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Reflection for Sunday 20th September Trinity XV

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 10:50

Sunday 20th September 2020 Year A Proper 20      Trinity XV

Poor old Jonah!

When you read that passage from the Old Testament book of his name you really get to see the human side of a prophet in glorious technicolor. In fact if you read the whole of the Book of Jonah despite its brevity you see humanity expressed through out - both the good and bad sides of our nature.

The Book opens with God asking Jonah to go to Nineveh and to warn the residents of God’s displeasure. Jonah, like many of us is reluctant to do God’s bidding and he attempts to hide from God by nipping down to Joppa and boarding a ship to Tarshish. Jonah was a reluctant prophet, in fact, as one reads the opening verses you get the idea that he would do anything rather than give warning to the population of Nineveh:

“ … so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”      1:3b

As well as being reluctant Jonah does come across as a rather daft prophet as well. Did he not realise that he could not escape the sight of the all seeing God? Was hot-footing it to Tarshish really going to give him the hiding space he wanted? He quickly learns that it won’t, when God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the ship. The sailors being pretty canny draw lots to discover the jinx - Jonah. They ask him what he thinks he is doing running away from his God.

Jonah asks them to toss him over board but the sailors are actually good guys and they initially refuse to do so and try rowing hard to get to safety. It is only when all seems lost that they chuck him in the sea, praying to Jonah’s god that he won’t punish them because of it. In fact in the act of throwing Jonah into the waves seems to lead to their conversion and they not only pray to God but make sacrifice and vows to him as well. Jonah maybe a reluctant prophet but he is a missioner; because ironically in this instance his feckless actions bring the sailors to faith. The sailors ‘feared’ the Lord  because they saw his power and they turned to him. They must have been even more amazed when the fish swallowed Jonah! Is there no end to God’s powers and surprises?

The shock of being swallowed by the fish, shakes Jonah out of his self-pity and he thanks God for saving him from a watery grave and pledges himself to God’s service. This time when God asks him to preach to the people of Nineveh, he does so. No longer a reluctant prophet but a prophet so convincing that his words and the fact that the fish spewed him on to dry land, causes the people to repent of their ways and they went about in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their conversion.

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”                       3:10

And, this is the point where today’s first reading comes into play. Jonah is in a sulk. He is displeased and angry with God for saving the people of Nineveh. After all his ups and downs God shows mercy to a debauched people who repent. Jonah says to God, did I not tell you that you wouldn’t do away with Nineveh because of your forgiving nature? Why then did I have to go thorough all I did for you to be merciful? Could I not have stayed at home?

After all his adventures Jonah still really doesn’t get it. He is still self-pitying and moaning that it isn’t fair. He sounds like a petulant teenager. Still a reluctant prophet.

So he sits and sulks in the heat of the sun until God causes a plant to grow up and shade him.  The next day the plant dies and Jonah bakes and once again wishes he was dead. God rebukes him and asks why the plant was important to him. God then goes on to say just as the plant was appreciated by Jonah so he loves his people of Nineveh and would have been devastated had they died. Slowly Jonah begins to realise the extent of God’s love and mercy and there the Book ends. A somewhat abrupt and inconclusive end but and ending in which we are left hoping that Jonah grows up and appreciates the fact that love changes everything.

God chose to be merciful and generous just like the owner of the vineyard who chose to treat all the workers equally, regardless of when they began work. Who when asked why simply says because he can and chooses to do so. So it is with God, he chooses to be loving and merciful to Nineveh and her people, as he does with Jonah and as he always does with us too.

Thoughts on the readings for Sunday 13th September Trinity XIV

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 14:09

September 13th 2020 Trinity XIV Proper 19 Year A

Genesis 50:15-21

We all know the story of Joseph and that outlandish, peacock coat that his father gave him and how out of jealousy, his older brothers sold him into slavery. When you read the earlier part of the story you can end up sympathising with Joseph’s brothers. What a prig and show off Joseph was - swanking and strutting about in that technicolour coat. What an idiot his father was for showing his out and out favouritism of Joseph over and above his elder sons. Yes! Joseph was one of the two sons of his later life and second marriage to an adored but deceased wife but as any good parent knows you don't openly show your favouritism to one child at the expense of others without incurring problems for both that child and yourself.

I think, in this excerpt, that Joseph’s father is asking Joseph to forgive his brothers as he is truly to blame for what happened to him. It was  Jacob that was at fault and his actions caused the brothers to behave as they did.

Joseph, because of his experiences in captivity and then in Pharaoh’s service has also learned many lessons about life. He has come to understand himself and to acknowledge his less than good behaviour as a young man. Although his brothers meant him harm in the past he is able to forgive them because he can see how his life has developed for the better because of their actions. He now seeks to re-unite his family and does so with great generosity:

21So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.”   Genesis 50:21

This example is meant to show us how great and forgiving is God’s love of us and how much that God is always willing to forgive us, even when we think we don't deserve that forgiveness because of what we may have done or not done. Just ponder on that reality for a while.

 

Romans 14:1-12

As a more or less vegan this bit of Paul’s letter to the Romans always makes me laugh:

2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.”     Romans 14:2

But in today’s current climate it does have resonance. The Vegan lobby is very strong at the moment and the ad’s against milk drinking a couple of years ago were very hard hitting but they’re just as judgemental as those non Vegans who tend to ‘do down’ those who are, as fanatics. What Paul is trying to tell us in this epistle is that no one of us is in any position to judge anyone else. We might think we are and have evidence to support that stance but in actuality none of us can or should judge another. Why? Because there is always going to be a bit of us that could be open to judgement by someone else as well.

I well remember a strong voice in the campaign for Civil Partnerships who ranted against such things. This was a man four times divorced who could see no reason for his sexual mores to be challenged by those who were trying to make a life-time commitment to each other. He believed he was above judgement and was in a position to judge others. God soon topples us off such pedestals should we choose to stand on them.

God, it appears from the Scriptures, does not judge anyone on any grounds; colour, race, creed, gender, sexuality, age, whatever. It is us humans who do that. We may individually be uncomfortable or unhappy with somethings in other peoples lives but they might be just as unhappy with things in our lives. We need to regularly challenge ourselves and our beliefs and behaviours, our prejudices and preferences and be prepared to see things in a different light once we carefully examine the evidence.

Judging each other and thinking some of God’s creation are more worthy than others has to stop. It has to be challenged. Why in the 21st century should women be paid less than men for doing the same job? And why should the majority in some area feel threatened by the minority, that they wish to bodily harm those who are different? 

The older I get the less patience I have with any form of discrimination or prejudice for I truly believe it grieves God and makes God’s heart bleed. I suspect it also angers God and disappoints God in that the pinnacle of creation is such a mean spirited animal. This is not what God wants us to be, we are bigger than that and capable of such amazing altruism if only we can remember not to judge others for fear that we will be judged as well.

 

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “          Matthew 18:21-22

Don’t just forgive once but forgive time and time again. For useless you do Jesus warns us:

35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”         Matthew 18:35

Forgive, forgive, forgive and God will forgive you your sins and faults as well. Do not judge and you will not be judged, harshly, by God either. Basically, it’s all summed up in the ‘Golden Rule’:

‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.’

Pretty good advice after all we have read this morning.

Amen.

Thoughts for Trinity XIII 6th September 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 10:29

Trinity XIII    Proper 18  Year A    6th September 2020

You may remember back in 2011 the television images of the deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in court. Speaking from a stretcher in a caged dock, it was claimed that he was too ill to stand trial. A trial established by his own people; in the country that he ruled as a dictator for decades. At 83 it might be claimed that he was too old to stand trial but the fact of the matter is that he was still in power aged 83 and that if he was still able to rule then he was still able to be held to account for his actions. The question that we need to ponder is ‘How unwell or how old should one be before one does not have to account for one’s behaviour?’

Personally, I do not believe there is any age at which we cannot be brought to account for what we have done or not done. We all need to be able to ‘own’ our actions, apologise where necessary and to make recompense for them. It is in the ‘punishment’ meted out that we can show mercy but not in the fact of being tried for one’s misdeeds.

In the punishment handed down we do not need to sink to the level of the accused. We can insure that they pay their debt to society or to those they have harmed but we must never sink to the levels of depravity that the offender may have done.

In past years there have been many attempts to restore the death penalty. One such was the political online blogger ‘Guido Fawkes’ He believed that the restitution of the death penalty would get ordinary people re-engaged with politics. Personally, I think he was pandering to our base human nature. For many of us; ‘an eye for an eye’ or a ‘life for a life’ might seem just – but is it? In taking a life, even that of a murderer, do we not as a society sink to their level. Are we not better than that? Should we not seek to be merciful and above ‘tit for tat’ retribution. If as St.Paul reminds us:

Love does no wrong to a neighbour.”      Romans 13:10a

are we not wronging a neighbour when we seek to severely punish them, even if they have wronged one of us? Just because a murderer takes a life it does not mean that we as a society have to do so as well. In NOT seeking to restore the death penalty we can be seen as practicing ‘The Golden Rule’ – to love one’s neighbour as oneself. We are showing that our basic nature is better than what our instincts might be. We do not have to operate at a base level, we can rise above it.

Having worked in Lockerbie in the 1990’s I was always moved by Dr.Jim Squires, the father of Flora who died in the PanAm explosion. He forgave the bomber for what he did and he fought for true justice for those who died. He sought the truth without retribution for over 30 years. This to me is admirable. If he had sought ‘blood for blood’ he would have never found any peace in his life and nor could he have allowed Flora to ‘rest in peace’ either. In rising above a base level was able to celebrate his daughter’s life and to seek the truth.

For me, this is the essence of today’s readings. They challenge us to seek the ways of God in Christ and I say in Christ because we are people of the New Testament nor the Old. The Old Testament to my mind contains too much blood, gore and retribution and shows why we needed the advent of Christ to save us from ourselves. It is Christ who shows us a different way forward. In Jesus the old ways are left behind and the new ways of living through love are put before us.

Living life through love is a hard path to follow because at times it will and does appear to be contradictory to what might seem to be the natural way forward. But then Jesus was always happy to contradict the norms of his day and to act out of love and compassion, regardless of the consequences to himself. To love and then love a bit more is what he calls us to do. All we have to try and do is to live up to his example. It is an example that we might struggle to ape but it is one that we must at least try to copy, in the hope that we might live up to it.

“..put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires..”

Romans 13:14

A reflection from the Rev'd David Warnes for Sunday 30th August 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 11:53

Trinity XII Proper 17 Year A 2020  Romans 12:9-21

As a young teacher I was given the job of instructing a group of thirteen-year-olds in map reading and orienteering skills. At the end of the course, which involved learning how to use a compass, a colleague and I took them out for a night under canvas on a disused airfield. Once it was fully dark, we set them the final test – navigating by compass bearings at night. The first bearing took them away from the camp, and then a succession of bearings mapped an irregular circuit around the site, with the last one bringing them, in theory, back to their tents. For the next hour, the colleague and I sat and watched as distant torches flickered in a many directions, most of them wrong. The cries of the lost filled the night air. In the end, we turned on the headlights of the school Land Rover to guide them back to camp. We had given them detailed directions, but most of them had not been able to establish a sense of direction.

That night came to mind when I read Professor A.M. Hunter’s commentary on today’s passage from the Epistle to the Romans. He points out that Paul sketches out a general pattern for Christian living:

“a compass rather than an ordnance map, direction rather than directions.”

Paul’s compass points unwaveringly towards Jesus. If you study the passage you will find echoes of the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the letter he had emphasised that Christians are justified – re- established in relationship with God – by faith in Jesus Christ, not by “works of the law”. Some years ago, a professor in a Lutheran seminary in the USA, asked his students this question:

“Now that you don’t have to do anything for salvation, what are you going to do?”

It’s a question that confronts all Christians as we face different situations and challenges. Paul’s answer is “point your compass towards Jesus.” He offers no detailed set of rules of conduct. Instead he suggests that Christian behaviour should be rooted in a special sense of what it means to be human. To be human, Paul argues, is to be made in the image and likeness of God and also to fall short of that, to be a sinner. By giving his readers a compass pointing towards Jesus, he is telling them “Look how much God loves you, but not just you, all of humanity. Therefore, you must love one another; not just your fellow Christians but also your fellow human beings. All of them. Without exception.”

This inclusive approach to Christian living is very open-ended and that is why it remains relevant almost two millennia later as we face situations and challenges that Paul never envisaged. He knew from experience that Christians can disagree heatedly among themselves about issues of morality and church order. That remains true to this day. Paul tells us that such disagreements must be negotiated in the light of the Christian imperative to love one another.

He then suggests that if your compass points towards Jesus, your love should extend beyond the Christian community to those outside it, even to those who are hostile to it. The Roman Christians lived in a very precarious situation. Many of them, together with Paul himself, were to fall victim to a vicious persecution ordered by the Emperor Nero. Nevertheless, Paul urges them not to cut themselves off from society, but rather to engage with their neighbours, to empathise with them and not to fall into the trap of feeling superior to them. He warns of the danger of seeking revenge, of entering into the power struggles that result from that, of trying to get even rather than working to achieve justice. That warning speaks directly to the dangerous and divisive situation in the United States, where the struggle for racial justice has led to violence.

It speaks also to the divisions in our own society, the disagreements about politics, racial justice, and gender identity. Spend a few minutes on Twitter, experiencing the anger that is expressed about such issues, and you will be reminded just how counter-cultural Paul’s suggestion that we should blessing those who curse us is. We live in an era of “Cancel Culture” – the tendency publicly to condemn, shame and boycott those with whom we disagree. That isn’t the Christian way, and recent academic research suggests that it is counter-productive because it is likely to entrench the beliefs of those who are condemned rather than to bring about a change of mind and heart.

Last week a Muslim woman in New Zealand showed us the power of forgiveness. Her son was killed in the Christchurch Mosque massacre. At the sentencing hearing, Jana Ezzat told the terrorist:

"I forgive you. The damage is done, Hussein will never be here. I only have one choice and that is to forgive."

The policeman who was guarding the prisoner later told her daughter that that was the only moment in the proceedings when the convicted man showed any sign of emotion; a moving commentary on what Paul meant when he wrote those puzzling words about acting lovingly towards your enemies and heaping burning coals on their heads; not to hurt them but, perhaps, to prompt a change of heart.

We are unlikely to face the kind of challenge that Janna Ezzat faced, but we all have our bêtes noires. They might be difficult work colleagues or particular politicians. Paul is not requiring us to agree with them, nor to condone their actions. He is not even asking us to likethem in the sentimental sense of that word. Rather he reminds us that we must never lose sight of their humanity, the dignity that they have as beings made in the image and likeness of God, and the Gospel imperative to love them. Point your compass towards Jesus, Paul teaches, and you’ll find that you are called to an all-encompassing love.

Amen.

Reflection for Sunday 23rd August 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 10:31

Proper 16  23rd August 2020 Year A

“Who do you say, I am?” That was some question for Jesus to ask Peter and the other disciples. Can you imagine what your response might have been should it have been you that Jesus asked that question of?

In actual fact, Jesus has already asked you that question. You might not be able to answer it, as I suspect that like many of us, you might still be trying to fathom out who Jesus actually is for you. It is easy to give a quick, impulse response to his question; ‘Who do you say I am?’ by simply saying; ‘the Son of God’ but what does that response really mean?

Personally, I do not think that we can give one single, definitive answer to the question because Jesus and ultimately God are revealed to each of us individually. We all get to meet God in our own way. For me if I try to answer Jesus’ question as to who he is I have to approach my answer from an exploration of his human nature, for it is Jesus’ humanity that speaks most strongly to me. For you it might be his divinity or through his miracles, or whatever.

As a human male, I approach Jesus from a point of masculinity and my human male experience. I relate very strongly to Jesus the man, in the ways he is shown to interact with his friends and disciples; in the way he uses words to explain things; and through his emotions of compassion, laughter, joy and anger. These are things I know about and understand within myself and I am therefore more able to translate my personal experience of Jesus through them. I come to Jesus via my own personal experience but I also have to acknowledge that because I do this my understanding of Jesus will be different to yours and that I can never fully understand who he actually is because I am not Jesus and he is not me. For me it is from the similarities I share with him that I come closer to an understanding of who he is.

But what if I was really pushed to say who Jesus is? What would I say?

I think I would have to say that for me, he is the being who is the human personification of our Creator God. A being that showed both his humanity and his divinity in how he lived his life. A man who through his human attributes was able to show us what God is like, perhaps not what God is but what it is like to be ‘of God’.

To be truthful I do not think that I could ever know what God is because only God can know that and I am far from being God. Yet, saying this because we are told that we share in the image of God, I also believe that we have within our knowledge of who we are, an inkling of who God is and thus who Jesus is; but it is only an inkling.

This does not confuse or disappoint me, rather on the contrary it excites me and spurs me on to further exploration. I think about and pray through who I believe God is from the ways he is revealed to me and when I say God I also take it to mean Jesus as well. This act of mental and spiritual exploration is basically ‘doing theology’ - for theology means ‘thinking about God’. We are all, even if we do not acknowledge it, theologians because we all think about God, whether or not we decide to believe in him or not. As theologians our thinking will lead all of us to different conclusions and understandings and will cause us to ask different questions and that I find exciting and fascinating. I also strongly and passionately believe that it is when we interact with each other and share our thoughts that we gain glimpses of God and who he is.

To be honest, I can’t definitely answer Jesus’ questions as to who he is but what I really want to do is to keep on asking my own questions as I ponder on my answer to him.

And, the best way to ask those questions? Well, it is to ask them in the company of others and then to get the discussion going. Isn’t theology great?

Amen.