Articles

A reflection for Sunday 10th October 2021by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 08/10/2021 - 16:29

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Down through the ages, men and women have asked deep questions about the meaning of eternity. We have only to think about the creative arts which often reflect this.  How many plays, books and operas have been written about eternal love, eternal life, eternal youth, eternal separation?

As a lover of opera Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s La Traviata instantly come to mind. There are others.  At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival there was a production of Dido’s Ghost performed by the Dunedin Consort. Some of you may have seen it.  In it, the story of Dido and Aeneas, originally set to music by Henry Purcell around 1688, was updated. It didn’t end with Dido’s death. The tale has been continued.    

In many churches the Nicene Creed is said ending with the familiar words “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. In our own church, we remember Sunday by Sunday, those who have died with the words “Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord” and our corporate response “And let light perpetual shine upon them”. Eternity has not been forgotten about.

In his commentary on Mark’s gospel, the well-known biblical scholar, Professor William Barclay, writes “we must note how the man came and how Jesus met him. He came running. He flung himself at Jesus’ feet. Jesus confronted him with a challenge and even what appears to be a rebuttal. He did not receive the answer which he was expecting. He had great possessions. It had never entered his head to give away what he owned.  When it was suggested to him, he could not do this. True he had never stolen. He had never defrauded anyone – but neither had he ever been, nor could he compel himself to be, positively and sacrificially generous”.  That was a step too far. Some might say he was too good for his own good.

The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) comments that “the difference between ourselves and the rich young man is that he was not allowed to solace his regrets by saying “Never mind what Jesus says, I can still hold on to my riches, but in a spirit of inner detachment. But no, he went away sorrowful because he could not obey, he could not believe. In this, the young man was quite honest. He went away from Jesus.  This honesty had more promise that any apparent communion with Jesus based upon disobedience”.

Jesus recognises how tough a thing he asked of the rich young man when he looked at his disciples and said “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God”. The disciples were equally perplexed.

Today’s gospel challenges us about our priorities and those things which are important to us. Unlike St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was last Monday, 4th October, I doubt we are being called to sell all that we have.  The challenge to us in asking that same question may be to share something of our riches, our time, our friendship, our love, our gifts with those around us to bring in God’s kingdom and the inheritance of eternal life just now.

 

We pray for all who are afraid to give and afraid to share,

For all who have amassed wealth but are poor in spirit,

For all who are suffering through the greed and avarice of others.

Lord, give us grace and help in all our needs.

A reflection for Sunday 26th September 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/09/2021 - 11:30

The final verses 13-20 of Chapter 5 of James’ Epistle, are I believe, some of the best in his letter. Verses 13-16 give us practical things to do to help those in need and they can form a template of behaviour for all the baptised and especially all the ordained:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16

This advice can be summed  up as:

Pray when you are suffering

Give thanks joyfully when you are happy and don’t forget to do so

Ask others to pray for you when you are ill

Always pray for those ill and suffering

Minister to each other in word and deed -anointing when appropriate

Share your burdens and doubts with each other

Remember you are a sinner and always seek God’s forgiveness

This list includes two of the seven Sacraments - Confession or better termed the Ministry of Reconciliation (to God) and Anointing; those who are sick, in need or who may be dying. The list also charges all of us to pray daily for the needs of each other and the world. Verses 13-16 can serve as a good template for a Christian life for although unwritten or said James’ words are shot through with Jesus’ charge to all of us to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. (The Golden Rule) Jesus does not charge us to love in any soppy or sentimental way but to love in ways that are pro-active, all encompassing and challenging of the status quo. Love that makes us and demands us to look beyond our selves and our individual needs to the needs of others as we reach out to them in ministry and prayer.

These three verses seem to me to sum up the whole epistle that we have read over the last few weeks, for they call us to express our faith not in mere words alone but in our actions as well. Faith without works is a dead faith. Long live an active, working faith for as James concludes; a living, vibrant faith that seeks to love and reach out to others will cover a multitude of our own sins.

A reflection for Sunday 19th September by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/09/2021 - 11:09

Mark 9:30-37

Some years ago, an interviewer asked the comedian Ben Elton a rather fatuous question:

“Have you always been a comedian?”

Without hesitation, Ben Elton replied.

“No – I used to be a baby.”

It’s a trap into which we all fall from time to time: “I’ve always liked this…”, “I’ve always enjoyed that.”  Well, we haven’t always had those preferences, those experiences. We too were once little bundles of extraordinary potential. We have changed and developed, realized at least some of that potential.

“No – I used to be a baby.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus confronts a bunch of people who are stuck in a particular way of thinking, and reminds them that they used to be and still have the potential to be more open, more flexible, more humble, more willing to learn, and also more dependent, more vulnerable.

And they needed reminding. Jesus has just predicted his suffering and death for the second time, and the disciples have reacted with much the same bafflement as Peter did on the first occasion. And, despite what Jesus has told them, they have spent the rest of the journey back to Capernaum arguing about which of them is the greatest.

Jesus does not despair of them. He knows that they are educable. He also knows that repetition works. Today’s passage is one of a series of lessons that he gives the disciples in St Mark’s Gospel, all of which are directing them towards a single great truth – “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Understanding that they have fallen into the trap of feeling special because they feel chosen, he explains to them that greatness is not a matter of being chosen, but rather a matter of service:

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

He then decides to give them a demonstration of the kind of choosing that God does. He places a child at the centre of the group – and it’s important to remember that children in the ancient world had no legal status, protection or rights and were little better than slaves.

It’s a parable without words – God choosing not the special, the powerful, those with impressive CVs, but rather choosing the weak and the vulnerable, the person with no status at all.

“Look at the kind of people God chooses” is his message to men who are preening themselves because they feel that that are the chosen few. And then he reinforces the message with words:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus chose vulnerable and inadequate disciples and challenged them to realize their potential to live lives of love and service. He challenged their “God chose me so I must be special” mentality and encouraged them to think “If God chose me, despite my shortcomings and weaknesses, then everyone must be special.”

One of the great Jewish poets of the 20th century, Yehuda Amichai, wrote a poem entitled Tourists in which he reflects on our human tendency to be blind to the specialness of people. The poem ends like this:

...once I was sitting on the steps

near the gate of David’s citadel

and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me.

A group of tourists stood there around their guide

and I became their point of reference.

“You see that man over there with the baskets...

a little to the right of his head

there is an arch from the Roman period”…

…So, I said to myself,

redemption will come only when they are told

“do you see that arch over there from the Roman period –

...it doesn’t matter,

but near it a little to the left and then down a bit

there is a man

who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

It’s a poem about the specialness of people whom we are tempted to think of as ordinary, a plea for a child’s view of the world, for children would instinctively be more interested in the man with the baskets than the Roman archway. Yehuda Amichai is calling on the tour guide to see people in the way that God sees them and that is the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and us in today’s Gospel. And the right response to the specialness of another person is the desire to love them and be of service to them, and since everyone is special, that means, as Jesus said, being the servant of all.

 

A reflection for Sunday 12th September 2021

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 11/09/2021 - 12:54

Who do you say I am?

How much should, we the church, worry about what people believe or not? Do you need to ‘sign up’ to a statement of faith in order to take part in the journey of faith? Do you have to ‘know’ who Jesus is? To have certainty of faith, to know, without question what you believe or know about God or Jesus must be comforting. Never having to question what one believes would make my life so much easier because the older I get the more questions and doubts I seem to have and I know from conversations with some of you that you feel similarly.

What I believed at 20 I do not believe now, except that the ways of the man Jesus, still offer an excellent template by which to live and lead one’s life. At 20 I liked the ‘thou shalt nots’ and wished that if everyone followed the 10 Commandments they and the world would be perfect. Perhaps it might, but the world does not think that way. In today’s 21st century society I believe that we need to find ways of helping each other make sense of life and the big questions it poses and to seek answers not proscribed by ‘shalt not’ but by ‘try this and see’.

The faith of Christ that I want to share is a faith that is confident enough to allow doubt, questioning and exploratory thinking without fear. Not a faith that says – ‘I’ve got all the answers and this book will give them to you too.’

We are not people of a book. We are people or followers of the Word made flesh. For Christians our faith is expressed in the life of Jesus and in the ways that we witness to his way of being. He offers us guidance and direction but not a mapped out path that we all have to slavishly follow and I thank God that he does not. For it enables each of us to begin to answer his question - who do you say I am? And, to explore what that means for us and how we live our lives.

A reflection of the Sunday readings 5th September 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 09:34

In the foundation phase of Mission 21, (a missional programme I used to co-ordinate) known as 'Making Your Church More Inviting’ or ‘MYCMI’ for short there is an activity entitled: ‘Who is welcome in our congregation?’  Time and again when I posed that question to any church group the almost immediate answer was: ‘Anyone and everyone’. It is a good response and one that you might expect from a Christian community but the subsequent question needs to be: ‘How realistic is your answer?’

The exercise, asks a congregation to rate the welcome different people might receive in their church. There are different types of people listed, such as:

Young couple with small children

Woman with visible tattoos

Gay couple

Unaccompanied teenager

Elderly man

Person with personal hygiene issues

Each individual is asked to score low, medium or high as to how they think that type of person would be welcomed and accepted in their congregation. The exercise is designed to highlight the fact that we ALL have our own preferences and prejudices in relation to other people. It then goes further, in that it challenges the individual to confront their personal prejudices and preferences – it makes them be honest about their feelings.

In introducing the exercise I used to preface it by saying: ‘As you score the different types of folk ask yourself if you would be prepared to budge up on your pew to allow that person to sit next to you.’ It is a tough exercise to do honestly but it has so often been THE event that has changed a congregation’s attitude towards who is and who is not actually welcome to worship with them. For what the exercise does is to highlight that as individuals we might have problems with particular types of people but as a corporate body we need not. Just because I find welcoming a particular person difficult it does not mean that others in the congregation will. What we are called to do as fellow Christians is to support those who can welcome those we can’t and to welcome those we can and not to leave them outside the body of the Church.

The writer of the Epistle of James reminds us of this in today’s epistle reading:

“….. if you show partiality, you commit sin.”   James 2:9

The church should not be in the business of showing partiality the well dressed young woman should be no more or no less welcome than the scruffy young guy, or the married couple no more or no less welcome than the elderly, single lady. We are called as Christians not to judge our neighbours but to love them. As it so elegantly says in our Prayer Book:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: This is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: there is none other commandment greater than these.” SPB1929

In our congregation I see good examples of how all sorts of people are welcomed into our community, me included, but we must never be complacent for there is always more that we can do. For there are many more of God’s people outside the walls of our church building than there are within. The questions we need to continually ask ourselves are:

How are we making Jesus real to the people out with this place?

How can we touch their lives and share with them the love of God?

How can we make them comfortable and truly welcome, in our congregation?

As James tells us:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” James 2:14

These are challenging questions and they will not leave us feeling comfortable. But, how are we to put our faith into action?

The ways are myriad but as a church we need to be ever seeking to discover what these ways are, to be ever open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to get actively involved in the lives of those around us.

The church continually needs to ask itself; ‘What difference are we making to the lives of God’s people?’ Yet what does the church do?

It spends time and energy squabbling and self-harming as to who is or who is not actually welcome. We are not all the same as each other in the church, we are the ‘rainbow people of God’ to quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As such the church needs to become a rainbow fellowship, a church that reflects the whole of God's creation and welcomes all into that fellowship. Our works must be ways in which we can change people’s lives, fuelled by our faith.

Our faith is not contained within a book alone. It is contained in the person of Jesus – our living Lord. When we Christians start to exclude or judge people on the basis of scripture alone, we forget that The Word took flesh – that it became incarnate and that it is to the loving and welcoming Jesus that we should look to, for our answers. Look at the way in which Jesus responded to the Syrophoenician woman, he did not reject her plea, although to many she was seen to be out with the chosen community.

None of us live perfect lives and none of us are perfect but in remembering to support each other in welcoming, we can welcome ALL God’s people into Christ’s Church. As James told us we are to be impartial in our attitudes to people and to do this we have to act as a corporate body and as the old Mission 21 exercise taught me – no one person can welcome everyone but we can do so together.

This is faith with works – supporting all in their outreach to the rainbow people of God - and challenging ourselves to ‘budge up’ in our pews to welcome those beautifully hued people into fellowship.