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Commentary on the readings for 2nd August 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 01/08/2020 - 10:56

Trinity VIII Year A Proper 13  2nd August 2020

A few thoughts on each of the readings appointed for today.

Isaiah 55:1-5

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

On first reading one might well wonder what Isaiah is on about in this portion of Scripture. How can you buy anything without money? And why does he tell you not to buy anything that does not feed you?

Actually, I think Isaiah is on to something. He has a a real message for those of us living in the developed world in the 21st century.

All too often we read or see, in the media, people spending money to excess buying ‘stuff’ to fill holes in their lives. Stuff they think will bring them lasting happiness. It is a shallow, materialistic way of life and I think one to be guarded against. ‘Stuff’ can never bring you happiness and as they say; ‘you can’t take it with you’ either.

What brings happiness and contentment is that which feeds the soul. Such things as friendship, love, peace and joy – intangible things and things which no matter how much money you have do not cost a penny. But then neither are they for sale, they are freely given.

It is these free gifts that Isaiah rightly recognises as being the things we thirst for and more often overlook when we try to replace them with material ‘stuff’. What Isaiah is encouraging us to do is to develop discernment – the ability to see what it truly is that we desire, need or want and to identify those things that we think we need but do not actually want.

“Listen so that you may live.”

It is not material things that give one life, it is the things intangible and freely given that do and if anything this pandemic time has taught us it is that the simple things in life are the most precious. How much have we come to really value our loved ones and the opportunity to spend time with them. Conversations across the internet or handwritten cards and letters have lifted our spirits far more than any delivery of ‘stuff’. Isaiah is right, it is the things you cannot but that are the most important.

Romans 9:1-5

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

As short as this gobbet is from Paul’s epistle to the Romans is, it is none the less full of Paul’s pain. Paul is being persecuted for his conversion to Christianity by those from whom he comes – the Jews. Paul was once the zealous, totally committed Jew, probably the Saul who is mentioned in Acts chapters 7 and 9 and who was present at the stoning of Stephen.

Saul’s conversion and his renaming as Paul, was painful, even violent and like all converts he wanted more than anything else to see his fellow Jews come to follow Jesus, to know the Christ as he has come to know him. He is in real agony that his kindred have cut themselves off from recognising Jesus as the Messiah and he wishes that he could forget his past and his people – for it would make the pain he feels less. Yet, he can’t forget that he is a Jew and that his people think he is mad for following Christ:

“To them belongs the adoption...and comes the Messiah”

To them belongs Christ but they reject him. They cannot see who he is and Paul mourns for those he loves. I don’t always agree with what Paul has to say (but this is the real Paul, not a later writer using his name) and here he is writing from the heart and his pain is obvious. I warm to him in his turmoil.

In my youth, when my conversion or return to faith, was still fresh, it was like Paul’s also raw. I grieved that those I loved didn’t love Christ like I did, and nor did they want to worship him either in the manner I did. As I have grown in my faith, my feelings have changed but I still remember the pains of my conversion. What about you? Have you ever felt pain because of your faith? Have you ever wished your loved ones could love Christ as you do? I you have then you can probably emphasise with Paul in this short extract from his epistles.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

This is such a familiar passage of Scripture to most of us. How many of you had this read to you as a child be it, at home or at school. Were you as amazed as I was with what Jesus did with five loaves and two fishes in the face of feeding 5000 people?

I think this miracle of Jesus is one of my favourites. Why? Simply because as I have lived with it for most of my life I have come to see so much more in it than it first appears to contain. For a start more than 5000 people were fed. The text says; ‘about 5,000 men besides women and children’. In counting heads only the men were deemed important enough to count (in the society of the time women and children were outside the covenant and therefore not worth counting) it was only the free-born Jewish males who literally counted. If you consider that each man was probably there with a wife and children and/or younger siblings too, the feeding perhaps should be entitled the ‘feeding of the 25,000’! So then how did five loaves and two fish feed that lot with basketfuls left over?

Once I had realised that there were woman present during this miraculous feeding I began to think that no woman would have left home that day without packing provisions for the day. The men, being singled minded, as we men can be, might have decided to go and hear the

preacher but the women, perhaps being more being practical, would have thought ahead and prepared the picnic. Yes, I am stereotyping but perhaps there is something in my musings. If the women had picnics packed then when it came time to eat, the picnics could and would have been shared, for one always packs more than enough. In a happy crowd it is also natural to want to share what you have with those you have gotten to know. The miracle for me is the generosity of people towards each other – sandwiches for two can usually feed three.

If every picnic present was shared then no wonder there was more than enough to go round. The fact that there were baskets of crumbs left over is also very significant. Significant in that they show that there is always room for more in Christ. Christ’s love and message is not just for a select few – the 5000 men - but for ALL God’s people and like love there is always enough of Christ to go round. If other people had suddenly turned up

at the feeding then they too could have been fed with both food and the words of Christ.

What I believe is important in this story is that it tells us that there will always be enough to share and that no one will ever be turned away from Christ. What we have to do daily, is to share what we have, knowing that to share is blessed and that in sharing we will always have enough left over to do other things with and sharing has become a big part of our lives own lockdown. I hope as a society and individuals we won’t in the future forget what sharing means or the joys it can bring.

A reflection for Sunday 26th July by the Rector

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 11:40

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
 And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
 To where it bent in the undergrowth;



Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim
 Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
 Though as for that the passing there
 Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.
 Oh, I marked the first for another day!
 Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
 Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,


I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

How often have you faced a similar dilemma in your life?

Whatever choice you make will have consequences and will change your life and perhaps the life of others as well. Choosing between what our conscience tells us is right or wrong is easy but choosing which path to follow when either path is equally good is incredibly difficult. One can often be overwhelmed by indecision by the fear of making a poor choice.

When the choice is between two sides of the same right the choice is almost impossible. Sometimes you will need to ask for an objective view by a detached observer to help you in your choice. Solomon obviously realised this:

“O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in..... Give your servant, therefore, an

understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil..”

1Kings 3:7-9

and sensibly knew to ask God to grant him wisdom in his decision making. Wisdom is perhaps the greatest gift from God, far more valuable than riches or power:

“It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right.... In deed I give you a wise and discerning mind..”

1Kings 3:10-13

I have never wanted to belong to a church that dictates to me what to believe, what to say, how to vote or whatever. This desire for independence is the thing that has kept me as an Episcopalian and any suggestion of being dictated to fills me with abject horror.

I respect the views of those whose interpretation of scripture and the traditions of the church are different to mine. Their faith may tell them that X is X and I believe they have the right to hold those views. I may not agree with them because for me X could perhaps be interpreted as Y or Z depending on the circumstance, context and theological understanding. It is the interpretation of Scripture that leads to debate and sometimes sadly conflict but it can also lead to wonderful conversations and God given insights.

Scripture, for me, contains the essence of God written in human language codes which are in themselves inadequate vehicles to explain God and God’s ways and thus therefore need to be interpreted through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For others Scripture should not nor cannot be interpreted. To say this or even to adopt this stance is in fact a choice not to interpret Scripture.

It is this dilemma of ‘interpretation’ that takes me back to the beginning of this homily and Solomon’s request of God to grant him:

“ an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil.”

All of us need to pray for discretion and discernment and that these gifts will be poured by God upon all of us today. We all need to be able to think clearly and logically in these days as we come out of lockdown. We all need to be blessed by the Spirit with wisdom as to how we can move forward and to re-build our society in ways that will ensure each individual's dignity and worth.

Pray to God for discernment of his will for us in these coming days, months and years that we will always be able to tread the right path.

A thought for the week from the Rector

Submitted by Dean on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 15:27

Gardening

Are you a gardener? Do you love the feel of the soil running through your hands? Do you have ‘green fingers’ and seem to get anything you plant to grow? Or do you just enjoy sitting in a garden that somebody else has created as a little bit of heaven on earth? I fall into both categories. I always thoroughly enjoy sitting in my garden or visiting gardens such as Saughton Park or the Botanics but I love above all, actually gardening. Tending and tilling the soil encouraging plants to grow, especially roses and other flowers. Whenever I garden I often think of the earth’s first gardeners. Adam and Eve in that fabled Garden of Eden.

“11Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day ... 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”          Genesis 1:11-13 and 2:15

As we know, all went well in that garden until the gardeners were tempted by forbidden fruit. I bet they wished that had not eaten that ‘apple’ and had just continued to care for the garden as God intended. Those of us who are gardeners are following in Adam and Eve’s footsteps and I like to think that we are daily sustaining that Garden of Eden, that has now spread across the world.

Creation is a wonderful thing and we are called to share with God the stewardship of the Earth. So by gardening we do just that. By caring for plants we care for the Earth and the whole of Creation in the little bit of God’s Kingdom that we live in. What we need to do is to encourage those who don’t garden to do so, or to care for Creation in ways that do not exploit it or damage it. We can turn the climate crisis around by gardening more, by planting more trees and flowers and sustainable crops and we do it for future generations as well as for our own enjoyment. Imagine planting a sapping tree today, none of us will see it come to maturity but the generations below us will thank us for our foresight and efforts.

Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all living things, please bless our gardens and the gardens of the world that have been so carefully and lovingly prepared. Bless the seeds we have planted, that they will bring forth a plentiful crop. Bless the sun and water you provide to us, so our crop can be nourished. Bless our labour that we may continue to learn and grow through this experience. Amen.

 

Reflection for Sunday 19th July Trinity VI Proper 11

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/07/2020 - 11:14

Faith & Doubt 

Trinity VI  Proper 11 19th July 2020 Year A

“Slipping into Evensong, like good quality chocolate biscuits and George II side tables, was one of the luxurious tastes Mummy has acquired in widowhood. She claimed she has simply been exploring the cathedral one afternoon during her first year in the city when the service was announced. She was making her way to one of the exits along with other flustered godless when the choir began singing an introit. The beauty of the music forced her to take a seat to listen, if only from a distance. She had come back several afternoons after that, always sitting well outside the quire so she could enjoy the music and words but not feel implicated in the act of worship.

‘But then I thought, this is silly. Who am I so scared of? I don’t care what people think; my faith or lack of it is entirely my affair.”

  Writes the author Patrick Gale in his novel, ‘The whole day through’. He book charts a day in the life of four characters; an elderly mother and daughter and two brothers and how their lives cross and intertwine with each other. It is an excellent read but it was the paragraph I have just read that set me thinking.

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? To have certainty of faith, to know, without question what you believe or know to be God must be comforting. Never having to question what you believe 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.

Gale writes later in the same chapter of his book:

“But you know all the words! Of course, I was a nicely-brought up girl. I attended confirmation classes at St.Swithan’s for a year when I was twelve and confirmed at thirteen, by the Bishop of Winchester in this very cathedral. ‘But you don’t believe it now? ‘I am not sure I believed it then. I was just being obedient. You get confirmed in the same spirit that you got married, in the fond hope that something solid would follow on the heels of faith.” 

Like many teenagers I got confirmed and then promptly left the church, struggling as I was with puberty, teen-aged angst and the death at 52 of my grandmother. Apart from attending school chapel, when like Gale’s characters I went through the motions I did not darken the church’s door until I left school. Then with two solid years of studying Reformation History I returned and became totally convinced and assured of what I knew to be the ‘true faith’. I became a fundamentalist, conservative, catholic Anglican and like all fundamentalists looked down on any other poor soul who wasn’t aware of the truth about Christianity and its practice of worship as I was. My arrogance appals me now, but it was the starting point for my journey into an adult faith – a faith that includes doubt as well.

What I believed at 19 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 19 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’. Like the sower, we have to be prepared to sow seeds, some which will come to harvest and others which will flounder or die.

The faith (or seed of faith) of Christ that I want to share is a one 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.’

In Ariana Franklin’s novel; ‘The Mistress of the art of death’ the heroine Adelia says this of the church in the 12th century:

“It wasn’t that she had anything against the faith of the New Testament, left alone it would be a tender and compassionate religion ... no what Adelia objected to was the church’s interpretation of God as a petty, stupid, money-grabbing retrograde, antediluvian tyrant who having created a stupendously varied world, had forbidden any enquiry into complexity, leaving his people flailing in ignorance.  P.221

As a description of the church in the late 1100’s it is apt but to many people out with the church today it would ring true. Someone once asked me if being a priest meant that I left my brain at the door of the church? That is what some people think and that is what we need to counter in life today.

We are not people of a book of rules. 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.

To have it all mapped out would I believe exclude most of us. Once upon a time I did believe that there was only one prescribed way to God through Jesus. Now I believe that Jesus offers us a multitude of different ways to God. So many and so varied that there is a way for everyone to journey no matter how full of doubt or faith they may be. As seeds of faith we all germinate and grow in different ways. Sometimes our growth is strong and vigorous and at other times it is weak and fragile but if we try to nurture our seeds they will and do survive, even if at times those seeds of faith become dormant.

Doubt is nothing to be afraid of, it too paradoxically, is a healthy seed of faith! It is a healthy progression along the journey of life. What is scary is a church that does not allow this. I want to see and to try and build a church with Christ at its centre but one that is not confined by rigid walls of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts but one that says come along let’s journey together. Let’s explore what the way of Christ means for you, for me and for your fellow beings. A church that does not depend on rigid statements of faith but one that allows and encourages questions and the searching through doubt. And, to be a church that will support you while you do so.

This is the message I would like to share with those out with the church today, as well as to you who choose to be part of the church. I want the world to know that here is a place where you will not be expected to believe or know everything about faith, nor will you be expected to say things you don’t believe. Here is a place to think and be - a safe place to share your insights, a place where you will be respected and encouraged. A place where your tender shoots of faith will be lovingly nurtured and cared for.

Sermon for Sunday 12th July 2020 Trinity V by the Rev' David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 10/07/2020 - 16:33

Trinity V Year A 2020

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

The Gospel writer tells us that when Jesus speaks of “the cares of the world” as choking off the development of faith, the Greek words that Matthew uses literally mean “being drawn in different directions”. So not the “cares of the world” in the sense of the trials and tragedies that challenge our faith. Those are referred to earlier in the parable, when Jesus speaks of the seed that falls on rocky ground. By “the cares of the world” Jesus means the kind of distractions that were bothering Martha while her sister Mary was paying single-minded attention to him; the dissipation of attention and energy in many directions. Jesus’ words here, and his words to Martha, are a call to singleness of mind and heart; a call to turn from the things which distract us.

The pandemic has in some ways simplified our lives by ruling out many pleasures and activities, and that has not been easy. We have learned to place a greater value on people of whose company we have for a time been deprived, on the creative and restorative activities that we miss and perhaps on the mundane tasks that, in normal times, we would have rushed through in order to see friends and family and pursue outdoor activities. Singleness of mind and heart is difficult at the best of times, and particularly difficult when it comes to domesticity. I have been missing the energetic young man who, until lockdown began, cleaned our house every Monday morning. Deputising for him, not always enthusiastically, and discovering that it takes me three times as long as it took him to do the work, has led to the temptation to see the dusting, polishing and hoovering as a distraction. It has also been a useful reminder that there’s a Christian tradition of seeing mundane tasks not as distractions from the spiritual life, but as a spiritual discipline. St Benedict taught that “to work is to pray”. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Friar whose wisdom is preserved in a short book called The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote that:

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

George Herbert also understood that wisdom.

“A servant with this clause 

Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,

Makes that and th' action fine.”

The poem from which that hymn is drawn is all about that singleness of mind and heart which is the opposite of “being drawn in different directions. Singleness of mind and heart is not necessarily a good thing. In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling his disciples that those who single- mindedly pursue “the lure of wealth” will not lead fruitful lives. And you only have to tune into the news to be reminded that there are plenty of single-issue fanatics in the world, terrorists willing to kill innocent people to further their cause, and internet trolls turning their scorn and hatred on those who disagree with them on a particular issue. The Parable of the Sower is an invitation to be single-minded in a different way. It is an invitation to hear, receive and understand “the word of the Kingdom”.

Why is that kind of single-mindedness not only acceptable, but desirable? How is it the key to the abundant living of which Jesus is the exemplar and to which he invites us? Those who single-mindedly dedicate themselves to a cause in a way which devalues or demonises people who do not share their opinions are seeking to change the world but see no need for change in themselves. Christians believe that before we can work to change the world, there is a need for change in us, for a healing of our brokenness, for the “turning around” of which Jesus speaks, and which is sometimes translated as “repentance”. That translation isn’t entirely helpful, because by “turning around” Jesus meant more than acknowledging our misdeeds, though that is essential. He invites us to a new way of living, turned towards God, and turned towards our neighbour.

That is the change that George Herbert explores in his poem The Elixir, most of which (though not quite all) has ended up in hymn books as “Teach me, my God and King.” He uses alchemy, the mediaeval and renaissance belief that it was possible to turn base metals in gold using a mysterious substance called the Philosopher’s Stone, as a metaphor for spiritual change. That is the “famous stone” to which the poem refers.

This is the verse that hymn book editors left out:

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest, And give it his perfection.

You can see why they omitted it. The meaning is far from clear to a modern reader. Herbert did not mean “rudely” in the sense of lacking good manners, but rather acting by instinct and without thinking about the consequences. “But still” means doing whatever we are doing quietly, reflectively. This is what pleases (“prepossest”) God and perfects what we do.

The poem can help us to make sense of what St Paul means when he writes:

“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

This passage from Romans has sometimes been misread in a puritanical way, as though Paul was expecting his readers and us to set aside physical pleasures. It is more helpful to think of “the flesh” as the human tendency to be drawn in different directions. That might mean being so busy fuming at the lunchtime news bulletin that we eat without really enjoying our food. There’s much to be said for mindful eating and, indeed, mindful housework. Christians take mindfulness an important step further, for our calling is to be mindful of God and our neighbour in all that we do, so that activities which might once have seemed to be distractions become acts of love and service and we are enabled to find, as George Herbert put it in another poem, “Heaven in ordinary”.