Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

Trinity 10

Trinity 10

Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32 and Matthew 15: 21-28

I think it is fair to say that we are living in fairly difficult times.  My newspaper is carrying stories about the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel and the possibility of calling out the Royal Navy to prevent them from landing.  As I write this the MOD is considering this. One of our largest political parties is deeply divided over accusations of anti-Semitism within its ranks.  The Black Lives Matter movement has launched a toolkit called BLM in the Stix designed to help people in rural areas – people like you and me – to understand and to fight racism in their areas.  As one of the organisers puts it: ‘… (it) is about getting people who are not racist to become anti-racist, especially for people who live in rural areas who might be thinking we don’t have that much racism around here’.  The reason we are unable to sit near to our friends in church or to sing hymns is because the world is suffering a pandemic of a virus that makes no distinction about who to infect beyond that you need to be human.  And to crown it all we learned just last week that Bishop Peter has been diagnosed with leukaemia and is receiving chemotherapy.

Both our readings today speak directly and very clearly into this situation.  I had to read the passage from Romans several times in order to work out what Paul was saying, but actually he is being very clear.  Reading between the lines a bit it seems that there may have been anti-Semitism in the church as early as Paul’s time, or possibly a developing idea that as His chosen people had not all been faithful, God had abandoned them in favour of those who followed His son.  Paul is quite emphatic in dealing with both of those ideas.  God’s calling is irrevocable.  The history of the Jewish people may be a chequered one, but I am in no position to cast any blame.  My walk with Him has been just as wobbly at times.

And then we come to the story of Jesus dealing with a foreign woman in a way that makes us just a bit uncomfortable.  We need to look carefully at what was going on here.  Jesus has been teaching the crowd who are following him everywhere he went making it impossible for him to rest, he has been healing sick people, and he has been challenged by the Pharisees who came to debate the detail of keeping the law relating to hand washing. Somehow that seems quite appropriate for our times!  He is tired, and the only way he can escape to recharge his batteries and get some time with the disciples is to go across the border to another country – modern day Lebanon and about 30 or more miles away.  Jesus is now in gentile territory, and it seems that at last the crowd have gone home for a while.  Peace at last!

They are then approached by someone who is both of the two things that are dreadful to a devout Jewish man.  She is a woman and a gentile – either one of those things is enough to make a Jew ritually unclean – and she is both!  Not only that, she is very determined, to the extent that when Jesus appears to ignore her, she continues to shout at the disciples.  They recognise that she wants to talk with the organ grinder and not the monkeys, and ask Jesus to do something, so he challenges her faith.  In calling Jesus ‘Son of David’ and Lord, and in kneeling before him she has already demonstrated that she knows who he is, and that he has come to save his people.  She still believes though that he will not be exclusive.  Jesus reply to her is not quite as nasty as it would appear at first reading.  He is not talking about throwing food to the stray dogs that may be around, but rather about cooking a meal for your children and then feeding it to your family pet.  She takes up the challenge, agrees with him but points out that family pets get the leftovers when the family has eaten.  Any of us who have had children and dogs know how quickly the dog will learn that it is good to be around when the child is in the high chair, as food often gets pushed off the tray, and they will also recognise the sound of plates being stacked after a meal – that is the time that leftovers often find their way into the dog’s bowl.

This conversation is probably not as unfriendly as it sounds – it is a shame that we only have written accounts of the sayings of Jesus filtered through translation, and cannot hear his tone of voice.  The more I look into this passage, the more I get the feeling that this woman made Jesus laugh, and he finishes the conversation by saying – go home – your daughter is well.  His healing is total – he doesn’t ever make anyone just a bit better, and this brings us full circle to the words from Romans – the gifts of God are irrevocable.

The Canaanite woman seems to me to demonstrate the three virtues that Paul mentions at the end of the great chapter about love in 1 Corinthians 13.  She has faith – if she didn’t think that Jesus could heal her daughter there would have been no point in asking.  She has hope – that he will do something for her even though she knows she has little right to ask.  And finally, she has love – love for her daughter that gives her the determination not to accept no for an answer but to continue to challenge.  The gospels tell us of two occasions when Jesus performed healing miracles for gentiles – once for the centurion whose servant was ill, and this one and in both cases he remarks how these people have more faith than any he has found in his own people.  Both times he heals at a distance, and both times he heals completely.

My commentary says this, ‘This miracle was another important lesson for the disciples. The Jews had priority in God’s kingdom program. However, God would deliver Gentiles who also came to Him in humble dependence relying only on His power and mercy for salvation.  In this miracle of mercy there is a clear foreview of Gentile blessing …’.  This is the promise for us to hold on to when we almost despair about the state of our world.  The gifts of God are irrevocable.

 

Thanks be to God

 

A Prayer for Bishop Peter

 

O Lord, you are our strength and our shield.

Your love sustains us through all the challenges we face.

We place into your hands all who are facing challenges,

In this time of such uncertainty.

We hold before you all who are dear to us.

Particularly we pray for our Bishop, Peter,

His family and friends and all who love him,

As they face these coming months.

May they know your strength and protection,

Your healing and your love,

In the name of Jesus,

And in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Amen

Trinity 9 – Rev Alison Way

Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33

Rev Alison Way video reflection: https://youtu.be/_I_BETY0jJA

Archdeacon Simon video reflection:  https://youtu.be/Py6C4ZeWKpY

In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen

This week’s gospel takes up where last week’s ended. Jesus had withdrawn to the wilderness to pray and reflect after the death of John the Baptist. He had not been able to do that earlier as the crowd had followed him to this remote place. Instead, Jesus had ended up healing, caring, teaching and then literally feeding them through sharing the 5 loaves and 2 fish they had

At last, at the beginning of today’s reading Jesus gets some space and time, once he has dismissed the crowds and sent his disciples ahead of him in the boat they had. This example of Jesus’ praying is something we need to take to our hearts… Jesus took time to rest in the Lord’s presence as we need to do. I think Jesus is needing his soul to be restored by his loving Father God as the words of the 23rd psalm would have it. The language of restoration is common in our psalms and in the story of God’s chosen people the Israelites throughout the old testament. I am sure this in part is Jesus’ focus as he takes the time and space he needs. We can learn a lot from Jesus example at this point

Jesus is pointing to prayer as a deep and natural instinct, and one that helps us to keep going in good times and more tricky ones. Recognising when we need to pray and then doing it is important. I find the day goes better if I start and end the day with prayer, but I am also quite a fan of praying through the day – on the hoof too! Praying before encounters and after them. It helps to ground any conversation in God’s love for us before we start to talk and helps us to give to God the concerns on our hearts when we finish.

I think it is interesting that Jesus chose a mountain top to pray. What did he gain from that? Perspective and distance and space. The view from the mountain will have helped him to literally take a step back and reflect on his inner being in the context of the beautiful world God has made. Without the pressure and stress of the needs and wants of others (even his nearest and dearest disciples). Sometimes we need space to process and times to ourselves. In grieving the death of his cousin, fully human Jesus will have had the mix of emotions we have when we are grieving. He needed time for God to meet him in his grief just as we do, and all the more so in current times, where we can’t do some of the things we have hitherto taken for granted. In the uncertainty of our times it is good to have the steadying and comforting force of prayer in our lives  – when so little else is steady and clear cut at the moment. There is a sense in this story that Jesus is having topsy turvey times just like ours.

In our gospel account, Jesus walks on from his mountaintop into more cut and thrust (as had been happening before he withdrew). This time it is not the crowd that needs him but his disciples. The disciples have had a rough night on the boat, far from the land with the wind against them and the waves battering the boat. In the morning light they see Jesus walking towards them on the water and their first response is fearfulness.

This is another sign or wonder that Jesus performed by walking on the water. Just as impressive as feeding so many from so little and coming from a place of concern for his disciples. He has power over the rough sea – walking on the water, which is still being whipped up by the wind. A powerful and practical demonstration of his saving love and God’s spirit in him.

Jesus says to the disciples Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid. The fear of the disciples at this point is like the fear of all us who are threatened by insecurity in the face of the unknown. At times currently, it feels like we are in the stormy boat with the disciples at the moment. This fear of the unknown has been very dominant in our coronavirus times. Not at all sure what will happen next and what our next step should, could or would be. The moving target stuff, the not knowing and one step forward and one step backward of our ‘unlocking’ at the moment. The pressure of mitigating risk and seeking the safest path in virtual every activity of our daily lives is not insignificant. Recognising the cost of all that but knowing in our hearts the saving love of Jesus will help us in the days ahead. Leaning into our faith and knowing God’s presence with us will help us.

Peter recognises something important, powerful and of God is going on here. He is at his most impetuous as he gets out of the boat. Having asked Jesus to command him to, he starts well in faith and hope, but the difficulty in the choppy swirling sea and the enormity of what Jesus was doing engulfs Peter and gets the better of him, as he begins to sink. Jesus literally and physically saves Peter by catching him – and as Peter cries out those immortal words “Lord, save me”

Jesus did save him (and he does save us – once and forever through his saving love on the cross). Paul in our letter to the Romans also takes up the saving love of Jesus – he says

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (as Peter did) shall be saved

In this passage Paul gets a bit caught up in human judgements of this saving love of the Lord, but he points to something that will really help us to know the saving love of the Lord in our lives. Where it says – The word is near you – on your lips and in your heart (that is the word of faith that we proclaim). This is a reference to some words of Moses near the end of his life from Deuteronomy, which would have resonance with his original hearers. We also understand the word – as Jesus – carrying Jesus’s example and life with us literally through his words and stories; speaking of them, hearing them, studying them. Allowing them to speak to us and the holy spirit space to work in our hearts will give us the strength we need for each next step. This will help us to drawn back from our fearfulness and lift us from any doubts that beset us.

In troubling times like ours, dwell with God in prayer, and explore the life of Jesus in his word… and through the Holy Spirit’s guidance will inspire us. In Isaiah the prophet speaks thus. For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

This episode and the walking on the water speak to us of the saving love of Jesus and the power of prayer. More than that this whole encounter spoke to the hearts of Jesus’ disciples to convince then that Jesus is the Son of God. This was a huge thing for them to say, but recognition of the wonder of his life shared with them. Let us recognise and wonder at Jesus saving love for us working for us, in us and through us – restoring our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.

Let’s remember during this week that the word is near us, on our lips and in our hearts – that is the word of faith that we proclaim as St Paul said. As I thought about these reflections I was reminded of the final verse of one of my many favourite hymns – Lord for the years – It says

Lord for ourselves, in living pow’r remake us, self on the cross and Christ upon the throne; Past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives to live for Christ alone.

Amen

CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 

Image from rootsontheweb.com

Trinity 8 – Rev Alison Way

Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Rev Alison Way video reflection https://youtu.be/LOIJdhjLWCY

Bishop Peter video reflection: https://youtu.be/cKcu4fvvGJ4

An opening prayer – Dear God, you look deep inside us, seeing not only our outer but our inner needs. Have compassion on us, we pray. Feed us today from your holy word, and we will be filled. Amen.

We are going to think about our gospel story today – that familiar account of the feeding of the 5 thousand. We are going to think about 3 parts of the story

  • Jesus withdrawing to a wilderness place where the story starts

  • Jesus example of compassion when the crowds catch up with him

  • And finally about breaking bread

So let’s begin at the beginning with Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place by himself, because of something he has just heard. What he has just heard is from Herod’s palace – Grim news indeed concerning the death of John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ cousin – 3-4 months his senior and the forerunner of Jesus time on earth. It is reasonable to think that they would have known each other well. Family gatherings were a big part of the culture and heritage of both Jesus and John. They also shared an amazing moment in recent times – when Jesus was baptised by John  – Matthew 3:16-17

just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

We know the impact that had on Jesus and his wilderness times, but we don’t know what impact it had on John. He had not wanted to baptise Jesus but for Jesus to baptise him! Surely the impact of this whole episode gave John strength for his mission and purpose too

But back at the events that upset Jesus this day, the grisly circumstances of John’s death will have added to the sadness in Jesus heart this news will have caused. We may remember the story – how Herodias danced for Herod at his birthday party. It pleased Herod so much that he offered to grant her whatever she might ask and she, prompted by her mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. This was political behaviour of the very worst kind. John had been outspoken about Herodias’ mother, which had already resulted in John being imprisoned… (Herodias’ mother was married to Herod’s brother and was now acting as Herod’s wife) and she had taken the first opportunity to take her revenge, which was both swift and brutal! News of this sort is enough to make anyone want to withdraw and get some peace and time to pray, but as the story unfolds we see for Jesus this is just not to be

And we turn to our second area of focus now, Jesus’s compassion as the crowds catch up with him. Jesus is pursued by the crowds determined to get more of him. He is on the crest of the wave of his popularity in this story. He has peaked the curiosity of those around him with his parables and teachings, the healings and the miracles.

Jesus example of compassion here is hard to live up to. He puts aside what he wants to do as the crowd approach. He heals the sick and then sets about working out how to meet the most basic of human needs – how to feed a hungry crowd in this wilderness!

The disciples are very dubious about the sense of this plan, not having enough for themselves with five loaves and two fish and recognising that nothing is at hand in a deserted place. The lateness of the hour is also compounding the difficulty.

Reading this story today – we see logic on their side. I wonder too if there was any sense of them wanting to ‘protect’ Jesus from the crowd and take the pressure off him in the way they looked at it, but Jesus is having none of it! And he takes control… using the imperative – Bring them to me (about the loaves and the fishes). He ordered the crowd to sit down.

What happens next has many resonances of other signs and wonders Jesus performed. Overwhelming generosity in how much is provided. Feeding and more importantly filling the vast crowd and 12 basket fulls left over… This is typical of this kind of thing. When Jesus turned water into wine – it overflowed… to the equivalent of 6 large wheelie bins full of very good wine. God’s love doesn’t stint on generosity – none the more so than in sending his only son Jesus.

Behind the scenes there is a huge contrast between Herod’s birthday party – with underhand political dealings and death and the impromptu meal hosted by Jesus in the wilderness. Which one would we choose to be at? The lavish stylish one – but with an undercurrent of greed, deviousness, deception, political antics and violence – Or the simple sharing of bread and fish in the wilderness with compassion and generosity at the heart of it?

This moves us to our third focus this morning on breaking bread. From our perspective – we also see the language of communion – Jesus looking up to heaven as he blessed and broke the loaves – Showing how he came for the many, for the crowd gathered and beyond for all of us.

We will remember there are many references to bread in Jesus’s story. For example

  • In the Lord’s prayer – Give us this day our daily bread (lord’s prayer – Matthew 6)

  • Jesus said – I am the bread of life (john 6)

  • Jesus also said – We shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4)

  • In the breaking bread at the last supper – Jesus said – this is my body broken for you

  • And that moment of recognition after the resurrection in the 2 disciples as he broke the bread after a long walk together to Emmaus

The use of bread like this matters as bread was the stuff of everyday life in Jesus’ day. It is still the stuff of everyday life in our day. Every time we break bread it should bring Jesus to mind. This is the basis of thankfulness as we sit down to eat. Thankfulness for the hope and life we have in Jesus.

Setting this story in the wilderness also has profound resonances and echoes of the past time of the Israelites in the wilderness, where God provided what they were to eat. The wilderness motif adds to the poignancy of this event and the parallels would not have been lost on the crowd. Jesus is treading in some pretty big footsteps in providing nourishment not just for their bodies, but their minds and spirits.

There are ways we could describe the events of 2020 as wilderness times for us and our country and our world, but in these times God has been, is and will be with us – His peace and his hope have been our anchor in stormy and anxious times and in the times ahead however this turns out. The God of overwhelmingly generous love that was shared out in the wilderness 2000 years ago through bread and fish is there for us in this life and waiting to welcome us into his heart of love more fully for ever. We breath in this hope, we live in this hope, and we love in this hope.

So, as we have reviewed this familiar story – Let’s ponder it afresh from the perspectives we have explored on this day and all is shows us of God’s generous love to us

End with a prayer

Generous God, we give you thanks for all that you give to us, particularly for the refreshment and welcome.  We thank you that you meet us when we are tired and weary, that you never send us away empty, and that in your love there is always enough. We praise you that your provision never runs out, and that you are always ready to meet us in love. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com ©

Trinity 7 – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 7 – Romans 8 26-29, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Alison’s reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UE0rUkze5ps

Bishop Peter’s reflection:  https://youtu.be/hUo7vpV5evk

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

`When you look at our extract from Romans set for today, it is very easy to be in awe of St Paul’s confidence, hope and assurance in God. He ends our reading with a wonderful and very well known statement about how he is convinced that despite a whole list of forces ranked up against us – there really is nothing that is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What a list of forces it is. Death, life, angels, rulers, powers, height, depth, and any other creatures…

In the battleground of the average Christian life that list sounds like everything the world has to throw at us and more. We are going to think through why Paul included these in his list  and what we can learn and apply to ourselves, particularly in reference to our confidence in our faith in God, and our hope in all Jesus did for us.

So Paul starts his list of forces, over which we are more than conquerors – that is forces that God is greater than – with death. Probably he starts with death as this finishes off the thrust of the theme embedded in most of the last three chapters of Romans. In a nutshell, this is that those in Christ, who share in Christ’s death, also share in his resurrection and for them dying should hold no fears. The reason that death should hold no fears is through the hope we have in the promise of eternal life with God. There is no harm in repeating again the teaching that this hope and promise is just as relevant and there for us today as it was in the time of Paul. It should be a source of great strength and hope to us as it was to Paul. For a Christian – all life has worth and purpose. As Christians we have something really substantial in this and something that it is helpful, hope-filled and meaningful to share with others

Having dealt squarely with death, Paul goes on to life. This is one of two references in the list of forces to our experiences of life. These experiences no matter how tough it gets cannot separate us from the love of God. I think this first reference may be more about the trials and temptations of life and the choices we have. In a Paul like fashion I think he is particularly pointing to our weaknesses and temptations. I think that this reference helps us to remember that even when we have made wrong choices, given into temptation and come back to God with heavy hearts, asking for his forgiveness – that forgiveness is always there. I will come back to the other aspect of life – enduring what life has to thrown at us when we talk about things present shortly.

Next on Paul’s conquered forces list somewhat surprisingly is angels. What Paul actually believed here is interesting. Times were very different. Today we tend to view Angels as a very positive force, but then the devil is just a fallen angel… One commentator I read said – Paul believed in ‘Nameless forces which threaten the creator’s work and purpose, and that these were in the end impotent before the God over all’. Paul is reassuring us that spiritual forces opposed to God cannot get in the way of God’s love for us. That sounds good to me

Paul then goes on to in his forces list to something we can better understand – that is rulers. Clearly from time to time Paul fell foul of the authorities, but Paul is clear that God is greater and bigger and more important than any rule, reign or government.. It is an interestingly subversive way of looking at things. Where worldly rulers get in the way we need to concentrate on God’s love for us first and foremost.

Then Paul moves on to things present. This is the second reference to life. I think it would be fair to say that there were times in Paul’s ministry when the going, the present, got pretty tough. He was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually put to death for his faith. From what we read about him, he seems to have had a very optimistic and encouraging heart, despite all that happened to him. He seemed to rise above his personal circumstances. Maybe because of his confidence in God – that God was with him in things present and there was bright hope for tomorrow. I think this helps us to remember in our things present, no matter how bleak and black it looks to us currently, God is still with us in it. God’s love surrounds and supports us on every step (not just when the going is good) and this helps us remember that God is there in the every day. This again should be a source of inspiration based on God’s love for us, irrespective of how tough it is… If that’s you currently, struggling with each and every day and all seems bleak and black – Think on…. and be assured – God loves each of us and loves us more and more.

Having talked about the here and now – Paul then focuses on things to come. Paul is very conscious of the dimension of time and how God is beyond time and our limited understanding. For Paul and for us, God was there at beginning, is there now and will be there for evermore – our Creator and Sustainer. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our fears about what tomorrow, next week, next year will bring with all the uncertainty of our current times. I think this is particularly true at the moment. It is worth remembering that these things no matter how alarming, frightening, or devastating it has been or it gets they cannot separate us from God’s love for us.

And then Paul turns his attention to powers not interfering with God’s love for us. Here powers are separated from rulers. Again we are guessing at Paul’s motivation here….  Perhaps he was showing that power can be vested in many people and things without them being ‘in power’ so to speak. Use and abuse of power in our society and our lives is a very thorny issue. I think we need to be very conscious of our use of any power we have and be diligent and compassionate in our use of it…

So from powers to the last three forces Paul uses. The first two of these are really dimensions – It starts with height and depth. Paul is using the spatial and astronomical terms of his day to describe the full sweep of things visible and invisible to the human eye. He goes on ‘nor anything else in all creation’ – a final catch all statement to cover anything not included in the list we have been working through. Meaning frankly and anything else you can think of. This tunes with his underlying message that God is more than and greater than anything we can imagine.

That concludes our tour through the forces that cannot separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ our Lord. I remain in awe of Paul for his confidence, hope and audacity to make this statement in the first place. But I hope we will all reflect on how much God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord, and how our confidence, and hope can be lifted and our resolve strengthened by remembering this verse. Paul said – For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Maybe as some homework we might want to take Paul’s list which is death, life, angels, rulers, powers, the present, the future, height, depth, and any other creatures… and think through how each of his forces applies in our life and the weak points. As we undertake this exercise note any additional things that come to mind, or that the Holy Spirit moves us to consider. The resulting list would be different for each of us, help us to act more wisely and own up to our own limitations better, and identify situations where more prayer is regularly needed to help us on our journeys. But the truth is the same – Nothing, but nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, AMEN.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Trinity 6 – Rev Alison Way

Alison video – https://youtu.be/C5Zw-d6qGG0

Bishop Peter video – https://youtu.be/7RlDPoZaS6M

Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We can’t seem to be able to get enough of TV shows where panels of experts judge others. It all started with singing and dancing, but now reaches into the world of diving, ice-skating, pottery, baking, sewing, gardening, interior design and decorating and so forth. Sometimes the idea is that the people who act as judges also act as coaches for groups of contestants – which immediately adds bias (most visible on the X-factor in my opinion!). Sometimes just the judges have a say. Sometimes they are real experts in their field (but not always!). We have the spectacle of sewing or pottery or baking where it becomes about what can be achieved against the clock! I have yet to meet anyone who does these things for pleasure were speed of production is the most important characteristic, but in these shows the successful contestant needs to be talented as well as fast! Sometimes the public at large is also required to sit in judgement with phone or app voting as Big Brother – daddy of all reality shows had it – You decide. This can add another dimension into these judgements. At times I am mystified by what the voters like in relation to what I saw! We all add our own ideas, conceptions and biases to this process.  This is probably the time to confess – I would probably count as a bit of a strictly super fan! (Oh dear), and sometimes it is more about the demographic that watches and votes than anything else!

That rather tricky parable we heard as our gospel today is also about judgement. Like many of Matthew’s parables its complicated. This time again like last week’s we get the story straight and then a few verses on the explanation of what it is about. I never think a parable is going to be an easy one when it contains the phrase ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. So let’s start at the beginning.

Good seed is sown by the farmer in his field and weeds by an enemy of the farmer. Where does this start and what does this say to us – Having an enemy in the first place has a part to play. As Christians trying to build for peace and harmony with our neighbours and not building up distrust and emenity in our relationships is important.  Getting to the point where we would describe someone as our ‘enemy’ is quite far gone and is pretty strong language. Let’s find a way of peace of reconciliation long before that….

But if we have got to the place where the farmer had it is too late for that. The seed is sown so to speak.  The first the farmer would have known is when the crop began to grow and both things sprouted. I find it it interesting that both good and evil grew up together. When we know something is not good – we often try and nip it in the bud so to speak. This is not advised here. A commentary I read said the weed in question was probably something called Darnel, which had an intricate root system. This would have surrounded the simpler root system of the wheat, which would have made it impossible to pull up just the weeds at an early stage… In life yet we often observe a mix like this – great good alongside great evil. The individual stories of heroism in times of great conflict – speak into this. Good fruit has come despite the conflict. There is some truth that the very great difficulties of our current circumstances have also brought some good fruit. If only the realisation about the importance of love, care and our relationships,  and what really matters in life has been reset!

This story speaks to the reality – that we live in a world where the good can be readily alongside the bad. Eventually there is a time of judgement that will come where in the story the weeds and the wheat were separated. Ultimately there will be a time of judgement but it is between us and God. I am confident that this judgement will be in the heart of our loving God and will start and end with love and God’s complete love of us as we are – knowing God’s love for us is merciful and compassionate. In a way this parable also calls us to account on our judging of others. Having the wheat and the weeds growing together as they were should also make us realise we need to be very careful when in the judging business – sticking with how we want to be treated and being in the loving others business. As a national church we probably need to spend less time sitting in judgement and more time loving people into the kingdom and demonstrating God’s love in all its fullness, and what a life lived in the hope of God’s love for us is all about.

Where I go next in this talk is really about using our judgement discerningly in our lives than specifically the story of the wheat and the weeds. To help us in this area – Jesus recommends earlier in Matthew’s gospel that we treat others as we would want to be treated – Not judging or evaluating unfairly

Just the word judging has a negative   in society today and though we may not be saying it negatively, it often feels closer to condemning. It does not have the same connotations as the word Jesus used which also meant evaluate, discern, separate and decide. None of those have the I’m ok you’re not realm of judging. The knack here is to use our ability to evaluate and discern properly and fairly. We have the capacity to make judgements and we need to make those we need to wisely, being careful to keep away from condemning others (and the I’m ok you’re not territory). We need to stay in the territory of the merciful as we would want people to be merciful with us.

If it helps – We will probably remember another story Jesus told of a servant who was forgiven a big debt, who then condemned his fellow servant for a much smaller one. Needless to say this episode  as did our story today ended with wailing and gnashing of teeth!

A couple of years ago Fraser Dyer, who is a priest I met in London wrote a book called Who are we to judge – with the sub title – empathy and discernment in a critical age. I met Fraser a few times and found him a very interesting and intriguing person. So I bought the book. It turned out to be a very challenging read, so much so that I remember I read it and then I read it all the way through again, and it asks us to go back to first principles. To move away from judgementalism and to move towards being discerning with love.

One bit of it I particularly liked was when he was addressing the teaching of Jesus about judgement. Fraser reminds us of our tendency to use the phrase – ‘I’ll let God be the judge of that’. (Regrettably we usually say that when we are making a value judgement of the very sort we shouldn’t!). We should be letting God be the judge of it! And letting go of it of course

Fraser felt that our judgement of others can be unreliable as it is often an expression of our own fears, anxieties and insecurities and that it doesn’t come close to the pure judgement demonstrated by Jesus or that we will recognise from God one day when our time comes. If we recognise our judgement comes through the distorted lens of our own needs or experiences it helps us to be suspicious of it. Likewise it can come from a place of self-centredness where we  put ourselves and our perception of our needs first and not God’s heart for us and God’s way. Christian living is all about setting self to one side and putting God at the heart of our daily lives. So that does mean at the very least we need to be cautious, careful and loving in approaching judgements we have to make.

Fraser also eloquently puts it  – Jesus is offering us fullness of life. Life in which we flourish and grow as we become more like him, but religious judgementalism today so easily works against such abundant living, crushing the spirit and inhibiting the sometimes fragile work of inching towards wholeness. At its worst human judgementalism is self-centred, obsessed with how well or badly others match up to our expectations. Christ calls us out of ourselves and invites us to place God at the heart of our consciousness.

All of this is easy to say and not easy to do – but Jesus sets us a challenge and shows us what is best for us. Thinking about our judgements in relation to God’s judgement is about seeing ourselves clearly and being self aware – not just of what we are good at and where we have much to offer, but also on where our faults and failings are. Again, this is about the heart of our actions and our motivations matching what we believe and realistically knowing who we are as a beloved child of God.

So the next time we may be heard saying – I’ll let God be the judge of that – Let’s make sure we do just that. Amen

I am going to end with some prayers I found related to our gospel story. Pause and pray in the silence before the sentence – Lord in your mercy and the response – Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, give us the courage to try and change only those things that you would have us change. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, give us the grace to accept other people who are different from us.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, give us the vision to share in your vision that all the world may be one.  Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to be patient with those around us – kind compassionate and loving. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, give us the strength to work for the healing in our own communities. Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Loving Lord, hear our prayers and let your Spirit prepare us with joy for that great day when you will harvest the seed that you have sown among us.
Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Fraser Dyer – Who are we judge – SPCK – 2015

Trinity 5 – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 5 –  Rev Alison Way
Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen

I want to begin by telling you a story about some plants. I am almost certainly the least green fingered person you will ever meet. Many people love gardening – it is not my bag at all. However, for the first time ever in my life my current house has a green house!

My gardening help (thanks to Colin for helping me to find them) was very keen I grow some things in the afore mentioned green house and back at the end of April– some plants arrived…

I was instructed to water them. I was a bit over keen to start with and overdid it abit, but I soon found a healthy level – and I have watered the tomatoes, cucumber, herbs, geraniums (and here is the result)

But the star so far has definitely been the courgette plant.

From what you saw earlier to now the growth has been huge….. And I have now had half a dozen courgettes to eat – and clearly there are more. Though I had eaten plenty of courgettes I had no idea how they grew before this. Huge leaves, tasty vegetables and so much from one plant. And just because I was given it and have taken the time to nurture and water it!

This has really surprised me (I know many of you will have grown things for years – but for me it has been quite a revelation!). All it needed was a little Tender Loving Care TLC and water every day…. A simple but true story

Jesus told stories – as a way to share his message and often stories about the natural world and growth. We get this kind of content for the gospel for the next few weeks. Sometimes we just get the story and are left to puzzle out what it means for ourselves. This is not always easy for us, because we are not Jesus original audience. We live in different times with different customs and cultures. Jesus used the every day – and what was every day in his day is very different from ours!

On other occasions as with this one, we get the story from Jesus and then an explanation. In this instance – Jesus says it is all about how people respond to what Jesus calls the word of the kingdom – (The news of God’s love Jesus had come to share to change everything).

Let’s take a closer look at the explanation and what Jesus is driving at for us today in our very strange times. This is going to be applied to these times – to help us understand how we approach the word of the kingdom for us and how day by day it changes things

If we start with Jesus being the sower, as Penny was telling as a couple of weeks ago – He was scattering his message, his purpose, his meaning far and wide! In every sense of a broad cast with his seed being his message. This is interesting as the breadth of this is a big contrast to a narrower view often espoused in Matthew’s gospel and that Jesus message was first and foremost for the Jews of his day!

Another way of understanding the seed is for it to be a reference to the people hearing his message and how we respond is governed by where it lands.. There were 4 options in the story

  • On the path

  • On the rocky ground

  • In among the weeds and thorns

  • On the good soil we bear much fruit

Let’s dig abit deeper into these in turn: –

Starting with seed landing on the path – which Jesus equates with hearing but not understanding and then being easily snatched by the evil one!!! Uncomfortable language – here. The inference here according to one of my commentaries is caused by the hardness of heart of the listener or holding an unreceptive attitude.

We all know what it is like to try to persuade someone of a different point of view when their mind is firmly already made up. We will have been in our lifetimes both the person who is trying to persuade and the person not giving an inch!!! In my in-tray at the moment is all the paperwork, guidance and requirements for opening for public worship. In there are some things we are going to find extremely difficult! which cut across some things I have some very set views about. And yet being stuck and rigid about stuff really doesn’t help us. Being hard hearted and unreceptive – not attributes that sit comfortably with living with a Christian heart of love. This will be a balancing act of doing the things that keep us the safest whilst maintaining our focus on worshipping our loving God together

As we travel together on the journey to public worship I am and we are going to have to accept some things that aren’t as we would want them to be. In some cases some very cherished things whilst staying open-hearted and receptive to God’s Spirit about them!

I am not particularly fond of the language of the Evil one – but there is evil out there and it’s in the slippery slope territory. Particularly if we succumb to being closed, unreceptive and hard hearted. This story reminds us that sort of behaviour leaves that particular door wide open – enough said I think!

Let’s move on to thinking about the seed landing on the rocky ground. From the story and explanation this shows the message was heard – with an initial joyful response (so  the ears were open and we are not unreceptive) but it doesn’t take root. Then with the first difficulties that come along we fall away… We would describe this as falling at the first hurdle! As a whole you could characterise our society as having a common malaise, which has the rather impressive name of “cognitive dissonance”. What this means is that at times we consciously avoid the ‘difficult’

People walk away from things, people, relationships, family rather than staying and doing the hard yards to make it work. We want to believe the myth that life can be all ups (and no downs or difficulties) – all roses round the door and apple pie. That just isn’t real life. (Life has ups and downs! It is the way it is!)

Clearly we have been living in times where this will have been very difficult to maintain. Yet it is quite pervasive too. Putting things in the ‘too hard’ category or the Easier not to box – generally does not do us a lot of good. Knowing where are roots are not strong is helpful, and praying for the strength we need is important if we are having rocky times. Relying on God’s love for us for what we need today is important (remembering that is need and not want!)

The next option was seed that fell among the weeds and thorns. Again the message is heard, so we are not unreceptive or hard hearted or blown in the breeze with insufficient roots, but (and there is always a but coming isn’t there) other things get in the way. Particularly in this instance the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. These areas in our life can get in the way of our hearing Jesus message and living the way he wants us too.

Both are addressed in the Sermon on the mount earlier in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus said – Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

We are living in a time of heightened and pretty much global anxiety. When we get anxious we are literally wired to fight and flight – not reason carefully. Things can overwhelm us, which on a day when we are feeling less anxious we wonder why they did… In the first letter of Peter – is written a verse that will help us with setting this right

Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.

Acknowledge it, pray with it, tell God how we feel, but don’t let anxiety consume us and disable us from what God wants of us.

The other side of the proverbial coin here as seed landing in the thorns and weeds is the lure of wealth. Earlier in the sermon on the mount – Jesus said

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

My life experience says that what we hold close to our hearts shows on the outside to others in how we approach our lives. When that is love, generosity, kindness and compassion – we shine with God’s love. When that is about acquisition or getting rich quick, all sorts of things show on the surface which are not so good!

The final place the seed can fall is on the good soil. Where we hear, and we understand, and we live the life God has for us. We live open heartedly and applying what God asks of us! In these circumstances we bear fruit. Fruit often way beyond what we expect. Numerous times I have been blown away and heartened by fruit that has come along. And all the more so when it has been surprising and overflowing. Staying with being open-hearted, generous and intentional about living the way God says is best for us.

This is abit like my courgette plant where we started these thoughts today  – it has yielded growth and fruit with a little TLC from me

The parable of the sower  cautions against not listening, being unyielding, giving up at the first hurdle,  being distracted by the cares of the world, or the acquisition of wealth.

In the challenges in the days and weeks ahead in the way our worshipping life together will look and feel different or if we have to make the difficult choice not to attend public worship – let’s stay in the open-hearted, generous and intentional place of God’s love for us . God can and will encourage growth in us that will dwarf even the growth of my courgette plant –  and be all the more impressive

God has given us the greatness and wonder of his love and all the TLC we need through Jesus love for us and the Holy Spirit’s work to stay on the journey – seeking the good soil with open praying hearts, engaging in following his path and not distracted by anxiety or the acquisition of wealth.

God in his faithfulness will give us the strength we need this day and every day (as well as the hymn says bright hope for everlasting tomorrows).  Amen

 Great is thy Faithfulness – Thomas Obadiah Chisholm and William Marion Runyan – played by John Beaven on the video.

Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!” Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided— “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

COPYRIGHT

CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 

Trinity 4 – Rev Alison Way

Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Alison Video: – https://youtu.be/6foXS7L8bvg

Bishop Peter Video: – https://youtu.be/8kzoXeP52Zo

In the name of God, Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen

Both of our readings today in different ways tune in to making judgements about our behaviour. The gospel started with Jesus describing the judgements people made of him and his behaviours – describing him as a drunkard, glutton and associating with the sinners and tax-collectors. Then St Paul’s letter to the Romans describe Paul’s judgements of himself and his own behaviour choices.

 The Romans reading reminded me of a sign I saw in a Church Primary School a few years ago, which said – Your behaviour is your responsibility. We all know around children the ease with which they can say to one another “So and so made me do it” – especially when we have been found out. But frankly I have also seen us adults behaving like this too!!! This is all a question of self-control

What is self control?          – Self-control at its simplest is exercising control over your feelings or actions, or restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires. In more spiritual language, we probably most think of it as the active effort we put forth to resisting temptations that are not God’s way for us. A more positive take – Behaviour honouring of our love for God and God’s control on our lives.

The good news is that self-control is a fruit of the spirit identified by Paul in Galatians. Making it something that the Holy Spirit can help us with. Having said that: I also don’t want us to be left with the impression that I have got this completely sussed and am a shining squeaky clean example of this in my life! Thankfully the words of Paul today resonate in my life and our lives as much as they did in his – Paul says this in Verse 15 – I do not understand what I do – For what I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do.

The next piece of what he says goes something like this – He longs to do the right thing but ends up doing completely the other – the wrong thing. It’s not a one off he does this over and over again. He is still vulnerable to temptation, just as we are. Weakness and wrong doing where we should have greater self-control are his struggle just as much as these things are our struggle too

Struggling with self-control is not a new problem – classical philosophers had issues here too! Conceptually it was introduced by Socrates 2400 years ago. Plato set it in opposition to overindulgence in both food and sex. Even Aristotle discussed the difference between a person who has powerful passions but keeps them under control and the person who does not deliberately choose the wrong but has no strength to resist temptation.

I can’t speak for you but I often find Paul’s take on things difficult. In this instance however we can grasp it as in Romans Paul understands himself and his lapses in self-control very well. What a wretched man I am he says in verse 24 of Romans 7 – Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Paul’s answer to this question is Jesus saving love for us on the cross, and this is the bridge to our gospel reading too. God’s mercy and forgiveness and our deliverance and our need for thankfulness are Paul’s answer, and to live lives in response to that is Paul’s answer. Here is a deep truth we celebrate as Christians, that if we acknowledge our weaknesses and mistakes and are sorry we can put them behind us as God forgives us and we can start again. For in God’s eyes that is already done and done in and through Jesus Christ

Working on self-control is not the path to punishing times of hard labour to make up for our past mistakes or present weaknesses, or agonising over our faults, living with crippling guilt, and struggles of trying to do enough to earn a pardon. What needs doing is done already in Jesus. To use the language of many of our hymns and songs. The debt is cleared. The price is paid. The slate is wiped clean. God loves us and bids us welcome, forgiveness is ours for the asking. We need only to reach out and receive – but there is more here even than this amazing merciful forgiveness.

The second half of the words of Jesus we heard today in our gospel  are a call to simplicity in our faith (and not making it difficult or just for the elite and learned). This was a tide very much against the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The religious practice of the day was very complicated – One commentary I read said daily life as a pharisee was governed by 613 rules!! Imagine living constrained like that. The sheer effort to remember all those rules would limit virtually any action

Our Bible’s translate the end of verse 25 as infants, but many other translations make it the childlike or as children. The inference here is that the wise and intelligent do not receive the good news of Jesus Christ so readily, because they can become proud and puffed up in their wisdom and can be unreceptive regarding the new and the unexpected. Being childlike enables us to be unself-conscious, dependent and receptive, and be more open to the unexpected and swings and roundabouts of life. It can also help us to stay deeply rooted to God’s merciful and everlasting love for us.

Moving on to verse 27 and the heart of our gospel reading

All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

We are heading into much more difficult territory to understand here. Jesus is explaining his unique place in the world – Fully God and fully human. In this instance he is explaining His relationship to God the Father. He alone is the one through whom God reveals himself to us. He is the only mediator of knowledge of the Father and of God’s saving purposes for us. It is important for us to really digest this and take this to heart.

Our part in this is our ability to recognise Jesus’ unique role – The significance of Jesus and his opening out of his kingdom on earth to us. Our realisation of this changes our lives as we invite Jesus into our hearts and he moulds us through his spirit’s work in us and through us. Are we joining with Paul’s sentiments with giving room in our hearts for Jesus love for us to be first and foremost? Are we being thankful enough for that saving, amazing, eternal love – the ground of our beings?

The final part of our gospel reading today includes some deeply reassuring words of Jesus – so typical of his love for us – Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Jesus is contrasting his way of living on earth – Lightly, lovingly, with integrity and open-heartedness to the guidance of God’s spirit with the minutiae of rules and regulations (back at the 613 rules I was alluding to earlier) that governed religious observance of his day. Though it may sound like it a little – I don’t think this is Jesus saying follow me and have an easy life. He is saying follow me and have a fulfilled life in him

Being a Christian is challenging and far from an easy option, but depending on Jesus will give both us life and the rest we need to follow his unique plan for us. The version of these words from the message makes this clearer I think:-

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. (I think he means meaning and purpose and hope etc) I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I particularly like in that – learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace is a RHYTHM that is governed by God and does not change. We can do nothing to earn it, and is not about our worthiness of it. From Jesus’ fullness of life, his coming to earth, dying and rising again – Fully God and fully human –  we have all received grace upon grace.

There is a constant movement or waves of this grace in our hearts and lives. I like the analogy of the waves on the shore for grace. One wave comes in as another is going out. The ebbing and flowing of the waves of grace leads to deep transformational change that shifts our observations of reality. Those shifts change our perceptions, our interpretations, our thoughts, feelings, judgements, and actions, helping us to live, grow and depend on God’s love for us more and more.

End with a prayer – let us pause and then pray

God of many names, gracious in your loving, merciful in your judgements, steadfast in your faithfulness to us, compassionate to all: may we always be thankful for all you have done, from creation to the end of time, and into the eternity of your rest; may we always sing your praises, speak of your greatness, and bring glory to you by our actions. Gracious, merciful, steadfast, compassionate, loving God.

Come to God, all who are weary and tired. Come to God, all who are burdened by life. Come to God, all who feel trapped and underappreciated. For you will find: the rest you need, the peace you seek, and the love you long for. Come to God, in Jesus Christ. Amen

References:

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

The Message: The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com ©

St Peter and St Paul – Penny Ashton

Links:Service for St Peter and St Paul https://youtu.be/NXEEVTkFoxQ

Bishop Ruth’s reflection: https://youtu.be/y-eKNmcBKq0

2 Timothy 4: 6-8,17-18 and Matthew 16:13-19
I have been thinking a great deal over the past few weeks about different methods of communication. To a large extent this is because most of us have been cut off from meeting those people that we usually see and talk to frequently and for some the only form of contact has been the telephone. I know from the people I talk to regularly that the phone lines around Wincanton have been red hot at times, as so many people are ringing each other and this is good to know. For those of us who are comfortable with computers there have been alternative ways to deliver a form of church service or chat face to face, and these work well on the whole, although it is still not the same as actually being with people. How to communicate effectively with all our members, especially those who have not been able to leave their homes for the last 13 weeks has been a subject high on the agenda of the key team meetings of Wincanton church, and I am sure of Pen Selwood as well and we are doing the best we can, although again I am sure it is just not the same. People who are trying to describe an event to others often almost give up in despair with the words ‘You had to be there.‘ and this applies to us now.

National tv and radio have also done their best to make up for the events that we are missing by showing events of past national glory, including well-known football matches and snooker tournaments. We would normally now be expecting Wimbledon fortnight and the Glastonbury festival – perhaps that is why we recently had so much rain, making up for the dry spring. Something that the BBC has done which many of us value has been the broadcasting of extra acts of worship on BBC1 and local radio, and the Church of England has set up the Daily Hope phone service during this time when acts of worship in church have been forbidden by the government. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the work that goes into producing something like this, but I’m afraid it really doesn’t work for me although it is much better than nothing at all.

The word broadcasting is interesting because it was first used in this context in this country 100 years ago this month. On 15th June 1920, a concert featuring Dame Nellie Melba was broadcast from Chelmsford in Essex, and the signal could be picked up as far away as Iran and Newfoundland. We were not the first country to have experimented with this new art form – as far as I can find out the Netherlands were a year of two ahead of us, but this was the British first – produced by the Marconi Corporation who had been experimenting with transmitting speech and music, and the Daily Mail who offered to fund and I assume publicise the event. It is said that Dame Nellie was shown the two 450ft high masts and told that from the top her voice would be sent all over the world, to which she replied ‘Young man, if you think I’m going to climb up there, you are very much mistaken’. The concert was actually broadcast from a hastily converted packing shed in the Marconi works. This use of radio technology was not initially popular with everyone, particularly the military who had up to this point been almost the only users of the airwaves, and found their communications interfered with, and it was a couple of years later that the Post Office who held the licence for mass broadcasting established the then British Broadcasting Company (later to become Corporation) and issued licences for use of different wavelengths.
The 18th of June this year was also the 80th anniversary of the BBC allowing de Gaulle to broadcast in French to occupied France. This anniversary is held in high regard by the French to the extent that the president visited this country this year to mark the occasion. Communication is a powerful and vital tool.

Before 1920, the word broadcast simply meant to scatter seed – as Jesus describes in the parable of the sower. Since then, the meaning has almost completely changed, and almost nobody thinks of broadcasting in terms of seeds any more, unless perhaps they are laying a new lawn. Nowadays if we wish to spread information we are almost spoilt for choice for the best means to do it, and yet with all this so freely available to us, I wonder if we are as effective at spreading the story of God’s love as Peter and Paul were 2000 years ago when all they had was the strength of their faith and their voices and the market place or synagogue. One thing they surely have in common is that they were great communicators.

Today we celebrate both Peter and Paul and I have always thought it odd that two such major figures in the history of Christianity should share a feast day. Their stories are very different, and although they did meet on occasions, it is documented that they didn’t always agree! What they do have in common though is an unshakable faith in Christ as Peter declared in our gospel reading, and from Paul’s words in the letter to Timothy ‘… the Lord stood by me and gave me strength’. They also share a burning desire to pass on, to communicate, this faith to as many people as possible – and we read a few weeks ago how at Pentecost Peter preached to a vast crowd of over 3000 people, and that was just the beginning!

Peter, we know was with Jesus from the beginning, possibly the leader of the original twelve, brought to Jesus by his brother and capable of great acts of bravery and almost equally great blunders. He earned his living out of doors, and although all Jewish boys at that time were educated in the scriptures, was probably not an academic. Paul on the other hand was more aristocratic – a Roman citizen by birth, a pharisee educated by Gamaliel in Jerusalem and so devout to his Judaic faith that he initially saw his task as being the eradication of this new sect – until he too met with Jesus, and that story you know well.

For the best part of 30 years, these two men dedicated themselves to spreading the word of the Kingdom. We don’t know exactly where Peter went, but he is believed to have established the church in Antioch which is the place where believers were first called Christians, and from where Paul and Barnabas set out on their travels, and he may well have visited Corinth as well. The travels of Paul are well documented in Acts, and from the maps in the back of my bible I calculate that he visited about 50 towns and cities, although as quite a few of these are return visits, the actual figure is probably nearer 20. He is said to have established 14 churches, possibly more, and to have covered over 10,000 miles on foot. That somehow makes his rather boastful sounding claims at the beginning of our first reading quite justified. Both Peter and Paul were imprisoned more than once, but this seems to have had no effect on their determination to preach.

They come together again in Rome, when Nero was emperor. We don’t know how long they were there, but we believe that Peter was imprisoned, and Paul under house arrest where he continued to preach. No doubt Peter did the same in his prison. They are both believed to have been executed in about AD67 and basilicas were built on the site of each death, which are quite close to each other. It is quite possible that some of their writing was done while they were imprisoned – possibly both of Peter’s letters that we have and the letter to Timothy which we have read from today. Peter and Paul were in lockdown, but neither of them saw this as a reason to give up, simply an opportunity to spend more time in prayer and in communicating with others while they still had the chance. I’m not sure I could say that I have used this time of lockdown nearly as profitably!

I have been interested to learn when studying today’s readings that I have always misunderstood Jesus’ words in Matthew 16. Jesus is playing with words when he commends Peter for his understanding – he is not saying that the church will be built on the rock that is Peter, but on the rock that is his understanding of and faith. This sounds a little bit like nit picking to start with, until you realise that we too can share that understanding and faith, it is given by our Father in heaven, and we too can continue the work of being the foundation on which the church is built. Paul talks of finishing the race, but in fact the race is not a sprint, but a relay. Each generation has passed on the torch to the next for 2000 years and now it is in our hands. We must ensure that not only does the light not go out, but that the race continues to the next generation. It is unlikely that any of us will walk 10,000 miles or found numerous churches, but each of us has a gift or talent. Let us be inspired by Peter and Paul to make good use of it.

Trinity 2 – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 2 – In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen.

Link To Rev Alison Way video version. https://youtu.be/20ugZffZRvA

Link to Bishop Peter’s video for 21st June can be found here: https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/2020/06/livestreamed-services-and-reflection/

Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

This week we are going to continue to look at what St Paul has to say in our lesson from Romans. It will probably help to have the text in front of you. It is Romans 6:1-11

Our passage today starts in an odd place with a question – What then are we to say?. This makes us think immediately what are we going to say about what? Abit like a moment when we walk in on a conversation and really want to know what was being said before we walked in the room!

In this letter – what Paul had been talking about before this was the grace of God making many righteous and bringing eternal life. We might be a bit scared of using that term righteousness. However, at its simplest through Jesus, God set us right, brought us in his kingdom with the promise of life everlasting. Through this act God opens his heart of love for us.

I think one of the reasons we are not comfortable with righteous is that it can be  confused with Self-righteousness – which generally does not win friends or influence people and is pretty unattractive when we encounter it. Self-righteousness certainly won’t set us right with God.

Both Matthew’s gospel and our passage from Romans centre on righteousness being a gift through our faith in God’s love. Love shown in the saving acts of Jesus, which Paul goes on to talk about in this passage.

Let’s unpack this a bit more with the next thing Paul says… The supplementary question after – What then are we to say is – Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound? It kind of sounds like if we sin (and God forgive us – with his grace abounding) – We make God look good. Aka us sinning is good for God’s reputation. Paul rapidly says this is not what I mean… and then in rather difficult language explains what he does mean.

We suffer abit here because we aren’t first century Roman Christians, the original recipients of this letter.  Paul answers himself, as he often does, ‘By no means!’. Of course we should not continue to sin, because we have been baptized ‘into’ Christ (v.3). Paul continues to stress the close identification of each and every believer with Jesus Christ. As believers we are on a journey to becoming more like Jesus day by day. He uses aspects of Jesus story to identify with our journey using phrases such as ‘buried with him’ through baptism into death in v4. Then ‘united with him’ in death and resurrection (v.5), ‘crucified with him’ (v.6) and finally ‘live with him’ (v.8).

Following on from this deep sense of identification with the life and saving acts of Jesus and the freedom from slavery to sin this brings, Paul asks us to ‘consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ Difficult as this is – let’s unpack those a bit more . What does this mean?

Let’s start with I am dead to sin – what does that mean? It means I recognise the power of the saving love of Jesus in my life. It means I have chosen to love God and live the way God says is best for me. It means I recognise the merciful forgiving nature of God and its power in my life, I know I am living in God’s kingdom now, living in his love and with his promise of love for eternity to rely on.

However I am dead to sin does not mean I am incapable of sinning. At times when I make wrong choices, and don’t do what I should or do what I shouldn’t. When this happens, I seek forgiveness of God, and forgiveness of those I may have hurt along the way. The principle at its simplest is that I know that repentance and seeking forgiveness, and being forgiving is the path to a life that is worth living and worthy of God’s love for me. Just to say – There are in life some very difficult circumstances when it is not as simple as that too.

Let’s move from that to I am alive to God in Christ Jesus. What a powerful phrase that is. This sentence reminded me of some teaching I heard from Timothy Ratcliffe some 11 years ago. It was about being fully alive in God. Timothy is a Roman Catholic priest and Dominican friar. He has written a number of books, but is particularly impressive teaching in person. For him being fully alive – being alive to God has three aspects

  • Being nurtured in the Christian faith in a way that helps us know and cherish ourselves and the gifts God has given us.

  • Working out our faith in how we live with one another, cherishing others we have to journey with.

  • Drawing others to faith and share the love that God has given us.

In short knowing ourselves as beloved children of God, having others to travel with to help us and being a channel of God’s love to us to others. Pretty good principles to live by, but  he didn’t stop there. He said three things were absolutely essential to being alive to God in Christ Jesus and what he thought these were may surprise us!

Firstly – that our faith is active – it something we are actively engaged in – impacting our day to day lives. It engages our intellects but not just our intellects, it engages our hearts but not just our hearts, it engages all of us body, mind and spirit. It is not passive – or primarily about letting others do it for us.

Secondly, Faith is not just an individual thing – it really needs a community element. I am longing for the day when we can worship together and I can get to know you better face to face. I have really, really missed this element of our walk, especially in these early days of my time here. We need the encouragement and strengthening of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am hugely grateful and thankful for all the phone support and social distanced practical support that has been going on.

Being a christian is something where fellowship is essential. It will be good when we get to the point where we can pray privately in our beautiful buildings, but even better when the day comes when we can pray together. That is going to present challenges, and for some in the most vulnerable groups this will not be advised for some time – which God will understand. It will not surprise you that as your rector – I think being a Christian and not belonging to a Church doesn’t make sense. I think taking this approach means we are missing out big time. The faith is not designed to be practiced in isolation from our fellowship. The church is also not the building but the people in it. We are the body of Christ here! our love of God, and our love of each other and each person is special, valued and essential.

The third essential is possibly the most surprising – it is Living light-heartedly and joyfully. Being free not to take ourselves too seriously. To gain confidence through believing together (as God intended it). Grow in love – having loving eyes for the beauty of people around us (and not judgemental ones). Tune into God’s playful creativity and to move away from the mechanical, cause and effect understanding of a world to a more organic and rooted understanding.

Let ourselves be touched by people’s experiences and have hearts of flesh (and not stone). The opposite of joyfulness Timothy Ratcliffe said is hardness of heart. I recognise in myself the need to step back and take a deep breath and look for the good and the joy. I have been finding the current situation pretty stressful. I am not particularly a fan of moving targets, and layers of changing guidance and if I am honest three versions of an important and essential risk assessment in less than a week pushes my buttons!!!

But there is a way through this and the love of God is steadfast and inspiring. Our gospel passage today – clearly pointed that the going is not always going to be straightforward. Challenges and conflicts will come along the way. The important thing is to stay in this moment now. To stay connected to the influence of the Holy Spirit, and look for the joy. An old habit of mine is to look at the end of each day for something to be thankful for and I am going to finish by asking you to think in the week ahead about how we can live our lives more joyfully even in our pandemic times. Echoing the sentiments of St Paul’s letter to the Romans – We are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen

References:

Fully Alive lent programme – 2009 – Salisbury Diocese Fr Timothy Ratcliffe

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Trinity 1 – 14th June 2020 – Rev Alison Way

Video reflections: Rev Alison Way – https://youtu.be/6f135i-HfMw

Bishop Ruth – https://youtu.be/o1h9jrT9kLw

Romans 5:1-8 – Matthew 9:35-10:8 –

In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen

Over the next few week’s we have as our first readings – passages from St Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is St Paul at his most developed, not always easy to understand, but flowing and in full voice! It may help as I am talking this morning to have the passage from Romans in front of us. It is chapter 5 verses 1 to 8

Intriguingly the first 2 verses contain – Faith, peace, grace, hope and glory! All key concepts in understanding our Christian walk. Starting with the faith part of this – since we are justified by faith. We have been drawn into God’s promise for us through our acceptance of it. The work done in Jesus Christ. It says our faith is ongoing and it relates to the one time saving love of Jesus through the cross, but also our continuing trust in the promise of it –  something that fires our walk of faith in God every day.

The next bit is describing the consequences of walking in faith. We talked about this a lot last week – our experience of the peace of God.  Paul’s original audience would have understood this peace, not just in militaristic terms or an absence of conflict but also in it meaning our total well being and harmony.

Speaking into the diverse and multicultural Roman church, this is also peace given by God which embraces all members of races and nations without distinction. Everyone is equal in the sight of God – and our love for other should mirror this. It has been hard to watch the recent events in the USA. Blatant racism has been called out. It must be called out. Prayers for justice are important and for hearts to change to value all equally all across our world.

Going back to our Romans’ passage Paul goes on to describe the grace in which we stand. Technically grace is unconditional love from God, love that is not merited. Paul Zahi explained this further

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing.

Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold….

Grace is one-way love. So the giver here is God – There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love for us. God’s love is a given. So standing in grace is powerful.

Paul then finishes and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  This is shouting from the roof top how great God is – not the more general uncomfortable understanding we have of ‘boasting’ today – which is not generally viewed as attractive or desirable.  But we should not shy from the reassurance of life lived eternally in the heart of God that is central to our Christian faith. Knowing this hope has made the difficult days of 2020 easier to bear – and I have been concerned for how it might be for folk who live without this. All the more important, therefore, we take opportunities we have to share our faith in God and the hope it brings. Simple things like offering to pray for someone in our prayers and doing it are so important right now.

Around us near and far are people grieving the loss of loved ones – now over 40,000 in our country have died of Covid 19. Christian hope can shine a light in this that will bring comfort and peace. This is hope that rests entirely on God and his love for us.

Hope and glory are not the only things that Paul boasts of. Paul also boasts in his sufferings. Again something not top of our list to boast about! We know from his story – Paul did suffer significantly for his faith…

but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 8:3-5)

Paul is really talking of character formation. The truth that we grow more in our faith in our trials and tribulations than we do when the going is good. For him suffering is not a contradiction to faith, or an occasion to renounce God, but is a strengthening of patience, maturing of character, and stimulating hope and gives more room for the Holy Spirit to work in us.  In The Message which is a modern paraphrase of the bible these verses are rendered.

There’s more to come:  We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us,  and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit gives us what we need for difficult days as well as good ones. That imagery of God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit is important, this is  the overflowing, intimate and lavish love of God. My experience of this – is that when we look back on things we do see how God has been at work in our hearts and lives. Even in our most difficult times and sometimes because we have been more open in our most difficult times, because we give God more control and don’t let our own wills and desires get in the way.

I read in a commentary that the way the Holy Spirit works is a hidden dynamo of divine vitality which maintains the glow of love in us. I don’t have much experience of dynamos except those that power bicycle lights of old. But the inner workings of the Spirit in our inner workings are so important to our Christian growth. A hidden channel through which the love of God sustains us. Giving us the strength we need for today – lived in hope for tomorrow and the glory we will one day share.

The final part of this reading – reminds us how God loves us and what he did for us by sending his Son for us. It finishes God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. It takes us back too to where we started

We can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s amazing love for us. What we can do is love God in return and follow his path. On that path – the going may be easy, the going may be tough, but the power of the Spirit will work on us from the inside.

  • Be open and filled with God’s peace.

    • Know the grace of God in which we stand.

      • Share the hope we live by

        • And the glory we will one day share

End with a prayer a silence and a prayer

SILENCE

Creator God, we thank you that your amazing unfathomable love has been poured out for us at the cross of Jesus and poured into us by the Holy Spirit. Help us to walk by faith every day. Help us to endure in suffering when it comes. Help us know your peace and grace deep within. Pour your love into our hearts, in increasing measure by the power of your Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is in his name that we pray, Amen.

References:

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Paul Zahi quote from the internet – sorry I haven’t been able to find it again!