Articles

Reflection for Lent III 7th March 2021 by the Rev'd Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 16:00

Lent III 2021 Year B

Exodus 20:1-17 1Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22

“Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield Avenue, Murrayfield. Incumbency. Church seated for 225. Patrons, The Vestry with the Bishop as adviser. Parsonage house rated at £175. Endowments producing £100 per annum. Architect – Sir Robert Lorimer. Church dedicated 1899; consecrated 1905....Members 420; communicants 306; Sunday school 36. Useage Scottish Office 1929. Lights. Vestments. Reservation, Hymnal for Scotland...Magazine local.”

So states the description of this church in the SEC Year Book (Red Book) of 1975/6, although this description does not explicitly say so, like other Episcopal churches the seats were ‘free’. You didn’t have to rent your pew in order to attend church. In other words you did not have to pay to worship.

I remember as a teenager, visiting one of the southern cathedrals, with my great aunt and uncle and being very annoyed at being expected to pay to get into pray. The turnstiles were erected in the porch and the officious stewards or sides persons growled at you if you dared to challenge the entrance fee. It was the same in the Cathedral, in which I was ordained. I often visited it during my curacy in the diocese. In order to ‘pop in’ to pray or worship you had to present yourself in ‘dog-collar’ at the back door and if approved you were let in – again it used to annoy me.

My most recent annoyance occurred in a London church where on entering to pray one was shepherded into a small side chapel, it felt as though one was directed to the broom cupboard, so that one’s praying might not upset the paying guests, I gave up trying to go to evensong there.

Thankfully and thank God, in our Cathedral or this church you do not have to pay to pray or just to get in. Yes! We might be missing a trick, in raising much needed funds but we could never be accused of keeping anyone out because they didn’t have the cash to come in. Donations, especially gift aided are always welcome but that is the gift of a generous giver and not the ‘set fee’ to cross the threshold. There is a big difference.

My grumpiness with certain English Cathedrals helps me to understand Christ’s anger at discovering his worship place full of traders making a fortune out of honest pilgrims and worshippers. It was big business in the Temple. To pray to God, or to ask for forgiveness of sins involved offering a blood sacrifice – from doves to cattle depending on the sin, and sacrifice was not free, you had to pay for it and it wasn’t cheap. You needed to have the right money or currency, hence the presence of the money changers, who would help you on that score, for a commission fee!

The Temple would have been busy and noisy with competing sellers trying to get the faithful to shop at their stall rather than that of their neighbours – worship certainly took second place. So no wonder Jesus got cross. In fact he got more than cross, he got really, really angry. Can you imagine seeing the gentle man you knew get so worked up that he whipped the traders out of the temple, warning them that lust for money would bring the whole place down. The placid man explodes and if you know someone like him you’ll know that when they blow, they really explode with anger. I wish I had had the courage to kick down those cathedral turnstiles rather than just politely challenging the ticket sellers as to why I had to pay to pray?

Righteous anger can change things as it did that day in the Temple but it lead to increasing hostility towards Jesus by those in power, who demanded to know by whose authority, Jesus, thought he was able to behave as he did. They could see profits dropping and feared that others might behave in the same way, unless they did something about it. Let the people worship for free – what a mad idea!

Today, we don’t charge you to worship – we may teach you the facts of stewardship and tithing to encourage you to share of the blessings God has given you but we won’t ever charge or bill you. Giving to the church should be something one wants and chooses to do, as a prayerful response to God’s grace poured freely upon us – not as an attempt to buy that grace. You can’t buy it anyway because God just keeps pouring it out upon us but we are given it in order that we can share it with others.

There, is however, something deeper in this tale of Christ’s anger in the Temple. There is more to it than Jesus just turfing the money changers and their cronies out of the Temple. Jesus is cleansing the Temple to make it pure and in the process he is cleansing himself as well. Cleansing himself to meet his God, his Father in his coming passion and death. This cleansing echoes the deep cleansing we can make when we confess our sins and those things that keep us from God and when we seek purification from them in the blessings that God freely gives us. Jesus cast out the evil influences in the Temple both the physical building and the temple of his own body. We too need to cleanse our temples, our bodies – those holy places sanctified by Baptism and God’s ‘charis’ (grace) - and Lent is a good time to do it.

Few people seek the sacrament of confession or better called reconciliation, than they did in the past. For Anglicans it has always been optional because of the regular use of the general confession incorporated into our acts of worship be it the Eucharist or Evensong. In confession, be it general or personal, we have an opportunity to really cleanse ourselves of the things that clutter us up and burden our hearts and souls. We do it in the knowledge that when we receive the absolution our sins are truly ‘put away’, forgiven, gone. Through absolution we are ‘resurrected’ into new life, able to have another go, to try to do better, to try not to sin again. We are cleansed by absolution because the act of confession drives out sin.

The image of Jesus driving out the bad influences in the Temple is a good icon to keep before yourself this Lent. Ponder on what he did and why he did it. Pray that you can identify those things you need to purge from your being and chuck them out, leaving more space to be filled with God’s grace. Grace that you can then share with others because once you remove blockages you can’t but overflow with it. As you give this grace away you are being truly ‘Eucharistic’ truly full of thanksgiving for all that you have and all that have to share.

Freely give as you have been freely given, you don’t need to pay for grace it comes with love and no charge.

A reflection for Lent II Sunday 29th February 2021 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 16:26

Lent II 2021

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

 

The version of the Daily Office that the Scottish Episcopal Church offers during Lent is called “Returning to God” and this is a helpful reminder of the meaning of Lent. Our experience of returning to God will, of course, be shaped by the mental and spiritual picture of God that we have. Today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings might not seem to offer the same image of God but that is because those challenging words of Jesus at the head of this reflection have often been taken out of context.

They immediately follow a passage in which Jesus has asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter has replied: “You are the Messiah”, using a word loaded with all kinds of hopes and expectations. Jesus then challenged those hopes and expectations by saying that he “must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This was not what Peter was expecting to hear. His image of the Messiah was all about the restoration of an independent kingdom and the purification of Temple worship, a Messiah who would be welcomed by elders, chief priests and scribes, not condemned by them. That is why Peter rebuked Jesus and, in rebuking him, reprised one of the temptations that Jesus had experienced during his forty days in the wilderness – the temptation to take the shortcuts offered by political power. It is this reprising that caused Jesus to say “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Our images of God are sometimes based on human things rather than on the divine reality. If we took Jesus’ words about taking up the cross and losing one’s life literally and took them out of context, that might make us think of God as a demanding disciplinarian, a cosmic version of the PE teacher who in the 1960s repeatedly told me “You’re not trying hard enough”.

When Jesus challenged his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross, he wasn’t imposing a discipline on them. Rather he was teaching them about his own way of living. He knew that most of those who had encountered him, including his closest disciples, thought of him as a person of power – a powerful teacher, one who spoke with authority, a powerful healer able to cure physical and mental ailments. That was why Peter and others believed that he would use this power to achieve the political liberation and the religious revival for which they longed. In this Gospel passage Jesus is saying “I’m not about power, I’m about love.”

To have power is to be in control of one’s life and circumstances. To live lovingly is to give up that kind of control, to be vulnerable, to be open to bearing the burdens of other people. To live like that is to surrender power and to live by faith.

Our Old Testament reading encourages us to think about the nature of faith. God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise that he and Sarah will be the ancestors of many nations. The promise was improbable for Abraham was very old, and Sarah was apparently beyond child-bearing age. Yet, as Paul writes, Abraham had faith in God’s promise despite those realities and grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

That is a very helpful definition of faith – an open-ended and loving trust in God’s promises. That is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do when he invites us to take up the cross and follow him. It is an invitation to follow him by living open-endedly and lovingly, by learning to be a person for others. That is not easy, but faith, as Abraham understood, involves trusting that God will provide the resources we need to do that and the most important of those resources is love.

One of the teachers whose memories I cherish was the redoubtable woman who did her best to make a pianist of me, without much success. Her mantra was “You need to practise more”. Lent is an opportunity to practise, to find time to reflect on God’s infinite love for us and for everyone, to find ways of being receptive to the love of God. Lent in lockdown has sent me back to the writings of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic who chose to be walled up in a cell attached to a church in that city in order to live a life devoted prayer – a drastic form of voluntary lockdown. That was a time of pandemic disease – between a third and half of the population of Europe died of bubonic plague during Julian’s lifetime - and most of her contemporaries believed that this catastrophe was a punishment sent by an angry and judgemental God. Julian rejected that idea completely. She believed that there is no wrath in God. These words of hers may help us properly to understand a Gospel passage that might seem harsh and demanding:

“...do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same."

Amen

Reflection for Lent I 21st February 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 20/02/2021 - 10:21

Lent I   Sunday 21st February 2021 Year B

If one was looking for a link between today’s three readings, one would have to plump for ‘water’. The water of the flood - which Noah and seven others survived; the water used in washing as referenced by St.Peter and Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, as recorded by St.Mark.

Water, aside, it is sin and forgiveness which is actually the linking theme between this morning’s Scripture readings.

Noah, despite, his past and future faults (which were many - just read on in Genesis, after the ark came to rest) was deemed a good enough man by God to be saved from the flood. Noah, survives with his family and menagerie, in order to re-populate God’s world, afresh. After God has destroyed those he deemed to be unworthy of his mercy. Whether or not the flood and associated destruction happened is not, I think, important. What is important is that God doesn’t really ever give up on his creation. God, was cross and angry with humanity and our stupid ways but even in his anger he did not desire to wipe us out completely. He wanted to purge us of our sins and to give us a second chance. That’s why he gave Clan Noah a reprieve - hoping that they and their descendants might get it right in the future.

He also made a covenant with them. The covenant, symbolised by the rainbow, proved to Clan Noah, that however cross God was with them, he would never seek to destroy them (or us) but he would warn them to amend their behaviour. I doubt it will be God who will wipe us out, we will probably do that ourselves quite well.

A covenant is an interesting relationship to have established with humanity. A covenant implies that each party is mutually responsible to the other for all time. A covenant is not a contract where ‘X’ does ‘Z’ for ‘Y’ and that’s that. A covenant is much longer lasting and needs working at to develop and survive. A good example of a living and developing covenant is marriage; where each party has voluntarily declared that they will love and support the other through thick and thin, for the length of their lives. Covenants can be broken as we all know, but the hopeful intention is that they will last, even if the reality proves the difference.

God’s hope for us his creation is that we will respect him and his ways; caring for the creation as much as he does. That’s God’s hope - the reality is that we - humanity, have a lot of work to do in order to live up to our side of the covenant. God, however, won’t give up on us anytime soon as he knows we are weak and feeble and that we need encouragement and forgiveness, time and time and time again.

We have to recognise our faults and to apologise for them and that’s where our worship comes in. Worship is an opportunity for us to say; ‘sorry’ to God and to re-affirm the covenant between him and us and then to celebrate the fact that God will always forgive us and welcome us back into the covenant. That covenant is one which says that God will love and care for us and we will love and worship God.

In worship we have opportunities to say sorry for the times we muck things up and hurt others, ourselves and God. We say sorry liturgically, through the general confession (or one to one in the sacrament of confession). When we do so, we re-affirm our intention to live a life in the covenant with God.

In the Early Church, many were not Baptised until they were on their deathbeds as they feared that once Baptised any future sin might not be forgiven by God as Baptism symbolically represented a total forgiveness of sins past. The Roman Emperor Constantine was a good example of this. He was Baptised as he was dying and died believing that he had been forgiven all the very awful things he had done in his life and reign.

Our understanding of God’s mercy has changed and grown over the past two millennia and we are assured that we are loved and forgiven, because of what Christ did for us on the cross.

Christ redeemed us on the cross, his death won our salvation for all time. That redemption can never be lost, whatever we may or may not do. We, however, need to acknowledge our sins and faults and to confess them with sorrow.

This is not a ‘cop-out’ for us. When we confess we have to do so with a truly sorrowful heart or else we won’t be forgiven. What’s the point of saying sorry to God or anyone if we don’t mean it? God expects us to respond to him as a mature, sensible adult; one who knows themselves well, acknowledging their good points and weaknesses, successes and failures and committed to doing the best we can at anytime.

We all make mistakes and that’s okay. God forgives those errors as soon as we regret them. What we have to be aware of are those deliberate or malicious acts that we may make. ‘Do unto others, as you’d wish them to do unto you’ is a phrase worth remembering and living by. It helps us to understand what sin is - for it is when we deliberately or with malice a forethought do something hurtful or bad. When we simply muck things up, it is not sin just a mistake that we can quickly put right. Sin, malice, bad acts - these need to be confronted, acknowledged and God’s forgiveness sought.

Lent is a good time for all of us to examine our consciences; to seek out those dark things we need to illumine and to ‘put them away’ - as a version of the absolution states.

What might you need to ‘put away’ this Lent?

Try and use these forty plus days of Lent to think about this and use the words of the General Confession in the Eucharist to cleanse yourself of the things you no longer need to carry around anymore. God certainly does not want you to be burdened with sin, he wants to forgive you. It is ourselves that all too often fear the loss of the burden, for what might we replace it with? Joy and freedom might be a good replacement.

A relocation from the Rev'd Russell Duncan Sunday 14th February 2021

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 13/02/2021 - 11:53

Epiphany VI – Sunday 14th February 2021 – The Transfiguration

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him

If I was to ask you “what did you listen to or to whom have you listened this past week” I wonder what you would say? Would it be to your partner or family member; to a dear friend or a stranger? Would it be to a piece of music, to birds singing early in the morning or to silence?

For me, I listened to a new Podcast. I had never listened to one before.  It was called “Duchess”. In it Emma Manners journeys through Britain, peeking behind the veil of history and meeting the empowering women who guide Britain’s stately homes today. Not only was there an insight into their own lives (which would otherwise be hidden to us) but also to the fascinating history of their families and the great houses and castles to which they are the current custodians.

In today’s gospel from Mark we read about the rather bizarre story of the Transfiguration. Not only did Jesus take Peter, James and John up a high mountain but he was, in some strange way, transformed. His clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them. Elijah and Moses, long since dead, respectively representing the law and prophets, unexpectedly appear and talk with Jesus. Not surprisingly the three disciples are confused and terrified.  A cloud overshadows them and a voice is heard saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him”.

What on earth was happening? How might we understand the encounter today? When did we last listen to the Beloved?

Listening appears to be at the heart of our understanding of God. Listening not only to what our mind is saying but also to our heart. We will all know the tension and struggle which is often there and how we seek to resolve or reconcile this.

On looking back to my last homily - The Baptism of Christ - I was reminded that God spoke the slightly different words “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. Jesus continues with his earthly journey towards Jerusalem as his ministry unravels.

The Rule of St Benedict written in 516 AD opens with the word ausculta – listen. This is the key to his whole spiritual teaching.

Father Cyprian Smith, a Benedictine monk, comments “The whole spiritual life of the Christian is a process of listening to God “inclining the ear of the heart” according to the Rule. The image of the inward ear, the ear of the heart, shows that our listening is not merely an intellectual or rational activity; it is intuitive, springing from the very core of our being”.

Our other reading from Corinthians offers us some hope whatever confusion and uncertainly we may have. We are encouraged to reflect upon the glory of God however hidden or veiled it might appear.

“For it is the God who said,

Let light shine out of darkness;

Who has shone in our hearts

To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God

In the face of Jesus Christ”.

In our earthly life this glory is for the most part hidden but we are not to lose heart. One day we shall understand more fully.

May our eyes and hearts be opened to see something of Christ’s transfigured glory in the people we meet day by day.

May they also see something of your glory shining in and from us too.

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him

Lord's Prayer - a different version

Submitted by Dean on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 12:07

Our Father in the heavens, always near and ready to help,

May your name be precious to us and bring us delight always.

May your Kingdom of the Heavens come to rule over us so your good, pleasing, and perfect will is accomplished in us.

Please provide for us the food and care that we need today.

Please forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Please hold us by the hand so we don’t fall down in trials and are kept safe from all evil. In everything help us to live in your kingdom, by your power, and for your glory. Amen.