Articles

A reflection for Pentecost Sunday 23rd May 2021 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 12:39

Sunday 23rd May 2021 – Pentecost

Imagine my great disappointment. A large box awaited me when I arrived home sent by dear friends. I opened it quickly but much to my dismay it was full of flowers that appeared to be dead. What should I do? Should I put them in the compost heap or in a vase of water? I chose the latter. To my surprise they slowly came to life, lasted at least a week or more and brought much pleasure and delight. Recently this happened to my mother too.  My younger brother told her in advance what to expect. We were able to share something of our own experience and even bewilderment. I now know that sending flowers in the post this way is not uncommon.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost marking fifty days since Easter Day bringing the Easter Season to an end. We recall how Pentecost (which comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”) had its roots in the Jewish “Feast of Weeks”. We also recall how God’s Holy Spirit was given to the apostles after the ascension of Jesus, empowering them to begin the work of making followers of him, of guiding them, of inspiring them.

In today’s reading from Acts, we are reminded “when the day of Pentecost had come, the apostles were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting”. What was happening?

As we look around the Church this morning we see the colour red. A bold, bright colour. It represents the tongues of fire appearing above the heads of the apostles as a sign that they had received the Holy Spirit. Some of us here I can see are wearing red.  I am too, but mostly hidden.

If you visit Worcester College Chapel Choir, Oxford you will see a painting by Nicholas Mynheer (b.1958). In it he has captured the moment when flames of fire pouring down from heaven enter the mouths of the apostles. He has chosen their mouths rather than their heads, for it is from their mouths that the words of the gospel come. The apostles’ faces are turned upwards, eyes closed, as if in a rapture. Mynheer depicts the apostles as huddled together in a small space; for although we are often on our own, our Christian life is essentially life with others and for others.

The Spirit descends to live within us and to lift our hearts to God. So in Mynheer’s painting, the streams of fire are also the songs and praise of the chapel choir going heavenwards. It is only through the Spirit that prayer and praises rise.

But what about us? Where does the Holy Spirit fit in? Why do we often feel  dry and spiritually  withered  like those flowers I mentioned at the beginning? Perhaps we need to turn to God and ask to be filled afresh on this and every day. As we do so, may we be filled with that new life and love.  May his presence and power transform us and fill those empty spaces.  And may something of that eternal life flow within us and out into the homes and communities in which we live.

Oh Holy Spirit, giver of life and light,

Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,

Prayers better than our own prayers,

Powers beyond our own powers,

That may spend and be spent in the ways of love and goodness,

After the perfect image of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Mission 21 Hymn

Submitted by Dean on Tue, 18/05/2021 - 09:34

This was written for the Mission 21 campaign by Jean Holloway the wife of Bishop Richard Holloway, our former Diocesan Bishop and Primus. I still think the sentiment it expresses is something for the church to uphold and practice. It is also a good challenge to us in this coming season of Pentecost.

 

Mission 21 Hymn

We have a vision of the church to share,

One to inspire God’s people everywhere;

Open to all, and no one turned away,

All those who enter here will wish to stay.


Here we embrace all people, young and old,

Welcoming those who come into our fold;

Holding the weak, encouraging the strong,

Each person valued, feeling they belong.

 

Gone is the fear of prejudice and hate,

We seek to cherish, not humiliate;

Here we can own the failures that we know,

Firm in the faith that we can change and grow.

 

Humbly we celebrate the good we do,

Working as one towards making all things new;

Using our talents, drawing on our skill,

Grateful for such a vision to fulfil.

 

Building upon our past that we hold dear,

Knowing tomorrow’s task is still unclear;

Each step we take will help us on our way,

One step will be sufficient for today.

 

Fired with the Spirit, filled with life and light,

Ours is a Church to challenge and excite;

Mission sustained by love and faith and prayer,

Extends God’s love to people everywhere.

 

Jean E Holloway

Reflection for the Sunday after Ascension by the Rev'd William Mounsey

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 15/05/2021 - 10:17

A POLITICAL DOCTRINE                Easter VII - Sunday after the Ascension     16th May 2021

Luke 24:45-53

We are in Ascension-tide – but for many Christians in the 21st century The Ascension story is something of an embarrassment. The idea of Ascension is not your everyday topic of conversation.  It seems to have more to do with fantasy than the world of hard fact.

As far as we are concerned, when anyone 'ascends' they move up into the air and out into space. So an early astronaut returned to earth and said that he did not encounter God 'up there', only endless space - and we wonder why he bothered to make such an obvious statement.  Those who take religious language literally, as if it were flat and one dimensional, are bound to end up, at times, with a kind of nonsense.

We cannot speak about everything in the flat terms of measurable fact.  Some things are best dealt with that way, as when you are designing a building or an aircraft.  Poetry will not do when precision of meaning is at a premium and calculations have to be exact. But there are other areas of life and experience which cannot be spoken of clinically.  How can you measure the extent of love, or calculate the depth of joy, or weigh the heaviness of sorrow?  Metaphors, parables, the language of the poets; some things, often the most important things of life, can only be said that way.

So when we read of Jesus ascending and sitting at God's right hand in the heavenly places we won’t get out a telescope to find where that is.  Instead, we have to listen to the words, and between the words, and ‘see with the imagination' in order to get the meaning. In the 'world view' of the Bible the Ascension is all about authority and power.  We live in a world where these are constantly big issues.  Questions of authority are always arising in our homes, schools, churches, businesses, law courts, on our streets, in our Parliaments and internationally. Who has the final 'say' on matters of law, economics, behaviour, medicine, education, the use of force?  Where is authority? And who has power?  Sometimes, at moments of unease, of threatened disorder in the world, the so-called ‘great powers' get into conference.  What is their power?  It is usually economic and military.  Power is understood as the ability to apply so much influence that you can get what suits you and your interests best in any situation.  By contrast, the powerless have no real freedom of choice.  Decisions are made for them by the powerful.

Such power and authority are hard to maintain. Governments can make wrong decisions, like parents or teachers or church councils or clergy, and so they lose authority or it is taken from them.  And once 'great powers' who had vast empires can lose their influence in world affairs.  When power and the desire for it become badly unbalanced then the result is beyond tragic.

Is this what we are left with, a constant moving, unstable flow of history where money and might can appear to be right?  Yes, this is what much of our world’s politics and power is like.  It is why the history of the world is told as a strange mixture of grief and glory, of utopian dreams and brutal, brutalising wars.  Struggles about power and authority are at the heart of the human story.  But there is a different picture.

This different picture focuses on Jesus, the Son of Man.  We know his story.  He had some initial popular appeal as a preacher, teacher and healer.  He spoke of a different kingdom, often in stories - engaging, sometimes disturbing stories. But the powers of the day found him subversive.  He challenged their claims.  He questioned their authority but they had enough power in the end to finish him.  They crucified him, putting him outside the city, which is the home of authority and power.  They killed this challenging, disturbing, dangerous man.  He never did get to sit on Caesar's throne.  In the real world of real power he was a nobody. However, there is a basic principle in the Bible (Psalm 118:22 & Matthew 21:42)  which is contained in the phrase: “The stone which the builders have rejected, has become the chief cornerstone.”

The Christian Gospel takes common perception and turns it on its head.  Look at the Magnificat: “The mighty he has put down from their seat, and he has exalted the humble and meek”. The New Testament story centres in on an astounding claim.  It is that this Jesus, despised and rejected, is the one God has raised from the dead. It is not Pilate or Caesar with all the power they had. It is not Caiaphas, with all the authority of religion behind him. Neither these, nor their successors in politics, religion, commerce, the media, has God raised.   

But, says the Christian story, this Son of Man, who spoke of extravagant love and lived it, who shared his meals with the unwanted, who taught that in God's kingdom the weakest are first, who taught that greatness lies in service, and that to receive your life you must give it away, this one man whose values turn the accepted patterns of life on their head, this one man, who was discarded, God has raised! And the Ascension stories tell us that it is to him that full and final authority are given.

His way of exercising power and authority is not like ours.  It is the way of service, patience, sacrifice and love.  In those terms alone it is 'out of this world'. The story of the Ascension is good news, especially for the ignored, the pushed-aside and the powerless, because it tells us that the way of Jesus is what ultimately matters.

So, far from being irrelevant, the Ascension is the most directly political story in the New Testament. It proclaims who is to be obeyed, who has authority in heaven and on earth.  It affirms that far from being discarded this Son of Man is at the heart of things, still subverting and challenging our pretences, still offering the hope of a genuinely new world.

The story of the Ascension and its implications for how we live together should leave us gasping. The language may be weird but the implications are urgent.

 

Reflection for Easter VI & Christian Aid Sunday 9th May 2021by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 08/05/2021 - 10:59

Easter VI & Christian Aid Week 2021 Year B

Drink a glass of tap water!

What can be better than a glass of cool, clear, Scottish water? Turn on your tap and you can usually guarantee a refreshing and health giving drink. Isn’t it amazing how two different gaseous atoms can make a liquid molecule that is so important to our lives and our well-being.

Water is a precious resource and one, we in Scotland, take for granted. As our climate ensures that we don’t usually get into drought conditions and water rationing. For Christians water is even more precious as it is the way in which we are Baptised. We are literally washed with water in the name of the Trinity and made anew. In some parts of our world, water is scarce and what there is has to go a long way. In other parts of the world there can be too much water and the devastation it can reek is just as bad as the drought its lack causes.

You will, I hope, have seen the Christian Aid literature published for this year’s Christian Aid appeal and its focus on the part that water plays in the lives of different people across the globe. Once such person is ‘Rose’ a 68 year old grandmother who is caring for her grandchildren. Rose lives in Kitui County in eastern Kenya - part of our world that has been in a climate emergency for years. Severe drought is often followed by other unpredictable changes in the weather that results in the destruction of crops, the death of livestock and a decline in the health of the population. Let alone what the Covid19 pandemic has wrought.

We in Scotland have been encouraged to regularly and to thoroughly wash our hands to help reduce the spread of the virus. Just imagine, how you would cope, if you did not have access to water at all? Or that your nearest supply is miles away and your only means of transport that you have - are your own two feet! For Rose obtaining safe water is a six hour round trip and those precious litres are shared between drinking, cooking, washing and watering her meagre crops. Rose worries that she won’t be able to keep on undertaking that daily journey for water. She says:

“Because of climate change I worry a lot about food. I pray to God that the rainfall will become normal like it used to be.”

Creation is a finely tuned process and we humans are learning to our cost that our actions do have a consequence. Climate change is a real disaster and threat to our world. But, we are not yet beyond hope and change. We can change our ways and ensure that the future and present is better for all God’s people. Christian Aid this year is not only asking us to help those in need but to fundamentally change our ways to help reverse what we have done. As the charity says:

“Even before the pandemic hit, unreliable and unpredictable rainfall made life a struggle. Today we can stand against this chaos. Together we can work with communities like Rose’s to make sure everyone has access to reliable water sources, now and in the future.”

Today’s Gospel is a call to mission, a call to love all God’s people and to put that love into positive action. We are called to ‘love our neighbours’ just as much as we are called to love God. We all need to find the ways in which we can effectively do both.

Perhaps a start might be regarding water as a sacred resource. A resource to be celebrated and used wisely and not wasted. What we can do in our homes to use water wisely will have an effect. It might seem like a drop in a bucket but many drops make an ocean. Using Creation’s gifts wisely is a missional challenge today for all of us. For in doing so we will be seeking to love our neighbours as ourselves and respecting all the good gifts that God showers upon us. This year we can partner with Christian Aid and the communities they work with to make a difference.

Every drop of rain that falls is precious and to enable it to be used to the benefit of all it needs to be collected. In Kenya, they are using earth dams to help with the situation. Earth dams are huge basins dug into the ground (a bit like a small reservoir) to collect and store rainwater. It can then be piped to taps in local communities to help people like Rose. Imagine the difference to her life and the lives of her grandchildren if Rose could access water from a tap in her village rather than trekking for three hours each way to collect water from a standpipe elsewhere. It is a relatively simple solution to Rose’s problem but an amazing gift to her community.

Where water can be managed, crops can grow, land can be farmed and soil retained so families no longer go hungry and people are stronger and better able to cope with what life and the climate throws at them. We can all help this to happen by sharing what we have with others but we also need to be cognisant to the needs of our environment and to continually ask ourselves; ‘Am I doing enough to use and re-cycle the resources of the world?’

Climate change affects all of us, not just people like Rose in Kenya. You only have to remember the droughts and flooding that occurs, all too regularly now, in parts of England. So not only today are we being asked to support the work of Christian Aid across the globe we are being challenged to change our ways and lifestyles to help reverse or stabilise the effects of Climate Change. Let it not be said of us that we heard but did not listen but that we heard and responded.

For in doing so we will be loving our neighbours as ourselves and loving God’s creation in all its wonderful and delicate nature. As the prophet Micah reminds us:

“You are to love kindness.

You are to be generous.

You are to share your resources

and share them with a smile.

You are to care for those in need.

You are to walk humbly with God.

No pretence, no bluster.

You are to pray and wonder.

You are to respect the Earth.

You are to experience and learn who God is and what God is about.

Listen up mortal.

God has told you what is good.

So do it!

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with your God.

Amen

A refection for Easter V 2nd May 2021 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 01/05/2021 - 12:24

Easter 5  Year B 2021

As all wine lovers know, the vines from which wine comes all belong to the same species – vitis vinifera – which began to be cultivated by human beings about 8,000 years ago. It is an extraordinarily hardy plant, which can cope with extremes of climate – there are even vineyards in Scotland. Nevertheless, in the 19th century it fell prey to a tiny aphid from America called Phylloxera Vastatrix which feeds on vine roots. In 1862 a French wine merchant imported some American vines and, unwittingly, imported a small colony of Phylloxera Vastatrix with them. In less than thirty years, the little beasties multiplied and spread, destroying all the wine-growing regions of Europe.

The solution to the crisis, for which credit must go to a Monsieur Henri Bouschet, was grafting. Monsieur Bouschet noticed that the American vines were much more resistant to attacks by Phylloxera than the European varieties. He tried making wine from the grapes that grew on the American vines, but found that the results were very disappointing, so he grafted branches from European vines that had not yet become diseased onto American vine roots and discovered that he got the best of both worlds – a vine that was resistant to disease and that produced very good wine.

The grafting of grape vines dates back to well before the time of Jesus. It was a technique with which he and his disciples would have been familiar. In today’s Gospel Jesus likens himself to a vine rootstock, and reminds us that our spiritual well-being depends on our abiding in him:

“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

It’s a wonderful metaphor, because it reminds us not only of our complete dependence on Jesus, into whom we were grafted when we were baptised, but also of the need for pruning – runaway vines don’t produce much fruit, and radical and regular pruning is necessary to get a good crop. We too need to be pruned of selfishness, and reminded that we are not freestanding individuals, and that it is only by abiding in Jesus that we will come fully to fruition and have life and have it abundantly.

The fruit that we can bear because we are rooted in him is that love of each other and of all our fellow human beings of which we read in today’s Epistle. The writer of 1 John reminds us that

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Taken out of context, that sounds very demanding, especially that word “must”, but the context reminds us that Christian love is not something that we have or express by an act of will, by our own unaided efforts – not a matter of “I find that person really irritating but I’d better be nice to him or her because otherwise I won’t be a good Christian.”  William Temple makes this point well in his Readings in St John’s Gospel:

“Our discipline is not a bracing of our wills to conformity with a law; it is the maintenance of communion with the Lord to the point of immutable indwelling.”

Christian love is something made possible by, fuelled by God’s love of us. These words in the Epistle:

We love because he first loved us. 

remind us of what Jesus says in today’s Gospel

apart from me you can do nothing. 

If we are grafted into Jesus Christ, we are called to and, by grace, enabled to love in ways which respect the claims of other people to be acknowledged for who they are, persons made in the image and likeness of God.

That’s an important thought in a week which will see elections in Scotland and throughout the UK, important at a time when there is much cynicism about politicians and at a time when groups who suffer from discrimination are justifiably demanding justice. Their demands do not always make comfortable hearing for those whose privilege is being challenged.  We are also experiencing the tensions and the divisions that can arise when one group asserts its rights in ways which infringe on the rights of others. We need laws, but conformity to the law, however enlightened the law, cannot of itself build a harmonious and loving community.

Paul Tillich, a 20th century German theologian who lost his teaching post in 1933 because he criticized the Nazis, wrote these words:

Distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love.

What he said about truth can and should also be said about justice.

Distrust every claim for justice where you do not see justice united with love.

For justice divorced from love all to easily becomes a quest for power to be transferred from one group to another or deteriorates into retribution and revenge.

It is in Jesus Christ, the true vine, that we see the perfect unity between truth and love, and the fruitfulness that makes possible, the fruitfulness that is the source of authentic justice.

Amen