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Sunday 4th October 2020 Harvest Thanksgiving

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 11:52

Harvest 2020  Year A  Sunday 4th October

For someone, like me, a complete born and raised ‘townie’, ‘Harvest’ is a sort of alien concept. Harvest when I was growing up was something we sang about at Primary School and then ignored throughout the rest of my adolescence and early adult life. It was only on returning to faith that I re-encountered ‘Harvest’ and came across the idea that we really do need to give thanks to God for giving us a harvest.

Even then, when I first re-discovered it,  ‘Harvest’ was sort of only associated with ‘our daily bread’ and not much more. It was all focused on the wheat-sheaf loaf placed on the altar. It really did take me quite a long time to realise that ‘Harvest’ is actually about so much more than giving thanks for the grain crop being cut before the autumn rains can spoilt it. I still, today, have to challenge myself to push the boundaries of what I naturally associate as harvest to include all food production on land and in the sea and all who work to produce that food as well. Let alone the harvest of the city, whatever that might be?

So what is harvest? What does it mean today? And is it still something we need to be conscious of each year, especially as we now live in a global economy and world where harvest occurs at different times and in different ways?

The simple answer to those questions is YES! Even more so today, we need to stop and give thanks for all we have. When you next look at a plate of food try and remember where each ingredient came from. A recent supper for me consisted of:

sea bass from Turkey

broccoli from Norfolk

peas and beans from East Anglia and Kenya

tomatoes from Spain

and almonds from Greece

One plate of food but it had travelled a very international route to find its way before me. All of it was seasonal to whence it came but not necessarily seasonal to Scotland. So much of what we eat is similar. At home I try to cook and use seasonal produce from Scotland but at times in the year there is only so many root vegetables or salmon one can routinely eat day after day without calling in variety from around the globe. Such as that taste of asparagus at Christmas, never as good as springtime asparagus but it is a taste to savour none the less.

Without produce from around the globe and the skills and labour of people from different countries and cultures our diets would be ‘same-y’ and boring and although harvests occur at different times in different places it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that at least once a year we stop, reflect and give thanks to God for all that the many harvests of the world give to us.

In that stopping and giving thanks we also need to remember to give thanks for those who grew and produced the harvest for us in the first place and to work out if we have exploited them in any way. Did I pay a far price for what I ate? Did the farmer get well paid for her efforts?

I have personally, been appalled by some large food sellers pulling out of the Fair Trade organisation and ‘partnering’ with them, whatever that means? I suspect it means not paying a fair price for the goods and hoodwinking us to believe they still do pay a fair price. It is all down to profit margins over people.

It might seem trivial to us in the developed north of the world but we do take too much for granted at the expense of those who are basically subsistence farmers providing goods for us that they could not afford even to taste. And what will happen in this post-Brexit Great Britain to our own farmers and seafarers has yet to be fully discovered. So we really do need to pray.

To pray with thanksgiving for the good gifts that God gives us. To pray for the future food production and producers in this country and around the globe. And to pray for an equal sharing of the world’s resources so that no one goes hungry or watches their children starve before them, especially when they are the people ensuring that we don't starve.

It is always worth remembering that the world is precariously balanced and that we might not always be as ‘all right’ as we think we are.

I believe that our cry today should simply be:

‘Thank you, God!’

Thank you for all the good gifts around us and for all the things you give us to make our lives happy and healthy.

Never take Harvest for granted and hold in prayer all those for whom harvest is a hope rather than a reality. All those who are facing a bleak future with a failed harvest or a poor one and ask God how we can support those in need as they so often produce the things we need and rely upon.

Sunday 27th September 2020 A reflection for Trinity XVI by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 12:34

Good Shepherd Trinity 16 Proper 21 27 September 2020

In this time of pandemic, we are hearing a lot of expert advice from scientists, and you may be feeling, as I am, a bit frustrated that they all sound very confident in their views, but they aren’t all advising the same course of action. Pondering their confidence reminded me of a true story concerning a very distinguished professor of Physics at an American university who agreed to be an expert witness in a trial. During cross-examination, counsel for the defence asked him “What qualifies you to be an expert witness in this matter?” The Professor, who had the reputation of being a modest and retiring sort of person, replied “I am the greatest living authority on this particular branch of science.”

Later a friend of the Professor’s expressed surprise at this answer, which seemed to him uncharacteristically boastful. The professor answered, "What did you expect me to say? I was under oath."

It’s a story about humility, and it reminds us that true humility isn’t about doing yourself down or understating your abilities. To have said “Well I know quite a bit about it” or “I’ve written a book on the subject” would have been the kind of self-deprecating understatement that most of us sometimes indulge in because we want to seem humble. The wish to be thought of as a humble person is, of course, a form of self-centeredness. And self-centeredness and humility are opposites. As C.S. Lewis put it:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

That’s a clue to the idea that St Paul was expressing in today’s beautiful passage from Philippians when he wrote of Jesus that:

These verses from Philippians are a reminder that we believe in Incarnation, in a down-to-earth, Incarnate God, a God one of whose qualities is humility. And humility is derived from the Latin word for earth or soil, so humility is all about being down-to-earth.

“...being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”

Today’s Epistle gives us a glimpse into the beliefs of the very first Christians, those who knew Jesus during his earthly life, those who encountered the Risen Christ and those who heard the Apostles’ preaching. Philippians was written, at the very latest, only thirty years after the Crucifixion, but in verses 5-11 of today’s reading Paul is quoting from an even earlier Christian source – either a hymn or a poem used for teaching purposes. And we discover that the first Christians had quickly developed a rich and deep appreciation of who Jesus was, and of what he accomplished. They believed that, in Jesus, the love of God was revealed and that he

“...emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

In other words, they already had a clear belief in the Incarnation.

That’s interesting and important but it isn’t Paul’s main message to the church at Philippi. The self-emptying, the self-giving love of the down- to-earth God is offered by Paul as a pattern for Christian living.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Paul sometimes wrote rather lumpy Greek and, in writing those words, he didn’t bother to include a verb, a fact which has challenged translators ever since. The version we use reads like a call to imitate Christ’s self-giving love. Other scholars have argued that what Paul meant was:

“Show among yourselves the attitude that stems from the fact that you are in Christ as members of the Christian community.”

New Testament scholars disagree as much as the scientists who offer the government advice about how to respond to the pandemic, and they can be just as confident in their assertions. Happily, in the case of this disagreement we don’t have to choose. Paul’s instructions to the Philippian Christians are both an encouragement to imitate Jesus and a blueprint for community life “in Christ”.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you not look to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Christian humility is inspired and enabled by the self-emptying action of our down-to-earth Incarnate God and we are called to be humble in the sense of being earthed; not to live as free-floating, assertive individuals but to be rooted in community, aware of our dependence on one another and of our calling to love one another. Which is good advice for all times and seasons, including a time of pandemic.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Amen.

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