Monthly Archives: October 2020

Bible Sunday – Rev Alison Way

Psalm 119: 9-16 Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 24:30-35

Link the Alison’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/eMxz_ySeZd4

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

There are a few prayer book collects, the special prayers included for each Sunday week by week that have had a lasting impact. In a few weeks on what is now kept as the feast of Christ the King (the Sunday before Advent Sunday) is the one that famously starts Stir up we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people, making that day stir up Sunday – and the day when traditionally we should stir up the Christmas pudding. Bible Sunday – which we mark today is another of those. In the last 40 years – this has been associated with the last Sunday of Trinity – which we keep today though the prayer book originally had it on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Here is the collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

What I particularly like about it is that famous phrase which said of scripture that we need to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Unsurprisingly I am very enthusiastic about the Bible. Over years of ministry I have made many trips to school (to talk about my favourite book) and run many days and short courses to make it more accessible for grown ups. The Bible is a wonderful resource we have at our finger tips. It isn’t a book – it is a collection of books, and books across a wide variety of topics. It is peppered with well-crafted stories. Both stories with well painted characters and stories with meaning and purpose! It contains stories that show human nature in all its glory and horror! There are also long and convoluted (and sometimes rather bloody) histories alongside the complexity of the law as laid down in the Old Testament. (Just have a try at Leviticus if we want to engage with that). There is poetry and the hymn book of the Israelite people but granted – we sometimes lose a bit in translation. There is prophecy and writings looking to the end times (where the meaning is hidden and written in ways that were understood at the time but mystify us!!). In a way the Bible is a whole library in one volume…

We have the fortune to have access to the Bible in our native tongue. Lives were literally lost in the translation of it and we live in a part of the world where owning and reading a Bible is not an activity which might endanger our lives. We have this fantastic resource – the question is how much do we engage with it. How much reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting are we doing?

I was having a conversation a couple of weeks ago about my experience of engaging with passages of the Bible in my daily walk with God. How sometimes reading even in the most familiar of passages, I spot something that really helps my situation that particular day. As I am reading it speaks to me in a new way and gives God through his Holy Spirit a way of helping me and guiding me. Moments of inspiration and revelation of this sort – often start from musing on something I had not spotted before. I am certain this is one of the ways God can guide us – but it does require us to open the book regularly…

Getting down to reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting – starts with reading. It is unsurprising that I have a lot of Bibles!! This is my earliest one – a beaten up Good News that has clearly seen better days (and has been my companion since I became a Christian in my teens). I have ones in traditional language, through to a Bible called the ‘word on the street’.  I have one with fabulous pictures and illustrations, and others with room to write in the margins or draw as we are inspired. This is a recent one with beautiful pictures from Hannah Dunnett and space for journaling and recording our own reflections on each page.

Much as I love it – and all the ways into it we have the Bible is not an easy read. For example – The ritual purity laws in Leviticus (I alluded to earlier) are a really difficult read (maybe even a cure for insomnia). If we are honest – We may find reading the Bible difficult for a variety of reasons.

  • We are not the original intended readers (who understood their culture and rituals in a way we 2000 and more years later definitely don’t!).

  • Some parts of it are deliberately written in code – so should the text get into the hands of those unfriendly to the Jews or early Christians it did not seem subversive.

  • It is always a translation from another language or culture (unless we happen to be a scholar of the original languages – which I am not!).

  • Not to get too technical – Sometimes there are layers of editing within what we are reading – with different agendas playing out too.

My take home lesson from all this is that engaging with the Bible is a good thing to do and preferably a good thing to do daily. We might find that it might be a good time to get a fresh translation or a modern paraphrase to help us engage in a new and invigorated way. Maybe we could ask Father Christmas via our nearest and dearest to get us a version different from the ones we already have. I would be delighted to provide advice on this to suit your needs if that would be helpful.

So once we are reading it – what helps with the marking and learning of the Bible described in our collect. The simple truth is we are probably better off not flying solo…. Getting an interpretation for a passage is a great place to start. Yes, carefully read the passage and note what speaks to you and then carefully read an interpretation. Then take time to ponder!!!

Personally I have been reading New Daylight produced by the Bible Reading Fellowship every day to help with Bible reading for over 20 years…. It gives us a daily passage, interpretation and prayer. It is a really good way to start… It is all laid out for us and they produce a pocket sized booklet 3 times a year to guide us. Another approach, if we want to read readings that others are reading that day – we might also want to engage with the ‘Reflections for Daily Prayer’ series – produced by the Church of England. There is strength in reading, marking and learning alongside everyone who is following the laid down pattern of readings for that day…

Finally we might want to take on a challenge to read all the Bible methodically for a year with some helpful daily reflections to fire our journey… This Bible Challenge book would help us with that and I have used this guide to reading the Bible in a year and it comes highly recommended.

If we are more technically minded, I am pretty sure all of these things are available as phone apps too. Another thing to think about doing as well as reading our Bibles is to listen to them (and there are lots of available audio versions), including one where the whole New Testament is read by the dulcet tones of one David Suchet..  (actor who has been Poirot in recent times!!). Sometimes listening to it helps us to mark and learn from a text rather than just reading!! In a few week’s time as Advent starts we are shifting in our Sunday gospel readings from Matthew to Mark. I cannot commend highly enough, taking out the 90 minutes it would take to listen to Mark’s gospel in one sitting – it will bring it alive!!!! Give it a go!

Really – I am saying all of this because of something it says in our reading from Colossians today and because of that Bible Sunday Collect. What it says in Colossians really tunes in to the inwardly digesting part of the collect. It says Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

What then is ‘the word of Christ’? It is surely more than just his words, although it must necessarily include them. Obviously this relates to the reference to John 1.1-14, with its sublime climax, ‘And the Word became flesh and lived amongst us’. So the phrase refers to the whole of Christ’s life and ministry, his actions as well as his words, and his example and character, given for us to follow. The word also refers to Jesus bringing meaning and purpose to our lives. Meaning and purpose played out in his life (and his influences from his Jewish heritage). Though we might find it easier (at times) not to grapple too much with the Old Testament material, this stuff influenced Jesus and his understanding and was formative to him (and will help us to understand him better). Hopefully at some point we can take some time to lift the lid on the Old Testament and understand some rules of thumb that make it easier to understand and demystifies it.. though not today!

For me letting the word of Christ dwell richly – does mean engaging with the Bible (and all of it). As I said earlier, the Holy Spirit has a way of engaging with what we do read and giving us pointers and messages through our endeavours. Once we have read what we are going to read, let’s pause and ponder and then let the Spirit inform our hearts, our prayer and feed our souls… The collect urges patience in our inward digesting but assures us of comfort from God’s word…. which ultimately helps us hold fast to the hope of everlasting life.

To finish this reflection, I want to take us to where the more modern collect set for today takes us – a prayer that could have been written for times like these… Collect for the Last Sunday after Trinity – Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word and obeying your will we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

  • Resources Referenced:
  • New Daylight – Bible Reading Fellowship
  • Reflections for Daily Prayer – Church House Publishing (new version for 2020-2021 now available)
  • The Bible Challenge – read the Bible in a year – Ed. Marek Zabriske
  • Collect prayers – Copyright Church House Publishing 2000-2020
  • The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
  • Good News Bible – Rainbow Edition
  • Hannah Dunnett – Journalling Holy Bible – International Version
  • NIV Bible App – Read by David Suchet.

St Luke’s Day – Penny Ashton

St Luke’s day – 2 Timothy 4: 5-17 and Luke 10: 1-9

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’

Many of you would be able to tell me that that is a quote from the writings of Dame Julian of Norwich.   Julian lived between the years of 1343 and approximately 1416.  During her lifetime the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death; the Peasants’ Revolt, and the suppression of the Lollards. When she was about thirty she was so seriously ill she thought she was on her deathbed and was given the last rites, but amazingly she recovered and lived for at least another 30 years.   Although she lived in a cell attached to St Julian’s church, she would have been aware of all the happenings around her as she was not cut off from society – her cell had 3 windows which enabled her to take part in worship of the church and to communicate with the world outside and with her servant, and despite all these dreadful things happening she was able to write the beautiful words with which I started.   She lived through a pandemic just as we are today, but with none of the advantages that we have of medical skill and knowledge or of numerous methods of communication.

You are probably wondering why I am talking about a fairly obscure English mystic when the theme of our service is St Luke, but on St Luke’s day it is customary to think about healing and wholeness.  We know very little about St Luke personally, but we have a lot to thank him for.  Without his writings we would have very little to decorate our Christmas cards and nativity scenes, as almost the entire Christmas story is told only in his gospel.  Without Luke there would be no annunciation, no journey to Bethlehem, no fully booked inn, no manger no angels and shepherds.  We would also know nothing of the boyhood of Christ, and our evensongs would have no Magnificat or Nunc Dimittis.  In chapter 1 Luke tells us that he set himself the task of finding out and writing an orderly account and his story is possibly the best account of the life of Christ that we have.

We know Luke through his writings, and if you include the Acts of the Apostles, he wrote about 25% of our New Testament. Possibly the only non-Jew to be included in the New Testament.  The best known parables – the prodigal son, the good Samaritan and the lost sheep were also brought to us by Luke. Our only account of the growth of the early church was written by him.  As Paul mentions in his letters, Luke accompanied him on much of his travelling.  The narrative in Acts sometimes changes to the first person as Luke almost forgets his role as a reporter rather than a participant.   He knew the importance of good record keeping.

What we remember Luke for chiefly today is his profession – he was a physician and is patron saint of doctors and surgeons.  Since we are aware that Paul was not always in good health, it is likely that Luke chose to travel with him in order to care for him and enable his ministry to continue.  We know from our first reading today that he remained with Paul during his house arrest in Rome while he awaited his trial before Nero, in the certain knowledge that it would lead to his death.  We have no knowledge of what happened to Luke after this – he had told the story he set out to tell.

We learned through the news during lockdown earlier this year that nurses, doctors and carers were working far beyond their allotted shift hours to provide the best for those in their care – in the case of staff at care homes even to the extent of leaving their families to fend for themselves as the carer lived in at their place of work so as to be always on hand.  We also know that the medical profession is generally not highly paid, the hours are antisocial, and that this year they were under resourced to the extent that going to work meant putting their lives on the line.  We applaud the courage of firefighters, the police and the armed forces – we never thought it would take courage to be a nurse or carer.

We have also been in danger in the recent past of almost canonising them.  My contact with medical professionals in my family has brought something very much to the fore – they are not saints and angels – and have no desire to be treated as such.  They are however professionals – and do wish to be treated professionally.  They work in a setting where performance and profit related rewards are not possible, so we cannot apply those criteria to them.   We do however all expect them to be available at the time when we need them, and to do that, they must be properly resourced.  That is where we come in.  I would venture to suggest that while it is gratifying to be applauded weekly from the nation’s doorsteps, they would prefer to be supplied with the proper tools to enable them to be able to carry out their duties to their own satisfaction.

Above all we can pray.  It is not possible to overestimate the importance of involving our heavenly Father in those things that matter to us.  We have as a matter of course included our local health centre as a matter for our prayers in our weekly newsletter, but I wonder how many of us manage to skim read those parts that we think we know – I know I am guilty of that one.  Our list of people needing our prayers is also regularly and carefully updated – I am aware of at least 3 people currently on that list who have recently been admitted to hospital.  Please don’t skim past that part either.

Luke gives us an example of a careful record keeper, a good story teller, one who records wonderful examples of praise as well as of actions.  He knows that his role is that of story teller, and he has no interest in telling us of his role within the story – his interests in the outcast, the gentiles and women are clear in his gospel, and his faithfulness to the work of the gospel sets an example we could do much worse than emulate.  And Julian?  Surely she gives us an example of a faith that shines out in the very worst of times.   If the Covid restrictions become stricter – as I am afraid they well might, we would do well to remember her beautiful words that we started with – all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Trinity 18 – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

Link the video of this reflection: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLnMPdtJ_dk

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

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

It is a tricky gospel parable set for us today – There are 4 things I want us to draw out of it. The first is who is listening in!! Jesus is telling this story in the Temple courts. Therefore, there is a mixed audience including

  • The chief priests and religious leaders (who have definitely turned against Jesus)

  • His devoted followers and disciples

  • And a sprinkling of people in the middle of those 2 poles wondering about who Jesus was and what he was about.

This means this is one of those stories making a lot of points!!!

The second thing I want us to think about is where this story starts…. There is a key phrase at the start of the story which is the kingdom of heaven is like or may be compared with. A lot of Jesus parables start like this including the parable of the weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, the pearl, talents, and workers in the vineyard. Above all this starting point is to help the listeners to listen.  Especially those who loved him and were actively engaged in following him.

What does this phrase indicate? This is more of the upside down inside out topsy turvey teachings of Jesus setting aside the conventional reason of his day. It is not the kingdom in heaven, but the kingdom of heaven. It’s about our place in God’s Kingdom and the choices we need to make and the lifestyle we need to live! Remember we have both people bought into his message and those who are very anti listening in!!!!

So having grounded that… Let’s unpack the story to get to my third point. The action is quite straight forward to start with – The king is preparing a wedding banquet for his son and he sends out invitations to the great and the good. All those who he invites refuse to come. From the king’s perspective this is clearly not a great result at the very least this shows a lack of respect for his authority. Culturally to refuse an invitation especially from a king was a huge insult.

Likewise inviting people to a party is not a hard ask? A party is likely to be pleasurable and enjoyable, and in their best interests. This would have been an extravagant affair – going on for days staying with the King at the King’s significant expense. But the people initially invited all say No. This says a lot about practices and priorities of the prospective guests. How the wrong things had enslaved them and diverted them from God’s kingdom. We need to be wary of wrong things that enslave and divert us too.

The subtext here is that attending the party represents worshipping God, walking with God,  and working together for God in His Kingdom of heaven now and in the kingdom in heaven for all eternity. Knowing this is better by far than the most amazing thing we have ever imagined. Continuing with the story then – when more servants are sent to say everything is ready, they either ignore them and go and do other less important things instead or ill-treat or kill them! We may hear this as reference to the prophets, John the Baptist and ultimately Jesus being sent to save us. This call is issued with due force this time. Everything is ready, I have taken a lot of trouble. Come!

Yet the underlying inference here is that those invited were largely unresponsive and paid no attention – going back to things that in kingdom terms were really not important. This is a warning against passivity and apathy towards our faith and its importance in our lives.

And then a selection behave very badly (again this is a reference to those who led the people to conspire against Jesus. The outcome wasn’t great for the party refusers…. And this is my third point I want us to think about as the passage says of them – The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

This is not a cosy comfortable view of God and judgement. We mustn’t gloss over the all powerful nature of the almighty and the consequences for those who entirely rejected the ways of God as his chosen people and went on to reject Jesus as well. One of the ways the commentators explain why this is here is that it is aforewarning of difficult times ahead and the fall of Jerusalem, which would have been in Matthew the gospel writer’s present . In handling this verse we must remember Jesus earlier guidance in the sermon on the mount – to leave the judging to God!

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there – The king decides to invite anyone the servants can find on the streets to the party and gather them into the wedding hall. Again, this is a loss of privilege for God’s chosen people as the width of the invitation is extended to all and there would have been more brisling from the religious leaders listening in to these words. More positively, this is a big message of inclusion – anyone his servants can find can come. They are all now invited to the palace for the son’s wedding banquet. What an honour! They’ve never even dreamed about something like this, but now they have it! All they have to do to be “worthy” of it is to accept the king’s crazy generosity and head to the palace.

This is the way of God’s grace – not about our worthiness but God’s amazing saving love for us. Interpretively, this is the great turning point in redemption or salvation history. What God’s chosen people had thought was exclusively theirs because they are genetically descended from Abraham, we now learn is available to everyone. Anyone who accepts God’s invitation can now be a child of Abraham and a citizen in God’s Kingdom of heaven.

Unfortunately for me the story doesn’t stop there, we come to the action honed in on the man with no wedding clothes. Again, we are in rather harsh territory and the second of the really challenging verses in this story appears and this brings us to my fourth point!!! A man not expecting to go to the banquet in the first place is chastised for not having the right clothes on! He is thrown out and it ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth – never good in the parable of Jesus.

Have we got an explanation for this? What I read said – That in the lavish preparations the king laid on for the party was suitable clothing for the days of festivities for all the guests. The guest didn’t have to be pre-prepared but all he needed was available.. So therefore not wearing what had been provided is more an ‘act’ of wilfulness against the king. Someone still wanting to plough their own furrow regardless of the amazing invitation!

This challenges the assumption that responding to the king’s invitation by showing up at the wedding feast is all that the king requires. But clearly, something more is necessary. Specifically, the king expects us to be appropriately dressed for the occasion.  Those who aren’t – even though they have responded to the king’s invitation, are separated from the other guests and thrown out of the feast.

My commentary said this was about the importance of righteousness (Making right choices) for those who would enter the kingdom, and thus to balance the point made earlier that “both the bad and good had been gathered in from the streets”. This is all about the importance of right hearts, right lives, right motives. What we need to do is put on Christ as our clothing all day every day in our lives and live his way. Where we need to hold fast to Christ’s teachings and how he directed us to live and love.

We need to follow his direction on his path through the work of the Holy Spirit, turning to love and not selfish gain. Putting on Christ like these wedding clothes will help us to live to the challenge this parable of Jesus puts before us. We may baulk about the term righteousness (but at its simplest this means living the way God says is best) and it is not to be confused with self-righteousness. It is really important to live well – Jesus in Matthew’s gospel has said that over and over and over again. One of the ways to live well would be to apply the discipline described in our first reading today

  • Rejoice in the lord always

  • Let your gentleness be known

  • Do not worry

  • Bring everything to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

  • And let the peace of God guard your heart and your mind.

Amen.