Monthly Archives: August 2020

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 ©