Hebrews 2:1-14, Luke 2:22-40
In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen.
The phrase Let go and let God – is one that I can often be heard saying to myself. Particularly when life takes an unusual and unexpected turn. This phrase has been a pretty constant companion in the ups and downs of my life here! I use this phrase – Let go and let God – To take a step back, and look into whatever experience it may be that is happening and see where God is working within it and to pause to pray. The idea being to let the Holy Spirit into my heart to influence me and to move me forward:-
Letting the Spirit work as the wind blowing us to our next step.
Letting the Spirit work as water that cleanses and purifies us, and fills us with new life.
Or letting the Spirit work as the light which guides us every step of the way.
Living firmly in the influence of the Spirit is how Simeon lived his life. Simeon who we heard about in our gospel reading this morning. Simeon is introduced to us as an old man of great faith, and one to whom the Spirit has revealed that he would see the Christ, the Messiah in his lifetime. Simeon lived with an attitude of expectant waiting. Our passage said the Holy Spirit rested on him.
Tune in for a moment to Simeon. OK, he had a revelation of the future, that he was going to see the Messiah, but we don’t know what he made of that? We also don’t know if it made sense to him or what he expected to see. I have always doubted he thought it would a babe in arms he would see. Much more likely to have expected a powerful mighty king to overthrow the Romans from other expectations of the day concerning the Messiah.
To his absolute credit Simeon doesn’t waver in his walk with the Spirit. He goes to the temple on that particular day because the Spirit urged him. We don’t know what else he had planned or how inconvenient it was for him to do that. And on seeing the baby he does not hesitate in his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. (Surprising as it must have been) – as he took the babe in his arms
He said some of the most profound words in all the New Testament. Words we hold very dear – words which we use regularly in our worship to this very day and in the Book of Common Prayer rendering
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Words that in their power and simplicity move us, but were really radical in his day – as they included us and everyone in Jesus mission on earth – not just the people of Israel. These words are literally his outpouring of what the Spirit had revealed to Simeon. Both before this day and on this day. They are addressed to God and attest to all that Simeon has witnessed. Simeon has also now fulfilled his God given mission and can rest in peace.
Simeon took the unexpected, does not appear to blink an eye and ran with it. He ran with it openly, honestly and obediently to wherever the Spirit led him. Irrespective of the elders and other priests – and those gathered round. Those around may well have thought Simeon was losing the plot rather than welcoming the Messiah. Simeon was probably very grateful to Anna for taking up the mantle in her praise we hear later in this account.
We don’t get any insights into how anyone witnessing this scene reacted beyond Anna, Mary and Joseph. Anna reinforced what Simeon had said. And Mary and Joseph are described as amazed! This astonishment is likely to be a marker of the presence of God in all this.
Simeon goes on to speak to Mary adding to the things in Luke’s gospel that Mary had to ponder on in her heart as Jesus was growing up and in his life as it unfolded. So after blessing them, mother, father and child what Simeon then said to Mary was about Jesus’ bigger and God given destiny.
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There are schools of thought that in the devout Simeon these are words that are based on prophecy in Isaiah 8
14 He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
Of a better known verse from Psalm 118 – the stone that the builders rejected will become the chief Cornerstone. These are also words Jesus himself said later on in Luke’s gospel and are built on by St Paul in Romans and St Peter in his first letter. Jesus arrival will bring salvation and also division to those who turn away from him.
We need follow this example of Simeon and walk confidently with Holy Spirit walking with us when the unexpected as well as the expected comes in our lives. Because we cannot tell what life has in store for anyone of us. However we can recognise and celebrate God’s presence with us in all of it. The power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus left for us, to move in our lives and rest on us and the hope we have in the salvation Jesus won for us.
Our faith in God is a journey, in Simeon we have an example of someone nearing the end of their journey, open and willing to move with the Spirit – no matter how that made him look and how unexpected it all was. For us on our journeys, let us be just as open and willing to move with the Holy Spirit in our lives as Simeon was.
I have chosen the name Simeon for our prayer lion. Our prayer lion will feature in days ahead and the new works with a family focus (to help us grow younger and activities we are currently praying for). Simeon is a prayer lion – and will be helping us with our prayers in family friendly services moving forward.
The name Simeon means he hears or more distinctly from its’ Hebrew routes – he who heard God. When we pray, we are listening for God speaking to us and prompting us. This may happen in our prayers or in our encounters or activities subsequently, or in our walk through the scriptures and prayers day by day. It is important to stay connected and listening for God’s promptings and urgings as Simeon did all those years ago. To pause and Let go and let God!
Simeon the prayer lion’s favourite bible verse is from Joshua – Be bold and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you. Just as Simeon the old man in the temple was bold and courageous in following how the Spirit guided him. Where the wind of the Spirit blows us, where the water of Spirit flows through us and where the light of the Spirit shines in us – let that be guide to our path in the twists and turns of life and particularly as it so has when the unexpected comes.
Let’s let go and Let God into our hearts!
© The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
For the last couple of weeks our Old Testament readings have been pointing to the return of the Israelite people from after their exile in Babylon, and the work of rebuilding their community and the temple was ongoing. Today’s interesting passage from Nehemiah, takes us there. The previously exiled Israelites are in Jerusalem and the surrounding area (several generations later from those who were exiled). So there isn’t a direct sense of return or going back for the individuals concerned but a community sense instead. This is remembrance, rather than remembering for those there at the time.
Work on the temple was advancing and the walls were up. We tune in to Ezra and the Levite priests, gathering the people together in the square before the water gate. Ezra had within him the book of the law. It was a momentous moment, marking a significant new beginning for the people. They recognised the importance of worshiping God, as Ezra opened the book and what Ezra and the priests then did was standing together, they read from the law of God and interpreted it so the people understood what was being read. What I really liked about this account was that Ezra and the priests did this standing together. We have one of these readings where verses are missed out. Verse 4 and verse 7 to be precise and these readings contain the names of the priests with Ezra. I suspect this was done to make it easier to read (as the priests were Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkaih and Maaseiah at his right hand and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-Baddannah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left.
All this impacted on the people listening, and they wept as they heard the words of the law and the explanations. The solidarity of them standing together like this had an impact – Why weeping, listening to where they had moved away from the path God had set them perhaps, and conscious of God’s forgiveness and generosity in love that had brought them to this new point. Acknowledging their need for a fresh start, where they had fallen short and the sinfulness of the generations before them.
Ezra, stressed however it was not the time for weeping, but for marking their new start. Recognising the holiness, the presence of God with them on that day at that time, and their need to rely on God for their strength. What he actually said was for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Let go of the past, look forward, share with those in need and look for joy.
Joy is an interesting spiritual fruit, the work of God in us through his Holy Spirit gives us any joy we experience and it is about knowing Jesus. We can be very sad but also experience great joy through our faith. According to the justdisciple.com website. The biblical definition of joy says that joy is a feeling of good pleasure and happiness that is dependent on who Jesus is rather than on who we are or what is happening around us. Joy comes from the Holy Spirit, abiding in God’s presence and from hope in His word. So the joy the Israelites were to experience was based on unpacking of the word and the strength to do what needed to be done next – each individual step. I am not sure good pleasure and happiness quite capture the sense of it, maybe deeper inner contentment and a sense of the presence of God with us get’s closer to it.
If we turn to our gospel reading, Jesus is returning from the wilderness, to begin his earthly ministry, and is described as full of the power of the Spirit. This is likely to have meant he was feeling joyful in the power of God, that his time for teaching, a new beginning for him had come. Doing the work God has for us, does bring joy. Jesus marked this moment specifically on the sabbath in his hometown, by reading from the prophet Isaiah about what he had come to do. He is not standing with others (as he has yet to recruit disciples) but standing in a place where he is well known to mark this change God had wrought in him and his purposes for the next stage of his journey. Definitely a beginning and a beginning that changed everything for us.
Whatever was happening here it was a powerful experience. The passage says the eyes of all the synagogue were fixed on him and the verse after where our gospel ended says: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. It was clearly an important moment. He was sharing his joy at God’s anointing and his mission ahead. It is asking us to rely on God’s strength in Jesus’ name and to be joyful in what God calls us to do in Jesus’ name. Joyful in the way that only God can give us through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
We have several hymns which pick up on the Spirit-given nature of joy. For example, in Sing Hosanna – give me joy in my heart keep me serving or the start of Love divine – love divine all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down. The final verse of Jesus, good above all other, says Lord, in all our doings guide us, pride and hate shall ne’er divide us; we’ll go on with thee beside us, and with joy we’ll persevere. After the difficult times we have been traversing, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to be praying for the deepening of the spiritual gift of joy in our hearts and in the lives of our churches, to give us the strength we need for the journey ahead of us.
As we pray to be blessed, we should also recognise the need of standing together as Ezra did with his priests on his left and right and surrounded by the people. It has been fractious times we have been walking through together, where frustrations, anxiety and anger can be nearer to our surfaces and reactions than we want them to be.
I am going to end these thoughts with a story about dragons to illustrate our need for deepening joy in our love of God overflowing to others, and it is called the last thousand dragons.
There are many legends dealing with the extinction of dragons, but only one of them involves a certain Sir Emile, a brave knight who finished off the last thousand dragons. Like many others, Sir Emile spent years studying the cruel and wicked behaviour of the dragons of his time. However, his own particular conclusions were unique and unusual: dragons lived in a constant state of anger, which created the fire that came from their mouths.
So, when he decided to finish the dragons off, he swapped the normal weapons and armour of a knight for something rather unusual: a joke and a cart full of ice creams. When the first dragon came to eat him, Sir Emile shouted his joke at it. It was such a good joke that even the dragon had to laugh. Just as the brave knight had expected, this blew the dragon’s fire out. Just as the dragon was laughing, Sir Emile offered it an ice cream…
How refreshed and pleasant the dragon now felt, after years of having had a fiery throat! Taking advantage of the dragon having calmed down for a moment, Sir Emile offered it a piece of fruit, and to the dragon this tasted heavenly and the dragon felt delight and joy for the very first time.
Dragons didn’t normally eat fruit or vegetables, because the fire of their mouths burned such food and left it without any taste. So they preferred to eat cows or people, which, even though left a bit singed, at least tasted of something. However, when the dragon tasted fresh fruit for the first time, it felt so happy and joyful as it experienced the presence of God in creation through the fruit, that even its terrible appearance began to change. It had looked so bad because of its awful diet, but after only a few days of this new, healthier life, the dragon disappeared one night. All that remained of it was a beautiful butterfly with large colourful wings… Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, https://justdisciple.com/biblical-joy, All songs reproduced under CCL license numbers: 1618191 and 217043, https://freestoriesforkids.com/children/stories-and-tales/last-thousand-dragons
Plough Sunday 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way
Amos 9:11-end, Luke 9:57-end
In the name of the Living God, loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I said at the start of today’s service – we are marking Plough Sunday today. It celebrates historically the long hours of tilling and preparing the land before the seed can be sown. The festival was originally celebrated after the 12 days of feasting for Christmas as a way of inspiring people back to work. The plough for the town or village was often stored in the church. It was then decorated, blessed and taken around the town or village, and money raised to keep a ‘plough light’. This light was a candle kept burning in the church until harvest, reminding people to pray for the land and those who worked on it. Sometimes seed and soil were also blessed, and if we have brought some seeds with us today, we will be praying God’s blessing on them symbolically a little later in this service.
Many of our traditions have changed since the height of Plough Sunday activities. For example, marking the 12 days of Christmas as the feast has shifted to Christmas starting on 1st December (or earlier) and ending pretty smartly on Boxing day for some. Likewise preparing the ground after the harvest is now much more of an autumnal activity than a winter one! Some things have stayed more constant – I think the idea that we should pray for the land and those who work it has remained pretty constant, especially in more rural parts of our country.
Talking about ploughing may seem a world away from the lives of many of us today – but the start of a New Year often brings with it a sense of new beginnings. Penny talked briefly last week about New Year resolutions and encouraged us to have a new year resolution to walk in the light of Christ all the days of our lives. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father, based on the words from the Baptism Service.
Our new beginnings today build on that and are represented by any seeds we have brought with us. These seeds are ones I am going to attempt to grow in my green house this year. Having a green house is a relatively new thing for me. My gardening help insisted I couldn’t have a greenhouse lying idle in the spring of 2020 even allowing for my absence of green fingers! (I have not had a Rectory with a green house before!). For the last two years I have had a good crop of courgettes and tomatoes, and less success with cucumbers based on plants someone else had sown as seeds and nurtured into life. This year I am hoping to have some similar success but with plants I have nurtured from seed myself!
Looking at these seeds has made me reflect somewhat! The seeds are tiny in relation to the size of the plants that result (particularly prolific courgette plants which have some triffid like qualities!). Yet for seeds to grow they have to germinate and lose this form to take on another. They need water, light and the right kind of preparation of the soil. They need all these things at the right time and in the right amount to flourish well. Not every seed will spring into life – yet that so much can come from something so small is quite startling – and nature as it often is – is deeply impressive.
I think the same is true of our new initiatives – our seeds of planned growth in 2022. In both churches we are heading towards fanning into flame something aimed at families. We are taking different approaches, aiming to re-energise our work with the under fives and their grown ups in Wincanton via WOW! and moving towards a monthly more family orientated offering with worship, craft and breakfast in Pen Selwood – called ‘Rise and Shine!’. These things are very much seeds at the moment, waiting for the right time to be sown. There is much preparation of the soil going on behind the scenes, and this needs to be supported by our diligent prayers. It is difficult with the state of things at the moment with the pandemic to be entirely clear when we are going to start with either, and this looks like it may still be later than we had hoped before the Omicron strain of COVID hit! We have also found some extra preparatory work that needs doing as the requirements for safeguarding have developed significantly in recent times. It is really important that we take these developments seriously and prayerfully. So any seeds we are using as an aid to prayer will represent these things too so important in the life of our churches moving forward.
The Bible readings I chose for today, which took the theme of ploughing have some other slightly different ideas embedded within them. The Old Testament reading is from the prophet Amos. Generally, the content of Amos was written at the time before the exile – where Amos call to account the people of God who were acting in immoral and socially corrupt ways at the time. He was warning them of difficult times ahead and to turn from ways where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and predicts their downfall through the exile . The reading we got today doesn’t reflect that but is the end of his book – where Amos is talking of better times to come following the exile – that the faithful people of God will eventually be restored back to their homes and be fruitful in the land. It is reading looking not to the current circumstance but a far away future horizon.
Sometimes we too seem to endure the difficult times of the present, whilst keeping our eyes on a longer term goal like Amos did. I have found the journey we have been on in and out of covid restrictions somewhat limiting to our horizons. It seems each time we have a better patch, the situation changes and takes us back to places we really did not want to revisit. We have at the very least been enduring a long period of uncertainty about some things which hitherto we took for granted as part of the fabric of our lives. Our long term horizon, our eternal rest in the love of God is not changed by any of this – but the short term stuff has been very disrupted! I recognise in myself a need to approach this differently, giving thanks for what is possible, and sitting light to what isn’t, in the knowledge that our God of love is both constant and eternal. We each have hope that rests on things above rather than earthly things which pass away.
In contrast to Amos’, the words of Jesus encourage us to keep ploughing on, looking forward. My commentary described this section of scripture as ‘Following Jesus without qualification’, without letting other things get in the way This relates to the reality that if you are not looking forward when ploughing, looking backwards would tend to set the farrow we are ploughing out of line! I think this is probably as much about NOT setting our sights on things past, rather than the days ahead of us. Since the autumn, I have been consciously trying to use the language of moving forward, rather than getting or going back to normality. Moving forward is what we can do, what we can’t do is do anything to change the past or get back to exactly how things ever were. We can learn from the past, but we cannot replay it or change it.
When we set out on our journey together back in February 2020, I could never have imagined some of the things we have faced or the path we have been travelling. All these steps are behind us, we carry the experiences of them with us, but what matters is the next step and then the one after that. Taking each step living with God’s hope in our hearts. I have said a number of times, I would like it to get a little easier with less time spent on risk assessments – and it is true I would, but I also know that God’s strength will support us in the days ahead come what may! Things will come to fruition in God’s time – if we need to travel further in the wilderness of COVID uncertainty so be it. Let’s keep looking forward and praying.
Praying particularly for the seeds we will plant, for those who work the land and for our seeds for growth in our churches. It may not be for tomorrow or the day after, but let’s be diligent in our prayer. We are going to use the Blessing of the seed prayer in our service books to conclude these thoughts. If we can hold any we have brought with us for blessing in our hands and if we can hold in our hearts WOW! and ‘Rise and Shine!’ as I say these words asking God’s blessing on these ventures. Let us pray.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: in your goodness you have given us this seed to sow. In it we perceive the promise of life, the wonders of your creative love.
By your blessing, let this seed be for us a sign of your creative power, that in sowing and watering, tending and watching, we may see the miracle of growth, and in due course reap a rich harvest.
As this seed must die to give life, reveal to us the saving power of your Son, who died that we might live, and plant in us the good seed of your word. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All: Blessed be God for ever.
By itself the earth produces:
All: first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain shall appear.
Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Word Biblical Commentary for Amos
Arthur Rank Centre – Plough Sunday https://arcentre.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/09160026/ARC-Plough-Sunday-Material-A4-Jan-2022-v216939.pdf