Septuagesima, 9 February – William Gulliford

The Sunday School at this moment is in the crypt learning how to pronounce the word Septuagesima so they are word perfect by the time they come back again. Let us wish them all very good luck with that. Before getting the weekly email that gets sent to the families about what is happening in Sunday School, I had not really given a thought to this. But why not let us start with today’s strange nomenclature and work from there to today’s Gospel from the early part of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s ringing call “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father, which is in heaven.”

Last Sunday we had the Candlemas Procession. This was joyful keeping of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The procession, all candlelit, with no electric light, echoes Simeon’s prophetic words that, first, Jesus is The Light to lighten the Gentiles; and he becomes this because, he addresses Mary: A sword shall pierce your own soul also. Jesus’s death brings about his illuminating glory. We turn from Christmas and all its attendant celestial light and joy now towards Easter. Septuagesima is not exactly, but very nearly, 70 days before the solemn events we shall keep in Holy Week. Jesus’s glorification. We turn from white vestments to violet ones. It is not Lent yet, but the Old Testament reading is clear about the nature of fasting.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him.

And the Gospel is Matthew’s particular take on what Simeon had said.

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Jesus is the light to lighten the nations, just as Jerusalem is City set on a hill that cannot be hid. He in turn will be set high on a hill outside that city, and his selfless sacrifice on the Cross will be the means of the light shining in the darkness.

Septuagesima is our turning point then to the very heart of our faith.

I want to ponder something of the parish’s history, from what we can reconstruct and explore how it has sought to Let our light so shine before the world that they might see the good works and give glory to our heavenly father.

There’s something of a problem and that is that part of the history has got a bit lost, let me do my best to reconstruct some of it. I will need to borrow from the annals and muniment room of our neighbour St Mary’s, and the library of Cecil Sharp House. Let’s start at the turn of the 20th c. In 1901 the Revd Percy Dearmer was inducted as the third vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, and in 1904, his friend, the Revd Maurice Bell, was inducted as the third Vicar of this parish. We shall need some visual aids: the biography of Percy Dearmer, by his widow Nan; a photograph of Bell, the English Hymnal; a vestment. I shall try to use each of these to explain something of our history.

Dearmer is almost regarded as a saint of the Church of England. What he did whilst at Primrose Hill between 1901-1915, with his friend and collaborator Maurice Bell 1094-1912 was perhaps the consolidation of the quiet revolution which took place throughout the 19thc. You may remember that in the Autumn I told the story of John Henry Newman, who was the first of the Tractarians. He left for Rome in 1845, but for those that did not, the Church of England changed almost without recognition in terms of its aesthetics. The emerging Neo-Gothic architecture of the early part of the 19th, which was Romantic really, rather than scholarly, became increasingly studious. Later 19th c architects, such as Street, and Bodley created spaces for ornate ritual which the preaching boxes of the 18th c had never envisaged. The bold pioneers who succeeded the Tractarians got themselves into huge trouble as they ornamented the liturgy attenuating Papistical practices within the framework of the Prayer Book. Outside several of the Anglo-Catholic shrines there were riots, protesting against the popish goings on, stoked up by extreme Protestants. Some clergy got arrested. One Bishop went to prison for mixing water and wine at the Eucharist! One of the related cases got as far as the judicial committee of the Privy Council! It all became quite a to-do! Percy Dearmer’s ministry was beginning when much of this had died down, but the accommodations reached were compromises brought about by exhaustion more than anything else. The Church of England was quite divided, and liturgically things were a hotch-potch. Dearmer was the son of an artist. Dearmer himself at studied at Oxford with a view to becoming an architect. Like his father he was gifted artistically. He had been greatly influenced by the writing of Ruskin, and the work of William Morris. Behind the careful work of both was a strong underlay of Liberal Socialism, which saw good architecture and design as one of the key instruments of social justice and change.

Once acquainted with this vision, Dearmer never wavered from a deeply held Christian Socialism, strongly advocated during his time in Oxford by Charles Gore, one of the founders of the Mirfield Community. What developed in his thinking at this time, alongside Conrad Noel (later to be Vicar of Thaxted), and our own Maurice Bell, of whom we hear frustratingly all too little in this period, is the need for a clear expression of Anglican worship, heavily reliant on the pre-Reformation sources, and as clearly distinct from contemporary Roman (Tridentine) practice as possible. He had visited Italy in the 1890s and while loving some of the architecture he had an almost immediately violent allergic attack to the sloppy baroque services he encountered. He developed a vision of an outward form of liturgical style which worked within the framework of the English Gothic. It is not surprising that the young Ninian Comper was immediately drawn to the aesthetic Dearmer was calling for. Dearmer’s first great work published in 1899 just before he arrived in Primrose Hill, helped to standardise the so called English Use. The Warham Guild became the workshop from 1912 producing the fabrics and ornaments the Use required. Reading the Parson’s Handbook, he is exacting on the quality, substance and style of vestments. Below, one of our visual aids, we have the St Mary’s requiem dalmatic. We borrow them for services here to go with our own requiem chasuble. There are two things to note. It is well over 100 years and in mint condition – testimony to the quality of the materials used and the manufacture about which he was a stickler. The damask is exquisite. But can you guess its material. It is wool, the outer black and the beautiful lining. It evokes the time when East Anglia became rich beyond imagining in the 14th c because of the quality of English wool and weaving. And it underlines that for certain occasions and seasons, it is wool or linen rather than silk that should be used. This hierarchy of material use was integral to the aesthetic that undergirded his practice.

The last of our visual aids is the English Hymnal. As the liturgy settled down in late 19th c hymnody had become increasingly a part of services. Unknown in the 18th c when metrical psalms were the limit of innovation, the result of the Evangelical revival had been the popularisation of hymn singing. Dearmer saw the great value of hymns as devotional aids and the means of as it were audience participation, and in collaboration with Vaughan Williams, and our own Maurice Bell, the hymnal came to be. Hymns Ancient and Modern had cornered the market since 1860. And there were some most scholarly and wonderful additions to the canon of hymnody as a result of that work. Dearmer, Bell and Vaughan Williams and others wanted to update, deepen, and renew the repertoire. As with Dearmer’s commitment to good liturgy being undergirded by the best materials in vesture, so his attitude to music was that the best congregational singing should be supported by the very best in musical arrangement. Our musical colleagues are better placed to judge than me on this, but the melodies for new hymns derived from folk songs which Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams had been notating, and the stirring arrangements of these and new works added verve, spice, sentiment, beauty to the offering.

The city set on a hill, the candle set on the candlestick, the flavoursome salt which changes everything, all these images call the Church to be more vibrantly all that it is called to be on this Septuagesima and always.

The word liturgy means work, or even public work. It comes from the same Greek word for road-works, what the city does to make the city (on a hill or otherwise), what it should be.

May our light so shine before the world, that it may see our good works and with us glorify our Father, that is in heaven.

Candlemas

 

As we come together today to celebrate Candlemas, I have chosen for my sermon the theme of light and darkness.

Looking at today’s Gospel, let me begin with the words of Simeon, who has been guided by the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple to see Jesus. The heart of the Temple cult was service to God.  It was the place where the Law, the prophetic spirit and the Temple cult all came together to set the scene for the greatness of Jesus.  Simeon arrives at the Temple and gives his great hymn of praise to God, known in Christian worship as the Nunc Dimitis. Praise, because Simeon knows he has seen ‘the Lord’s Messiah’ who will be the Saviour of mankind.  Simeon describes Jesus the Saviour as ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’.  This light will give glory to the people of Israel.

This glory will not, though, fully manifest itself until there is a complete realisation of the Kingdom of God in the time to come.  Jesus, as the light, is the dawn of salvation yet to be completed.  The dawn is the fading away of the darkness of the night as a new day emerges that will culminate in the radiance of the new heaven and the new earth.  When this time comes, it will be the end of a universe locked into a cycle of endless repetition as history will be resolved and God will banish evil and establish salvation, peace and righteousness.  Simeon warns that it will not be a trouble-free journey from dawn to glory when he prophesies Jesus’s troubled manhood and his mother’s heartbreak, but he knows that he can die in peace because of the promise of salvation in the child Jesus.

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple does not feature in the other Gospels of Mark, Matthew and John but the light does.  In the opening chapter of John, Jesus ‘was the life that is the light of all people’.  John writes that ‘ the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’.  He goes on to say that John the Baptist came to testify to the light – ‘the true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world’.  In chapter 8, Jesus says: ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples that the lamp must not be put under a bed but on the lamp stand.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: ’you are the light of the world’.  So they must let their light shine before others so they may see their good works and give glory to God.

Light, then, gets a very good press in the Bible but not the dark.  Darkness is perceived to be that which needs to be overcome so that the light of salvation can shine on.  If we go right back to the opening chapter of Genesis and the Creation narrative we read that ‘darkness covered the face of the deep’ until God said ‘let there be light’.  God ‘saw the light was good’ and God ‘separated the light from the darkness’.  While in a state of darkness, the earth was just a ‘formless void’.  In the New Testament we learn that at the time of the Crucifixion ‘darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon’.

We could, then, produce a simple statement having read the Bible that : ‘light is good, dark is bad’. My inclination was to do so until I read recently a book by my former tutor in Pastoral Ministry, Christopher Chapman.  The book, entitled ‘Seeing in the dark’ gives a pastoral perspective on suffering in the Christian tradition.  In this book, Christopher puts the case for darkness as not always being negative and destructive but rather positive and spiritually inspiring.  He writes that there is a place for darkness.  When you wonder at the night sky it is good to feel small as you look up at it.  He goes on to write about John of the Cross , imprisoned in the sixteenth century for attempting to restore the Carmelite Order, being the Roman Catholic religious order founded in the twelfth century.  It was when John was incarcerated in what he described as ‘the tomb of dark death’ that he realised he was not alone.  He began to sense the Presence of Christ. It was then that he found the gift of poetry.  When the poetry began to flow from him ‘the tomb of dark death’ became a place of ‘spiritual resurrection’.  Sensing the ‘mysterious company of the Lord’ in the isolation of the night, John writes:

‘The tranquil night,

at the time of the rising dawn,

silent music,

sounding solitude

the supper that refreshes, and deepens love’.

Christopher writes that in the darkness we lose our sense of security.  We are no longer in control.  Yet, he argues, if we were always to be in daylight there might be something restrictive about it.  It could keep us in a state of anxiety and deny us rest.  He looks at the life of the ‘anchoress’ Julian of Norwich who, in the fourteenth century, lived a life of solitary prayer in a hermitage.  Julian understood that in Christ’s Passion God shares our deepest darkness and pain. This prompts me to look again at the New Testament account of the darkness that fell during the Crucifixion.  Contemplating Julian’s understanding of darkness, I perceive it now to be a time in which God stands with us in our darkest hours.  I have two further thoughts here.  One is words of the Reformer Martin Luther who wrote that faith is ‘a leap in the dark’.  I take this to mean a letting go of control to show trust in God.  The other is that the Nunc Dimitis is a traditional Gospel canticle of night prayer not prayer in daylight.

What we might say, then, is that darkness in the Bible is a temporary and not wholly negative feature in the Bible story.  From Genesis onwards it occurs in pivotal moments and is not always expressed  in flattering terms; it is associated with the earth as a formless void and the death of Christ but it is not permanent and we may expect, as Christopher Chapman writes, ‘joy and Presence’.  Christopher finds this in a poem by the seventeenth century priest George Herbert who wrote:

‘And now in age I bud again,

After so many deaths I live and write;

I once more smell the dew and rain,

And relish versing: O my only light

It cannot be

That I am he

On whom thy tempests fell at night’.

This is the poetry of hope; the Christian hope of renewal for us when the tempest has calmed and we can then relish nature in the light.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simeon’s hope of seeing the Lord’s Messiah was realised and it is his great moment in the Temple that we celebrate here today with our candles lit and blessed.  Candles that can be lit again year after year in the continuing affirmation that when Jesus was born this was the dawn of our salvation.

 

 

AMEN

PCC Policy Statement 2020

 

The Parish of St Mark’s, Regent’s Park

SAFEGUARDING POLICY STATEMENT 2020

In accordance with the House of Bishops’ Policy Statements ‘Promoting a Safer Church’ (2017) andProtecting All God’s Children’ (2010) and the Diocesan Safeguarding Policy ‘Promoting a Safer Diocese’ (2018) our church is committed to:

  • Promoting a safer environment and culture.
  • Safely recruiting and supporting all those with any responsibility related to children, young people and vulnerable adults within the church.
  • Responding promptly to every safeguarding concern or allegation.
  • Caring pastorally for victims/survivors of abuse and other affected persons.
  • Caring pastorally for those who are the subject of concerns or allegations of abuse and other affected persons.
  • Responding to those that may pose a present risk to others.

The Parish will:

  • Create a safe and caring place for all.
  • Have a named Church Safeguarding Officer (CSO) to work with the incumbent and the PCC to implement policy and procedures.
  • Safely recruit, train and support all those with any responsibility for children, young people and adults to have the confidence and skills to recognise and respond to abuse.
  • Ensure that there is appropriate insurance cover for all activities involving children and adults undertaken in the name of the parish.
  • Display in church premises and on the Parish website the details of who to contact if there are safeguarding concerns or support needs.
  • Listen to and take seriously all those who disclose abuse.
  • Take steps to protect children and adults when a safeguarding concern of any kind arises, following House of Bishops guidance, including notifying the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA) and statutory agencies immediately.
  • Offer support to victims/survivors of abuse regardless of the type of abuse, when or where it occurred.
  • Care for and monitor any member of the church community who may pose a risk to children and adults whilst maintaining appropriate confidentiality and the safety of all parties.
  • Ensure that health and safety policy, procedures and risk assessments are in place and that these are reviewed annually.
  • Review the implementation of the Safeguarding Policy, Procedures and Practices at least annually.

Each person who works within this church community will agree to abide by this policy and the guidelines established by this church.

This church appoints RUTH CHAUMETON PEEL  as the Church Safeguarding Officer

Incumbent:______William Gulliford

Churchwardens:_______Griselda Brook  Carole MacLeod

 

Date: ______22 January 2020_____

Rejection of the cornerstone, 22 December, Ros Miskin, Reader

‘Be careful what you throw away’ my grandmother used to say, ‘you never know when you might need it’.  This accords well with the saying: ‘don’t buy new when old will do’.  It is fun and refreshing to buy new things but to my mind there is a gentle warning here to be careful when we contemplate discarding that which might be of great value.

Keeping this caution in mind, in today’s Gospel reading Joseph, albeit with honourable intention, is minded to dismiss Mary quietly to save her from public disgrace as she is with child while still engaged to him.  This is not discarding but it is close to being so in its intention to put away and conceal that which  emerges in the Gospel narrative as coming into being for the salvation of mankind.

Fortunately, as Matthew goes on to write, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Mary will bear a son, to be named Jesus, who will ‘save his people from their sins’. This birth, we are told, will be the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy ‘that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us’.  When Joseph wakes up he obeys the angelic command by taking Mary as his wife with ‘no marital relations until she bore a son and he was named Jesus’.

Unfortunately, in spite of this obedience to the Divine will, we know from Matthew’s Gospel and the remaining Gospel narratives of Mark, Luke and John that, following the birth of Jesus, the initial attempt to conceal him before birth is succeeded by attempts to discard him made by those who fear him.  Thus in Matthew’s Gospel King Herod sends out the three wise men to search for him but once more an angel intervenes by instructing Joseph in a dream to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety.  Then all four Gospel writers inform us that as the adult Jesus undertakes a healing and teaching ministry, the Pharisees perceive him as a growing threat to the Jewish law, trying to foot fault him in what was and was not permitted on the Sabbath. In the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew and Luke when Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth he is rejected by those suspicious of his wisdom as the son of a carpenter.  The testing and accusations by the Pharisees continue, Judas betrays Jesus, and all culminating in the ultimate rejection of the Crucifixion.  The Divine will prevails though with the Resurrection.

God, then, has the last word but there is mourning for the rejection of Jesus which we can find in Acts in the words of Peter as prisoner in Jerusalem when he addresses the rulers, elders and scribes under Annas the High Priest.  He says that Jesus, who was crucified whom God raised from the dead is ‘the stone that was rejected by you the builders; it has become the cornerstone’.

To return today’s Gospel reading we can be fair to Joseph by saying that he was attempting to be obedient to the law as given in the Old Testament but tempering it with compassion.  The Old Testament ruling of Deuteronomy was, after all, stern.  If a woman to be married was not found to be a virgin she was stoned to death.  Matthew’s relationship the Old Testament is complex here.  His aim is to demonstrate by reference to the Old Testament how truly and unexpectedly the birth of Jesus has fulfilled the deepest hopes and aspirations of the Law and the prophets yet in order to do this it requires an overturning of the Deuteronomistic law in the compassion of Joseph and in the reference to the Old Testament prophecy that a boy will be born and named ‘Emmanuel’.  This unique conception and birth must not be hidden away from mankind and so the stern law must be overruled in favour of the birth. If Matthew was alive today I am sure he would welcome the wonderful statements by Tom Wright in his book ‘Simply Christian’. They read as follows: ‘With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once for all.  A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut’.

Matthew wanted to stress the divine nature of Jesus as it was a major issue for the Matthean community, crucial in separating the early Christian community from their Jewish neighbours. This Christian community was part of a larger Jewish community.  To achieve this he combines traditional material with imaginative creativity.  In his book ‘Discovering Matthew’ Ian Boxall describes this as ‘creative historiography’.  Here, the Old Testament is used to illuminate historical happenings.  In this process we see the creative reinterpretation of Mark’s rather blunt narrative.  For example, the ‘young man’ at Jesus’ tomb in Mark’s Gospel becomes ‘the radiant angel’ in Matthew.

Angels are key players in Matthew’s creative purpose.  They are the divine mediators between heaven and earth.  Following the appearance of an angel to Joseph in his dream there are further angelic appearances in the Gospel.  In chapter 4, they are referred to by the Devil as bearing up Jesus so that he will not dash his foot against a stone.  In chapter 26, Jesus tells his enemies that if he were to call upon his Father to rescue him ‘he would at once send him more than twelve legions of angels’.  In all this we find the ‘shekinah’ meaning the glory of God as a shimmering luminosity hovering over individuals and groups.

Angels have many functions in the Bible.  These are distinct from the word ‘Angel’ which simply means messenger.  They have an unusual authority over the created order, including a responsibility for children.  In Matthew’s parable of the Lost Sheep we learn from Jesus that we must not despise children as in heaven their angels continually see the face of their Father in heaven.  Angels protect, guide and carry out tasks on behalf of God.  There is a hierarchy with Michael as Prince and Archangel with special authority and angels can appear in numbers and power in angelic worship.  In Isaiah they surround the Lord sitting on the throne calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’.

In art, angels are depicted in human shape with extraordinary beauty.  Such depictions take many forms.  In the nineteenth century painting by Gustave Doré, Jacob wrestles with the angel.  In Ludovico Carracci’s painting of the early seventeenth century, angels are depicted dining with Abraham.  Then there is the gentle ‘Tobias and the angel’ by the fifteenth century artist Filippino Lippi and Carl Bloch’s nineteenth century angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.  On the negative side of this angelic coin stands the Devil as the chief rebellious angel.  Then there is the denial by scientists of their existence because they cannot fit into a world explicable by causes open to scientific examination.  Let us, though, at this time when Christmas is nearly upon us, hold on to the shekinah being the glory of God.

Matthew also uses dreams for his creative purpose.  As a Jewish Christian he may well have been influenced by the ancient Hebrew connection of dreams with religion. This connection is shared by Christians as the Old Testament includes frequent stories of dreams with divine inspiration, one such being Jacob’s ladder.

Let us then not discard Matthew’s dreams and angels as they affirm what we are on the brink of celebrating which is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind.

Nature in the Bible and the Saving of the Lost Sheep 3 November 2019 Ros Miskin

Nature in the Bible and the Saving of the Lost Sheep

3 November 2019

Readings: 2 Thessalonians ch.1, Luke 19 1-10

Ros Miskin, Reader

Recently I watched a television programme about children who were evacuated from town to countryside during the second War.  Some of them were found places at a school run by the Quakers called the Yelland School.  Observing the expressions of  the pupils happily engaged in a variety of activities in the school grounds, I felt glad that they were being well looked after having experienced the upheaval of evacuation.  I also noted though that there was one pupil, a Jewish boy, who I heard had experienced a rougher ride than the other pupils.  In his early days at the school, whilst his fellow pupils played happily on the ground, he sat up in a tree.  It was not certain why he did this but a possible explanation was that he needed to distance himself from the others to reflect on what had happened to him and come to terms with it in order to adjust to his new circumstances.  This must have worked as I then heard that he fitted in well at the school thereafter.

So the boy climbed a tree with a purpose.  The tree provided a setting for that purpose, which was to be healed.

In today’s Gospel reading we learn that Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, also climbed up a tree, in this instance to see Jesus, as with his short stature he was unable to see him at ground level.  Here a tree features once more in helping to resolve a dilemma.

This led me to consider what trees mean in the context of the Bible and what they mean to us today.  We could say that Zacchaeus made a good choice of tree as he climbed up a sycamore tree which symbolizes strength, protection, eternity and divinity.  Yet in spite of this divinity Jesus calls upon Zacchaeus to ‘hurry and come down’ for, he says, ‘I must stay at your house today’.  The tree has facilitated Zacchaeus being able to see Jesus but for him to receive salvation he must come down and welcome Jesus as a guest in his house.  Salvation is to be found at ground level.  Similarly, for the boy at Yelland school, he cannot stay in the tree forever but must descend in order to engage fully with those around him.

So a tree, from the distant and not-so-distant, past has been beneficial but in the course of our earthly life it appears that this is not the whole story.  That is to say that we cannot count on permanently inhabiting a tree, as the animal kingdom may, in order to resolve our earthly concerns.  To do this we have to engage fruitfully at ground level.

If, though, we go one step beyond consideration of our earthly existence into the bigger picture that the Bible story gives us, we can see that trees are very significant in our journey towards the Kingdom of God.

Of ultimate significance is the Tree of Life that first appears in Genesis in the Garden of Eden.  To eat the fruit of that Tree would mean that Adam and Eve would know good and evil and ‘be like God’.  Unfortunately, lured by the serpent, they disobey God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of that tree and are punished by the Fall from Paradise. If we look to the end of the Bible story at Revelation we read that God has not denied us the Tree of Life for eternity.  In Revelation, the Tree is described in chapter 22 as being ‘on either side of the river of the water of life with twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the Tree are for the healing of the nations’.

I interpret this to mean that in spite of the Fall of Adam and Eve the whole Bible narrative is one whereby we are ultimately offered the Tree of Life, not in our earthly existence but in the heavenly realm.  In the meantime we can turn to the trees for solace and to admire the beauty of nature, climbing them if needs be to get a better view or simply to explore as children do.  Trees also play a vital part in the preservation of our climate.  One instance of this is the current battle to save the Amazon rainforest.

Throughout the Bible story wood from the trees has represented both rescue, as in the Cyprus wood of Noah’s Ark, and worship as in the Acacia wood for the Altar of Burnt-Offering and the Ark of the Covenant as given in the Old Testament.  Today in St Mark’s, we can see that our beautiful new glass door that we have blessed this morning is framed by lovely wood.  Great skill and care is taken to produce items that enhance worship, not to mention the embroidery skill that has produced the magnificent red cope that we have also blessed today.

Staying with my theme of trees in the Bible, it is not all plain sailing.  In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus curses the fig tree that has no food for him when he is hungry.  In Psalm 29 in a great storm ‘the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars’ and ‘causes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest bare’.  I believe that the pinnacle of this turbulent relationship to trees in the Bible is the death of Christ on the wooden Cross.  Only by his being nailed to the wood can we have the ultimate promise of the Tree of Life.

Returning to today’s Gospel reading we were given the connection between the ground and salvation.  Zacchaeus is called upon to come down from the tree to be saved and the Cross is fixed to the ground for mankind to be saved.  It is as though God does not want us to fly high to seek to be with him but rather for us to be grounded and communicate with him from that position in our daily lives. Psalm 23 comes to mind here where it is written: ‘he makes me lie down in green pastures’.  There are of course special instances in the Bible when key figures are required to make an upward journey for divine purpose. Moses is summoned by God to go up to Mount Sinai to present himself to God and in Matthew chapter 17 Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a high mountain and is transfigured before them. Then there is the ultimate Ascension of Jesus to heaven.  For the most part, though, mankind is left in the Bible story to wrestle with relationships, war and justice at ground level.

What happens though when Zacchaeus does come down from his tree?  Jesus says he must stay in Zacchaeus’s house. This is not popular with the crowd.  As far as they are concerned Zacchaeus is a sinner, being a rich tax collector working for the Roman Empire. As such he is corrupt and not part of the Jewish community.  Zacchaeus defends himself by asserting that he will give half of his possessions to the poor and if he has defrauded anyone he will pay them back four times as much.  Here, Zacchaeus is attempting to save himself.  The response of Jesus is that salvation rests with him as the Son of Man who has come to ‘seek out and save the lost’.  He views Zacchaeus as lost as he is shunned by the crowd.  The saving of the lost is a major theme of the Bible.  A prime example can be found in Luke chapter 15 when we learn that the Pharisees and the Scribes are berating Jesus for conversing with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus replies that these sinners are like lost sheep that must be rescued from the wilderness.  He adds that there will be ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance’.

Zacchaeus is also saved because, Jesus says, he is a ‘Son of Abraham’ as the others are. He is the descendant of the common patriarch of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other religions.  Then there is his name, Zacchaeus, which means ‘pure’ .  As we are given in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’.

So Zacchaeus is saved and we too have the hope of salvation through that simple wooden Cross to which the body of Christ was nailed to free us all from the bondage of sin.

 

God and wealth

22 September 2019

Readings: Amos 8.4-7, 1 Timothy 2.1-7

by Ros Miskin, Reader

In the final sentence of today’s Gospel reading we are told clearly and simply:‘You cannot serve God and wealth’.  This sentence appears to conflict somewhat with the earlier narrative.  Here, the master commends his dishonest manager for acting shrewdly in currying favours with his master’s debtors by remitting some of their debts.  This has led some scholars to believe that the final passage of the Gospel, which condemns this shrewd behaviour, may have been added on to the earlier text to uphold the virtue of honesty so you may receive the true riches of the kingdom of heaven.  As J. C. Ryle, the Anglican theologian, wrote in 1859: ‘where there is no honesty, there is no grace’.  Or, you might accept the Roman Catholic view that the manager is repentant and so asks the debtors to pay what they owe the master but not him as well.  My view is that the manager is desperate to remain welcome in people’s homes and hopes that his swift action will ensure this welcome.

Whatever our response to the conflicting viewpoint in Luke’s text may be, we are left with the powerful final sentence that you cannot serve God and wealth.  That is to say that you cannot be devoted to God and to wealth – it is one or the other.

This prompts me to consider what might our attitude be towards wealth in the Christian life.  If we make the teachings of Jesus a starting point we can say that he does not call upon us to avoid the subject of money for the sake of worshipping God.  As he declares to the spies in chapter 20 of Luke’s Gospel they must pay tax owing to the Emperor as well as giving to God that which belongs to God.  We might, though, conclude from this that if we pay our dues this will demonstrate that we are not devoted to wealth.  How also may we avoid such devotion?  In chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel we find an answer when Jesus  is confronted by the rich ruler who assures him that he has done all he can to keep the commandments of God in order to inherit eternal life.  Yet Jesus replies that there is still one thing lacking.  He must give up everything he owns and distribute the money to the poor.  This saddens the rich man greatly.

I am sure that most of us would find it very, very hard to give up all we have but we can at least do what we can with what we have to help the needy.  As the Jerome Bible Commentary expresses it: ‘the Disciples must convert mammon into healthy capital by sharing with the needy’. In doing this we can surely avoid devotion to wealth.  We can do so because money becomes the good servant rather than the bad master.  The table is turned and it is up to us to put what we have to good use for the benefit of others.  This way, as Martin Luther was later to express it, ‘we can avoid attachment to possessions which distracts our hearts from God’.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul advises them that there is no need to promote themselves through money and power as they have been made right with God through the Crucifixion.  No need for devotion to wealth here, then, nor when we consider, as Jesus asks us to do, the lilies of the field that do not toil nor spin to acquire their glory.  There is no need to worry as God provides for us.

It is this provision which I believe we need to appreciate to avoid a Puritanical worthiness in our attitude to wealth.  To steer clear of greed and to give what we have a missional purpose does not mean that we cannot enjoy what God has provided for us in abundance.  As Sean Doherty writes in his book ‘Living Witness’ God’s provision for us does continue, even though after the Fall work became a ‘burden for minimum return’. He writes that although there is an immense danger of money in Scripture, we only have to look at the first two chapters of Genesis to be assured of the goodness of the world and God as the abundant source of material gifts.  Also, let us not forget that Jesus himself enjoyed a good party! It is just that, as Sean reminds us, wealth is perilous if loved too much.

Nowhere is the sense of joy in this abundance more keenly felt, I believe, than in the Harvest Festival which we celebrate today.  In past times, church bells could be heard on each day of the Harvest and a corn dolly made from the last sheaf of corn harvested was placed in honour at the banquet table and kept until the following spring.  The horse that brought the last cart load was decorated with garlands of flowers and colourful ribbons.  Then a magnificent Harvest feast was held at the farmer’s house and games played to celebrate the end of the harvest.  An early harvest tradition was loaves of bread given to the church as the Communion bread.  This ‘loaf mass’ giving became known as ‘Lammas Day’.  There is a precedent here in the Old Testament in Leviticus when an offering of grain and oil, with frankincense added, was made to the priests who would then turn the token portion of it into smoke on the altar.  An offering described as ‘an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord’.

In 1843, the British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in church began with the Reverend Robert Hawker inviting parishioners into his church in Cornwall.  The nineteenth century also saw the emergence of the great harvest hymns such as Matthias Claudius’s ‘we plough the fields and scatter’ and Henry Alford’s hymn of 1844: ‘come ye thankful people come’.

Before we leave the Victorian era and look to our own era, I feel I cannot do so without mentioning the poet Keats’s ‘Ode to Autumn’.  I say this because, to my mind, his opening verse is such a wonderful description of the abundance of God’s provision for us.  The opening lines that read: ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun’ give us a connection to the universe in the relationship of the processes of autumn to the sun that, and I quote: ‘conspires with autumn how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run’.  This connection to the universe is also found in the Harvest Festival, its date being on a Sunday near or on the Harvest moon which is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox.

What, though, of the celebration of Harvest Festival in today’s world?  It is true to say that hymns and prayers have continued but as there is less reliance in the modern world on home produce, the emphasis has moved towards concern for people in the developing world.  Development Relief organisations produce resources for use in churches at Harvest time.  Here at St Mark’s we collect provisions for the Simon Community to help the needy.

The Christian hope in such Harvest giving is that the abundant provision of God can be spread to include those near to us and beyond.  In order to keep this hope alive we must, I believe, continue to be charitable in our doings, particularly in the current climate of economic turbulence.  We must do our best to remain confident in our future and not allow that confidence to be dimmed by the stresses and strains of modern life.  We must stand firm in the knowledge of the love of God and trust in his loving purposes for mankind.

The Gerasene Man Freed

by Ros Miskin, Reader

Readings:

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who is trapped by demons within himself that cause him to live outside the city in the tombs. The demons have left him as an outcast without even the capacity to wear clothes. Attempts have been made to imprison him in shackles but his inner demons drive him so distracted that he breaks free and goes into the wilds.

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

luke

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

first sunday in trinity

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity I

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity I

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

 

trinity 1

 

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who is trapped by demons within himself that cause him to live outside the city in the tombs.  The demons have left him as an outcast without even the capacity to wear clothes.  Attempts have been made to imprison him in shackles but his inner demons drive him so distracted that he breaks free and goes into the wilds.

 

So there he is, naked and beyond the pale.  In Mark’s Gospel narrative he even bruises himself as he has been robbed of his self-esteem.  He is an outcast whose identity has been eroded by demons to such an extent that he has even lost his real name.  It has been superseded by the name ‘Legion’ which is the name Luke gives us for the many demons who have taken over the man’s existence.

 

In spite of all this torment and isolation we know from his encounter with Jesus, as given in today’s Gospel reading, that this man is a good man.  We know this because he falls down before Jesus and calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’.  The demons have not robbed him of this recognition of the Son of God though his spirit has been so crushed that he assumes that Jesus will only torment him as a damaged lowly being.

 

 

What I believe we can perceive at this stage of the Gospel narrative is that the aim of the Devil is to create division as division is contrary to the unifying purpose of God for humanity to become as one.  The words ‘divide and rule’ come to mind here.  To create barriers between people the Devil occupies a person’s inner being and this drives them away from the centre of human affairs.  That is one method.  The other is to create a dispute of such magnitude that it results in humiliation and death away from the centre of human affairs.  This method can be seen in the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God followed by his imprisonment, then his naked body left to die on the Cross, pierced by the Crown of Thorns.  Here Jesus is the ultimate outcast left to die, as we sing in the Easter hymn on ‘a green hill far away’.

 

In today’s world we can see attempts to counteract this divisionism in a variety of ways.  For the believer and non-believer alike there is an emphasis on people working together in teams and groups to mutually support each other and solve problems if need be.  There is the desire to include people with special needs in all activities, to welcome diversity and to host refugees.  As a Christian I see this as a step towards the ultimate reconciliation of God with humanity when all will become as one.

 

Let us now return to Jesus on the Cross.  The moment that Jesus is nailed to the Cross he is trapped.  Being trapped is very much a theme of today’s Gospel

 

reading.  It is the hunter and the hunted.  The man is trapped by demons and the demons are trapped in the man’s body, begging Jesus to set them free by releasing them from the man’s body and allowing them to enter the swine.  Jesus permits this to happen and the demons are destroyed by the rush of the herd down the steep bank into the lake where they are drowned.  This sets the man free at last to ‘sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’.

 

So what does this narrative of being trapped and set free tell us?  What I believe it tells us is that in spite of the constant attempts of the Devil to confine us all in mind, body and spirit, God has the final say in terms of our freedom.  We may all from time to time feel trapped, either by external circumstances or by internal mental conflict but as Christians we have the assurance given to us in the Bible that it is God who commands the process of being confined and set free, even though the Devil can temporarily hold sway.  Thus Jesus frees the man and he himself is set free from the power of death by his Resurrection. We, as Christians, are also offered the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide us through times of fearful confinement and peril.

 

This commanding position from on high is not readily perceived by those who witnessed Jesus healing the man and those who were informed by them of what had happened.  They know that Jesus has demonstrated his power to heal by freeing the man from the demonic trap he is in, but it leaves them fearful.

 

Seized with this fear they ask Jesus to leave them and he does so but this is not the end of the story.  The healed man begs Jesus to go with him but Jesus orders him to return to his home and ‘declare how much God has done for you’.  Out of the fearful reaction of the people is emerging a mission to the Gentiles by one man who is told to return to his home to declare God’s power to heal and restore.  Out of the fearful episodes that have occurred both for the man and the people is going to come a spreading of the Word of God which trumps the Devil’s card.  God is the fountain of sending love and this is the deepest source of mission so we can say that ‘hearts are trumps’!

 

We may ask, though, in the light of today’s Gospel, how should we view the treatment of the swine?  They have done no harm and yet are destroyed by demonic possession which sends them rushing to the lake.  This is a complex situation.  Are we to infer from Luke’s Gospel, as both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did centuries ago, that this killing of the swine was ‘for the good of men’s souls’?  This, I believe, is rather a harsh judgement on the animal kingdom.  In the Book of Genesis, God does give Adam and Eve dominion over

living creatures, inviting them to name them.  Here we have dominion but no evidence of condemnation of the animal kingdom.  On the contrary, as Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit it is they who are brought down to ‘move upon their belly’ and ‘eat dust all the days of their life’.

 

 

They are the ones who are ‘cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures’ which gives animals the greater good.

 

Could it be, then, that the swine are symbolic?  The might of Rome at the time was symbolized by a white sow and the word ‘Legion’ in the context of ancient Rome meant a large unit of the Roman army.  Although pigs were sacrificial in Greek and Roman worship, we might say that the fate of the swine was not so much a rejection of the animal kingdom but a rejection of Roman rule.

 

Hopefully then by looking back into earlier Bible texts and considering symbolism we can avoid an attack in today’s reading on the animal kingdom.

We can instead focus on the power of God to heal us and consider how that first missionary push that was given to one man to achieve has spread throughout the world.

rogationsunday

Here at St Mark’s we have had the pleasure of hosting walking groups who come here to refresh themselves either during or at the end of their journey and this to my mind is a demonstration of Rogation practice.  Next month we will host groups walking for charity which brings giving into this picture of activity within the church and without.

 

A walk may also be a journey in the mind rather than a bodily experience either by the use of the imagination or in your dreams.  Whichever way it goes, I believe that a walk that includes prayer and praise to God gives us a strong continuum with Biblical activity.  When we read the Bible we know that walking is a major feature from the very beginning.  In the first chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’ and from then on there are numerous references to walking both in the Old Testament and the New.  From the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt through the ministry of Jesus to the journeys of Paul in Acts, the Bible gives us people passing through waters, going up and down mountains, walking through the countryside and by the sea, and finally the back breaking walk of Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha.

 

After the death of Jesus, the disciples encounter him during their walk to Emmaus and he has supper with them.  If we turn to the penultimate chapter of Revelation we learn that the nations will ‘walk by the light of the holy city of Jerusalem’.

 

What we can see from this reference to walking beyond the Crucifixion is that the death of Jesus on the Cross was not a triumph of evil over good but a staging post pointing the way to the glory of the kingdom to come.  As given in the book of Revelation, the city of Jerusalem ‘has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’. It also shows us, I believe, that walking is ultimately a spiritual exercise because it is present in the things to come.

 

With the promise of Revelation in mind, no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, is able to assure his disciples that his imminent death will not mean fear and trembling for them but peace and rejoicing that he is going to the Father.  These passages are thus referred to as ‘the farewell discourse’ meaning a temporary absence of Jesus from his followers rather than a final goodbye.  In

 

the preceding narrative of John 14, Jesus has already said to them: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’.  He then goes on to say that he will live on in them though they will not see him.  As we learn from today’s Gospel reading, this is on the understanding that they ‘love him and keep his word’.  If they do so God and Jesus will love them and ‘make their home with them’.  Conversely, those who do not love him ‘do not keep his word’.

 

Jesus then goes on to say that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name will teach them everything and remind them of everything he has said to them.  As given also in John 15 and Revelation 3 the Spirit will empower the individual and the Christian community to abide fruitfully in Christ when journeying on in the light as the children of God.  As William Neil expresses it in his Bible commentary, God will ‘keep tryst’ with his people through his Spirit beyond the grave.

 

Jesus teaches his disciples in advance so that they may believe.  He tells his disciples that the relationship between God and himself will be repeated in a relationship that will exist between the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In this teaching there is an intimacy between the believer and Jesus; it is an intimate personal relationship as Jesus and the believer abide in each other.  The farewell discourse is directed towards an internal relationship between the disciples,

 

 

Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The use by Jesus of the word ‘Father’ for God encourages this intimacy as ‘Father’ implies family.

 

John’s theology is Christological; that is to say the chief figure is Jesus himself.  Jesus as coming from God and returning to him thereby offering to humanity a way to the Father.

 

Yet in spite of this looking ahead, John’s Gospel is the most orientated of the Gospels in the present.  The Gospel begins with the sending of the Incarnate Word.  Believers who received him had ‘the power to become children of God’.  Here again John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that he begins his Gospel not with a birth narrative but with Christ as the power behind the universe.  Jesus is divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God.  John differs also from the other Gospel writers in that he teaches in long, subtle discourses rather than the short utterances found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is one such discourse which forms part of what is known as ‘the Book of Glory’ which begins with chapter 13 and ends at chapter 20.  This prepares us for the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection.  The Gospel focus is on the ‘hour of glorification’ when Jesus returns to the Father at the Crucifixion’.  It is the glorification of the Word for the world.

 

 

How, though, do we locate the glory in our everyday human experience?  In his book entitled ‘Understanding Doctrine’ Alister McGrath refers to a sermon entitled ‘the Weight of Glory’ preached at Oxford in 1941 by C. S. Lewis.  In this sermon, Lewis spoke of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’.  Lewis argued that this sense of longing points to its origin and its fulfilment in God himself.  As Augustine of Hippo had written centuries earlier: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.  I take this to mean that only when we have found our rest in God can we experience the full glory of God.  In the meantime we can glimpse at this glory in God’s creation all around us and in the love of one another.

 

So let us walk on together until we find our rest in God.  As it is Rogation Sunday, and mindful of the warnings of Climate Extinction Rebellion, let us while we walk on ask God to bless the fruits of the earth and keep us from destroying them.

rogationsunday

Here at St Mark’s we have had the pleasure of hosting walking groups who come here to refresh themselves either during or at the end of their journey and this to my mind is a demonstration of Rogation practice.  Next month we will host groups walking for charity which brings giving into this picture of activity within the church and without.

 

A walk may also be a journey in the mind rather than a bodily experience either by the use of the imagination or in your dreams.  Whichever way it goes, I believe that a walk that includes prayer and praise to God gives us a strong continuum with Biblical activity.  When we read the Bible we know that walking is a major feature from the very beginning.  In the first chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’ and from then on there are numerous references to walking both in the Old Testament and the New.  From the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt through the ministry of Jesus to the journeys of Paul in Acts, the Bible gives us

 

people passing through waters, going up and down mountains, walking through the countryside and by the sea, and finally the back breaking walk of Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha.

 

After the death of Jesus, the disciples encounter him during their walk to Emmaus and he has supper with them.  If we turn to the penultimate chapter of Revelation we learn that the nations will ‘walk by the light of the holy city of Jerusalem’.

 

What we can see from this reference to walking beyond the Crucifixion is that the death of Jesus on the Cross was not a triumph of evil over good but a staging post pointing the way to the glory of the kingdom to come.  As given in the book of Revelation, the city of Jerusalem ‘has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’. It also shows us, I believe, that walking is ultimately a spiritual exercise because it is present in the things to come.

 

With the promise of Revelation in mind, no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, is able to assure his disciples that his imminent death will not mean fear and trembling for them but peace and rejoicing that he is going to the Father.  These passages are thus referred to as ‘the farewell discourse’ meaning a temporary absence of Jesus from his followers rather than a final goodbye.  In

 

the preceding narrative of John 14, Jesus has already said to them: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’.  He then goes on to say that he will live on in them though they will not see him.  As we learn from today’s Gospel reading, this is on the understanding that they ‘love him and keep his word’.  If they do so God and Jesus will love them and ‘make their home with them’.  Conversely, those who do not love him ‘do not keep his word’.

 

Jesus then goes on to say that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name will teach them everything and remind them of everything he has said to them.  As given also in John 15 and Revelation 3 the Spirit will empower the individual and the Christian community to abide fruitfully in Christ when journeying on in the light as the children of God.  As William Neil expresses it in his Bible commentary, God will ‘keep tryst’ with his people through his Spirit beyond the grave.

 

Jesus teaches his disciples in advance so that they may believe.  He tells his disciples that the relationship between God and himself will be repeated in a relationship that will exist between the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In this teaching there is an intimacy between the believer and Jesus; it is an intimate personal relationship as Jesus and the believer abide in each other.  The farewell discourse is directed towards an internal relationship between the disciples,

 

 

Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The use by Jesus of the word ‘Father’ for God encourages this intimacy as ‘Father’ implies family.

 

John’s theology is Christological; that is to say the chief figure is Jesus himself.  Jesus as coming from God and returning to him thereby offering to humanity a way to the Father.

 

Yet in spite of this looking ahead, John’s Gospel is the most orientated of the Gospels in the present.  The Gospel begins with the sending of the Incarnate Word.  Believers who received him had ‘the power to become children of God’.  Here again John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that he begins his Gospel not with a birth narrative but with Christ as the power behind the universe.  Jesus is divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God.  John differs also from the other Gospel writers in that he teaches in long, subtle discourses rather than the short utterances found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is one such discourse which forms part of what is known as ‘the Book of Glory’ which begins with chapter 13 and ends at chapter 20.  This prepares us for the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection.  The Gospel focus is on the ‘hour of glorification’ when Jesus returns to the Father at the Crucifixion’.  It is the glorification of the Word for the world.

 

 

How, though, do we locate the glory in our everyday human experience?  In his book entitled ‘Understanding Doctrine’ Alister McGrath refers to a sermon entitled ‘the Weight of Glory’ preached at Oxford in 1941 by C. S. Lewis.  In this sermon, Lewis spoke of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’.  Lewis argued that this sense of longing points to its origin and its fulfilment in God himself.  As Augustine of Hippo had written centuries earlier: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.  I take this to mean that only when we have found our rest in God can we experience the full glory of God.  In the meantime we can glimpse at this glory in God’s creation all around us and in the love of one another.

 

So let us walk on together until we find our rest in God.  As it is Rogation Sunday, and mindful of the warnings of Climate Extinction Rebellion, let us while we walk on ask God to bless the fruits of the earth and keep us from destroying them.

Lent I sermon

Why, then, in Luke’s narrative, is Jesus able to resist the temptation made to him by the devil to ‘have authority over all the kingdoms of the world’.  As I understand it, as the Word made flesh he is exposed to all that humanity is exposed to in good times and in bad.  That is to say that he is the Son of God but in his earthly existence he is subject to both praise and, as Shakespeare expressed it ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Yet unlike the rest of us he does not give in to temptation.  To attempt to find out why let us turn to the Book of Genesis when Eve is tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent to eat the fruit of the Tree of Paradise and then tempts Adam to eat it also. This eating of fruit from the Tree of Paradise, which had been forbidden to Adam and Eve by God, leads to God’s punishment: they must fall from the Garden of Eden and in their fallen state must endure pain, enmity, hard labour and the final chilling sentence from God on high: ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. Adam and Eve have foregone their harmony with God and have been left in a state of original sin foisted on them by the devil.  This state of original sin has left us all vulnerable to temptation. All is not lost though when later in the Genesis narrative God saves Noah and his family from the flood he has created to destroy mankind.  He does so because Noah has pleased him as a

 

 

righteous man ‘who walked with God’. Here we see the first manifestation of God’s salvific purpose for humanity.

 

The books of the Old Testament continue with many trials and tribulations for humanity but the birth of Jesus in the New Testament heralds a great leap forward in the salvation story. It does so because Jesus as the Son of God is unique in being without sin and he can therefore resist temptation. He is then, as given in today’s Gospel reading, the perfect model of resistance.  His resistance is inspired by the Holy Spirit which had descended upon him in his baptism.  In the opening sentence of today’s Gospel, Luke writes that Jesus has returned from the Jordan ‘full of the Holy Spirit’.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads him in the wilderness so here we have the enabling power of the Holy Spirit moving Jesus in accordance with the will of God.  In the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘lead us not into temptation’ expressing the hope that the Holy Spirit will lead us too away from temptation.

 

In the Lord’s Prayer, in our petition to God to overcome temptation we are then hoping to emulate Jesus in his resistance to its allurements because unlike Jesus we need God’s help to do so.

 

We continue the Lord’s Prayer by asking God to deliver us from evil. In today’s Gospel reading good and evil are brought face to face in an all out confrontation between Jesus and the devil.  If we look at the nature of evil we can say it is of three kinds: physical, such as bodily injury and starvation; moral, being the actions taken which deviate from the moral order and metaphysical being limitation by one another of various component parts of the natural world.  That is to say that which is prevented by physical condition or sudden catastrophe.  These three aspects of evil show us that evil is essentially negative.  In the

confrontation between Jesus and the devil it appears as though the devil is making a positive offer of all the kingdoms of the world.  In real terms it is negative because were Jesus to accept his offer it would bring to an end God’s salvific purpose for mankind.  It would do so because Jesus would acquire the glory of ‘the kingdoms of the world’ and would no longer be the suffering servant who was to die upon the Cross to save mankind and ultimately bring about the kingdom of God.  It would also negate salvation by calling upon Jesus to worship the devil rather than God, hence his firm Biblical response: ‘worship the Lord your God and serve only him’.

 

There is much evil of the physical kind in Luke’s narrative.  The devil assumes that if Jesus is alone in the desert, outside the bounds of society and famished after 40 days of fasting he will readily want to prove himself to be the Son of God by commanding a stone to become a loaf of bread.  In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to ‘give us this day our daily bread’ but Jesus takes this further with again a Biblical response: ‘One does not live by bread alone’.  In Matthew’s Gospel we are given a fuller picture here when Jesus adds to the sentence ‘but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’.  Here Jesus’ faith in the Word of God is a sure weapon in times of conflict.  We find this faith manifest in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he writes: ’Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God’. Jesus trusts in God to sustain him.

 

Stones feature frequently in Luke’s narrative.  Since the fifth century it has been believed that the wilderness was the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalem and Jericho.  The devil, who is with him in the wilderness, takes Jesus up ‘to a high place’ to show him the kingdoms.  This place by tradition is the ‘Quarantania’ being a limestone peak on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He then takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the pinnacle of the Temple,

 

 

calling upon him to throw himself off it, trusting that as the Son of God the angels will protect him.  It is not sure what is meant by ‘the pinnacle’ but it might have been a little wing or tower of the Temple.  The devil says that the angels will bear Jesus up so that he will not ‘dash his foot against a stone’.  We can find a similar narrative in the Old Testament in Psalm 91 giving the assurance of God’s protection. There it is written that the angels will guard you and bear you up ‘so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’. Stones are mentioned many times in the Bible as obstacles to Divine purpose.  In Matthew’s parable of the wicked tenants Jesus says: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. Then there is the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts.  Some scholars believe that the actual places described in Luke’s narrative did not exist and they are symbolic not real.  I would argue that even if they did not exist we still have the confrontation between good and evil and the response of Jesus to it which is: ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test’.  That sentence is, forgive the pun, ‘set in stone’.

 

Having received that response the devil departs though Luke writes: ‘until an opportune time’.  Jesus will continue to encounter evil but will overcome the power of evil by obedient faith and, as given in chapter 10 of Acts: ‘he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him’.  We know that the Crucifixion was to follow but we also know that after the Crucifixion came the Resurrection.

 

With this in mind we can say with confidence the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer:

For thine is the kingdom

The power and the glory

For ever and ever

Amen.

Second Sunday before Lent

Can, though, faith stand firm in terrible circumstances such as war and famine?  We find that this is possible if we look at the diary and letters of Etty Hillesum whose life was blighted by the gathering uncertainty, oppression and hardship of the Holocaust and who died in Auschwitz in November 1943.  In spite of her terrible situation Etty stayed with the truth that she had come to and I quote: ‘that life remains rich and beautiful if only you remain open to receive it’.  She wrote: ‘what has to be done must be done and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God’.  It is heart warming to find such faith in someone who was going through such troubled times and was determined not to evade the tempests that life had in store for her.  She said she would follow wherever the hand of God led her, trying not to be afraid.

 

This example of faith in extreme adversity is encouraging yet we can I believe sympathise with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading when they shout to Jesus that they are perishing.  This could be regarded, as Etty expressed it, as ‘a motion of no confidence in God’ but it is understandable that if you are in a boat filling up with water as a gale sweeps down you might well panic. The disciples do at least demonstrate a measure of faith by calling to Jesus to wake up, hoping that he will rescue them.  Nevertheless Jesus rebukes them with the question ‘where is your faith?’.

 

Let us explore this further.  As I understand it, this passage in Luke’s Gospel gives us faith as being formed in stages.  The newly-called disciples are at an early stage of their journey with Jesus.  As such they have been with him long enough to accept his call to them to get into the boat with him to cross to the other side of the lake but their faith has not yet developed enough for them to be calm in the storm and trust in God to see them to their destination.  This early stage of faith is made manifest in their lack of full understanding of who Jesus is and so they say to one another: ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ Contrast this narrative with the final two verses of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples ‘worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God’.  Their journey with Jesus has been filled with amazement and doubt but these last words show that their faith has grown amongst all the uncertainty, step by step.

 

So faith can grow and even flourish in times of adversity.  It is perhaps the tests that God puts us through that encourage faith in us and Jesus himself is embraced in this process.  This is apparent later in Luke’s Gospel narrative.  In the earlier narrative Jesus falls asleep on the boat and is then able to ‘rebuke the wind and the raging waves’ showing a calm authority and certainty in God’s purpose.  This calm authority continues in his teaching in parables and in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel he rejoices in the parables, thanking God for them.  When those around him seek to test him he has ready answers and even Peter’s denial of him does not test him as he knows that this will happen: ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me’.  In the later narrative, though, when he is praying on the Mount of Olives we know that he is being severely tested and it is in this moment that he shows oneness with God.  Thus he says: ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’. Here Jesus is revealing in a most testing circumstance ultimate faith in the Will of God.

 

Let us return to today’s Gospel reading to see what else this passage reveals to us.  In his rebuking of the wind and the waves and making them cease we find Jesus at one with Creation.  In this narrative he is conquering chaos as God conquered the watery storms in the Old Testament that were the symbols of chaos.  We find this in Psalm 29 in abundance when: ‘the God of glory thunders, the Lord over mighty waters’.  In Psalm 106, God ‘rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry’.

 

So we have God and Jesus talking to nature, showing that they are at one with it but also making it conform to their will.  Talking to nature has gone on across the centuries in song and poetry.  In Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’ Amien sings: ‘blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Shelley talked to the wind: ‘O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…’.  These are observations rather than commands but they have an affinity with Bible texts as dialogues with nature.

 

There is a spirituality here which manifests itself strongly when poets use nature to convey relationship to God by way of analogy.   In the seventeenth century in his poem ‘the Flower’ George Herbert, the priest and poet, wrote: How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean are thy returns even as the flowers in spring’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Glory be to God for dappled things, for skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow’.  Hopkins reminds us of poetry as a means of contemplation of God and contemplating him in the ordinary; in all things and in each thing.  As W. H. Davies expressed it: ‘what is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’.  Poetry often uses vivid imagery to describe what we see and to help us experience it afresh.  For

 

 

the Christian this leads us to an awareness of the presence of God, since all creation is God’s gift.

 

There is also the tradition that says the perceptions and language we use for God will always be inadequate because we can never reach an end to our knowing.  God will always be beyond our grasp.  Gerard Manley Hopkins saw his task as poet and priest to bring his readers and hearers to a place of silence before mystery.  For him poetry is ‘speech framed for contemplation’.

 

Our faith, then, may be strengthened by contemplation but with God always beyond our grasp it calls upon us to trust in him, even in the darkest hours.  The disciples in today’s reading had not yet reached that stage of faith and it is not easy for any of us.  It can require a ‘letting go’ based upon trust in God’s loving purpose for mankind.  I will conclude by expressing this ‘letting go’ by quoting from the song of the Beatles:

‘When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

‘Let it be’.

 

AMEN

 

 

Second Sunday before Lent

Can, though, faith stand firm in terrible circumstances such as war and famine?  We find that this is possible if we look at the diary and letters of Etty Hillesum whose life was blighted by the gathering uncertainty, oppression and hardship of the Holocaust and who died in Auschwitz in November 1943.  In spite of her terrible situation Etty stayed with the truth that she had come to and I quote: ‘that life remains rich and beautiful if only you remain open to receive it’.  She wrote: ‘what has to be done must be done and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God’.  It is heart warming to find such faith in someone who was going through such troubled times and was determined not to evade the tempests that life had in store for her.  She said she would follow wherever the hand of God led her, trying not to be afraid.

 

This example of faith in extreme adversity is encouraging yet we can I believe sympathise with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading when they shout to Jesus that they are perishing.  This could be regarded, as Etty expressed it, as ‘a motion of no confidence in God’ but it is understandable that if you are in a boat filling up with water as a gale sweeps down you might well panic. The disciples do at least demonstrate a measure of faith by calling to Jesus to wake up, hoping that he will rescue them.  Nevertheless Jesus rebukes them with the question ‘where is your faith?’.

 

Let us explore this further.  As I understand it, this passage in Luke’s Gospel gives us faith as being formed in stages.  The newly-called disciples are at an early stage of their journey with Jesus.  As such they have been with him long enough to accept his call to them to get into the boat with him to cross to the other side of the lake but their faith has not yet developed enough for them to be calm in the storm and trust in God to see them to their destination.  This early stage of faith is made manifest in their lack of full understanding of who Jesus is and so they say to one another: ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ Contrast this narrative with the final two verses of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples ‘worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God’.  Their journey with Jesus has been filled with amazement and doubt but these last words show that their faith has grown amongst all the uncertainty, step by step.

 

So faith can grow and even flourish in times of adversity.  It is perhaps the tests that God puts us through that encourage faith in us and Jesus himself is embraced in this process.  This is apparent later in Luke’s Gospel narrative.  In the earlier narrative Jesus falls asleep on the boat and is then able to ‘rebuke the wind and the raging waves’ showing a calm authority and certainty in God’s purpose.  This calm authority continues in his teaching in parables and in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel he rejoices in the parables, thanking God for them.  When those around him seek to test him he has ready answers and even Peter’s denial of him does not test him as he knows that this will happen: ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me’.  In the later narrative, though, when he is praying on the Mount of Olives we know that he is being severely tested and it is in this moment that he shows oneness with God.  Thus he says: ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’. Here Jesus is revealing in a most testing circumstance ultimate faith in the Will of God.

 

Let us return to today’s Gospel reading to see what else this passage reveals to us.  In his rebuking of the wind and the waves and making them cease we find Jesus at one with Creation.  In this narrative he is conquering chaos as God conquered the watery storms in the Old Testament that were the symbols of chaos.  We find this in Psalm 29 in abundance when: ‘the God of glory thunders, the Lord over mighty waters’.  In Psalm 106, God ‘rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry’.

 

So we have God and Jesus talking to nature, showing that they are at one with it but also making it conform to their will.  Talking to nature has gone on across the centuries in song and poetry.  In Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’ Amien sings: ‘blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Shelley talked to the wind: ‘O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…’.  These are observations rather than commands but they have an affinity with Bible texts as dialogues with nature.

 

There is a spirituality here which manifests itself strongly when poets use nature to convey relationship to God by way of analogy.   In the seventeenth century in his poem ‘the Flower’ George Herbert, the priest and poet, wrote: How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean are thy returns even as the flowers in spring’.  In the nineteenth century the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Glory be to God for dappled things, for skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow’.  Hopkins reminds us of poetry as a means of contemplation of God and contemplating him in the ordinary; in all things and in each thing.  As W. H. Davies expressed it: ‘what is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’.  Poetry often uses vivid imagery to describe what we see and to help us experience it afresh.  For

 

 

the Christian this leads us to an awareness of the presence of God, since all creation is God’s gift.

 

There is also the tradition that says the perceptions and language we use for God will always be inadequate because we can never reach an end to our knowing.  God will always be beyond our grasp.  Gerard Manley Hopkins saw his task as poet and priest to bring his readers and hearers to a place of silence before mystery.  For him poetry is ‘speech framed for contemplation’.

 

Our faith, then, may be strengthened by contemplation but with God always beyond our grasp it calls upon us to trust in him, even in the darkest hours.  The disciples in today’s reading had not yet reached that stage of faith and it is not easy for any of us.  It can require a ‘letting go’ based upon trust in God’s loving purpose for mankind.  I will conclude by expressing this ‘letting go’ by quoting from the song of the Beatles:

‘When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

‘Let it be’.

 

AMEN