Reflection for Lent I 21st February 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 20/02/2021 - 10:21

Lent I   Sunday 21st February 2021 Year B

If one was looking for a link between today’s three readings, one would have to plump for ‘water’. The water of the flood - which Noah and seven others survived; the water used in washing as referenced by St.Peter and Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, as recorded by St.Mark.

Water, aside, it is sin and forgiveness which is actually the linking theme between this morning’s Scripture readings.

Noah, despite, his past and future faults (which were many - just read on in Genesis, after the ark came to rest) was deemed a good enough man by God to be saved from the flood. Noah, survives with his family and menagerie, in order to re-populate God’s world, afresh. After God has destroyed those he deemed to be unworthy of his mercy. Whether or not the flood and associated destruction happened is not, I think, important. What is important is that God doesn’t really ever give up on his creation. God, was cross and angry with humanity and our stupid ways but even in his anger he did not desire to wipe us out completely. He wanted to purge us of our sins and to give us a second chance. That’s why he gave Clan Noah a reprieve - hoping that they and their descendants might get it right in the future.

He also made a covenant with them. The covenant, symbolised by the rainbow, proved to Clan Noah, that however cross God was with them, he would never seek to destroy them (or us) but he would warn them to amend their behaviour. I doubt it will be God who will wipe us out, we will probably do that ourselves quite well.

A covenant is an interesting relationship to have established with humanity. A covenant implies that each party is mutually responsible to the other for all time. A covenant is not a contract where ‘X’ does ‘Z’ for ‘Y’ and that’s that. A covenant is much longer lasting and needs working at to develop and survive. A good example of a living and developing covenant is marriage; where each party has voluntarily declared that they will love and support the other through thick and thin, for the length of their lives. Covenants can be broken as we all know, but the hopeful intention is that they will last, even if the reality proves the difference.

God’s hope for us his creation is that we will respect him and his ways; caring for the creation as much as he does. That’s God’s hope - the reality is that we - humanity, have a lot of work to do in order to live up to our side of the covenant. God, however, won’t give up on us anytime soon as he knows we are weak and feeble and that we need encouragement and forgiveness, time and time and time again.

We have to recognise our faults and to apologise for them and that’s where our worship comes in. Worship is an opportunity for us to say; ‘sorry’ to God and to re-affirm the covenant between him and us and then to celebrate the fact that God will always forgive us and welcome us back into the covenant. That covenant is one which says that God will love and care for us and we will love and worship God.

In worship we have opportunities to say sorry for the times we muck things up and hurt others, ourselves and God. We say sorry liturgically, through the general confession (or one to one in the sacrament of confession). When we do so, we re-affirm our intention to live a life in the covenant with God.

In the Early Church, many were not Baptised until they were on their deathbeds as they feared that once Baptised any future sin might not be forgiven by God as Baptism symbolically represented a total forgiveness of sins past. The Roman Emperor Constantine was a good example of this. He was Baptised as he was dying and died believing that he had been forgiven all the very awful things he had done in his life and reign.

Our understanding of God’s mercy has changed and grown over the past two millennia and we are assured that we are loved and forgiven, because of what Christ did for us on the cross.

Christ redeemed us on the cross, his death won our salvation for all time. That redemption can never be lost, whatever we may or may not do. We, however, need to acknowledge our sins and faults and to confess them with sorrow.

This is not a ‘cop-out’ for us. When we confess we have to do so with a truly sorrowful heart or else we won’t be forgiven. What’s the point of saying sorry to God or anyone if we don’t mean it? God expects us to respond to him as a mature, sensible adult; one who knows themselves well, acknowledging their good points and weaknesses, successes and failures and committed to doing the best we can at anytime.

We all make mistakes and that’s okay. God forgives those errors as soon as we regret them. What we have to be aware of are those deliberate or malicious acts that we may make. ‘Do unto others, as you’d wish them to do unto you’ is a phrase worth remembering and living by. It helps us to understand what sin is - for it is when we deliberately or with malice a forethought do something hurtful or bad. When we simply muck things up, it is not sin just a mistake that we can quickly put right. Sin, malice, bad acts - these need to be confronted, acknowledged and God’s forgiveness sought.

Lent is a good time for all of us to examine our consciences; to seek out those dark things we need to illumine and to ‘put them away’ - as a version of the absolution states.

What might you need to ‘put away’ this Lent?

Try and use these forty plus days of Lent to think about this and use the words of the General Confession in the Eucharist to cleanse yourself of the things you no longer need to carry around anymore. God certainly does not want you to be burdened with sin, he wants to forgive you. It is ourselves that all too often fear the loss of the burden, for what might we replace it with? Joy and freedom might be a good replacement.

A relocation from the Rev'd Russell Duncan Sunday 14th February 2021

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 13/02/2021 - 11:53

Epiphany VI – Sunday 14th February 2021 – The Transfiguration

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him

If I was to ask you “what did you listen to or to whom have you listened this past week” I wonder what you would say? Would it be to your partner or family member; to a dear friend or a stranger? Would it be to a piece of music, to birds singing early in the morning or to silence?

For me, I listened to a new Podcast. I had never listened to one before.  It was called “Duchess”. In it Emma Manners journeys through Britain, peeking behind the veil of history and meeting the empowering women who guide Britain’s stately homes today. Not only was there an insight into their own lives (which would otherwise be hidden to us) but also to the fascinating history of their families and the great houses and castles to which they are the current custodians.

In today’s gospel from Mark we read about the rather bizarre story of the Transfiguration. Not only did Jesus take Peter, James and John up a high mountain but he was, in some strange way, transformed. His clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them. Elijah and Moses, long since dead, respectively representing the law and prophets, unexpectedly appear and talk with Jesus. Not surprisingly the three disciples are confused and terrified.  A cloud overshadows them and a voice is heard saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him”.

What on earth was happening? How might we understand the encounter today? When did we last listen to the Beloved?

Listening appears to be at the heart of our understanding of God. Listening not only to what our mind is saying but also to our heart. We will all know the tension and struggle which is often there and how we seek to resolve or reconcile this.

On looking back to my last homily - The Baptism of Christ - I was reminded that God spoke the slightly different words “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. Jesus continues with his earthly journey towards Jerusalem as his ministry unravels.

The Rule of St Benedict written in 516 AD opens with the word ausculta – listen. This is the key to his whole spiritual teaching.

Father Cyprian Smith, a Benedictine monk, comments “The whole spiritual life of the Christian is a process of listening to God “inclining the ear of the heart” according to the Rule. The image of the inward ear, the ear of the heart, shows that our listening is not merely an intellectual or rational activity; it is intuitive, springing from the very core of our being”.

Our other reading from Corinthians offers us some hope whatever confusion and uncertainly we may have. We are encouraged to reflect upon the glory of God however hidden or veiled it might appear.

“For it is the God who said,

Let light shine out of darkness;

Who has shone in our hearts

To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God

In the face of Jesus Christ”.

In our earthly life this glory is for the most part hidden but we are not to lose heart. One day we shall understand more fully.

May our eyes and hearts be opened to see something of Christ’s transfigured glory in the people we meet day by day.

May they also see something of your glory shining in and from us too.

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him

Lord's Prayer - a different version

Submitted by Dean on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 12:07

Our Father in the heavens, always near and ready to help,

May your name be precious to us and bring us delight always.

May your Kingdom of the Heavens come to rule over us so your good, pleasing, and perfect will is accomplished in us.

Please provide for us the food and care that we need today.

Please forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Please hold us by the hand so we don’t fall down in trials and are kept safe from all evil. In everything help us to live in your kingdom, by your power, and for your glory. Amen. 

Reflection for Sunday 7th February 2021 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 06/02/2021 - 11:43

" ... but those who wait for the Lord, shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Last year the dogged determination of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who sadly died on Tuesday, lifted our spirits during the first lockdown and raised millions of pounds for NHS charities. He achieved this by walking. His pace was slow, and he needed the support of a rollator, but his quiet persistence achieved great things.

Today’s reading from Isaiah uses walking as a metaphor for the spiritual life. At first glance it’s an odd piece of writing. The Prophet offers three metaphors to describe how God renews people’s strength – flying, running and walking. It’s the reverse of what we might expect. Surely to “mount up with wings like eagles” is much more impressive and desirable than to “walk and not faint”. Yet flying comes first and walking last. The verse doesn’t appear to build to a climax. Rather it seems to descend into bathos. Yet in ancient Hebrew poetry, sequences of three images such as this one, known as triplets, always placed the best and the most important idea in third place. So Isaiah is saying that being able to “walk and not faint” is the most valuable gift.

For many of us, the life of prayer is like that most of the time, a steady plodding, with only occasional bursts of running and flying. Isaiah is reminding us not to undervalue that quiet persistence and reminding us also of the way in which God can empower us to “walk and not faint”. His words were addressed to a people living in exile in Babylon, far from their homeland and aware that the Temple which had been the focus of their worship was in ruins. They have a resonance for us at a time when it is not possible to gather for worship in church. They also have a broader resonance, for the restrictions and limitations under which we are all living feel like a form of exile, of deprivation and disempowerment. Those feelings must be particularly acute for children and young people, many of whom are used to a range of activities and a richness of experiences far greater than those of us who are of ripe years enjoyed when we were their age. For them, famine has abruptly replaced feasting and that change is having a marked impact on their mental health. Let us keep them in our prayers.

We didn’t choose to be in lockdown, or to be cut off from family and friends. Nevertheless, we may be able to learn from the experiences of fellow Christians who, down the centuries, have voluntarily given up the ties, commitments and pleasures of life in order to draw closer to God. The pioneers of this withdrawal were the men and women in the early Christian centuries who abandoned city living because they saw its variety, richness and complexity as distractions and moved into the Egyptian desert to devote themselves to prayer. These Desert Fathers and Mothers discovered that living a simple life of prayer and attentiveness to God was very difficult. They learned that when you try to live that kind of life, your irritation and anger will focus on the smallest and most trivial things. They experienced frustrations and feelings of depression and they expressed these emotions in colourful language. At this stage in the third of a series of lockdowns most of us have a strong sense of how they felt.

One of them, Abba John, spoke of these negative feelings and thoughts as dangerous wild animals, intent on attacking him. He taught that, just as you would climb a tree in order to escape from danger of that kind, the right thing to do was to climb the tree of prayer. He encouraged younger monks to do exactly what Isaiah recommends, to “wait on God”; to be attentive to God.

Abba John’s was a special calling. Most of us are called to live and work in the world. Yet we also need to “wait on God” and today’s Gospel reminds us that, in doing so, we are following the example set by Jesus. After a day spent healing the sick, we read that

For Jesus the starting point for prayer was the understanding that he was listening to and speaking to a God who loved and affirmed him. His teaching developed Isaiah’s insight that the God

the God whose viewpoint might make human beings seem as insignificant as grasshoppers is also the God who, far from disregarding us, knows us more intimately than we know ourselves and loves us. Today’s Psalm also speaks of the God whose scope is cosmic and whose care extends to all humanity:

God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. God determines the number of the stars; and gives to all of them their names.

That verse and today’s reading from Isaiah teach that God is both immanent – involved in creation, accessible in prayer – and also transcendent – the uncreated Creator. The immanence is not obvious. Yet for the believer, God is hiding in plain sight. The Cistercian monk Thomas Merton, a spiritual writer and poet, put that beautifully.

“For, like a grain of fire

 smouldering in the heart

 of every living essence

 God plants His undivided power

 – Buries His thought too vast for worlds

 In seeds and roots and blade and flower.”

Merton came to believe that the sickness from which western civilisation suffers arises from an excessive focus on problems and on the search for solutions. The word excessive is important. On Monday I receive the first dose of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine, and I am deeply grateful to the scientists who focused on the problem of Covid-19 and who came up with a solution. Problem solving is valuable and important. Merton was making two points. Firstly, to be human sometimes means having problems which cannot be solved. Secondly, he believed that the language of problems and solutions has infected the practice of prayer and that to pray in that way is to set oneself up for disappointment and disillusionment. When Isaiah urged people to “wait on the Lord” he was speaking about being attentive to God and receptive to God’s love, not about seeking the solutions we desire.

It will soon be Lent, a good time to “wait on the Lord”, making use of whatever aids to attentiveness work best, whether that is music, poetry, art, gardening, exercise or the enjoyment of nature. Elsewhere in the book of Isaiah you will find these words:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

That is the kind of prayer than enables us to walk and not faint.

Reflection for Candlemas by the Rev'd William Mounsey

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 30/01/2021 - 13:11

A BABY’S EYES Candlemas Sunday 31st January 2021    Luke 2:22-40

What do you see when you look into a baby’s eyes?
To be honest, it’s hard to be sure how much of what you’re seeing is actually there and how much you’re just imagining. We don’t know all we would like to know about what goes on in the mind of an infant. We can document how quickly an infant comes to recognise mother, father, grandparent, older sister or brother. We know that traumas that happen to quite tiny children leave their imprint on the adult personality.

But who can say for certain whether that serious wisdom that we sometimes sense in a tiny person is really there, or whether the baby is waiting for life’s experiences to inscribe their teachings? Nature or nurture or a combination – the debate continues.

Our gospel reading today invites us to witness an encounter between an old man and a baby. It happens in a holy place at a very solemn moment. Mary and Joseph have brought their new-born son to the great temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to God. Jewish law decrees that a first born son belongs to God. The custom was that parents would bring their first son to the priest as if to hand him over, but instead would make an offering of two doves or pigeons for the privilege of taking him home again.

They came to the temple, and as they entered they met an old man. His name was Simeon, a holy man, righteous and devout. He spent his days waiting and fasting and praying. He was led to the Temple because he believed the ancient prophecies and that he would not die before the prophecies were fulfilled. Today folk might call the old man mad. But in his day, Simeon was honoured. People took him seriously. When he reminded them of the ancient promises, they listened. It was as though he summed up in his own being all the waiting and longing of the whole people.

Simeon stood in the Temple, at the heart of Jerusalem, with the signs of his people’s humiliation all around him, as inescapable as the parade of Roman soldiers in the street outside and he waited for the consolation of Israel.

Do you suppose it was only the infant Jesus he reached out to hold, or had it become his habit to bless all the children faithful parents brought to the Temple? It was a thing any parent would have welcomed - to have their child blessed by such a holy man. Mary and Joseph did not object. They gladly put their baby into Simeon’s arms. But it was no ordinary blessing that Jesus received. Simeon looked into the baby’s eyes and what he saw there was the answer to his prayers. He had waited and prayed for the consolation of Israel and now he held it in his arms.

So his first words were words of joy. He praised God, Luke tells us, and if you picture the old man shaken to the core of his being, with tears springing to his eyes, you won’t be far wrong. In Simeon’s song you can hear echoes of all the prophecies that had been his lifeblood during those years of waiting:

“Now, Lord, you have kept your promise and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation: a light to reveal you to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.”

How much did Simeon actually see that light in the eyes of the infant Jesus and how much of what he saw was a reflection of his own longing? We will never know. All we do know is that, that song is the song he had waited his whole life to sing.

But Luke tells us that before he handed the baby back to his parents he took a longer, deeper look and what he saw there was not what he expected.
He saw a future nobody would want to contemplate. It must have been tempting not to speak, to try and protect the two young parents from knowing. But perhaps Simeon realised that Mary and Joseph could not be protected and to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

After all, they too looked into the baby’s eyes day after day; they too perhaps saw what he was seeing. He would speak the truth as he saw it.

“This child is chosen for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign which many people will oppose, and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.”

And so, over the infancy of Jesus, already there is that shadow of foreboding. In that baby’s eyes was an answer to all of Israel’s longings and prayers, so vivid as to make an old man weep for joy. But the salvation promised there would not be won without a cost. There would be times when it would seem that Jesus had come, not to bring peace, but a sword. Encountering him, people would find themselves having to choose, between their old world, with everything that was familiar and a new world where they themselves might have to take up a cross.

Many people did choose to follow Jesus. It is because of their courage that we are here today. They showed us that abundant life wasn’t just a matter of pretty words, it was a reality so powerful that it still touches us now, and the invitation is open for us to join them and find out for ourselves.

But many more people rejected Jesus. His invitation to a life of new priorities challenged their security and authority; his new band of followers challenged their power. They struck out in hatred and it is just as Simeon predicted. The sharp sword of sorrow struck many people, including Jesus himself and Mary was not spared.

This story is rich in invitation. It invites us, you and me, to step into Simeon’s shoes, bringing our own longings with us and to hold that child and look into his eyes.

What do you see?

There is love there for us, and for our world: tenderness and gentleness and promise and an eagerness to forgive and accept that always exceeds our expectations. The promise of new priorities for us and our world is there, speaking to us through those eyes.

It is never too late for us to choose the way of Jesus for ourselves and the church. In the choosing we can still offer the world what it needs most - an end to selfishness, greed, hatred; a new dedication to compassion, justice and hope.

It is all there. Just look.

The Rev’d William Mounsey Candlemas 2021