother.
Mary, who had born him in her womb for 9 months, facing herself the possibility of condemnation and rejection for her “immorality” (an angel?? the Holy Spirt??? yeah, right… who does she think she’s kidding???).
Mary, who had nurtured him as only a mother can, held him to her breast, watched over his development, disciplined him when, an unthinking adolescent, he caused her and Joseph heart-lurching anxiety when they couldn’t find him following his Bar Mitzvah.
Mary, who had looked on as he left the carpenter’s bench to which he’d been trained by Joseph and began to wander the country – claiming, at one point when she and her other sons came to speak with him, that all the needy people crowding around him were his family.
Mary, who had given her life to love, cherish, nurture this precious gift from God.
Mary, now powerless to mitigate the suffering of the man who was once the baby inside her womb.

Powerlessness.

Ours, as we look around our deeply troubled world today.
There seems so little we can do – and certainly we are powerless to change the big picture.
Ours, as we watch those near and dear to us suffer physically and psychologically.
Ours, as our own bodies begin to fail or develop life-limiting conditions.
Ours, as our nearest and dearest or indeed ourselves, approach the end of life.

How do I respond to the cross? How does it touch my life?
It proves beyond doubt that God is in all things – including the unspeakable, the unthinkable.

This is Incarnation.

God in all things?

Truly?

Is God in all things?

A beautiful sunset, a sleeping child,
A rose in bloom, a mother’s smile…
A father’s strong hand, a lover’s caress,
A hug from a friend, my deepest distress…

Hold it right there! What’s that I just heard?
My deepest distress? When the sun is obscured
And the lightning strikes, the tsunami floods in
Sweeping all life away – or so it seems…?
When grief shreds my heart, when my body is wracked
With pain, when for lust a child is attacked?
When I’m sinking in mire, when I can’t find firm ground,
When all hope is lost, when the darkness surrounds…

Is God in all things?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

Is God in my doubting, my darkness, my fear?
Or does God hide away when the fog fails to clear?
Does God simply watch from the side-lines, wait
For the act of destruction which settles my fate?

Is God in the darkness?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

A child in a manger,
A refugee flight,
A victim of prejudice,
Sought out by night
For fear of the others –
Yet offering sight
For the blind, healing, hope
For those life leaves behind…
A man in a courtroom,
Falsely accused…
A whipping, a taunting,
Face battered and bruised
By a crown of thorns
Pressed down on his brow…
As he hangs on a tree
Is God in all things now?
If not now, then never…
At this moment of death,
Of defeat, the man says
With his last gasping breath
“Into your hands, my Father, my God, I commend
My spirit” – and still the night had no end
As darkness encompassed the earth at noon,
As the sun was obscured, earthquake rumbling on.
Grief, despair, darkness had won the day.

Until three days later the stone rolled away…

Yes, God is…
In darkness as well as in light
Yes, God is in all things,
In both day and night.
As I face the tsunami of life I proclaim
That God is in all things,
In both joy and pain.
Yes, God is…

Week 3: Friday Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness.

In the face both of unspeakable atrocities in the world – the grand-scale ones we witness in the news and the hidden personal ones of abuse, cruelty, simple unkindness – I offer you these two poems, which begin to explore the Mystery at the heart of the Gospel – the response of Love to unspeakable, unthinkable darkness and destruction.

 

Justice

“Love, love, love”… the music croons eternal truth
“love, love, love”… the hopeful zeitgeist of my youth
“love, love, love”… all-pervading sentiment
“love, love, love… love is all you need”

The years roll by
Bring sorrow and joy
Hope and despair
But always there
In the background…
“love, love, love… love is all you need”

And down the years
Love becomes
Warped
Twisted
Sullied
The word used to
Abuse, to
Accuse.
Pain unending
Clouds my days
I become
Scapegoat
For the sins of others
Bearing the unbearable.
Guilty for being.
Until
At last I hear
God’s whisper in my heart
At last I hear
His verdict –
“Not guilty!”
“Never guilty!”
“Innocent victim!”
Then
At last
My heart cries out,
My soul screams out for
Justice!

And on that day
I turn to
Christ my King
I petition
Christ my King
For
Justice.
Not for
Vengeance
But for
Justice

And Christ my King
Hears my cry
Says
“Rise up! Stand tall!
Your petition is granted.
You shall have the justice you seek.”
And I know that
Christ my King
Never lies
Christ my King
Never dies
Christ my King
Will look them in the eyes
And they will know
They will know
They will know
What they have done
To me and so to Him
And I know that
Christ my King
Will judge them
Christ my King
Will pronounce their guilt
Christ my King
Will pass sentence
Christ my King
Will open wide His arms,
Show them His wounded hands,
Speak to them words of
Forgiveness and healing
Pass His sentence of Love

For that is the
Justice
He bought
And that is the
Justice
I sought.
For
Christ my King
Reigns supreme,
Reaches out His wounded hands,
Gathers me to His wounded side,
Heals my wounded heart,
Breathes His truth into my soul –
“Love, love, love… love is all you need –
My love”

Father, forgive

Crown of thorns on piercèd head
Eyes dark with pain, deep wells of dread
Knowing too well what lies ahead –
To hang on cross until He’s dead.

On mountaintop with vision vast
The choice was made, the die was cast
He nailed His colours to the mast,
Chose God – and still to God holds fast.

Now nails will bind Him to the tree
A banner raised for all to see
He hangs and dies in agony
By cruel death to set us free

He trusted God – now God is gone
What price now faith? He hangs alone
There’s naught but pain – temptation strong
To curse, deny, hate – not atone

And yet, though blind with blood and tears
He conquers hate, He quells His fears
“Father Forgive” rings in our ears
His cry still echoes down the years

For we make the same choice as He,
Embrace God’s way on bended knee
To live, love, die to set all free
And “Father, forgive” is still our plea

For we, like Him, must bear the weight
Of others’ pain, uncalled-for hate –
Yet still to pray “Father, forgive”
That Christ in us may help them live,
To find in Him their own true state
As by His grace love recreates
What was destroyed by evil’s might –
That darkness may give way to light

And though it seems too hard to do,
With strength nigh gone, resources few –
Yet He who died in agony
Now lives in us, empowers, that we
May live, love, give – and give some more
Drawing on His unending store
Of grace, of love, of life divine
Grafted in Him, the One True vine.

Week 3: Thursday Matthew 12:15-21

Gentleness and patience – that’s what today’s passage speaks to my heart.

We are quick to justify ourselves, to confront those who seek to undermine us, to stand out ground, to fight our corner, to be assertive, to win the argument.

That’s not what Jesus does when personally threatened.
He withdraws.
And here’s a thought… in the context of the situation, who are the damaged reeds and the guttering lamps? Surely not his disciples, nor the crowds following him for healing. No. Those who need time and space and opportunity to grow strong and tall again, to burn straight and true, are surely the religious leaders – those who are currently plotting against him.

We look at those who seek to do us down and see an enemy who needs to be fought and subdued.
Jesus looks at those who seek to do him down and sees someone who is broken and in need of healing.
We are impatient for idiots to realise their stupidity.
Jesus quietly continues to live out the truth of the Kingdom, giving time for the broken ones to realise their own need and come to him for healing. As some of them did.

Peace in conflict.
Hope in despair.
Courage in danger.
Faith in doubt.
God of paradox and miracle.

And what of us?
We bring our brokenness to him for healing.
We live out our own lives true to kingdom rules, regardless of societal norms – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, releasing the prisoner, sending blankets to refugees, accepting the stranger into our community.

Week 3: Wednesday Matthew 9:18-26

If only…

Shunned through no fault of my own
Ostracised, left on my own
Twelve long years since I could be
Living in community

Barred from Temple worship
Food I touch unfit to eat
Others shun me, fear me
Avoid me in the street
Loneliness my clothing
Shame my daily meat

Hopelessness embraces me
Until… until… there comes the day
When news arrives of One who heals
Hitherto death-bringing ills
Touching even lepers

He seems to have no fear of taint
Never speaks words of complaint
Never turns a need away
Always welcomes, day by day
Sick in body, mind or soul –
Touches them and makes them whole

If I wait ’til He comes here
Then I’ll never be let near
Folk’ll know that I’m unclean
I don’t want to make a scene
So I’ll go to Him, away
From those who see me day by day
And just for once, I’ll push my way
Through the crowds – they’ll never know
I shouldn’t be there. As they flow
Around me, I’ll just touch his hem
No need to trouble Him – and then
I’ll quietly slip away

That was my plan – but now it seems
My plans are just the stuff of dreams
I’ll swear I only touched his hem –
So how was it He knew?

For in that moment, He turned round
The crowd was hushed – never a sound
Until he spoke “My daughter, know
That you are well” and it was so

All those years of self-effacement
Swept away – no self-abasement
Now for me – I’ve been set free
Cleansed by His boundless purity


I also offer you this background to today’s readings


And for those amongst you who are Pratchett fans (naming no names Graham and Rachel Hartland) I find myself thinking of Granny Weatherwax – the only person to be bitten by a vampire and not become one herself. Oh, she had a bit of an internal battle… but then instead of her craving blood, the vampires who’d drunk her blood found themselves, strangely, craving a nice cup of tea!
That’s what happens when our impurity touches and is touched by the purity of Jesus. Our impurity is transformed into purity and we belong. We belong to Jesus’ in-group which consists, in case you haven’t noticed, of the entire world.
He is the light that lightens everyone who comes into the world.
He said that when He was lifted up He would draw all to Himself – and by implication to God.

My brothers, my sisters – today may you all know that you belong.
My brothers, my sisters – today may all whom you meet know through you that they belong.

Lord Jesus, I come to you just as I am.
Needing healing of body, mind, spirit.
Thank you that as I reach out to you, you are already reaching out to me
Enfolding me in your arms
Wiping every tear from my eye
As I step into today, strengthen me with your strength
Fill me with your love
And as daily I am more and more broken by life,
May your love in me flow ever more freely to all whom I meet
May I become your eyes, ears, feet, hands, heart in this broken world.
Amen.

Week 3: Monday Matthew 8:14-22

I can’t make any sense of Wright’s commentary today.
The words seem to be, as it, were, jumping up and down on the page and re-ordering themselves into random syllables.

Come to that, most of my brain-cells seem to be doing the same thing.
So here are some random responses to the passage itself, as they strike me.
And I offer you this as the widow offered her mite and as the little boy offered his packed lunch to Jesus when 5,000 were hungry – all I have. If there is any blessing for you in my thoughts, then that’s up to the One who takes and blesses and breaks and distributes our meagre offerings.

  • Jesus’ encounter with Peter’s mother-in-law was, in a way, random. She didn’t go to him and ask for healing. Peter didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. They simply went to the house and according to another, slightly fuller, gospel account found,   instead of dinner on the table, the cook in bed poorly.
  • Jesus reached out and touched her – not what I do when faced with a sneezing/ coughing pupil… I keep my distance!
  • Her healing was immediate and absolute.
  • Jesus healed all who were sick or demon-possessed (probably mentally ill in today’s understanding).
    • a question I can’t answer – why doesn’t Jesus heal all who are sick today? I’ve heard it argued that healing isn’t the same as curing – but in the gospels there is no such distinction. My brain is fuzzy (along with quite a raft of physical symptoms which, according to two different weekend out-of-hours medics, cause serious concern when taken together, so seeing emergency GP later for urgent referrals for procedures to try to find out why) so I can’t get my head round this at the moment. All help welcome.
      • I would add that, as I sit in silence before God these past few days when the symptoms have really begun to rack up, thought is impossible. Prayer is being in the Presence of Being, utterly as I am with the mental fog and physical neuropathy. And somehow, at a level far beyond thinking or feeling, I’m being granted a deep, deep knowing and the gentlest of shifts in perception – eyes opened to see God in all things, one thing at a time.
  • Two potential followers – the same response from Jesus. How say? they appear to be different….
    • to the over-enthusiastic one – a word of warning and of challenge. “Make sure you know what you’re offering – following Me won’t be easy or comfortable. It’ll strip all your security from you.”
    • to the reluctant one – a word of warning and of challenge also. “You call me Master… but you’re living as if I’m only 2nd in line, other priorities come first. Which is it? Am I truly your Master? choose…”

There you are. That’s my offering for today. As someone who’s used to having an extremely active and sharply analytical brain, this brain fog is disturbing. And yet, and yet… the cessation of the usual fizzing-over mental activity which has always been my lot is bringing a kind of peace. And in the absence of earthquake, wind and fire I am more aware of the still, small voice soothing and comforting.

Third Sunday of Advent Matthew 11:1-11

 

What if you heard this  and then what actually came onto the screen was Strictly Come Dancing. How would you feel? You might enjoy both – but what you were expecting was football.   You’d been looking forward to it for some time. If you’re our vicar you’re probably wearing your Leicester City shirt…

At best, you’ll feel confused – at worst, deeply disappointed.

That’s how John was feeling – confused.

He’d been proclaiming the advent – the coming – of God’s Kingdom. He’d been proclaiming the coming of the Messiah – of God’s chosen one – who would set them free.

And of course he knew what that meant. Didn’t every good Jew know what that meant? It meant that the Romans would be thrown out, that the Jews would once again be in control of their own land – and even more than that, it meant that God’s rule would spread through the whole world. Everyone would see and acknowledge that their God is the one true God. Everyone would live by God’s laws – the 10 commandments along with all the other details of interpretation which had grown up around the original 10 basic principles for living God’s way.
And of course Jesus would know that.

So when John pointed to Jesus and encouraged his followers to follow Jesus instead, that’s what he was expecting Jesus to do.

And I daresay as Jesus’ cousin and as the one whose calling it was to prepare the people for the coming of the messiah by calling them to repentance, John also assumed that he would hold a position of prominence in the Kingdom.

Then it all went wrong.
John was arrested by Herod and was facing an extremely uncertain and probably short future.

He had a crisis of faith.
Have you ever had one of those? I suspect most if not all of us have, and it can be one of the scariest things.
It can feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under you.
All you once believed, built your life upon, seems to crumble.
All the old certainties are gone.
You’re not even sure, if you’re honest, that there is a God…

Such an experience can have one of three outcomes.

  1. The person becomes an atheist and puts the energy once put in observance of their faith into attacking the church and those who still believe.
  2. The person is so shaken that they bury all the doubts and questions very, very deep and instead put all of their energies into shoring up the outward observance of their faith. That’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees did. What became important was religious practice – observance of every tiny detail of the law, often at the expense of the deep needs of those around them. That kind of response can make us judgmental, excluding, critical, angry.
  3. The person allows the uncertainty to surface, allows the old images and ideas about God to crumble and finds that, once that’s happened, a new, deeper awareness begins to grow. They find that the reality is not what they were expecting.

So what had caused John’s crisis of faith?

John had called the people to repentance. The Greek word is Metanoia, which means to change your mind, to have a change of heart.

Over the years, too often the word repent has been used to mean feeling sorry, admitting our guilt. That’s likely to be how we feel when we realise we’ve got it wrong – but that’s not what God wants from us. What God wants, what God calls us to, is a change of mind, of heart, of attitude.

We make repentance about changing lifestyles and maybe sometimes that is what is called for.
But God is after more than that. Changing things in our lives can of course be a holy thing, but repentance isn’t just about cleaning up our act. Because what metanoia means is to snap out of it, to think new thoughts…

And that is the challenge of Jesus, first to John, then to those he lived amongst, and now to us.

Jesus challenged John to repent – to have a change of mind – by sending back a message saying “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” John needed to repent from – turn from – his sincere but wrong ideas about the nature of God’s Kingdom and to repent to – turn to – the truth about the nature of God’s kingdom.

His answer to John is to say “look at me. Look at how I live. Look at my priorities. Look at how I relate to others, how I deal with them. This is the true meaning of the Kingdom, and the kingdom is being built right here, right now.”

His challenge to us is the same.

Jesus calls us to repentance.
Not to be sorry, but to turn.
To turn towards God.
To be open to changing our minds, our ideas about God.
To be open to the possibility that maybe the kingdom isn’t after all how we thought it was.

So what is the nature of the kingdom as revealed in the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

John thought – and all too often we think – that judgment comes first. The main emphasis in our thinking is on God judging us, telling us we’re doing it wrong, threatening eternal fire unless we clean up our act.

If that’s how we understand God, then we live in fear – and all too often we deal with that fear by projecting it onto others. We condemn, we criticise, we require obedience to rules and maintaining the status quo. “Live right (where “right” is too often defined as “in the socially acceptable way I learned as a child”) and you’ll be OK when you die”.

Jesus lived a life full of mercy and healing, not judgment.
This comes to culmination on the cross – he prays for those who have hammered in the nails “father, forgive them”.

We also finally truly understand this in his response to the repentant thief. The thief turned to Jesus, asked for mercy, and Jesus promised him immediate entry into paradise – heaven. Remember, this thief was hanging on a cross, suffering beyond our imagining – far too late to turn his life around and give up stealing. His repentance was to turn towards Jesus, to enter into relationship with Jesus.

Jesus calls us to do the same.
To repent – to turn towards him.
And first and foremost to see as we gaze into his eyes just how deeply he loves us.
To receive from him mercy for our sins.
To know that we are accepted, forgiven, called to service even before we have made ourselves perfect.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’ll never manage to make myself perfect.

The Gospel – the Good news – is that God doesn’t need us to make ourselves perfect.

So in our imperfection but secure beyond words in the love of Jesus towards us, then and only then we are able to become ourselves agents for the continuing spread of Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, showing love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion to all without judgment.

Let’s end with a brief mediation. Close your eyes focus on God’s presence with us…

‘I love you’ says God
‘yeah… right…’ say I

‘I love you’ says God
‘you’re kidding…’ say I

‘I love you’ says God
‘you reckon?…’ say I

‘I love you’ says God
‘How much?’ say I

‘This much’ says God
As with arms open wide
He is lifted on high,
Sighs as I sigh,
Cries as I cry,
Dies as I die

And in the silence
God whispers
‘I love you’
Says ‘See? It’s no lie’
As He calls me to
Life
With His
Love