A reflection for Sunday 25th July 2021 (St.James-the-Great) by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 24/07/2021 - 11:38

Today is the feast of St.James the apostle, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples but beyond that what do we know of him and why are we keeping his feast day today?

James is often known as ‘The Great’ to distinguish him from the other disciple also called James (the son of Alphaeus Matt 10:3 often referred to as James-the-Less whose feast day is the 1st May). He was a Galilean fisherman, who with his brother John was called by Jesus to ‘follow him’:

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee … he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Matthew 3:18a, 21-22

With Peter and John he was one of the three disciples that Jesus took up the mountain with him when he was transfigured and he annoyed the other disciples by asking if he and John could sit at Jesus’ left and right hands when he came into his glory. He was martyred by Herod Agrippa in about the Year 44 in a campaign to destroy the leaders of the church in the hope that it would stem its growth:

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church intending to persecute them. He had James the brother of John put to death by the sword.” Acts 12:1-2

It is not a lot to go on, to give us an idea of what James was like except for the fact that in Mark’s Gospel James and John are given the nickname ‘Sons of Boanerges’  or ’Sons of Thunder’        (Mark 3:17)

Which would seem to imply that they were boys with a fiery temper and it is this reference that for me is probably the most important piece of information we have about James. Important because it tells us that James was no super human hero, but a very human man. A man with all his faults, just like us and it is because of his humanity that we are remembering him today.

All of us, in our humanity, are called to be saints. Our whole lives are supposed to be a journey, a pilgrimage towards sainthood or sanctification. That is to say as we grow up and grow older we should aim to grow ‘holy’ in God. That sounds rather pious but it is what we are actually trying to do. Everyday is a step closer back to God. We are ‘made in God’s image’ and as such contain something of the divine within us and it is that spark of the divine that longs to return to the Creator. It is that desire to be one with God again that drives us to become more ‘holy’ as we grow older.

None of us can, however, become truly holy, until we are reunited with God and enter fully into God’s presence for ever. Once we enter into God’s eternal presence we become fully a part of God - fully holy because God is all holiness.

This is not, however, an excuse for us to skive off trying to be good and to do good. It is not an easy thing to be kind, loving and good all the time. St.James obviously, was not, as his nick-name suggests. I suspect that he often lost his temper and ranted. What we are called to do is to try to live a good life. A life in which we seek to love and help others without being selfish or malicious. Living a life like this is not easy though; there will always be those whom we do not get on with but whom we are called to love despite who they may be - the nuisances, the difficult, the smelly, the bigots, the hateful - even them we are called to help if they need us.

The saints, like James are example and an encouragement for us to follow. I am not suggesting that we aim to get our heads chopped off but I am saying that it is right to stick to what you believe to be right and try to love those who may persecute you because of it.

Today’s collect says:

“Merciful God,

whose holy apostle Saint James,

leaving his father and all that he had,

was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ

and followed him even to death:

help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,

to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay …”

and it gives us further clues as to why we should try to ape the example of St.James and all the saints. If we truly love Christ then we must be prepared to give up all we hold dear and follow him.

But, are you? Am I, willing to give up the things we hold dear? Are we willing to open ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit and to follow Jesus, without thinking twice?

How often do the affairs of the world stop you worshipping on a Sunday or saying your prayers?

Quite often if you are anything like me! There are always the times when it is impossible to pray or that the busy-ness of life demands our attention elsewhere. I say to you do not worry about them, because there will be the times when we can pray and come to church and reach out to help our neighbour. It is these times that we should not neglect, and we might need to counter a spirit of laziness or materialism in order to do so. Whenever we have the opportunity to pray or to do unto to others that which we would wish done unto ourselves, we should take it and not worry about the occasions when we do not have that opportunity or time.

St.James was prepared to give up everything for an unknown life, following in the steps of an unknown Galilean preacher. When James and John gave up everything to go after Jesus, their family and friends must have thought them mad. James, however, knew in his heart (as we can too) that he had to take a chance on Jesus, to take a risk and leap into the future - a future unknown.

That is scary - but all of us are called to take such risks, to make such leaps of faith and to go into unknown situations, for the sake of the Gospel. Scary, yes but exciting too.

A bishop I knew in England never told anyone to ‘take care’ he always left from them telling them to ‘take risks’. Risks for the Gospel, to do what you believe God is calling you to do and what you believe to be true and right.

The example of St.James can give us hope. He was by no means perfect, he was no plaster saint, but he never gave up following the path he believed to be right. Life was not easy for him as it is not for us either but hold on to the example of St.James and be encouraged for by following the path you believe to be right you may discover that you have been able to change to world, to have had a profound effect upon it, no matter how small.

Reflection for Sunday 18th July 2021 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 16:37

Jesus had compassion for them.

However exciting and exhilarating large crowds may be, most of us will not choose to be there for extended periods. I have happy memories of the annual fireworks on Princes Street marking the end of the Edinburgh International Festival or being in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Less so being on a crowded train which has broken down or going through security at a busy international airport. You will have your own.

Today’s gospel from Mark is full of action. People are returning, gathering, telling, hurrying and arriving. They are also crossing, rushing, bringing, begging and touching. It all sounds chaotic. There was no real place to withdraw, to relax or eat.

What struck me was that Jesus chose to remain among this chaos however hungry and tired he was.  Not only did he begin to teach them  - although we are not told what - but also to heal those in need. He shows himself to be the good shepherd. This is directly opposite to the shepherds in our first reading from Jeremiah. They destroyed and scattered. Instead, Jesus is moved by love and compassion rather than lording his authority over them.

I was reminded that compassion literally means “to suffer together”.

Emotion researchers define compassion as “the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering”.  It is more than being sympathetic, showing pity for the sufferings or misfortunes of others or even being empathetic. There is something that touches our hearts deeply and makes us want to respond.

In his book, The Way of the Heart, the late Dutch Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen writes “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner Disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it”.

As human beings, we all have needs of various kinds, physical, emotional and spiritual to name but a few. Whether we like it or not and however much it may go against our inbuilt desire to be independent, there are times, I know, when we realise our need and have to ask for some help or assistance. When I go home most weeks to see my elderly mother I see something of that compassion which her carers, morning and evening, show daily towards her. It allows her to continue to live at home with dignity and greater independence.

Today we are encouraged to bring our needs to the living Christ who knows them even before we ask.  They may not always be met in the way we want, but a way forward will hopefully be shown.

May God give us hearts which are compassionate. May we be aware of our own brokenness and willing to reach out to those around us. And may those re-assuring words from the psalmist (Psalm 145:8-9) “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made” ring in our ears and hearts this week.

Lord Jesus, you know our needs even before we speak.

We bring them into your healing presence.

Make us sensitive to the needs of others so that we may bring that same

healing presence and power into their lives.

Reflection for Sunday 11th July 2021 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 10/07/2021 - 11:15

Trinity 6. Proper 10. Year B 2021

What to make of today’s Gospel – the sensational, gruesome story of the beheading of John the Baptist?

It’s a story about the wrong kind of celebration. A birthday banquet, an invitation-only occasion at which Herod is entertaining family, friends and members of the local elite. A lavish affair, and a very exclusive one. The Herod referred to isn’t the Herod who questioned the Wise Men and ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, but one of his sons, Herod Antipas. There was clearly some good in him. We are told that he feared John the Baptist, that he acknowledged him as a righteous and holy man, that he protected him and that he liked to listen to him. All this, despite the fact that John had publicly criticised him for breaking Jewish law by marrying his dead brother’s widow, which would have been fine had she been childless, but was not, given that she had a daughter. His family tree was complex, for his wife was also his half-niece and his stepdaughter, the dancer in today’s Gospel, went on to marry one of her father’s half-brothers, so that her husband was the half-uncle of both her parents.

Herod Antipas was a pleasure seeker and a lover of sensation. Having your stepdaughter dance for your guests at a banquet was a scandalous thing to do. He was also a weak man, and the weakness becomes clear when, delighted with her dancing, he made the rashly generous offer: “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half my kingdom.” He knew that executing John the Baptist was wrong. Yet he shed innocent blood to save him from the embarrassment of breaking a foolish promise.

Very much the wrong kind of celebration, then – a banquet held by a man devoted to pleasure and sensation who ended up doing something that he knew to be evil.

The German scholar Martin Kähler described the Gospel of Mark “a Passion narrative with an extended introduction.” The execution of John the Baptist is included at this point in the story to let the reader know that Jesus lives in a corrupt and cruel world in which those who challenge the authorities risk death. The incident points forward to the Crucifixion. Last week’s Gospel emphasised that prophets are often rejected in their own country, and this week’s reading reinforces that point, for John the Baptist was a powerful prophet.

The story of King Herod’s birthday banquet leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth, but if we read on in St Mark’s Gospel, we discover that Mark has used the story to point up a contrast, for the next thing he tells us about is Jesus feeding the five thousand, a miraculous sharing of food with a large crowd of people. They were not there by invitation, and they certainly weren’t members of the ruling elite. All who were present were fed. Lavish generosity, available to all, with no questions asked about their beliefs or their behaviour.

The compilers of the Lectionary chose well when they coupled today’s passage from Ephesians with the Gospel account of the death of John the Baptist, for Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell in Rome and, like John the Baptist, he would eventually be executed by beheading. Paul’s prayerful writing offers both a contrast with the corruption and violence in today’s Gospel story, and a foretaste of next Sunday’s Gospel. He writes of a God who is generous and loving and who, in Jesus, ensures

“…the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us.” 

A God who meets our needs, as Jesus met the needs of a hungry crowd. The simple meal that made clear the overflowing generosity of God’s love and forgiveness.

Reflection for Sunday 4th July 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 03/07/2021 - 11:11

“Look into the eyes of another human being and you glimpse God.” Ezekiel 2

“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon and are not his sisters with us?” Mark 6:3

There is a person, with whom I am acquainted who is not easy to converse with at times as they can come across as somewhat different. This person, loves the Lord with a passion and yet belongs to no congregation. Sometimes in conversation they can come out with the most profound and thoughtful comments. So profound that they can often draw one up short. I was reminded of this person by the prophet Ezekiel:

“O mortal, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.”         Ezekiel 2:1

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 an instance. 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 God 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 God wants to God will talk directly to us, person to person.

I think, my friend, may be one of those people to whom God talks to directly. So deep are their comments that I have certainly learned not to judge by appearances. God choses whom he wills to reveal himself to and not whom I might expect him to do so. I suspect 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. God talks to us through each other because of 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.”

The moral of this sermon is ‘watch out’ who you are talking to because you never know who might be talking to you through them!

A reflection for Sunday 27th June 2021 by the Rev'd William Mounsey

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 26/06/2021 - 10:19

A WOMAN WITH ISSUES    Mark 5.21-43

The King James Version of the Bible describes, rather delicately, the woman in Mark chapter 5 as having an issue of blood.  However, this woman had not one but a whole number of ‘issues’ which were draining her of life and which drove her, out of sheer desperation, to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak as he passed by.

Firstly, she had issues with society, a society ordered and structured so as marginalise and ostracise her.

In its preoccupation with anything that was considered unclean, the diseased were considered a social and spiritual threat and rigorous procedures were put in place to isolate them and to rehabilitate those who came into contact with them.

That created insiders and outsiders, the included and the excluded, and this woman was a victim of such a society.

She was regarded as a walking health hazard. (Lev 15:25-31)  She wasn’t allowed to mix with other people, she wasn’t allowed to eat with other people or even go to their homes.  Anything she touched would be rendered unclean and worst of all she wasn’t allowed to pray with other people - she was banned from the synagogue.

Some, however, benefited from such social and religious arrangements – like the doctors who for twelve years had bled her financially. And of course any social arrangement is policed and enforced by certain key figures - like Jairus, leader of the synagogue in her town.

He was ever alert for anyone who, like this woman, might breach the parameters that constrained and isolated them. And of course such social arrangements were held firmly in place by God. The guardians of religious law and propriety had a divine mandate, in this case the second section of Leviticus chapter 15.

Secondly, therefore, this woman had issues with the God who overshadowed her life, who was ultimate purity and holiness. Indeed all the people she feared and who enforced her isolation – including synagogue rulers like Jairus –  were agents of this fearful God. And doubtless she had prayed desperately for healing but such a God had no time for an outcast like her.

Then thirdly, living in such a social order, reinforced by such a God and his representatives, this woman had issues with herself. After all, it’s hard to love yourself when everyone from God down tells you that you’re worthless and cursed. People subject to this kind of judgement internalise society’s verdict on them.

And this woman watches young twelve year olds like Jairus’ daughter, in the first bloom of womanhood, and she envies them. They bleed too, but for them it indicates life and fertility, the capacity to marry and bear children. Their womanhood is their dignity. For her, however, it is a death sentence. For Jairus’ daughter the sum of twelve years adds up to fulfilment, to adulthood and possibility. But for the woman the tally of twelve years adds up only to despair and ruin. And while Jairus’ daughter skips along with her head held high she walks with a stoop, head bowed in defeat.

Jairus’ daughter died, but she died loved and had someone, her father, to act on her behalf, to run to Jesus for her, Jesus who brought life. This woman has no-one to go for her. She has no-one to love her – not even herself.

Somehow, this woman has made her way towards Jesus, her last hope, risking being caught. And she has reached out and touched the fringe of his cloak and in a moment of ecstasy she felt healing flow into her.

Her moment of joy, however, is short-lived. Suddenly she freezes, immobilised with terror as the words ring out, Who touched me? This is the final humiliation. She’s been caught, exposed, found out. Such shame – why did Jesus have to spoil it?   Couldn’t he have just left her to sneak away, undiscovered, her secret safe?

Couldn’t she have been spared this exposure and humiliation before the crowd?  Well, no. Because in that moment and in what follows three things happen that heal this woman in an even more profound way, opening the door of life for her. In this encounter with Jesus each of her issues is resolved.

Firstly, she finds herself affirmed. Daughter, your faith has healed you, says Jesus and that word Daughter, is shorthand. It stands for Daughter of Abraham – and in calling her this Jesus is addressing her as one of the people of God, a child of the covenant, and she is an outcast no longer.

Then come those words, Your faith has healed you, and note well: Jesus is saying it was your faith, your courage, your determination! Could anything be more empowering? And suddenly this woman finds herself looking into the eyes of the crowd, and her head is bowed no longer as deep within her there are stirrings of self-love and self-worth.

Furthermore, in that moment this woman finds a new image of God. She looks into the eyes of this man of God and she sees reflected there not a tyrant but a God in whom purity is over-ridden by compassion and holiness is seen in fierce, steadfast love.

In what follows, however, something else is changed, because suddenly all the old social and religious

arrangements are blown away.

Jesus, after all, has been touched by one who is impure.  But he understands the dynamics of grace and he knows that it is not he who has been soiled, but rather she who has been enlivened.

And he then goes on immediately to touch the ritually unclean corpse of Jairus’ daughter - but again, is he defiled? No! Jesus knows that rather than him being sullied she is made whole. And Jesus therefore treats the whole purity system with its rules and regulations and insiders and outsiders with utter disdain.

Suddenly the foundations of an old, oppressive, social and religious order are shaken. Grace is invading, and the walls of control, misused power and exclusion are tumbling down. No wonder they crucified him.

This is the story of an outcast being included, a bowed head being raised, a new vision of God being glimpsed, an oppressive social order being undone, and death being overcome by life. It’s the story of the ministry of Jesus - a ministry he has bequeathed to us.