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A thought for the day (Sunday 14th July 2024) by The Rev'd Canon Dean Fostekew

There are two things going on in this morning’s Gospel reading. Firstly, we have the leaders of the synagogue hardly believing their ears and eyes at the teaching given by the ‘carpenter’. You can almost hear their indignation that someone (supposedly uneducated) could actually be teaching them something about their faith. Secondly, we have Jesus sending his disciples out into the towns and cities to carry his message of love and repentance into the world. Did Jesus, think that his disciples would have more luck in being listened to and accepted than he did? I doubt it, but what he is doing is furthering his message by using his followers to say the same thing. For the more people hear the same thing the more likely they are to eventually hear it and respond. 

That’s the thing about Jesus’ teaching. He does not force it upon anyone be it the members of the synagogue hierarchy or ordinary people. What he does is offer salvation by calling his listeners to repent and to trust in God’s unconditional love, that when they do repent they will be forgiven once and for all time. He offers those who hear his Word a choice, to accept or reject it but what they are unable to do is ignore it. They have to respond to God’s love in someway but the choice is that of the individual. It applies to us and the world today as much as it did some 2000 odd years ago. Accept Jesus’ or reject him but don’t simply ignore him and what he has to say.  Let’s pray that more people will do just that; listen to what he says and to make their choice; hopefully choice that enables them to come closer to God in doing so.

A reflection for Sunday 7th July 2024 by The Rev'd Canon Dean Fostekew

“Look into the eyes of another human being and you glimpse God.”

Sometimes it is the most unlikely of people that God chooses to use as a messenger or prophet; people that many of us might rather ignore or write off. Take John-the-Baptist for a start, a woolly, hairy man, half-undressed and living in the wild on locusts and honey – not the first person you might expect Jesus to ask to baptise him! Or Richard Holloway, who has said and continues to say things that are profound and help many understand what we mean by God. Many of the saints are similar and the records of their life bear witness to the fact that things they have said or done have so dramatically changed things that one can only assume that they came from God or were divinely inspired.

What strikes me so forcibly about Ezekiel’s comment is that God can talk to us face to face if he pleases. Stand up and face me he says, join me in face to face conversation. Wow! Usually we hear of people hiding from God but apparently this is not always the case, if he wants to God will talk directly to one as person to person.

I have an unusual friend who may be one of those people to whom God talks to directly. But I would

never tell them so for fear that it would drive them mad. A lot of the time their conversation is quite bizarre but just occasionally what they say takes my breath away. I have certainly learned not to judge by appearances. What these encounters have also taught me is not to assume that what I see is always what it may seem to be, even in the most difficult or troubled beings God may choose to reveal himself.

I am sure that my friend does not know how profound they can be at times in their explanation of God and God’s ways. They may not be an obvious prophet but then what does a prophet look like any way – a carpenter from Nazareth?

I am heartened by the fact that God can talk to us face to face if he wishes, although we may not always realise that he is doing so until after the event. He talks to us through each other through the mutual image of God that we share. When we look into the eyes of another human being we can spark the image within them and ourselves and it is this that I believe is looking at God face to face.

“O mortal, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.”

If God chooses to speak with us face to face it may be that he chooses to do so through someone most unlikely, this is what my encounters with my friend

has taught me. The moral of this sermon is then; ‘watch out’ for whom you are talking to because you never know who might be talking to you through them. Keep alert and you too may find yourself talking directly to God but probably without realising so until well after the encounter.

A reflection for Sunday 30th June 2024 by Judy Wedderspoon, Lay Reader

Fifteen minutes! You’ll be happy to know that that is not the length of my sermon! That’s my rough estimate of the time it took for the life of a desperately ill woman to be totally changed through her contact with Jesus. It wasn’t long, as Jesus was being pressed by an important man to come home quickly with him. But fifteen minutes changed forever the life of an insignificant, ordinary woman, whose name we don’t even know.

Let’s try and imagine the scene. Jesus has just returned from the far side of the Sea of Galilee. His reputation as a teacher and healer has become known, so a large and excited crowd is there to greet him. Suddenly the crowd parts to let through Jairus, an important man in the community, a leader of the synagogue. Jairus begs Jesus to come and save his dying daughter. So Jesus sets off, with the crowd still pressing around him.

Then there is an interruption. Jesus stops, turns around and asks “Who touched my clothes?” Understandably, with a crowd pressing around, the disciples are sceptical; how can Jesus have felt someone just touching his clothes? 

But a poor and desperate woman has done just that. For twelve years, she has been bleeding incessantly. She has seen many doctors. Some have poked and prodded. Some have prescribed remedies of various sorts. But nothing has done any good, in fact often matters have been made worse. So for twelve long years she has been unclean according to Jewish law.

It is hard for us to realise what a hard and lonely life she has led for those twelve years. The Jewish law which applied in those days as set out in the Book of Leviticus, was strict. Anyone with any form of discharge was ritually unclean. This applied not only to women but to everyone. For instance, a soldier or huntsman whose wounds wouldn’t heal was also ritually unclean.

That uncleanness affected the whole life of the sufferer. Anyone who touched a pot or dish which he or she had used became unclean. The pot or dish had to be broken up and thrown away. If the sufferer sat on a chair, anyone who then sat on it became unclean. Anyone who touched the body of a sufferer became unclean and had to bathe and wash their clothes and remain unclean for the rest of the day. 

Hardest of all, no unclean person was allowed to go to the synagogue. The whole object of the laws about ritual cleanliness was to keep the clean people of Israel separate from anyone who might defile them. So one way and another sufferers were mostly cut off from their Jewish family and friends. They had to live alone to avoid the risk of making the people whom they most loved unclean. Unclean family members and friends would also be cut off from the synagogue until they had gone through the necessary purification procedures specified in the Law, which not all of them could afford.

Recently we, because of the coronavirus, have had to experience something of what that woman went through. We may have had to self-isolate and to take precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to avoid infecting family members and friends. I know that this has been desperately hard and difficult for some people. But we only had months of it. This poor woman had twelve years of it. Imagine! She couldn’t touch Jesus, nor even ask him to touch her, as he would then become unclean. She hoped and believed that just touching his cloak would be enough to stop the bleeding. So she pushed through the crowd and touched his cloak. Immediately she was healed. And she knew it.

And Jesus knew that something important had happened.  So he stopped,  and asked “Who touched my clothes ?” By then the woman had shrunk back into the crowd.  But Jesus knew, and the woman knew, that Jesus had even unwittingly been a channel of God’s grace and power. Even though she was embarrassed and afraid, she had to come forward and confess the truth. Jesus sent her away with the lovely words “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Fifteen minutes, hope and faith, and everything in that woman’s life changed. When we are going through a really dark time in our lives, let us remember how that woman of Galilee was healed. How Jesus changed her whole life. Let us also hope and believe in his power, in the mercy and grace of God in the face of all human suffering. Amen.  

 

 


 

A reflection for Sunday 23rd June 2024 Trinity IV by the Rev'd David Warnes

 Job 38:1-11  Mark 4:35-41

Today’s reading from Job and today’s Gospel have a common theme, and that theme is questioning – humans questioning God and God questioning humans. 

In our Old Testament reading God asks Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

In the Gospel, we have a series of questions. During the storm the frightened disciples wake Jesus up and ask him:

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stills the storm and then asks them:

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And the passage ends with a further question from the disciples:

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Let’s take God’s questions to Job first. 

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

For many years I misread this passage. Job has been questioning God about an issue that concerns and puzzles us all – why do bad things happen to innocent people. God’s questions to Job sounded to me as though God was pulling rank on Job.

I have come to realize that God isn’t pulling rank, but rather offering Job something that Job badly needs – a sense of perspective. When we experience distressing events, hopes disappointed, serious illness or bereavement, we feel that our confidence has been challenged, perhaps even broken. And if we, like Job, are religious believers it is our trust in God that is called into question. 

What Job needs, as Carol Newsom writes in her commentary, is

“…recovery of trust in the fundamental structures of existence”

God’s answer to Job, which extends over several chapters, is all about the glory, goodness and grandeur of creation, but also about the element of the uncertain and the chaotic in creation. The challenge to Job and to us is to hold in a trusting tension the belief that creation is good and our experience that creation is precarious, even dangerous. 

That precariousness, that danger are exactly what the disciples are experiencing in today’s Gospel. They are terrified by the storm which threatens to sink their boat. In their fright, their trust in Jesus is weakened. There’s a very telling detail in the Gospel passage. We read that Jesus was 

“in the stern, asleep on the cushion...”

In those days that was the place in the boat usually occupied by whoever was steering. Some commentators have suggested that Jesus had been given the job of steering and, perfectly trusting in God, had fallen asleep. If that’s the case, the disciples’ question: 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

has a deeper significance, for it is a question that Job and many of us have asked in times of trouble and despair:

“Is God asleep on the job?”

Faith would be much easier and simpler if God always responded to our prayers in the way that we wished. For many people, especially for young people, unanswered prayers are the reason why they give up on the idea of God. When someone close to them dies and their prayers for healing have gone unanswered, they conclude either that God is asleep on the job, or that God doesn’t exist at all. 

Job needed to learn that the goodness and the precariousness of creation are not contradictory. Another way of putting that is that he and all of us need to learn that we are unreservedly and fully loved by God but that doesn’t mean that the universe will be run for our comfort and convenience. 

Job acknowledges the narrowness of his own faith when, in chapter 42, he responds to God by saying: 

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you” 

The puzzled disciples, though they have been saved from shipwreck don’t yet fully understand who they are seeing when they look at Jesus. Hence their question:

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The understanding of who Jesus is will only come to them at Easter. Before it comes they will see their teacher submitting to the evil powers who inflict suffering and death on the innocent. Their response to the Passion must have been an anguished questioning as to where God was when those terrible events took place. At Easter they learned to see, to see that God was right at the centre of that suffering, that moral and natural evil do not have the last word. Only then were they able to echo Job’s words:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you” 

That understanding did not free them what the Prayer Book calls “the changes and chances of this fleeting world” and for many of them their sharing of the Gospel led to persecution and martyrdom. We too experience those changes and chances, sustained I hope by the belief that God can bring the whole of creation, including us, to perfection.


 

A reflection for Sunday 16th June 2024 Trinity III Fathers' Day

When I was teaching three decades ago we always began the new school year by planting spring bulbs; that we would hope would grow in secret over the coming months and bring us great joy in the dark months of the new year. The bulbs of daffodils and hyacinths never failed to delight the children or the staff and they came to represent more than just pretty flowers blooming in the Winter.

For me they became a symbol for the ‘secret growth’ my young changes were undertaking during the academic year. As the bulbs came to maturity so too were my class maturing and coming to flower - by showing the new skills and abilities they had learned and developed. For many this might have been becoming fluent readers, or more self-confident in their skills in PE or Maths or whatever. Their growth was almost unnoticeable until you stopped to look for it and to think back to what the children were like at the beginning of the Autumn term.

Today’s first and third readings have much to say about secret growth as does the second but in a more human way than the botanical analogies used in the other readings. In the botanical analogies growth comes from seeds and cuttings, pruning and tending the soil. In the second reading growth is explained by the ways in which our faith can grow as our life experiences develop and our self-confidence blossoms. In all the readings the hope is expressed that we will all see new growth in ourselves and each other in ways that will deepen our faith and lead us to know God more fully.

Most of us, no doubt, will at sometime rejoiced in the growth seen in loved ones, pupils, friends and ourselves. That sort of growth is always worth celebrating. Our parents, probably rejoiced in us as we passed certain milestones or achieved various things, or explored new vistas. I think today’s readings fit with the secular theme of today - Father’s Day,

as many fathers are good at praising their offspring and celebrating the new growth they see. Growth that has been going on in secret until its bursts forth as new skills. Not all fathers, however, or all mothers are good at noticing new growth and celebrating it in their children. This is sad, for both parent and child lose out on something that could be life- affirming.

Earthly fathers do not always get it right but we can be assured that our heavenly Father does get it right with us because as St.Paul writes: “...we ourselves are well known to God ...”  2Corinthians 5:11b

God rejoices in every bit of our secret growth, development and acquisition of skills. He rejoices in the things we get and do right and despairs when we get things wrong - but hoping that we will get them right in the future.

Our heavenly Father is always loving, attentive and forgiving beyond measure but he is also a parent who gives us the space to grow and learn new things each day. He gently guides us

and never fails to support us, even when we are unaware of it and that’s something we should give thanks for.