Psalm 40

I am writing this reflection from the perspective of some one who is a survivor of church-based abuse. It is an amalgam of several people over different time scales who were subject between them to a wide range of abuse: emotional, psychological, financial as well as sexual.

This psalm tells of God’s deliverance in the first ten verse but then from verse 11 onwards is a plea for help.

I believe that God is sovereign and there is a sense of abundance in the praise for past help. And thus if there is a memory of God’s goodness then this part makes sense. Although it some times this lofty pean of praise is one that our own experiences find harder to fully subscribe to.

I still recall a jaunty Sunday school chorus (number 374 actually) from long ago which now seems a trite, over simplified motif. There was the implication – believe and all will be well when we join with God in his home on high. Thinking about it – are we saying that it is only finally resolved when we enter fully into God’s presence in the life to come? Is there still evidence of the “miry clay” of the chorus clinging to our feet for evermore?

Yet verses 11 -15 are a heart felt plea for God to intervene for those things still unresolved. My experience is that for some, these issues can stretch back twenty, forty or sixty years in time and still there is no easing of the emotional or spiritual pressure. If it is not irreverent it as if one would really wish  that God had invested in a decent watch, such as a Rolex, rather than a sun-dial which only works when the sun is out!

There is a sense of wanting resolution faster with phrases such as: do not withhold your mercy, make haste, do not delay.

There is the sense of being totally overwhelmed with statements such as: evils without number, so many problems there is no way to see forward, innumerable times.

Sometimes the release only comes at the point of death; here I am thinking of the perpetrator, but this might be a long time and whilst waiting there is still this sense of dishonour and those who say “Aha Aha” which sounds judgemental. Ultimately all that can be done is to acknowledge God as a help and deliverer and try to rejoice because the individual seeks God.

So the question I am left with is how can I truly echo the words “I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation” when there is this unresolved issue? Has it really got to wait until I, too, reach glory when I resurrected into a new heaven and earth? Or what comfort can I take for the here and now as I attempt to live out my life according to my understanding of the Kingdom of God here on earth?

All I can do is trust God and take, as an example out of many possibilities,  selected lines from the final stanza of Psalm 91 to heart, bearing in mind that our faith always has an element of mystery in it. If there was no mystery then there would be no need for faith.

God says 

“I will protect those who know my name

I will be with them in trouble,

I will rescue and honour then

And show them my salvation.”

January 2022

Note:I prefer to take the whole passage rather than selected verses because my experience has been that some of the errors or poor behaviour has often stemmed from establishing a church on fragments of scripture, not always helpfully linked in my view, that has the possibility of allowing some of the abuses that I have considered in my reflection, to be perpetrated. This especially related to places where what used to be known as “heavy shepherding” was the norm or individuals acting alone without reference to others, or where followers attempting to prove their adherence to the leadership by becoming even stricter.

ADVENT SUNDAY 2021

I was leading the service at St Johns United Church this year.

First outing for two months – such are the vagaries of the rotas we have! Although fortuitously this allowed for me to plenty of time to care for Shelagh while she was very unwell.

I was asked not to preach for too long as the building can be a little cool. So I sneakily broke down my thoughts into four sections interspersed with the hymns and prayers. Actually I think that works quite well …

Readings were Jeremiah 33: 14- 16 and Luke 21: 25 – 36

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

This year Advent Sunday is sandwiched  between Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Two commercially motivated events with a very different purpose to that which we celebrate today. Both are driven by the sense of gain either individually or corporately which can be seen as in direct contrast with the teachings of Jesus.

The start of the new liturgical year: last week we ended the year with Christ the King – Jesus back in heaven as King of all creation 

This week we start the cycle all over again with this time of preparation before recounting once more his incarnation, life and ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension – in Luke’s gospel this year – and so back to Christ the King.

SOME MORE COMMENTS ABOUT THIS SEASON (just after lighting first Advent Candle}

These days Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement:

In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The lighting of candles on an Advent wreath was imported into Britain from northern Europe in the nineteenth century, and is now a common practice. The Moravian custom of the Christingle has similarly enjoyed great success in Britain since the latter part of the twentieth century, with the encouragement of the Children’s Society.

THE ACTUAL SERMON (444 words)

This service is an Iona style service which is based on Celtic approaches and they are typified by observing the natural rhythms of life – each season succeeding season in a cyclical pattern. Last week some one wrote about this idea of circular time in the Church Times and how this was quite different to our usual understanding of time as linear. We control what we do by time tables, by measuring how long something takes in contrast to natural rhythms of time.

On two occasions I have been privileged to spend time on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, and there you have to get used to a natural rhythm – the tides that cut off the island twice a day but keep shifting during the day so tourist based business hours have to continually adjust to reflect natural events.

What I see in our readings is this idea of a promise and waiting.  Jeremiah has an uncharacteristically upbeat message of hope which talks of justice and righteousness which was what the Jews wanted, still want as they still await a Messiah.

A lot of scripture can be read on several levels and this is especially so in our gospel reading.

It has some stern comments about the idea of judgement and what some see as end times. Many would see a lot of this actually being realised in 68 – 70 AD when Jerusalem was attacked and laid waste with the Temple being destroyed. Up to that point the Christians were really seen as an off shoot of the Jewish faith and the whole basis of their faith with emphasis on sacrifices and such like in there Temple was obliterated.It would have seemed, to those alive then, as the end of time as they knew it.

The ultimate kingdom we are watching for is yet to be: Christ will come again to fully restore that kingdom but his death and resurrection bring in the reality of that kingdom. Some only see the idea of the kingdom as pertaining to a final return of Jesus, which is quite a limiting view. This is typically those who describe the kingdom of heaven is being all about where we shall be when we die. There is a much fuller picture to explore.

How can we use this period of waiting and preparation profitably?

May we be able to step back from our linear approach to time – ruled only by clocks and calendars to spend time reflecting on God in the time for Christmas. Anticipating both his birth and his establishment of his kingdom here on earth in all its fulness.

FINAL THOUGHTS (which lead up to the hymn “there’s a light upon the mountain”)

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation, rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily coloured by an analogy with Lent. The anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22).

Candles feature in this time of Advent and the idea of light coming into the world. We are part of that process as we demonstrate the light of Christ.

This is echoed in out last hymn which talks of light anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God, the coming of Jesus as God incarnate. Note especially the words of verse 4

Sermon for Sunday 26 September 2021

The text of what I said this morning at St Johns United Church, Cononley

The readings were Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29. and Mark 9: 38 – end

Do you come across people who are less than helpful?

Those given to :

Moaning

Complaining

Being dis-satisfied

We find them in the bible stories: all life is portrayed in the bible and we can learn from their example of how not to do things.

Numbers – number four in the Hebrew Bible where it is known as “in the wilderness” as it describes a lot of the Israelite history between leaving Egypt and eventually arriving in the promised land. Not more appropriate than referring to the fact that the Israelites were counted twice during this period.

It is a journal of their journeys and the early chapters describe how the organised themselves after the giving of the commandments and building the Tabernacle (as recorded in in Exodus) and the end how they were getting ready to enter the promised land. 

The middle section, (chapters 9 – 25) covers about 38 years and there is some overlap with the Exodus book. Chapter 11 is an early part  and tells us of some of  their grumbles, about a year or Oslo after leaving Egypt:

Feasibility of the  journey

Moses’s leadership is challenged

Ultimately the Book of Numbers is a story of judgement as they went against God’s direction. Because of their faithlessness all those who left Egypt would die without entering the promised land and a new generation would succeed them and actually do as God had instructed them. Only two, Joshua and Caleb who were part of the spies mentioned in chapter 13 would go through to the proposed land.

So there was this long weary wilderness experience and today’s readings give us some excerpts. 

They had the food provided known as Manna, but it seems they hankered after:

fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;

Not sure they seriously wanted too return to slavery but some of them might be thinking three square meals a day with some taste – and all we get is this what substance which is, frankly, boring. Need a bit of meat.

It was not in the reading but they do get quails which provides some nice game pie but to comes at a price! The quails keeping coming for a whole month, they store them then eat them some of then then die with a plague which may be linked to them harvesting quails for a month, storing them and possibly gave rise to a bacterial infection!

So her they are in a boring landscape, boring food and no end in sight. They do not yet know that they will never arrive – that knowledge is only revealed two chapters further on.

But Moses also comes in for some criticism. He becomes fed up and has a bit if a rant with God.

And God provides a practical solution to help: share the leadership.

Seventy elders were chosen and they were consecrated and then they prophesied – but only once. But they shared responsibility. 

However two were exceptions and I shall return to them in due course.

***

When we read a bible passage it is always helpful to ask ourselves questions.

I like to think along these lines:

”what do I like about this passage, 

what do I find difficult and 

what can it tell me about trusting God in the 21st century”

Number of things I notice under my third heading that may be pertinent to us here in Cononley this morning. 

1. Shared leadership – work is in place to find a new new vicar for the parish but we can not expect that person to do everything. This is indicated in the Parish leaflet being prepared which you may have seen. We all have a part to play within the church. Moses could not do it all on his own – the work needs to be shared.

I have seen churches where everything went via the Vicar or Minister and the result was burn-out or worse.

2. OK to have a rant at God and tell him how you feel but then listen carefully for God’s answer and act on it as Moses did.

3. Be careful for what you wish for – the quails came as a meat ration but potentially they were a source of death as well.

4. Most important for me is the account of Eldad and Medad.

They had freedom to operate outside the normal bounds. In those days it was the ‘tent of the meeting’ and Moses regarded them as prophets even though they were not working in the ‘correct place’. A message to us all about being too concerned about the rules and regulations – 

I can be as guilty by pleading that doing this or not doing that fits with the standard liturgy. Having been taught by a bishop who had a great deal to do with the precursor to Common Worship I know that he would robustly argue with me if I did not keep within the basic framework.

This is picked up again in the gospel reading.

John’s turn to moan: they are not part of us.

Other exorcists, those who were recorded as being able to cast out demons, were known at the time of Jesus,  he was not unique in that respect although it seems he was the most successful one recorded. 

Hint of exclusivity there. “Not doing it right” or “not one of the inner twelve” or “I am one of the three who saw the transfiguration” or some other way of being exclusive.

Need to recognise there are many ways of being Christian, of worshipping and experiences. We should be grateful for all that lead to faith in God and thus, as Jesus reminds them and us, all is useful.

This is pertinent in this church which is a LEP – Local Ecumenical Partnership – so being involved with Christians from a different tradition is part of the territory here. My own background encompasses a number of different labels – but all have a belief and trust in Jesus as Saviour at the heart

I believe God is big enough, and generous enough to embrace all approaches to himself and welcome all.

Jesus is happy to accept any one working in his name, so whom am I to question?  Some stern words from Jesus about those who cause others to fall – and there is this sense of judgement. We see this same idea of judgement in the book of Numbers where God’s people were unfaithful.

Even Joshua was concerned about Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp: the same Joshua who would succeed Moses. Even the best can make mistakes.

Moses though was happy with them speaking out. I understand a prophet as some body who speaks out God’s word for today. Do not need a long white beard and flowing robes – our classic caricature of a prophet – it can be any one or every one who is being faithful to God. And is not just in church but in everyday life.

These days Christians are very much in the minority: this Parish has a population of 5,000 plus, no more than 6,000 even with all the new developments and an electoral roll of 93. Under 2%. To make a difference it is commonly stated you need a critical mass of between 5% and 25%.  We need a miracle, fortunately we have a God with a track record in the miraculous!

I was recently checking an old map of the area and noted three chapels in Cononley as well as this Anglican Church. There is much to be done to ensure that the kingdom of God is broadcast and encouraged. And we all have a part – small or large. 

May we all be faithful in living out God’s kingdom and graciously accept all who honour Christ by words and actions, so that the kingdom is extended.  Amen

Status

The sermon for Sunday 19th September 20221 – St Mary’s Bradley and St John’s Cononley.

Readings were Jeremiah 11: 18 – 20 and Mark 9:30 -37

Status

In the news this week we have had the cabinet reshuffle and people trying to equate Deputy Prime Minister with Foreign Secretary in terms of rank or prestige, for example. In some quarters it is seen as very important. Status is seen as important.

Flanders and Swann once referred to the Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief in a song about cannibals about sixty years ago so worrying about status is nothing new.

In Yes Minister we had the new Minister being told about the Permanent Secretary, Deputy Secretaries, Principal Assistant Secretaries, Senior Assistant Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries  to which he quipped “that’s an awful lot of typing” only to be told by Sir Humphrey “Oh no Minister none of us can type, Mrs Macreadie does all the typing.”

When I was part of the NHS there were myriad of grades and a very strict hierarchy. At least seven grades for people who actually typed! I was initially overawed by the lengthy job titles on the doors including words like Senior or Principal in them. 

It has been part of life for centuries and the disciples in Jesus day, 2000 years ago,  were no different. They were concerned about who was going to be important in the kingdom that Jesus was ushering in. Who would be Foreign Secretary, who would be Justice Minister and so on.

Later on in chapter 10 there is discussion about “first and last”  which was primarily related to social and political position.

Typically Jesus senses that they have a problem and asks pertinent questions but they are reluctant to say what is on their minds. Perhaps they do not want to know as the answer might be too embarrassing or uncomfortable?

Wrong view of Messiah

One of their problems with their understanding was that they saw a Messiah as one who would not suffer, nor die. A view still espoused by Jews and Moslems. In their thinking the Messiah was more political and militaristic. To state baldly that Jesus was totally the opposite would have blown most of their minds away.

Mark often portrays some of the teaching as secret – which it was at that time.

One of the possible passages that could have been used this morning was from the apocryphal book “the Wisdom of Solomon” which was removed from the scriptural canon in the 1600s.However quotes or parallel ideas from it do appear in the New Testament and was certainly regarded as useful reading at that time. This had the phrase ‘secret purposes of God’ which links with this idea although obviously the secret is now well and truly no secret anymore. At the start of his ministry the message Jesus had was so radical that parables were needed to make the challenge more palatable to their minds.

The crowd listens to  parables and the full explanation was given privately to the disciples – which of course would gradually become public knowledge once the end events of his life became more obvious.

Jesus was saying, in effect, throughout his ministry that if you want to be powerful then you will not be able to welcome some one like himself.

Jesus was turning the accepted view of events upside down.

The reading from Jeremiah which refers to the threatening of the prophet could have been applied to Jesus. A gentle lamb being led to the slaughter might suggest some form of sacrifice.

The wisdom reading has the following which echoes these thoughts. Bad reactions to an person whose approach we do not like:

12 ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,

because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;

he reproaches us for sins against the law,

and accuses us of sins against our training. 

13 He professes to have knowledge of God,

and calls himself a child* of the Lord. 

14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; 

15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,

because his manner of life is unlike that of others,

and his ways are strange. 

16 We are considered by him as something base,

and he avoids our ways as unclean;

he calls the last end of the righteous happy,

and boasts that God is his father. 

17 Let us see if his words are true,

and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 

18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,

and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 

19 Let us test him with insult and torture,

so that we may find out how gentle he is,

and make trial of his forbearance. 

20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,

for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’ 

Child – teaching examples the vulnerable, disadvantaged, marginalised

This bad reaction is seen in much of the gospel accounts. So the teaching in parables so the truth will slowly filter through the hearts and minds of the hearers. Sometimes though it was not a spoken parable but an action: Jesus used a child from the crowd as such an example.

Apart from children being valued within their own family a child then had no status or position in the wider society. Certainly when I was young my grandparents thought a child had no rights and should only speak when spoken to and not ask questions so perhaps the view we now have is relatively recent.

One translator refers to Jesus hugging the child – embracing one whom was considered in those days as weak and marginalised. The child could be seen as an example of those with no power, no status.

But Jesus is using the idea of a servant mentality for the Messiah which means one far less likely to despise the lowly or the weak. Extending the action of Jesus we might apply it to those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised.

How this affects our behaviour today 

How can we take this gospel passage, the first one on humility in Mark, and apply it to ourselves?

It seems a hard lesson, because as already alluded to the same issue crops up a chapter later on. The disciples did not get it first time.

The power of God has to be seen in the context of a suffering servant, a Messiah who died.

It is easy for those of us who have read the end of the story to be at ease with this idea of what was a secret to understand it fully. Or do we?

Or is it possible for us to be a bit like the disciples and not really understand? Or as one writer commented do we nod piously at the cross but still argue about relative importance or concern ourselves about position and influence?

How do we handle weakness and vulnerability – is it something we embrace or do we turn away from it?

The struggle to be superlative or to be important may take on a new significance if we let go of ourselves, our ownership, our obsessions and allow God to take control as those who are beloved, chosen and free.

God can still help us in the 21st century to be turned upside down in our understanding to make us more in line with Jesus.

Father God welcomes us as if we are helpless children, just like his own son was when he became incarnate on earth. We need to exercise that same welcome to others that God gives to us.

We need an inclusive gospel where all are welcome regardless of status or any other demarcation.

Some you may be aware about a new initiative launched last year – Living in Love and Faith

Whilst it is partly about sexual identity and related issues within the Church of England there are some more generic pastoral principles for living well together that are spelt out. I mention two of these as areas where we may want to examine our own conscience and they include:

To cast out fear – by modelling openness and vulnerability as each of us wrestles prayerfully with the costliness of Christian discipleship;

To pay attention to power -by being alert to control others, remembering that God’s spirit alone can bring transformation into our lives and the lives of others; and by following Christ’s example of service and compassion as we accompany one another in following the way of the cross.

May we welcome all and be inclusive in our faith. Amen.

Sermon for 22 August 2021

Preached at St Johns Church, Cononley this morning

CHOICES

We make choices all the time

What pudding to have – crumble or trifle?

Who to vote for in an election?

Some are trivial

Some are more serious

Some are absolutely vital

WHO DO YOU SERVE?

Joshua nearing the end of his life when the conquest of Canaan was considered complete and he was asking the assembled people to make a choice.

Joshua sets the scene and reminds them what God has done and some key moments in their history.

Terah who is mentioned is Abram’s father and probably worshipped the moon-god (Sin in Mesopotamian mythology)

The Israelites had probably had a lot of Egyptian influences while living there and Aaron’s golden calf made when Moses was on Mount Sinai with God would be typical of the bull-worship known to exist in Egypt. The Amorites who lived in the area would have their own selection of gods.

So it is possible that they saw a choice about god or gods.

Shechem is the place where Abram first camped when he arrived on his travels (Oaks of Moreh in Gen 12) An altar was raised there and Jacob is recorded as camping there (Genesis 33) but was also a centre for Canaanite worship. So a fitting place to use for a covenant making occasion. Steeped in history.

Joshua in the next part of the passage which we did not read actually goes on to tell them that he does not believe their promise so they repeat their promise to serve God, Yahweh. So then it is pronounced as a covenant – or really a renewing of the covenant established at Sinai when the commandments were given during the wilderness years.

It is regarded as being sealed by setting up a  stone as a witness – a form of memorial. Sense of something solemn about it all.

Covenant speaks of promise 

Agreement

Relationship

This was important because there were many other religions around which often seemed tempting, many having a number of gods. Particularly if the other tribes seemed to be having a better life than they had.

I felt it was helpful to have this passage as I believe we can gain profit from reading the old testament.  As a way of linking our understanding of the whole bible and how so much of the old testament  can be relevant to us today, I am reminded of an old adage that was taught to me in my teenage years 

The new is in the old concealed

The old is in the new revealed

As we heard last week Jesus was shocking some of those who heard him and he this led to division amongst his followers. 

I understand  v 65 as all can come, because all are granted to do so. It is not meant to be an exclusive statement or a limitation but an expression of God’s generosity.

Why did they leave him?

Too hard to understand

Misunderstood 

Did not fit their ideas

Took offence

All we can be certain about is that some went their own way at this point. And people still have the same problems today with the gospel of Jesus.

Simon Peter however recognised the validity of what he had seen and experienced. There was no alternative.

Sometimes I wonder about how life seems as if God is not really involved but then always came back to the realisation that God is God and there is no other answer. Even though we do not know we have to accept on faith what we have received.

Joshua – another version of the name Jesus or Yeshua as it would be in Hebrew – was asking “Choose this day whom you will serve”

And Jesus or Yeshua was offering a choice “do you also wish to go away?”

I was reminded of a chorus we used to sing at Bible Class in my early teens – a lot of them were scripture set to music – an aid to memory I guess so Joshua 24:15 got this treatment in the 1930s.

“Choose you this day who you will serve” with the final line which went “as for me I will serve the Lord.”

It was intended to make us think about the choice we made about belief in Jesus. What was our covenant with God. The bible class was known was Covenanters.

(362 in CSSM Choruses by E  H Swinstead -written before 1938).

OUR CHOICE ABOUT FAITH

3000 years ago, 2000 years ago – the question is still asked of those who have been touched by God. Those who are aware of the spiritual dimension in life.

How does our faith express itself?

Life

Thoughts

Actions

Words

Are we committed to God?

How can we keep our side of this covenant? God is faithful but are we? Sometimes it feels as if we have been let down and even doubt God? But what else is there?

C S Lewis was driven to accept that God existed despite his severe objections. He spent many years as an atheist and rationalist because he was bothered by evil and suffering that was at variance with how he thought God should be. Lewis was not won to Christianity overnight. Christian friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien, and others, faithfully and patiently walked beside Lewis as they helped him resolve his many misgivings about Christianity. But their faithful persistence bore fruit when he finally admitted God existed in 1932, and knelt in prayer to become what he described later as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Lewis recognised that God seeks us out personally and makes demands upon us. We have a personal God who calls us individually to make a personal response to the Gospel.

Later on he still had questions and some of these were expressed in books such as “A grief observed” which written after the death of his wife of just three years in 1961. He clung to the notion that God was still there despite what happened.

There is a sense in which we are all called to be in covenant, or agreement with God.  It contains promises and expectations on both sides – rather like a contract.

A Covenant prayer is used by the Methodists usually on the first Sunday of the year but there is no reason why it can not be used at other times. 

So I conclude not with that prayer which we used in January but with the words of poem based on John Wesley’s prayer for the Methodist Covenant Service.

I closed reading the words of Kirsty Clarke’s 2013 poem. I found it on Methodist Website

The link is below.

Sermon for 15th August 2021

Here is the text of what I intended to say on Sunday 15 August at St Marys, Bradley then at St Johns, Cononley.

The readings were proverbs 9: 1- 6 and John 6: 51 – 59

Diet

Who is interested in what they eat?

All I remember from when I taught science is you need a balance of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals with what was called roughage – the term now being fibre.

Any one never tried a specific diet?

Low carbohydrate

Low calories

Weight watchers

Slimmers World

Low fat

Atkins

Vegetarian

and so on.

Kosher

Some diets are related to a specific ethnic group or a religion.

And the Jews had very strict dietary regime. Even a term – kosher meaning the food is ‘fit’. The rules are in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 if you want to know. But a number of things are specifically forbidden  -such as shellfish or pork. Other restrictions mean you can not mix meat and milk in the same meal nor use the same implements to prepare these foods which have to be kept completely separate. The very wealthy orthodox Jews have two kitchens – one for meat and one for diary so there is no risk of mixing things up and it becoming not kosher. If a pan used for diary is used for meat then there is a ritual to cleanse the pan and sometimes the item haas to be thrown away because it can not be considered untainted. The poorer ones usually have, at the very least, two refrigerators to assist keeping things separate. 

But of real interest to us is they are forbidden to eat anything containing blood. So animals have to be slaughtered in such a way that all the blood drains away and then treated with salt to ensure no trace of blood remains.

So when Jesus is telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6: 52,53) he will be arousing all sorts of uncomfortable reactions. This sounds as if it is totally against the Law –  what they understood from the Torah or first five bible books. The Jew was to avoid blood at all costs and here Jesus saying not just touch it but drink it! Any one bleeding was deemed to ritually unclean and would make anyone touching them unclean as well. This would, at first hearing, make you unclean from the inside.

Typically Jesus was being confrontational and making sure people listened. He often used pictures and perhaps overstated things in order that the principle he was trying to establish was successfully communicated.

I hardly need to say that Jesus was not saying we need to practice cannibalism. John, writing some fifty or so years after the actual events, is using the words to illustrate something that by then was a considered an important part of christian life and worship.  Often we find that the language is not to be taken literally but the concept that the language tells us about needs to be accepted.

One approach which I found helpful is that John was making  reference to Eucharist, that ‘feast’ when the believers reminded themselves of his death on the cross and through this thanksgiving (which is what Eucharist means) they experience the presence of Christ at that time. 

Variety of views on what this means race from:

Catholic – transubstantiation

Orthodox – mystery

Lutheran – consubstantiation

Reformed – spiritual presence

Baptist – remembrance

Anglican churches encompass a wide range of these: some hold to a physical presence whilst others see it purely spiritually while some see it as an act of remembrance only without any real prescence of Christ. These differences do not need concern us today but Mass, Eucharist, Communion, the Lord’s Supper or the Breaking of Bread is seen as an important part of our Christian tradition and is a sacrament alongside baptism.

Bread of  life is how Jesus is spoken of in some accounts, and we can take this to mean his life was given for us; thus we have his flesh and blood which we have to appropriate in order that this Jesus based life may flourish within us.

His body that was crucified is important part of our faith as we share in his death looking forward to a time when God will completely flood us with his presence so we are totally one with him.

As we heard last week John is contrasting the bread that Jesus gives with the Manna given at the time of the Exodus which did not confer external life but was temporary. This bread is life giving in the greater sense – not just physical sustenance but spiritual food. 

Wisdom

We had a reading from the book of Proverbs which is primarily about wisdom. Other biblical books in this tradition are Job and Ecclesiastes. The wisdom literature recognises realities in our daily life and how this distils in mastering the art of daily living. It has a strong ethical flavour and looks at success or failure in life and whether there are rules that can explain it. It does this by contrast and much of its content is short epigrams some of which use humour to make the point. The style is often poetic in form in couplets. Because they are short sayings then we have to be careful that we do not stretch similes too far. The examples are often exaggerated for effect – something like Jesus when he spoke of eating his body and drinking his blood?

The passage is at the end of the first part of this book  (chapters 1 – 9) which compares and contrasts wisdom and folly. Wisdom in this passage is the hostess with the mostest – generous and probably wealthy as we have reference to seven pillars. That is quite a portico!

So wisdom invites all to her feast

5 ‘Come, eat of my bread (meat)

   and drink of the wine I have mixed.

A figurative statement asking those who would be wise to learn from her:  as you grow and develop your physical body by eating and drinking, so you grow in understanding by learning from Wisdom herself.

Application 

Wisdom is one way of thinking about the Holy Spirit and what this is telling me that we need the Spirit’s wisdom to help us understand the words of Jesus for ourselves.

We need to appropriate the body and blood -the vital part of Jesus in our lives. Not actual eating a human but taking on board his approach.

Our diet can refer not just to food which gives energy for physical tasks but what nourishes us. I can use wax polishes to nourish fine wood – the sense is one of feeding with something suitable that will sustain and protect. And it is the example of Jesus that will nourish and ‘feed’ our bodies, our spiritual beings, our souls. It will sustain and protect us.

Many ways we might grow ourselves spiritually. Traditionally there are three inputs –  scripture, the church’s tradition and reason and some now add experience which together in various combinations helps us to develop spiritually Some examples off the top of my head –

Bible reading

Bible study

Regular prayer 

Meditation

Celebration

Worship

Retreats

Add your own

What is important is that we do maintain a healthy diet.

Food and drink are essential for physical life – so we should not neglect spiritual input.

May we ask the Spirit to lead us into all understanding  and gain “insight” as it said in the Proverbs passage. Verse 6 talks of becoming mature, growing up. As a child grows up through a good diet so our spiritual self does so through a good diet.

Perhaps it might be helpful to conclude with the words of the well known collect for Bible Sunday

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon for 4 July 2021 – Get up and Go

The text of my sermon preached at St Mary’s Bradley and St Andrews, Kildwick on Sunday 4th July 2021.

The readings were Ezekiel 2: 1 – 5 and Mark 6: 1 – 13

Travelling light?

As people begin to think of holidays,  I wonder how much packing do individuals take with them.

I know somebody who was going to lead an art group on a Greek Island and she boarded the train at Cononley with her luggage. As she got to the seat a person sitting opposite remarked to her “I see you brought the taps as well!” He was referring to the proverbial packing the kitchen sink on your travels. I tend to favour the approach of Phineas Fogg in ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and just take a Gladstone Bag filled with pound notes as my only luggage. Very light and much less wearing on the arms. Not terribly economic.

Jesus commission to disciples

Sent out as six pairs and they travelled very light – just sandals and a staff. That might seem strange but if we check what Ezekiel was like then perhaps less so!

Ezekiel commissioned

Chapters 1 – 3 summarise Ezekiel’s commission to the Israelites.He was probably a priest and was deported in 597 BC when Jerusalem was captured and taken to Babylon and his prophetic period began about 592 and continued for 22 years. It is thought that he would have been about thirty when he started his work and a lot of his writing is about judgement on the land of Judah.

Just as Jesus was telling the people of his time, both himself and through the disciples, about the kingdom of God, Ezekiel was bringing God’s word to the people fo his time.

He had a number of visions and various metaphors some of which have been described as grotesque. 

Although some of the visions are placed in Jerusalem he was actually resident in Babylon.

Some of his feats include:

Laying on his left side for 390 days and then laying on his right side for forty days while eating a special bread cooked on dung – as a concession he was allowed to use cow dung rather than human!

Some of it has been likened to performance art: shaving his head and beard and burning it in a symbolic way.

Eating and drinking and getting the shakes at the same time.

Visions such as we had three weeks ago with eagles in the top of cedar trees.

Not being allowed to publicly mourn the death of his wife.

The vision of the valley of bones that came to life.

Some fairly graphic stuff, depending on the translation used, about donkeys in the story of Oholah and Oholibah.

The commission he had was on a scroll that he had to eat. No wonder some commentators describe it as weird.

But it was all about a sense of judgement, calling to the people to repentance and the fact that God really wanted to restore the people to be in a right place with himself and his creation.

He wanted people to take notice and turn to God.

Variety of approaches

The disciples had a much simpler task – cast out demons, anoint with oil and heal the sick.

Some would suggest that was the approach for then and it is not to be taken literally today – others say that demon-possession is still there around the corner and the problem for much of what is wrong. I have encountered both views and I suspect the truth is a lot more nuanced.

There is a view that the use of the word demons merely is the only way that writers in the first century could describe problems because of the state of medical knowledge at that time although the bible does refer to illnesses as well as demons. Was there more spiritual opposition as the son of God, Jesus, was there in person?

I could spend a lot of time expanding various views on this but more importantly I think we should look at the application for today.

What do we take from this for ourselves today

The idea of a commission for the disciples as for the prophets is a clear example for us today in the Parish fo Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley. As we enter a time of interregnum or vacancy then all are called to be active in promoting the values of the kingdom of God.

We all have a commission to proclaim our faith.

We need to demonstrate it in how we live.

The example we set

The actions we utilise

service to others

worship towards God

appreciation of what God has done

The words we use are important and need to match our actions – as St Francis is reputed to have said “All the Friars … should preach by their deeds”

We may not go far, Ezekiel remained in Babylon but exerted a lot of pressure.

We all have our part as disciples to be, dare I say, prophetic in our living out our faith. We may not be asked to do unusual things like Ezekiel, well I really hope so.

We may not cast out demons as such but we can bring God’s word through our lives and pray for others.

The world is very different to that of 2000 years ago when the disciples were sent out or 2600 years ago when Ezekiel was demonstrating by his actions vividly that God wanted a people who belonged to him and lived by his standards. 

So to paraphrase Ezekiel and Jesus the essential message is:

We need to rise up

Get on our feet

And go – family, friends and other folk we know

So that all the people know.

What we take is not a matter of a lot of luggage or little but – just the love of God. Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 13 June 2021.

This is the text of my sermon given yesterday at Kildwick St Andrews at 9.30 and Cononley United Church of St Johns at 11.00.

The readings were Ezekiel 17: 22 – 24 and Mark 4: 26 – 34.

What is your favourite type of reading matter?

Factual, technical or poetry, philosophical or stories?

Do you prefer thrillers or romances or historical accounts or like a more academic approach?

I have many books on my selves, when I moved house nearly two years ago I had to shed about a thousand books as there simply was insufficient room for my varied collections of reading matter.

My own experience is apposite here: I was unable to take English Literature at school as I had to study more academic material and get my O levels in four years. So I missed out and although I have tried since then to broaden my reading I can still sometimes miss the point in stories or poems or be totally baffled by them. 

Yet when we read the bible there are a lot of stories or parables and it is useful to remember that these stories whilst imaginary are depicting a reality – what I might call a myth. Not factually true in itself but presenting a truth. 

Modern day examples abound – C S Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles, Tolkien’s  Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings let alone Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. Many others not necessarily outwardly Christian.

Ezekiel 17 starts by referring to the fact that is is a parable or an allegory or even a riddle. A series of extended metaphors about the cedar. So the idea of a parable is not just for the new testament but seems to have been part of the way truth was revealed through prophets and the writings. I think it is useful to be reminded that we can over-interpret these statements – rather than seeing them as part of the story teller’s art is capturing our attention and keeping it with tales which require suspension of the normal physical world and allow us to see things as dreams or visions – so we get the sense of what God is about rather than a literal word for word scientific treatise.

In v 1 – 10 a great eagle takes the top of a cedar tree and transports it to another land and more details emerge in this account; in v 11 – 21 we have God’s view of things which explain that it refers to Jehoiachin the king created by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (597 BC) when he captured Jerusalem and also comments on the wavering loyalty of Zedekiah his uncle who succeeded him who reigned 597 -587 BC when the city and temple were destroyed.

Then in the verses we had this morning we have God explaining that ultimately he will restore the fortunes of Judah. And tell us about an upright ruler who will thrive and restore the fortunes of Judah, and the king would come from David’s house. Most would see that this could be applied to the Messiah – Jesus.

There is a pattern throughout this period of God destroying the Israelites because of their corruption, their lack of obedience and not according God the rightful place in their worship. There are often prophetic words that talk of a period of restoration so that God’s sovereignty can be properly acknowledged. Judgement followed by restoration.

This is straight forward and not unique to Ezekiel, other old testament writers have written in a similar vein.

In Marks’ gospel we have two seed based parables which follow on from the very well known parable of the sower.

The first one is about a seed growing secretly. This is only found in Mark

The second is better known as the mustard seed and is found in Mathew and Luke as well.

It is often said that these refer to the kingdom of God. Because Jesus was coming in such a new and different approach to a kingdom it is little wonder that he used stories or pictures to convey his message.

The first seems to suggest the kingdom is present but hidden as a seed, minute at present but when it germinates it will be seen in all its glory.

Some have suggested that image of birds flocking to nest in the branches in the mustard seed parable could refer to the gentiles. A divine initiative and assurance of what will come to pass in the end.

Some believe the the kingdom of God will be only be established at the end times, in all its fulness but at present is more like a seed and thus hidden. Others say, no the kingdom is now and we are called to make it better known and the process has begun.

Another way that I prefer is to see the ministry of Jesus on earth the period when the seed was in the earth and secretly growing. The parallel can then be drawn between the seed coming forth and the resurrection of Jesus at which point the growth rapidly becomes obvious. A growth that started nearly 2000 years ago and continues.

At the end of the gospel passage we are reminded that Jesus seemed to only speak in parables but then explained it all to his disciples later. Unfortunately the writers did not always include these additional comments so we have to interpret them for ourselves.

It occurs to me that when we read poetry or a story we may all see the narrative differently and this will be partly due to our nature, our background and our experience. I suggest that it might be unhelpful to be too categorical about what things mean when there is potential for a variety of views.

Much of the Old testament is poetical and poetry is capable of being understood by individuals in many ways and at many levels.

I believe I have mentioned before that the Jewish rabbis were quite content with each one interpreting things differently and having a good discussion about it but it meant that they lived with disagreement and I am reminded of an article in the Church Times just over a week ago (dated 28 May 21) about a loving disagreement not just good disagreement which some have talked about more recently. Written by Rev Dr Christopher Landau, a pastor at St Aldates in Oxford

Quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury as having written  in 2014 about “if we love one another in the way that Jesus instructs us, we do not have the option to simply to ditch those with whom we disagree.  You do not chuck out members of your family: you live them and seek their well-being, even when you argue. Good and loving disagreement is potential gift to a world of bitter and divisive conflict.” 

Dr Landau goes on to write  that the challenge for the church is to recognise that this kind of charity really does begin at home: we are not merely called to love an anonymous food bank user in our wider community, but also the members of our own parish with whom we disagree profoundly about sexuality, Brexit or the church’s response to lockdown.

[I do get a feeling that we need to be prepared to accept one another not just in good agreement but in loving agreement. Last year the Anglican Church issued a book and a wealth of material entitled living in Love and faith. It is about how the church rightly handles the growing pressure from the LGBTI+ community as they seek to be fully included and given the same rights as the rest of the church in how they can live and express their faith whilst having, what for some, is a very different approach to sexuality. Many views from total condemnation to unreserved acceptance of the LGBTI+ agenda yet it seems that some how the church and that means you and me have to work this out so that we live in love and faith with all.]

There are, truly many ways of reading scripture and understanding what we read and how it relates to our present world but I believe we need to be able to accept that there are many views – all held with equal conviction, some of which are mutually incompatible.

There is a sentence in the Eucharist that reminds us “great is the mystery of faith” and to me there is the element of unknown. We need to accept that out faith has an element of the unknown – it transcends our human thought processes and ultimately it is about trusting God whatever.

May we as we ponder our part in the kingdom of heaven and its outworking in our lives and community  be prepared to work alongside those with whom we do not always see eye to eye but still to work for the greater good of the gospel – together in our faith and in our love for each other which will be a witness to those we meet. What a wonderful witness it is when we can work together in unity even when not in full agreement – a lesson to the whole world where so much division and suspicion of one another is evident.

*  *  *

Section in brackets [] not actually used in the service. I was told that the clock at St Andrews had struck twice while speaking which means I went over 15 minutes!

LIVING IN LOVE AND FAITH

During the earlier part of this year (February to March) I was privileged to attend a pilot version of the Church fo England course associated with Living in Love and Faith. They have produced a thick book, about 460 pages, and a plethora of resources available through a hub on the internet.

My background

The course was done entirely on-line and whilst the process was not without problems I found the overall experience positive. At the last review session, for some strange technical reason I was unable to hear what most of what one of the facilitators was saying but fortunately there was a caption option available which meant I could read the words.

The facilitators are to be congratulated as they have remained steadfastly neutral and supportive of whatever was said and shared.  I was glad that this course broadened out the scope to include some more generic idea on relationships which is useful when looking specifically at LGBT+.

I asked to join the course as I have been following the debates about LGBT+ individuals for some years and being very taken by the stance of the Inclusive Church about their standing up for all those who feel marginalised. I quote from the website of Inclusive Church which states the church should not discriminate against anyone because of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

In some of my working life I was heavily involved with those who needed mental health services, had chronic debilitating conditions or the poor who were not always well treated by systems; I had family members with a diagnosis on the Autistic spectrum which is yet another example off how individuals can experience discrimination. 

I am a personal member of Inclusive Church and signed up to Accepting Evangelicals – although I dislike labels and have aspects of both liberal and evangelical in my personal theology. My stance has changed over time and I describe my spirituality as a journey:  developing working out of how my faith formulates my life and ideas. It is evolving and I expect the shape of my faith to continue to alter over time.

The group

The group of six turned out, I think, to be fairly homogenous in its approach. This was helpful as this meant that there was a supportive atmosphere which encouraged myself to be bolder than I might have been. Looking only at this group it would seem that  views on a strict scriptural approach are not as widespread as I feared and that there are those who are prepared to look again at the bible and work at how it relates to 21st century life. However this is a highly contentious matter and I wonder was the group membership biased to those pro positiver approach to LGBT+ matters? I would have found it useful, although uncomfortable, to have had some one with a more literal biblical interpretation as part of the group to be able to get the feel from both sides. 

We were self-selecting although I do wonder whether all clergy passed the news of the opportunity on. We represented just three churches out of a possible thirteen in the deanery which has eight parishes.

I have no evidence but do ponder whether those whose mind is already determined as negative towards the LGBT+ issue, might be less likely to promote something they see as wrong? 

Potential outcomes

I am less than optimistic about how much change will occur in a reasonable time frame. I think those who are particularly looking for a new approach to LGBT+ issues will be disappointed as the bulk of the church are probably not wishing to change what they see as inerrant scriptural statements. Our view of how much scripture has to be examined in each generation and building on material from the past will determine how comfortable we are with changing our theological perspective. From a personal point of view I have re-thought my own views several times in nearly sixty years of actively attempting to consciously follow the Christian approach; I see that we build on the scriptures given in the past and listen to what God is saying now in the present that broadens and develops the basic message. This is, however, not a popular view and there are many who emphatically state that the word of God is as written and “is inspiredly God” and suitable for doctrine and teaching. I would merely note that there is an alternative translation of 2 Tim 3:16 which states that “Every scripture inspired by God is … “ which implies, to me, that perhaps some scriptures were not inspired by God.

I think the church needs to seriously consider how it addresses these problems. If it does nothing there is a risk of alienating the LGBT+ community and also being seen as uncaring by the majority. If it accepts them but places conditions such as celibacy or civil partnerships on them then it will not have succeeded and this process will have achieved, sadly, nothing.

If we do not tackle this then it is likely that some churches will die out because it is not engaging with the modern world. To say the church should be countercultural is true, I have often written thus in this blog and stated so in my sermons. However sometimes we should and must question the culture within the institution of the church and we need to be countercultural towards the world  in the respect that we acknowledge that God is God and that the spiritual is vital for the well being of all the world.

At least the topic is being taken seriously and a great deal of effort has gone into the development of a good array of resources which this course highlighted. I would certainly recommend it to all when the opportunity arises in their own locality.

I have recently been reading through a Grove Booklet on the topic of what it referred to as the “Donewiths”, those who had done with church but not with God. (Leaving Church – Grove Booklet P162 published 2020) which suggest that those leaving he institution known as church may do so because what is important in their life is not part of the routine church agenda. The LGBT+ community could well be one of these groups who have become disaffected by what we do as a church, they feel marginalised and excluded..

RT

15 May 2021

Sunday 9 May 2021

The text of my sermon for Sunday 9 May 2021, preached at St Andrews, Kildwick at 9:30 and St Johns United Church, Cononley at 11.00.

The readings were Acts 10: 44 48 and John15: 9 – 17

I have quoted from parts of the Christian Aid week resources which are available under the heading “Sermon Notes”

https://www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/christian-aid-week-sermon-notes

Desert Island discs

Recently the parish magazine has carried some ideas from various individuals about their Desert Island discs. And I have been wondering about what my contributions might be. I could be very pedantic and point out that when the programme was devised in 1941 it would have only been possible to have played records using a wind up gramophone so perhaps my selection should only be old records!

As I was thinking what records I could list I recalled thinking how on my way home from school there was a group of us converged on a girl’s house where we sat around and listened to the latest records. One of the first of these was “Love me do”, “She loves you” and “Can’t buy me love” (1962 – 1964).

All you need is love

Many popular songs of my teenage years had love as a theme: I suspect that it was mainly about romantic and personal love but was summed up in the 1967 hit “All you need is love”.  It was released via a a world wide broadcast and because of the show’s international audience its lyrics were deliberately simple, in an attempt to capture the utopian ideals associated with what was termed the Summer of Love. It was very much an anthem of  the flower power philosophy. Did I really wear flared, purple cords – yes I was a dedicated follower of fashion – then!

All you need is love. I think that needs some qualification and I think that while it uses the word love some of the notions of the time are not those we might readily associate with the idea of love that Jesus mentions in one of his final teaching sessions with the disciples we read in our gospel today.  All they needed was love, but it was love as displayed by Jesus. And all we need is that love – but it takes rather more effort than might be implied by a pop song of 54 years ago.

Love in Action

This following week is Christian Aid week (10th – 16th May 2021) and if you check out their website you will find stories about individuals such as Rose and Florence who live in Kenya.

Rose is caught in a cycle of climate chaos. From severe drought to flooding, extreme weather robs her of what she needs to survive: a reliable source of water. Without water, every day is a struggle. Without water, Rose is thirsty and hungry. This is her climate crisis.….

In recent years, the drought has been so bad that it’s caused a hunger crisis. Crops wither and die. Rivers run dry. People struggle to survive.…

In times of drought, Rose sets out on a long and dangerous journey every morning to collect water for her family. She walks on an empty stomach.

….

‘We have to walk long distances. We are suffering,’ Rose said.

… But if she gives up, her grandchildren will suffer hunger and thirst.

With a dam full of water, Rose would be free from her long, painful journeys. She’d have time to grow fresh vegetables for her family to eat. And she could see her grandchildren grow up and live life in all its fullness.

Florence is full of life, love and laughter … because next to her farm, Florence is proud to show us something remarkable – a dam, full of fresh water.

It’s thanks to your donations that Florence and her community have built this water dam, …. Now, Florence is reaping a good life for herself and her family.

Climate change is a major issue: how many of us can remember the drought in 1976 or 1977? I do not know how many of you here have personally experienced being flooded. But I can tell you that it is unnerving, leaving your house in a boat and unsure of when our even if you will return and live in it again. It has happened to me and even with all the support available in this country you are faced with all sorts of feelings of total helplessness. The event did have its lighter side: when I got through to work to explain and apologise for my absence I was told “oh its OK we knew about it – we have seen you on the TV!” I can only imagine how a regular cycle of drought and flood can be so overwhelming for many such as the people highlighted by Christian Aid.

Inclusiveness of love

The passage from Acts is a reminder of how although initially a Jewish sect, the followers of Jesus took a while to expand to the gentiles. Although some gentiles do figure in the gospel accounts such as the Centurion whose servant was ill and Jesus healed, and various Samaritans who although having some things in common with the Jews were considered definitely not kosher.

The passage (v 45) tells us that “The circumcised believers ( Jewish believers) who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” seems that they found it hard to accept. Yet to me this is important: the gospel is for everyone regardless. Not only nationality or background, but also other divisive categories.

I notice that our Diocesan Bishop, Nick Baines, is noted in the Church Times of 30 April  as stating “to only stand up for the rights of Christians is an act of self-harm” in the General Synod debate on freedom of religion or belief. To be inward looking is contrary to what we should be doing. We should show no bias towards those of other faiths or none – we are to love unconditionally.

We need to be an inclusive church – one that welcomes all – regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, economic status, mental health or sexuality.  We have to love everyone, as God loves everyone – we are all created in his image.

We are social and need to live out God’s love

I started by mentioning Desert Island discs – occasionally for many the prospect of being alone and free from much of the routine might sound idyllic but I guess it would begin to pall. Humanity is primarily social and we live among others – family, friends, fellow workers and so on – some four contacts better known, some more akin to our way of thinking but a huge variety of types of people. Soem we may not especially care for but they are part of our shared existence.

We need to note these words from the Christian Aid website?:

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are an encouragement to abide in the love of God and dig deep into consistent, uncircumstantial joy. And he knows that they are going to need each other to get through. Their love for one another and their sacrificial giving for their friends will strengthen them to endure. It is not duty, obligation or command that will enable them to remain faithful and bear lasting fruit. It is love, friendship and joy.

Love, friendship and joy is what we hope lies at the heart of our experience of Christian Aid Week. We hope that it is our love for one another that inspires our generous giving. That it is our friendship with communities we get to know through the stories of Rose and Florence that motivates us to sacrificial acts of solidarity. And it through our generous giving and sacrificial actions that we bear lasting fruit and know complete joy.

The joy that we participate in and experience in and through Christian Aid Week does not lead us away from suffering and struggle, but towards it.  We choose to look towards the pain and see the possibilities for transformation. Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that even pain will turn to a joy that no one can remove (John 16:20-22). Alice Walker wrote ‘resistance is the secret of our joy’.

This Christian Aid Week, as we choose to enter into the struggle with Rose and celebrate transformed communities with Florence, may our joy be complete.

In the words of the hymn  “O Jesus  I have promised” we need to serve God to the end. To follow Jesus, modelling what we do on the example of Jesus. Our saviour and friend. 

As the spirit came down upon the gentile believers mentioned in the Acts passage so may we also be energised by that same spirit and live out a life of love. Love is all we need – God’s love expressed through us.  Amen.