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Trinity 16 – 19th September – Penny Ashton

Trinity 16 – James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8 and Mark 9: 30 – 37

Where does the real power lie nowadays?  As I am writing this, the government is in the middle of a cabinet reshuffle, and my phone keeps giving me updates about who is in and who is out.  Does being in the cabinet confer power upon a person?  We tend to think so, but I have spoken to people who have been elected into various offices – not at cabinet level, but certainly to Parliament, and the one thing they have all agreed upon is that once you get there, you quickly realise how little you can actually do.

On the other hand, I find it quite alarming the amount of power that seems to be available to the media, big businesses and social media, particularly as they all seem to be able to choose how much they actually tell the rest of us, taking away our chance of weighing up the evidence for ourselves, and forming our own judgement.

James is quite clear about the wisest course of action, and he doesn’t find it in the seeking of power.  As he says in our reading today: if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom ….is earthly, unspiritual, devilish’.

If we look at our reading from the gospel, we can see a development in the story.  James, Peter and John have just returned from the mount of the Transfiguration with Jesus to find the other disciples have been unable to heal an apparently epileptic boy who was brought to them by his frantic father.  Worse than this, their failure has been witnessed by a large crowd and the religious leaders.  As they move on from there, Jesus, for the second time as is recounted in Mark’s gospel, teaches the disciples about what is going to happen to him when they get to Jerusalem, and again they are unable to grasp it.  It is easy for us, as we know how things work out, but for them, to be told that the leader whom they have followed and learned from for two or more years is to be executed must appear like a waste of effort.  Surely that is not how the story is supposed to end?  And what does he mean when he says ‘…after three days he will rise?

The one thing we can say for sure about Jesus is that he never tried to fit in.  He was not overtly rebellious, and did not appear to mount any challenge to the powers that be, and yet all his actions went against the norms of society at the time.

When they arrive back at Capernaum, he asks them what they have been talking about on the road.  This must have been one of those moments when nobody wants to catch anyone’s eye in case they are put on the spot.  They realise that squabbling over who is the best does not show anyone in their best light.  The three who went up the mountain with Jesus might have some justification in feeling superior, but you will remember from that story that Peter did not exactly cover himself in glory then either with his well meaning but misguided outburst.

Jesus then explains to them what is really important.  First of all, anyone who wants to be great must put themselves last and seek to serve everyone else.  In the social hierarchy that the disciples would have understood, Jewish men came at the top of the pile and were definitely way above gentiles and women, while children did not count at all.  And yet Jesus is saying that we must put the most insignificant ahead of ourselves if we are to align ourselves with the values of God’s kingdom.

Both James and Jesus are teaching about true power, but neither the disciples, nor probably James’ readers, nor I suspect we have ever really managed to grasp this teaching.  It is relatively easy to understand, until you leave the church and go back into the world to see how it works – and it doesn’t work the Jesus way.  And yet earlier in this reading Jesus has told us exactly where true power lies – and it is power that is available to us at any time we choose to use it.  When the disciples ask him why they were unable to heal the boy Jesus tells them that it only works with prayer.

I wonder how often we pray about the really big things that worry us.  Things like world peace, famines, global warming.  How often do we pray for our government, or for world leaders in general.  How about captains of industry, owners and editors of the news media, sellers of fossil fuels or arms manufacturers and traders.  Do we pray for those who are completely beyond the pale – people smugglers, owners of sweat shops, or trafficers of child labour or sex workers?  We do mention many of these things in our intercessions in church, but do we remember them in our daily private prayers?:   Do I?

Jesus didn’t ever say it was going to be easy, he never said that following him would make us popular.  He did say that it was the only way to work for the coming of God’s Kingdom – the one we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.  Are we brave enough to be different?  Or should we continue to be British, to keep our ‘  heads down and hope not to be noticed?  Should we accept that things are as they are and there is little we can do to change the whole world?

Two short stories to end with.  One of my favourite quotes is ‘If you think you are too small to have an impact, you have never shared a bed with a mosquito’.  It has been variously attributed to the Dalai Lama and Anita Roddick, but the origin seems to be an African proverb that both of them have at some time quoted.  The second is the story of the small girl who was seen on a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up and stranded by a storm.  One by one she was picking them up and throwing them back into the water.  A man on the beach stopped her saying ‘There are thousands of starfish here – you can’t possibly make a difference’  Her only reply was to pick up another starfish, and having thrown it into the sea she said ‘I made a difference to that one’..

Trinity 15 – 12th September – Derek Taylor

Mark 8: 27 – end   Who is Jesus?

Jesus asked, ‘Who do people say that I am?’  That’s a strange, but interesting question.  Yet it is not one that springs readily to modern ears.  You can’t expect someone like the Pope or the Dalai Lama to ask: ‘Who do people say that I am?’

I suppose that for many years I personally never really questioned who Jesus was.  My faith was firmly based on God the Father.  After all, Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’.  And Jesus was much more a person sent by God to show us how to live.  I could happily recite in the Creed; ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father’, without it having very much impact.  The thing is, I guess I wanted then and example, not a Saviour.

Yet, if we go back to Jesus’ time on earth, the total expectation was looking for ‘the One who is to come’.  The known world then was in turmoil, much as it is today.  The Romans occupied Israel, and made life hard and difficult, and many people before Jesus had been looked to as possible leaders.  So was this rabbi from Nazareth the one for whom Israel had waited for centuries, the one of whom prophets and psalmists had spoken?  Was Jesus the long-promised Messiah?  (Messiah, incidentally, is the Hebrew word and means The Anointed One.  It is the same word as the Greek Christ.  Yet we tend to use Christ rather as a surname – Jesus Christ, Derek Taylor.  Yet it is Jesus the Anointed One).

Many people had questioned who Jesus was.  After he preached in the synagogue, people asked; ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph?’  They found it hard to accept, in spite of his healing miracles and teaching, that he could be anything other than an exceptional human being.  Yet, at this pivotal moment, before that time on the mountain top when Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah and the voice from heaven declared; ‘This is my son,’ when only those possessed with evil spirits called out to him as the Son of God,  Peter, articulating the thoughts of the other disciples, when asked the second question by Jesus; ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ranked him greater that Abraham, Moses or any other Old Testament patriarch, king or prophet, and declared; ‘You are the Messiah’.  At last, the long promised one had come.  As Messiah he had unique status, he was God’s accredited representative, his anointed emissary who was to judge mankind. Deliver his people and bring the world to God.  He was akin to God.

It was the right answer and yet it had the wrong ideas behind it.  Peter thought of someone who would overthrow the Romans and set up a material kingdom, whereas Jesus himself taught of a spiritual kingdom established by suffering love.  Right to the end of Jesus’ earthly life, Peter thought he knew best, that his way was better than that of Jesus.  Are we today any better?

We need to learn that God’s way is not man’s way.  In Jesus God shows that He will achieve His victories through suffering love.  The Cross is Jesus’ acceptance of this, and the proof that he was right.  Suffering love DOES conquer.

But Peter and the disciples were just the first to find this difficult.  We too want a cosy discipleship, and aren’t over-worried by its ineffectiveness.  We want to serve humanity in a thousand ways that do not hurt us.  But it is only when we follow the way of costly obedience that we are truly following the suffering Lord.  He never pretended that following him would be easy – the gate is small, the road is narrow and those who find it are few.

So, back to the original question; ‘Who do people say that I am?’  It is not asked today.  Yest it needs to be.  Why are our churches declining so rapidly?  We need to turn to the next question – the more important one; ‘Who do you say that I am?’  Can you answer that?  It is vitally important that we have the right views of Jesus.  Is he divine or only human?  If he is only human, we may gain much from his teachings and example, but that is all.  When we are struggling or tempted we can’t turn to him for personal help.  Not even the holiest of saints in heaven ever reach down to help us.  No more can Jesus, if he is only human.  But if he is divine, he can be to us all that we need as friend, helper, guide, comforter, refuge. So it DOES matter what we believe concerning the person of Jesus.

‘Who do you say that I am?’  It is a question that particularly needs answering in this pandemic.  Do we trust in the power of Jesus, or in man-made rules and regulations?  Where is the voice of God being heard today:  Where are the prophets?  No wonder there is a pandemic: no-one is turning to God; the whole world is neglecting Him.  Are we then, being condemned to 40 years in the wilderness?  Are you a doubter or a truster?  A believer or a sceptic?  Who is Jesus?  A good man of history or the powerful, present person of God?   Surely we don’t put our trust in the edicts of governments nor even the arguments of scientists.  Our trust must be in the Lord Jesus, our God.  He taught us to pray; ‘The Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours NOW and forever’.

We can look back and see what he has done.  We can look forward to see what he can and will do, if we trust.  But…

But, do we ever call out to him to come to our aid, or please for his constant love to save us?  Just look at the Psalms as examples.  There are two things we can do to make sure we are on the right track:

  1. Go home, get out your Bible, preferably a modern version, and give yourself time to read the whole of St Mark’s Gospel: ‘This is the Good News about Jesus Christ’ and then encourage someone else to do the same
  2. Take your courage in both hands, cast aside all inhibitions, and in the course of normal conversation ask people – family, friends, neighbours, anyone; ‘Who do you say Jesus is?’

It may have an amazing ripple effect.  Give it a try.

Trinity 14 – 5th September – Penny Ashton

Mark 7: 24 – end – Jesus heals a deaf man

Our gospel reading today tells of two miracles of healing that Jesus did.   Both of these took place outside of Israel, the first in the region of Tyre and Sidon which is some way to the north and west of Galilee, and the second in the region known as Decapolis – which simply means ten towns which is both south and east of Galilee.  He and the disciples have walked quite a distance.  We are not given a reason, but it seems possible that Jesus needed to escape the crowds for a while, or perhaps spend time teaching his disciples.  We have looked at the story of the Syrophoenician woman quite recently, and so today we will look more closely at the second part of the reading, in which Jesus heals the deaf man.

A friend of mine when I lived in Scotland had a daughter who was profoundly deaf, and I remember his saying to me once that while blindness cuts people off from things, deafness cuts them off from people.  The world of a deaf person can be a very lonely place.  Being unable to hear my sermons might be annoying, but possibly no great hardship, but being able to see your friends laughing together and not share the joke must be frustrating in the extreme.  The deaf community have now developed ways of effective communication through sign language, and some can lip read – a lady we visit regularly does this, and we have to make a point of sitting facing her when we visit so that she can see our faces clearly.  She recently spent some time in hospital, and the chaplain who brought her communion had great problems saying the service as she was wearing a face mask which hid her mouth.  I have occasionally had the privilege of watching a group of deaf people singing, and this whether as part of a choir or not is a beautiful sight.  Unfortunately, signing is only a useful language when both parties to a conversation understand and can use it, which causes more separation between the hearing and the deaf communities.

I wonder how the deaf man’s friends were able to tell him where they were taking him and why?  He would not have been able to hear about Jesus without their support.  It is interesting to note the different way that Jesus treats this man compared to other healing miracles – firstly he takes him away from the crowd.  If the deaf man is to understand what is going on, he needs to be able to see Jesus clearly particularly his face.  Next Jesus touches those parts that need his healing – the man’s ears and his tongue so that he will understand Jesus’ intentions.  Jesus then prays to his Father and the word that he uses – which I think is pronounced ‘Ephphatha’ must sound almost like a sigh, but as we heard means ‘Be opened’, and that was all that was necessary.  Jesus speaking that word must have been the first thing the deaf man had ever heard – it must have sounded so beautiful to him.  His healing was complete with just that word and touch, and the crowds were so overjoyed that they would not be silenced, and I expect that the healed man, having found that he had been given the power of speech found it hard to stop as well!  In this miracle Jesus had shown again how he was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about him – in this case from Isaiah 35 v5 which says ‘Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped’

When I was quite small, my mother took me to our GP and told him that she was concerned that I might be deaf.  I don’t know if he actually tested my hearing, but the doctor’s question was to ask her whether she thought I couldn’t hear – or whether I just didn’t listen!  We don’t find it easy to listen well – it is a skill that needs to be practised.  I was concerned to learn recently that young people nowadays consider that only the old will have a ring tone on their phones – as they much prefer their phones to be silent and to message each other than to talk.  Could we be losing the power of conversation – of speaking and more importantly listening?

Most importantly, how to we communicate with God?  It is very difficult not to allow our prayer times to be occasions when we produce a ‘shopping list’ of our concerns to God, and don’t take the time to listen to Him.  There seem to be some people who will tell you that God ‘speaks’ to them often – I wish I was one of them.  My experience is that if I really want to know what God would say to me, then I must try to clear my mind of all the busyness and clutter of daily life and spend some time in silence.  Unlike the deaf man in our story, we live in a noisy world, and people seem very keen to add to their noise – I am constantly surprised by the number of people I see wearing earphones so that they can listen to music or perhaps audio books when they are out and about.  It is worth keeping in mind the lovely words of Psalm 46 v10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God’.  We also read in Mark 6 v31 that Jesus took the disciples off to a deserted place so that they could rest.

It is interesting to note that the Latin word which means to listen or harken to is Obedire which also means to be subject to, obedient, responsible or a slave.  The word for listen is also where we get our word obey – the two are closely linked, and we cannot obey if we have not first listened and taken note.

But even if we manage to escape into stillness, how good are we at really listening?  Listening properly is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced – often we fail to listen to others because we are too busy thinking about where we have to be next, or planning our reply before we have properly heard what they have to say – I have to plead guilty to that one!  How much harder to listen for the still voice of God, but how much more rewarding if, like the man in today’s story, we do manage to hear it.

Trinity 13 – 29th August – Rev Alison Way

Link to the video reflection: https://youtu.be/CraEPirxOpw

James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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

In recent times, it has been easy to become a bit obsessive about washing our hands. Hands is first in the “hands, face, space, fresh air” Government slogan to combat COVID – 19. All things being equal – we all sanitised on entry to church buildings (and lots of others) for practical as well as pragmatic reasons. Primarily, to ensure that we are thoughtful, and mindful of others and we do this even though we may well have washed our hands before we left our houses!

We are not washing our hands because we think it brings us closer to God – or is necessary before we worship. This puts us at odds with the Pharisees who devised layers of religious ritual around washing hands for exactly that purpose of bringing them closer to God in their eyes. Did it work? – Jesus is suggesting quite forcibly here that it didn’t!

Life as a good Pharisee was pretty demanding. One was required to obey both the letter and substance of the Jewish law. A quick gander through the first five books of the Old Testament and the array of some six hundred laws show this was not an easy ask! Pharisees had to know, obey and apply all the traditions practiced too, that had been handed down from one generation to another, giving equal weight to them as to the law as laid down in the books of the Old Testament. Frankly – An awful lot to take into account!

Let’s just think about the Pharisee’s ritual handwashing and what was involved. First fill a special often 2 handled washing cup with enough water for both of our hands. If we are left-handed, begin with our left hand. If we are right-handed, start with our right hand. Pour the water twice on our dominant hand and then twice on our other hand. Make sure the water covers our entire hand up to the wrist with each pour and separate your fingers so the water touches the whole of our hand. Then dry your hands with a towel –whilst saying Blessed are you Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the washing of the hands. Then we were supposed to not speak again until we had started eating!!! What startled me the most in all of this was the reality that it was also a prerequisite in the regulations that before they started all of this that hands had to be clean in the first place!

That all that ritual was not practical in the life Jesus and his disciples were living is obvious. It is pretty clear from the interchange between the disciples and the pharisees. For the pharisees all this ritual had become a stumbling block too. It was all about the ritual itself rather than what the ritual was supposed to do (i.e bring them closer to God). They had taken it to the next level, saying not doing the ritual defiled a person, which is a strong word meaning, mar, spoil, or make impure

We need to be careful with rituals we find helpful that they are doing what they say on the tin (and we are not getting caught up or caught out in hypocrisy as the Pharisees were). Jesus firmly calls them out on this. This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines’.

We also in this and many other places need to be mindful of casting judgement, especially as harsh a judgement as was being meted out here! Judgement when it comes, is not ours but God’s perspective that matters.

Thankfully though our first reading which also addresses hypocrisy, gives us some tonic and advice in how to do better in our walk with God. James picks on a number of things to help us: –

Generosity being the first. I have on a number of occasions been overwhelmed by generous hospitality of my hosts, particularly in circumstances where very little is available. I particularly remember a trip to India and being invited to a lavish celebration. The hospitality was superb against a backdrop of very great poverty and relatively having very little indeed. The abundant generosity made me think at the time, and I have often reflected on it. The language James uses is that every generous act comes down from the Father of Lights. That this is God’s work – lighting up our hearts and lives and sharing that light with others – It is a powerful image and an object lesson in how to live graciously and gracefully.

The second thing James encourages us to do is to be quick to listen. Listening is much underrated in today’s world. It is important to attend carefully to what is being said and what is really being said. Listening attentively can make a huge difference in our communications. It can reduce misunderstandings and give us better insights. James equates this with being slow to speak too! We live in a very noisy world right now. We have the right to speak and be heard, but often there is a lot of speaking going on and precious little listening or hearing especially online – where the media encourages us to monologue – meaning just say what we think! What helps us so much more is proper dialogue. A conversation where people speak but also where people listen and really hear what is being said.

A third thing that James exhorts us to Is to be doers of the word – to let what God wants of us to filter out into our actions. Faith is not an academic exercise – and what we need to think, but about how our lives are lived and what our lives actually look like. Do they demonstrate our faith to those around us? The example James uses is an interesting one about looking at ourselves in a mirror. It describes someone who is just hearing but not doing as like someone who looks at themselves in a mirror and then immediately forget what they were like. It as if the individual leaves no impression in the mind. If actions do not accompany words…..

James also makes the point that God will bless the people in their doing. Over and over and over again, I have seen this being the case. My experiences says in serving God, and doing what he wants for us, we gain far more than we give in the first place. God’s economy is about flourishing for us and God’s overflowing generosity. Several times we will remember acts of Jesus where the response was overflowing, like in the feeding of the five thousand with 12 baskets left over or when vastly more high quality wine was made at the wedding in Cana. God doesn’t do things by halves and we shouldn’t either

It is worth us living our lives through generosity, listening carefully and doing what God wants of us. All of that will help us to steer clear of hypocrisy that so beset the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Where Jesus ended our gospel reading was asking us to look at the motivations of our hearts and for purity of intention there. Just to recap – it wasn’t about what’s on the outside that matters or any amount of ritual we might do!! Jesus said it was all about having a heart that was clean. It’s all about what’s on the inside, and particularly it’s what comes out, from the inside, from our hearts that matters. Amen.

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

Trinity 12 – 22nd August 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to Rev Alison’s video reflection https://youtu.be/jJ9kK3bg7Ys

Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6.56-69

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

How do we measure strength? Well, that would depend on what kind of strength. Physical strength could be measured by the development of our muscles. Mental strength by our capacity to answer tricky questions correctly or ability to recall information we need when we need it. Spiritual strength could be measured by how long we devote to prayer each week? These things are a bit arbitrary and will not really answer the point where the writer to the Ephesians is starting from in today’s well known reading from the end of this letter.

Our reading started Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  The important point here is not to  be strong in our own faculties and capacities, but to be strong in the strength of God’s power in us and for us. The writer is talking of God’s power in our lives. In a way Jesus is also talking about it in our gospel reading. God’s power in us and for us inherent in the bread of life that Jesus is offering – the bread that will live for ever or as Peter sums it up that Jesus has the words of eternal life. What Jesus said at this point caused difficulty for some, but it is one of those things said to help us reset the balance and capture what matters. That Jesus had and did come to radically change everything.

Returning to the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians– He uses the militarist image of the armour of God to help us to understand how all the aspects of God’s love for us and particularly God’s strength in us and for us works. The writer begins by defining the battle we face and he defines the Devil and evil forces that conspire against us and the powers that hold sway over us. The wiles of the devil, and the spiritual forces of evil are neither the approach nor the language we use to describe this routinely today. Yet there are persistent lures and delusions all around us – for example the need to look after number one rather than be community minded or the persistent pressure to think of ourselves before others rather than thinking of others before ourselves.

We also see people are searching and looking for meaning – sometimes in all the wrong places. We have much to bring to the party where meaning, purpose and hope is concerned. Yet it can be very difficult to express that. As we participate in Jesus’ story today in our country through our baptism – we are part of God’s story for our world but in this we need to have great courage and persistent determination. We need to keep going – keep sharing and keep working counter-culturally to share the real meaning, hope and purpose that lasts for ever in the love of Jesus Christ

Interestingly, we most commonly address turning away from sin and renouncing evil (and the battle the writer to the Ephesians draws us toward!) in our baptism services. It is at the forefront of the commitment made by parents and godparents on behalf of the children involved. For some this may seem like startling language but I think it helps us to acknowledge there are dark powers and forces we do not completely understand. From time to time we clearly recognise sin and evil for what it is (even though we are often taken in by it too!). It is good when making a positive new start on the spiritual journey to make a stand. Draw a line in the sand – and consciously move forward in the strength of God for ourselves and the new life in Christ being celebrated through baptism.

Having defined the battle the writer moves on to describing the pieces of armour we have from God – through the power of the Holy Spirit. This was an appropriate way of putting it for 1st century Ephesus but in 21st Century Somerset we are, I confess, less frequently confronted with armour! However, we need all the help God’s spirit can bring us to stand in the strength of God’s power as God intends. So let’s just unpack the armour a little and the spiritual points being made here!

First, the belt of truth around the waist. Earlier in this letter, the writer spoke of the importance of telling the truth, which I talked about a couple of weeks ago. The armour begins with the belt of truth holding us together – pointing to how integrity is so important

This is accompanied in the early foundational pieces with the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is living the way God says is best for us. Self-righteousness – is living the way we think is best for us. These are different – righteousness gets too linked with self-righteousness. Behaving as God says is best – means we practice what we preach (and are not found wanting!)

The passage then says as shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Make you ready – is an interesting way to put it! It is not as shoes for your feet proclaim the gospel of peace but what makes you ready to do it – prepared and able with words by all means but also our lives and lifestyle choices. St Francis famously said something like – Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and if you must use words. Gospel values are so much more than our words

Where next then the shield of faith to deflect the flaming arrows of the evil one the letter says. The going will not always be easy and our faith will carry us ever onwards until we meet our loving God – the other side of the great divide in heaven rather than on earth. Our faith will help and support us if we let God through his Spirit work his way in us, our faith will support us more and more as we grow more Christlike day by day.

The last 2 aspects of the armour of God begin with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The word of God is vital nourishment. We should have Bibles well used to support us day by day. There is depth and insight in every page. It can be very difficult sometimes – but taken seriously through our daily prayers and bible study. Our spiritual lives will be enriched and many times we will find ourselves equipped in our daily studies with the resources we need for the day. Scripture can be piercing and hard – but also really to the point and a great tool in our journey.

And then finally in the armour topping it off is the helmet of salvation. Dwelling on how we have been saved and are loved by God and how God – so almighty and all powerful – is concerned with the likes of us. God loves us through all our comings and goings, the good times and the bad. It is not and never has been about being worthy – we are not worthy of this love but God loves us all the same. This helmet of salvation wrapped up in grace is one of great re-assurance and the bedrock of our faith.

This passage doesn’t end there but then with an exhortation to persistent prayer, to keep alert and to be bold. Not just the writer to the Ephesians being bold, but also the Ephesian Christians being bold and us being bold. Along with bible reading, time spent in prayer – for all the things of the day and all the things that surround us and concern us, and all that connects us with God’s love for us and his loving heart.

To finish the passage ends with a prayer for the writer from the heart of the jeopardy of his situation – in chains. To write as he has done of all these things that make us strong in the Lord and to still be bold from prison has to make us think on. Ultimately the important point here is to lean into God’s love for us for the strength we need for each day. Through truth, peace, faith, and salvation nourished through God’s word and our prayers. I end with the words of the Charles Wesley hymn we will sing on Sunday in the churches.

Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armour on, strong in the strength which God supplies thro’ his eternal Son.

Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in his mighty power, who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.

Stand then in his great might, with all his strength endued; but take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God.

To keep your armour bright, attend with constant care, still walking in your captain’s sight and watching unto prayer.

From strength to strength go on; wrestle and fight and pray; tread all the pow’rs of darkness down, and win the well-fought day.

Then having all things done and all your conflicts past, Ye may overcome, through Christ alone and stand entire at last Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – CCLI – Song words – Soldiers of Christ arise  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton

 

Blessed Virgin Mary – 15th August 2021 Rev Alison Way

Link to the video reflection: https://youtu.be/iI-EuYhFtxc

 Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:46-55

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

This week started with remembering Mary Sumner on 9th August. Mary was the founder of the Mother’s union – This year that organisation is marking 145 years from the very first meeting in 1876 and her feast day fell on the 100th anniversary of her death.

From the start Mother’s Union was to unite mothers irrespective of their social status, around bringing up children in the Christian faith. (This ignoring of social status was very radical for the times!!) Family and parental responsibility as role models have been extremely important to this organisation over all those years. There has not been much drift. The Mother’s Union today as a global organisation has 5 aims to:-

  • encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.

  • maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service.

  • promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children.

  • help those whose family life has met with adversity.

  • promote and support married life.

We should take a moment to be thankful for the Mother’s Union in this place. Generations of families that have been supported over the years. We give thanks for our existing group too led by Kath White. It was great to have a social gathering recently for the first time in a long time. Commitment to prayer, service and family life is an important foundation for us.

And then moving to the end of the week, we move to thinking about another Mary – this time we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Another person we associate pretty uniquely with family life as the mother of Jesus. Mary was a constant in his earthly life, and who saw it all from his birth through to his death and resurrection. We often get the phrase and she pondered these things in her heart – so we surmise Mary to be a reflective and thoughtful person. It is worth thinking about how she responded to God’s call on her life.

Our readings today began with one from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It explained how Mary’s role came to be. There is something very satisfying in understanding the phrase ‘when the fullness of time had come’. This indicates the momentousness of what was happening at this point. Literally changing everything for ever!!!

On Sunday, we will remember these events through our first hymn – A great and mighty wonder. I know it was a bit Christmassy for August! but it made the point well, describing Jesus birth as a great and mighty wonder. (It could have been worse – I nearly picked the carol Once in Royal David’s city – But I struggled with the description of Mary as ‘mild!’). I was much happier with Mary being described as honourable and pure!

Going to her purity reminds us of the absolute jeopardy for Mary in undertaking what God had planned for her. Her “Yes” to God which we think about was without recourse to her own safety and security. Though God fixed this with Joseph so it didn’t happen – had Joseph disowned her Mary could have been stoned to death at worse and been an outcast from her family at best. It cannot have been an easy “Yes” with this in the back of Mary’s mind and yet it was an emphatic “Yes”.

It was a “Yes” of faith in the face of a profound mystical experience. A young girl in conversation with an angel – was not and is not an every day occurrence. Just to reiterate – What is happening here – God does not want to adopt a human child and have it raised as his own. God wants to come and join the human race as one of his own. God has chosen the role of father in the human process, so there can be no question that the child to be born is both human and divine. This is necessary so we can all be children of God too as was described in our reading from Galatians.

Moving on to our gospel reading next, this passage we attribute to Mary that is well known and profound. The stuff of every day for me in the cycle of evening prayer, as these words form the Magnificat. It is important to remember it is not the reflection of young Mary in the moments around Gabriel’s visit, but some time later when she has had time to think about it and when she encounters her cousin Elizabeth.

It is conjecture on my part but the similarities between Mary’s words and the words of Hannah at the start of the first book of Samuel cannot be overlooked. The circumstances are different but some of the sentiments are similar. Mary’s thoughtfulness and pondering may have taken some of Hannah’s statement into her own words made to her cousin. Whatever, they are words worth pondering

Let’s pick up a few themes within what Mary says as food for thought today.

Firstly Mary speaks from deep thankfulness with a tinge of awe and amazement. She was a very insignificant person in the grand scheme of things, on the margins, not just loved by God but chosen by God in this very special way.

There is also a deep sense of her humility in the face of wonder. She understands her lowliness and yet articulates how generations to come will called her blessed.

Mary has also been thinking about the implications of the coming Messiah. Like many of her day Mary was expecting the Messiah to come in power and strength to overcome all the difficulties of their present! And yet on reflection Mary’s words show her heart had reached a different conclusion.  In a nutshell, she prophesies it as good news for the poor and humble, and bad news for the powerful, proud and wealthy. Indeed Jesus did challenge the powerful of his day be it the Pharisees, Pilate or Herod. Those who were arrogant, abused their power or were  caught out in hypocrisy were also confronted.

Another key concept in all this for Mary was mercy and in particular the mercy of God. Mercy is about compassion, kindness and forgiveness. It is quite the opposite of what drives arrogance or hypocrisy. What Mary particularly draws our attention to is the mercy of God, which goes right back to our forebears, to Abraham and is with us into our future, most importantly forever.

God’s mercy is something we should look for and live for as Mary did, as we live modelling a merciful, compassionate and kind approach in our dealings with each other, each nation and our world. Ultimately the judgement and justice in all this is God’s and God’s mercy will always  be wider and brighter than we can ask or imagine.

Finally as we reflect on Mary’s words we do see her recognising God’s hand in her life, even in the face of great potential jeopardy as I observed earlier. Mary says the Mighty One has done great things for me. God’s work in Mary was specific, significant and special. The same is true of each of us – we may not be as centre stage in the action as she was in her day, yet we each have a unique and special role to play in God’s world. We will do it better too with thankfulness, with humble hearts and seeking God’s mercy

Both our Mary’s today, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Sumner made a big and lasting difference, were thoughtful and reflective and followed God’s call on their heart and their lives. Let’s end with a prayer to do likewise inspired by Mary’s words of praise and wonder in Luke’s gospel.

O Lord, our hearts praise you, our souls are glad because you are our Saviour, because you have remembered us, your servants; because you have shown mercy to all who honour you. We praise you because of all the great things you have done for us. Help us to follow the calling you have for us as Blessed Mary and Mary Sumner did in their hearts and their lives. Amen

References – https://www.mothersunion.org/our-visionNew Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, CCLI – Song words – A great and mighty wonder  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton, Prayer adapted © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www

10th Sunday of Trinity – 8th August 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Links to the video of this reflection: https://youtu.be/P0ROy0HieAQ

Ephesians 4.25-5.2, John 6:35,41-51

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

In today’s reading from Ephesians, the writer is providing some sound and practical advice on how to approach living the Christian life. Just to summarise the do nots!

  • Do not lie, do not sin and do not let the sun go down on your anger or make room for the Devil

  • Do not steal or succumb to evil talk

  • Do not grieve the Holy Spirit via bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and all malice!

If we were to briefly review this last week in our minds – how have we done against this list? Can we honestly say we haven’t been there at all, not even a little bit….. It is quite a tall order to avoid all of those things and it is quite right to repent of these things if they have come to mind. I deliberately put the confession later in Sunday’s service today – so we can ask for enlightened forgiveness based on these reflections. I am not talking about this because I want us to feel bad about our failings, but to show how open to the Holy Spirit we need to be in our day to day activities. The Holy Spirit’s guidance and power can help us with all of this. For virtually all of these do nots, I am pleased to say the writer of the Ephesians gives us positive and thoughtful advice on how to counter them. There isn’t time to talk about all of them but let’s unpack a few.

Starting then with do not lie!  The writer says 25Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. One of the easiest ways to lose confidence in a friend is to find that they have lied to us. This is true even in the circumstances when they have probably done it to protect us or some other compassionate pretext. Lying about something – is not a good strategy. For starters, we have to remember for ever that there is some deception on the topic, not tripping ourselves up later on and we always run the risk of something else revealing the truth. We can wrap this up in the semantics of language – Little white lies – diminishing them or being economical with the truth! But it all boils down to the same thing really and it is just not a good idea! Credibility and integrity are brought into question when lies (no matter how small) are discovered.

Another area of difficulty is what to do in the circumstances where someone is set on pursuing a course of action that is not or clearly will not be good for them. We are not much of a friend if we collude in situations like this, but it can also be very difficult not to agree without clearly saying so especially as remaining silent can be interpreted as agreeing. This is actually quite challenging to handle, but we are not alone in any of this. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us – will help us to cope and it is surprising how inventive it can be in this kind of difficult situation if we have the courage to step out. I have experienced a friend stepping out in faith for me – when it would have been easier not to and remain very grateful to her. How the Spirit gave her the confidence and the words to speak when that was what I most needed.

So from lying, the reading moves on to another difficult area. In our relationships with one another this is the thorny question of our anger management. The writer to the Ephesians says – 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.

For starters it does not say  – do not be angry, which is good news – as it is a natural instinct  (and we know Jesus was angry on occasion – particularly over the money changers in the temple). When we witness injustice and we know something to be wrong, this reassures us this is a natural human response to injustice. What the writer to the Ephesians however counters us with is but do not sin. Anger like many natural instincts can switch very easily – into something much more self-seeking. There is a great difference between getting angry over injustice or prejudice in a situation, than getting angry because we are not getting our own way or things are not turning out to suit us, or its not what we like! or wanted to happen. Anger with self-seeking and self-centred motivations leads us rapidly into sin! Making more of ourselves and our desires than is appropriate. In a way this is captured in what the writer of this letter was getting at when he said – do not make room for the devil.

About the choices we make, we are always on a knife edge with this! I always liked those Tom and Jerry cartoons where Tom or Jerry – had a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other. Encouraging either character to behave badly or well respectively. We do have a choice – even in the most heated moments in how we behave and it will help us to remember this. We need to reflect on what our behaviour (especially when we are angry) says about our love of God!

Some of us are quite comfortable with getting angry and expressing ourselves. Others are not. I for one – am pretty uncomfortable with it. I would rather wait until I am calm – and deal with it then. Scared about what I might say and the loss of control. Sometimes it means I miss the moment – when an intervention would have been most helpful. I need to trust the Holy Spirit to help more. Another downside of this strategy is it can leave me festering! We know that stuff that as soon as we put our head on the pillow at night keeps us awake. Brinking resentment and unresolved anger – left to be dealt with later can be one of those things! The entirely sensible advice from the writer to the Ephesians is to never let the sun set on your anger. I have to say I can learn from this, and I even regularly quote this bit of the bible in preparation for wedding couples. It is a helpful and useful illustration of how to maintain a loving relationship. Anger is tricky and difficult to manage. It is not wrong in itself, but we do need to check our motivations and make sure we do not harbour resentments – that won’t do us any good at all!

The final do not I want us to think about from this passage Is 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. This one is a big challenge – and requires us to start from the spirit of encouragement with one another and not our gripes and moans. This is tricky at the moment as for some the stress of recent times has left us with a very short fuse or at  best rather scratchy to be around.  Again the Holy Spirit can help us in this – if we give it room to stir in our hearts. I find a helpful question when I am tempted to say something that isn’t helpful – is what is the gracious response? What will speak of God’s grace to us – his love that came down to save us that we have neither earned or deserved. And then after thinking of graciousness – is to test what I want to say with the question is that encouraging?

Church communities in particular should foster and model encouragement and building one another up and not be hotbeds of evil talk. We need to be both real and really counter-cultural in this regard and this is not easy!

To finish I ask us to read the verses we have been thinking about again with a short silence in between for our reflections

25Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.

Silence

26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.

Silence

 

29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Silence

Help us through the power of the spirit to walk the Christian life inspired and enriched by these verses: Amen

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

 

Lammas 1st August 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to Video Reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxMv3uxdj5Q

Exodus 16:11-15 and John 6:28-35

In the name of the living God, loving Father, precious Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen

This week there have been some examples of things with the Olympics that we might view as the first fruits of the harvest of sporting endeavours. On Monday morning, I had a coffee first thing that was somewhat overwhelmed by the synchronized diving competition on the television. Along side the seasoned campaigner of Tom Daley was the young and first time Olympian Matty Lee. The contrast between them felt like the first fruits for Matty with his gold medal, and a long awaited harvest of a gold medal for Tom Daley at his fourth Olympics. Somehow Tom Daley has grown up before our eyes as a nation (he was frighteningly young when the media spotlight first turned on him!).

As I was saying earlier the tradition of giving thanks at the start of the wheat harvest is actually a much older one than what is now our traditional harvest thanksgiving at the end of the season. Lammas involved parading and sharing in a special loaf made from flour ground from the first sheaf of wheat harvested. It was as much if not more about recognising bread as important to our daily lives and equating God’s love as essential sustenance for our lives, as it is about remembering Jesus taking bread and breaking it as something we do in Church as communion to remember him.

Jesus experienced a variety of types of bread – leven and unleaven, and bread which was significant in the rituals and festivals – like the unleven bread of the Passover, which he used so graphically at the last supper. In his day if we were poor bread was made of barley (coarse more like wholemeal) and if we were rich of wheat, coarse still due to milling techniques of the day. Making bread was a daily activity of the women folk as it went mouldy easily! This is one of the things our modern preservatives save us from! Most important Jesus diet would have been much less varied than ours and bread was likely to have been an every meal thing – very much the stuff of every day life. Let’s not get distracted by the variety of bread and food stuffs we have today, but concentrate on our need for wholesome sustenance.

The story from our first lesson, reminds us of the time of the Israelites in the Wilderness. It is very early in that experience, when they are first encountering the daily bread of manna. They were about six weeks into their wandering.  The word they used to describe manna is a derivation of the Hebrew for ‘what is it’ as they really didn’t know what it was.  Just before the extract we heard, God gave instructions to Moses about how the people were to collect it, and at the end of our extract Moses is very clear what it is. It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

What really strikes in this reading is the Israelites vocally complaining about their lot. They had got into that particular groove and had already been vocalising their discontent earlier in chapter 16. This included that they had been better off in slavery in the land of Egypt – which it is a little hard to believe! They had what they needed for life but not necessarily what they wanted, thought they wanted or thought they ought to have. God was providing (and in all likelihood they were being better nourished than they had been before), but somehow the wonder of this got lost in translation. There is a big difference between what we need and what we want let alone getting towards the questions of what ought to be!. Consumerism has never been so dominant, and it doesn’t help us to keep in balance needs from wants. There is a lot to be said for keeping things very simple and at the daily bread level rather than getting caught up in the whirlwind of oughts or wants, and the potential for getting caught out complaining.

One of the many things COVID has resulted in, is not being able to have things exactly how we think they should be and how we might want them to be or how they have always been. We are on a more positive trajectory at the moment, and it is a great joy to sing after such a long drought. Yet we need to stay in the place which is thankful for what can be, and try to resist tempting complaining. None of us know how it is all going to go – let’s be careful about the difference between needs, wants and oughts, and be kind to each other, avoiding the tendencies of the Israelites in the wilderness. There aren’t guarantees in any of this, and we have to cater for a widespread of views and vulnerabilities as well. Let’s stay close to God’s heart of love and loving kindness, and the need to love our neighbours as ourselves.

When Jesus uses bread (as he does) in many sayings, he uses it in a variety of ways for example:-

  • Give us this day our daily bread (lord’s prayer – Matthew 6) to refer to everything we need for this day.

  • Feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes (in all the gospels) takes us a little further and reminds us how he used bread to meet everyone’s needs for that day.

  • We shall not live on breadalone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4), reminds us that though bread is needed for daily life, we need the guidance of God’s word to live well

  • Jesus saying – I am the bread of life (John 6), which is where our gospel ended shows to live and flourish we need Jesus dwelling in our hearts through the Holy Spirit with us.

Even though we have taken much of this to point to the ritual of sharing bread and wine through communion, I have increasingly begun to realise that Jesus also means that each time we eat he wanted us to remember him. To rest in his presence in our everyday activities, as this was stuff of his every day! A good holy habit for us is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence with us in our every day through the power of the Spirit, when we break bread, or share any kind of sustenance to feed our physical bodies. This helps us to balance our physical needs and with being mindful of ourselves as spiritual beings, relying on God and his love for us.

Interestingly in our gospel passage Jesus is looking back on the account of the manna in the wilderness story. The complaining part is very much glossed over and the people listening to Jesus recognise that the bread of God, which came down from heaven brings us life. Unlike the Israelites who were unhappily complaining within days of manna being their daily sustenance, the crowd who had experienced the feeding of the five thousand, recognised the importance of God’s provision for them. They said to him ‘Sir, give us this bread always’.

Our gospel reading ends with one of Jesus’ “I am” sayings. These sayings often have more to say to us than meets the eye and have deep depths to challenge us. Jesus said – I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Clearly this is much more than physical hunger or thirst but about our dependence on Jesus’s love for us as the sustenance we need for our whole selves, body, mind and spirit. That Jesus’ love is essential for a flourishing life in this world and the next. Many learned theologians equate this saying with one of Jesus earlier sayings – one of the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount – Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5). Let’s keep it simple and faithful to Jesus being what we need to live our lives in the light of his amazing love for us. Let’s make Jesus love for us our daily bread. Amen

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

St James 25th July 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to Rev Alison’s reflection video: https://youtu.be/vTjxXCMMmpo

2 Corinthians 4:7-15, Matthew 20:20-28

In the name of the living God, loving Father, precious Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen

There have been a few series of a programme called Pilgrimage on the BBC in recent years.  A selection of celebrities with some faith, lapsed faith or none walking well known historic pilgrimage routes. The first one of these series followed the way of St James – who we remember today, which culminates at the Cathedral of St James – in Santiago de Compostella in Spain (which is thought to house St James’ mortal remains). This series featured amongst others the actor Neil Morrisey, Debbie McGee and Reverend Kate Bottley. The route they used was declared the first European cultural route in October 1987 and is known as the Camino. Back in March 2020 we began a Lent course based on a film about walking this route called the Way. It was also about a very unlikely group of pilgrims, and what they discovered about themselves along the route (just like the Pilgrimage TV show!). Sadly Covid lockdowns stopped us continuing.

Pilgrims have been walking the routes the camino includes (with various starting points France, Spain and Portugal) from the 9th century onwards. Technically pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, toward a specific destination of significance. I think it is more about the experiences on the journey as the ultimate destination. It combines the physical, with the spiritual and the emotional alongside simplicity in living. Pilgrimages are a feature of most world faiths not just Christianity.

The reasons for making a specific pilgrimage are many and various including in fulfilment of a vow, for forgiveness for sins, as a thanksgiving for life or as a means of intercession, among other reasons. I think, sometimes, we should view our whole lives as spiritual pilgrimages to help us cut through the complexity to get to the nub of what matters in our lives. – Our walk with God’s heartbeat guiding our next step. We can be so caught up with the cut and thrust of life, so taking things back to first principles can be helpful and help us to follow the path God would have for us.

Lets think about this a bit more by looking at the life of St James and what his spiritual journey or pilgrimage looked like! James often called the great was a Galilean fisherman who with his brother John (the sons of Zebedee) was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus to follow him. He was there at some of the big moments in Jesus’ earthly life. He witnessed the transfiguration on the high mountain. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion James went to the Garden of Gethsemene and he slept whilst Jesus prayed.

James’s mother was a key figure in his life – and in our gospel reading we heard her asking whether James could sit with his brother at Jesus left and right hand in glory. We will never know how this came to pass exactly, but the level of anger from the other disciples, might well suggest that James and John may have encouraged their mother in making this suggestion! In a rebuff, James heard those words of Jesus calling for a life of service rather than lording over others, alongside moving away from political behaviours and jockeying for position. How much did this influence his spiritual journey (as well as the first-hand things he experienced?) Did this give him the courage and determination to do things he did after Jesus rose from the dead to spread the good news?.

Continuing with the things James experienced in his life pilgrimage, he was present for the resurrection appearances of Christ. He is then thought to have spread the good news to the Iberian peninsula and subsequently (about 14 years later) he was put to death by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem. Herod hoped in vain that disposing of Christian leaders would stem the flow of those hearing the good news. It didn’t!

All of these experiences, the highs and lows formed James and his walk of discipleship. We can see as our epistle has it – that there were times when James was just as much a treasure in a clay jar as we are. Meaning he was vulnerable and fragile to making poor choices, and taking the power to ourselves, rather than the power coming from God. Clay jars can be very useful but break easily too.  Just as all of our experiences, the highs and the lows form us. There are moments when we try to take God’s power and use it for our own means rather than making clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

God can and does use our weaknesses just as much, if not more than our strengths in our pilgrimage through life. The pilgrims on the way of St James particularly use a scallop shell often hung around their necks as a symbol of their journey. There are a couple of pretty fanciful stories linking St James to these shells. I have reproduced some shells for us to use in a prayer activity later at the end of this reflection, but it would be useful to look at this picture below now.

The shell connects us with our spiritual journey. They may remind us of the beginning of our walk with God. We use a scallop shell (or a silver replica) often in baptising new members of our church family. We are reminded of this as we take these promises on for ourselves if we were baptised as infants at confirmation.

The lines and the connections on the shell may remind us of our walk through this life and its many experiences. These lines radiate throughout the shell showing how these form us and interconnect. The triangular shaped peak of the shell reminds us of the three parts of God’s love for us, that connect with us and the lines and connections of our lives. God as Father, creator, God as son and saviour and God as spirit and guide. Our connection with God and God’s connection with us – radiates through all our experiences. Much as St Paul found in the first reading this morning, so the life of Jesus is made visible in our bodies too.

It is helpful to see this life in terms of spiritual pilgrimage, with our concentration only on the next step we need to take. That overused but actually helpful phrase is to say that life is a journey. Our lives are intertwined with God’s love for us and God’s hand guiding us to our ultimate destination. Safe and loved in his heart of love in this life and the life beyond our earthly existence. It is important to stick with each next step we take (as we would if walking a pilgrimage route of life), rather than getting caught up in where we have been and where we might end up. Staying in the present and most importantly in God’s presence in our uncertain and sifting times – this will give us the strength, courage and purpose we need for today. As well as through the grace of God, God’s eternal loving hope for all our tomorrows. Amen.

You may wish to spend some time with this shell image and write a prayer guided by God’s love for us for your next step in your spiritual pilgrimage in these uncertain times.

 

References: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/what-is-a-pilgrimage

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09w7lcg (First BBC series of Pilgrimage).

Trinity 7 18th July 2021 Rev Alison Way

Link to the Reflection Video: –https://youtu.be/la_VJ6bRCDk

Ephesians 2:11-end, Mark 6:30-34, 53-end

We will probably remember the late Member of Parliament – Jo Cox said – “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  We have also probably found this statement to be true also when we have sat down and got to know people who are very different from ourselves. In our extract from the letter to the Ephesians, the thrust of this is all about unity and inclusivity. It is all about everyone belonging to the Christian community, being united in Christ once and for all, irrespective of them being different from each other. Like the Ephesian Christians before us, we will particularly need this unity and sense of inclusive purpose as we negotiate our way forward as stage four  of the road map comes upon us.

Ephesus like many places in our world today was a melting pot of cultures, and an important military base and port. The gentiles (those of non-Jewish descent) in the Ephesian Churches were probably more numerous than those of Jewish descent. What the writer initially does is spell out that everyone is united and on an equal footing. Don’t let the language of circumcision or uncircumcision put you off. Let me unpack what was being said:-

Before Jesus came the situation was like this. God started to work with the humans he had made. He picked one group and had a deep relationship with them. God promised them a new land and to be with them in all that they did. The basis of the arrangement God had with his chosen people was that if the people loved God and put their love of God first. If they followed the rules he set them on how to live their lives, all would be well. The people had to love God and keep his rules for the bargain to work!! God also hoped the other people he had not chosen would want to join the ones he had. The people he chose were called the Jews (Hebrews or Israelites) depending on where you are in the story. Their mark of identity was circumcision hence the label of them as ‘the circumcision’ in our passage from Ephesians. The other group therefore being the ‘uncircumcision’.

Now this original deal didn’t work very well and for a number of reasons.

  • The group who God had not chosen didn’t like or get on well with the ones God hadn’t chosen and vice versa.

  • Those God had not chosen did not want to join up and a wall built up between them, which developed into a big barrier.

  • There was another problem, the people God had chosen – didn’t like putting God first and following his rules. They kept putting the rule book down and doing what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it…

In view of the problems God sent messengers to his chosen people, the circumcision, often in the guise of prophets, and they listened sometimes and did what God wanted. However, eventually they always seem to end up doing their own thing and forgetting about God. Putting the rule book down and the situation between the two groups of people was getting more and more out of control. The situation escalated frequently and fighting broke out. Sometimes God’s chosen people won and sometimes the other group won!! It was all getting very nasty, cracked and divided, and God wasn’t remotely happy with this!

God wanted to be there for everybody not just a small group and God didn’t want there to be all this hate – because God was always and is always a God of love. So God decided to bring an end to all of this. He sent messengers to say he was going to do something really different and then he did it – he sent his son to be our Saviour Jesus Christ. Now to make this big change, God had to do something spectacular and something that had never been done before. So what happened as we well know, was that Jesus was killed and then he rose again, he came back to life in a new way after 3 days to change things once and for all and forever. By doing that God brought both groups together, so they and we all now have access to God’s love and peace for us. Another way of putting this is Christ broke down the wall of hate by giving his own body. Christ through dying on the cross wanted to bring the Jews (the circumcision) and the gentiles (everyone else – the uncircumcision) together. Through reaching out his arms on the cross he was the bridge of peace for us all bringing everybody into relationship with God – so everyone knew how much God loved them. Jesus did that for the people then and it still works for us today – So we can all know God now, through the power of his Spirit as a direct result of Jesus dying (and rising again). In doing that we should remember that Jesus died to bring us peace and to bring us together all of us in one body. This ensures that you and me and everyone here could know how much God loves us.

In our own way, we need to live and love through this reconciling peace of God and keep it uppermost in our outlook. We live in times of division and much has been hurt and damaged by our recent pandemic times. I don’t think we initially entered into these days in a particularly unified place as a country either – whichever side of the debate we were on in relation to Brexit too.   We have people holding very different views about the pandemic and having lived through very different experiences. At one end of the spectrum are those who are ready to go and get on with it as soon as possible. At the other end is a lot of fearfulness and trepidation, and the impact of a lot of isolation and other difficulties people have had. We have people with all the means they need to live and others well below the breadline. We have people in the full flush of health and those struggling or whose vital treatments have been delayed. We have people who are living with the long-term debilitating impacts of long Covid. We have people who have lost loved ones (often long before what they feel should have been their time). We have people in stressful occupations, or on the front line living with the impact of long-term stress and those without employment and with little prospect of employment. One Sunday supplement magazine article I read several months ago used the analogy that an unprecedented number were living with the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

None of us has been through times like this before, and we will need to do our best to move forward lovingly and kindly in the days ahead of us, keeping at the heart of all our beings and doings the reconciling peace of God. We will need to concentrate on what holds us together (and not to let the things that divide us take over). I do not think this is going to be particularly easy and tensions are bound to surface. For some our pace will be too slow, remembering yet for others our pace will be too fast.

To do this we are going to have to work together and pull together well (and avoid the trap of stone throwing behaviour). For example, some may be more comfortable wearing a mask in the building, others may be happy never to wear one ever again. We will need to respect one another’s choices. In addition – we will be working through all the things that make our churches work. Also we will be doing that with an eye to what will make them grow and grow younger. I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I know God has a flourishing plan for us all! I need us also to remember that I don’t know at any depth how all the bits used to fit or evolved together over many years before March of 2020. So please help me with this (don’t assume I know because I don’t in all likelihood!). It is also likely that some aspects will need to fit together quite differently. Some fundamental things have also changed and it is likely that more will have to change too. Please help and support where we can and particularly pray.

To use the language and style of this reading, Jesus has proclaimed peace to those who are raring to go, and peace to those who are more cautious. We need to be sharers of that reconciling peace through access to the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us. We are just as much all members of this household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone as the Ephesian churches ever were! Let’s be united, concentrate on growing together as a dwelling place for God. Let God’s peace and reconciliation fill us and overflow from us. Amen

Jo Cox quote came from https://wearethecity.com/inspirational-quotes-jo-cox-member-parliament/ New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995