Link to video service for Lent 2 https://youtu.be/iqqPTC9s9q4
Church of England Service for the week – Featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury, Hannah Steele and Stephen Hance (talking about the #LiveLent stuff) https://t.co/WTxcstQoUu?amp=1 (from 9am on Sunday)
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8: 31- end
You will have often heard jokes that begin with the question, ‘There is good news and bad news, which would you like first?’ A couple of weeks ago I came out of a church meeting during which my husband Gary had taken a phone call, and he asked me this question. The call had been to ask me to go for my Covid vaccination – definitely good news, but the bad news was that we had to be at Verrington Hospital at 8.30 on Saturday morning. Those of you who know me will know that I am really not good at mornings! You may also be impressed to know that we were the second to arrive, even before the centre had opened and that we have now joined the growing number of those who have had the first dose of the vaccine.
Our readings today seem to be very much divided into the good and bad news category. In the first reading Abraham is promised by God that although he is old and his wife can no longer bear children, they will still have a child and that Abraham’s descendants will be more that anyone can count. God also gives them new names which have meanings to show that they will be father and mother of many nations. This is not the first time that God has made this promise to Abraham – with a rough count from my bible I can find six previous occasions when God has either promised descendants to Abraham or told him of the land that they will occupy. This is also after the birth of Ishmael which came about when Sara and Abraham decided that they needed to take a hand in helping God to keep his promise.
The bible repeatedly tells us too that Abraham believed this promise of God’s although it seems that Sara was more sceptical. I am not sure that I would have had the faith of Abraham, particularly as it seems that God’s promise took a few years to be fulfilled, and each passing year would have made it seem less likely.
It is interesting to note that Abraham lived about as many years before Jesus as we live after him, and so by the time Jesus came, his people and their worship of God had had as long to organise itself in the way the people wanted it as the Christian church has had now. We do love our organised structures, our proper ways of doing things, our rules and regulations about what is and isn’t right. Our judgements about who will fit in and who won’t.
In our gospel reading Jesus is teaching the disciples about what is to happen to him. This is actually happening just before his transfiguration that we read about on the Sunday before Lent, and which as Alison pointed out to us marked a turning point in his ministry – up to then he had been largely teaching in the north of Israel around Galilee, but now he is aware that he must look toward Jerusalem and all that is to happen there. Poor Peter – he seems to be very much a man of his time. He has been well educated by the priests and rabbis about the faith of his people and he knows how the story is meant to go. Despite all that the prophets have said, he is looking for someone to save the nation from their conquerors and he has decided that Jesus is it. Today’s teaching does not fit with the plan at all, and Peter is quick to tell Jesus so. There are no grounds here for us to feel superior though – so many times in history and now do we have trouble in marrying up what seems the obvious right thing to do with the thing that God seems to be telling us. I am sure God is still saying to us as he said through Isaiah in chapter 55 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord’. We are sadly still guilty of telling God where He got it wrong!
The problem we have with the two readings today is that even we, who know how the story went on, do not see that the teaching in today’s gospel is just as much good news as the promise God made to Abraham. This is the good news that gives us hope – makes us into a people of hope. Just as Dame Julien of Norwich was able to say at the height of the bubonic plague ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ so too we can say the same as we are hopefully able to see the possibility the end of a time of lockdown that seems to have lasted for ever. We can know, as Abraham and Julian believed ‘hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ This is the season of Lent, and just as surely as every winter ends with the beauty and joy of spring, so every lent ends with the miracle of Easter. We need Lent, just as we need Good Friday, because without them there could not be an Easter Sunday.
We are studying the beatitudes in our Lent course, and at the end of the beatitudes Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt of the earth. We all know that if we cook something in water, the salt that is naturally present dissolves out and leaves the food tasteless – and so we add salt. In the Message translation of the bible, this passage is put this way: ‘Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be the salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness how will people taste godliness?’ I think we are not only here to be salt, but all the flavours that make life exciting – perhaps pepper, ginger or chilli or mustard. God has given us a wonderful earth on which to live a hope filled life – lets not paint it grey and make it appear tasteless. It may be Lent, but we will always be an Easter people.
Let’s finish by saying the prayer from our Lent cards together:
May our journey this Lent be as an adventure: unpredictable, exciting, challenging.
May our minds race, our hearts sing and yet may we ever find in our travelling a stillness that is your presence with us; leading us on to Jerusalem where the truth of your eternal love is revealed on a cross and at an empty tomb.
We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
 Isaiah 55: 8 NRSV
 Romans 5: 5 NRSV
Link to the reflection for the Diocese:
Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15
In the name of the living God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Amen
The account in Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness is very brief. Jesus walks on his own 2 feet into the wilderness under his own steam (the gospel acknowledges he was driven by the Spirit), where Jesus then remained for 40 days to prepare for what was coming next. We get references to tempting by Satan, being with the wild animals and the angels waiting on him – but in Mark that is it! What Jesus did was take time out, time to make the transition from the every day life he had had up to this point, to being ready to share his important message with others. The foot steps he would have to take and the foot steps only he could take in his time on this earth. He was isolated with his thoughts and concerns in an inhospitable place
Yet from that reading we can also see that he came from it – ready to proclaim the good news of God. In a way this tunes in with some of the ideas from the #LiveLent material. I do hope you are engaging with this. If we haven’t started yet, I think it would be entirely possible to catch up the first few days and the links to the app, or emails are in the newsletter. We can also hear each reflection on the Church of England daily hope line on the telephone, if we need to access it that way.
This material is looking at the challenge for us in sharing the Good news too (and becoming more like Jesus in ALL of our lives). It begins linking our stories to God story.
First our individual stories,
And then the stories in which we are a player (our relationship stories with friends, communities, churches, countries etc)
Linked deeply to God’s story of loving and creative engagement with the world, and particularly the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, so much the focus of travel for us in Church for the next months. The reflections major on story and witness. For each of us we need to be like Jesus and that means pointing to God’s amazing love for us and sharing his good news. This is not an optional extra in the Christian walk – it is the very first thing Jesus said the disciples had to do in his great commission – Go and make disciples of all nations! (Matt 28:19)
I am hoping we can be inspired by looking closely at how Jesus and other key figures in the early church went about it! And Lent is a good time for us to take time out to refresh our thinking and our doing! In our pandemic times, sharing our hope, our meaning and our purpose rooted in God’s amazing love for us could not be more important.
In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book – Living His Story – Revealing the extraordinary love of God in ordinary ways by Hannah Steele, (which underpins our #LiveLent material) – Hannah defines the e-word evangelism (our need to share the good news) using some words of my favourite Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann. He says evangelism is an ‘Invitation and summons to ‘switch stories’ and therefore change lives’
In essence this means putting Jesus’ story at the centre of our lives. Thus helping us make sense of our lives and giving us meaning and purpose, and above all hope. Then it is only natural to want to pass this hope-bringing life changing stuff on to others…
In the #Livelent material to get us started, the first few reflections think about feet! – A surprising place to start perhaps
In Isaiah there is a wonderful quote – about ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’. This shows how this brings us into God’s purpose for us. The material suggests we reflect on how we came to discover the good news of Jesus for ourselves – It may well be some people with beautiful feet helped us!
Just to share a snippet of my story (and here is a picture of my feet at the end of my long sabbatical walk in 2018!) – The 15/16 year old me had not had a lot of exposure to people of faith. When I first started to engage with Church – (In case you were expecting rather higher ideals, I was not there because I was interested in religion at all, but so I could be part of the Church Youth Group and widen my circle of friends etc…. (as all hormonal teenagers are want to do!)). After several months I realised these people in the Church family had something about them that I had just not experienced before. They had integrity and compassion, which was impressive, genuine and deep! (Was this (in fact) their beautiful feet?). And I gradually (and also eventually in a more public way and decisive way) began to experience this myself. I have walked the Christian walk ever since!
Each of our journeys to faith will be different. How our faith has shaped us will be different. But we too can and must be people with beautiful feet – sharing the good news…. and doing it as we are uniquely designed by God to do.
The #LiveLent reflections remind us of Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in the garden in John’s gospel, but my mind turned to the resurrection account in Matthew’s gospel. In this version after an angel encounter at the tomb, the women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, meet Jesus. They are then described as literally taking hold of his feet, and worshipping him. This shows in a deep way how important and special they knew their realisation of Jesus’ resurrection was – Of the love that conquers death for us.
The final 2 reflections for this week in the #LiveLent material, look at how Jesus drew people to himself which always contained the need to share his story with others. Fishing brothers becoming fishers of people in one. In the other Philip who had met Jesus, sharing his enthusiasm with Nathanael (who we thought about a few weeks ago), and Nathanael on encountering Jesus realising Jesus was the real deal so to speak!
As we journey through Lent I want us to ponder with Hannah Steele that we need a ‘better way to talk about evangelism’ that is our sharing of the good news with others. She goes on about the better way to talk about evangelism – A more beautiful one! We need to reimagine evangelism as something that isn’t onerous and irrelevant, but imaginative and exciting. We need to recapture something of the beauty of evangelism that has got lost in the fear and the awkwardness. Every time we share the good news of Jesus with someone in word or deed we have beautiful feet.
Let’s walk this walk in Lent 2021 as refreshment for our beautiful feet inspiring our sharing of the good news. I dare us if someone asks us about what we are doing for Lent in 2021 to say – I am working on the beauty of my feet – and then to explain what you mean! Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
#LiveLent God’s Story, Our Story – Stephen Hance (Church House Publishing)
Living His Story – Hannah Steele (SPCK)
In the name of God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen
In our encounters with the living God, we occasionally have opportunities to explore the deep, dark and often hidden places of our hearts. The not so good bits, the things we do wrong and the things we hide shamefully from others. Ash Wednesday affords us just such an opportunity, to reflect and take stock, in a way few other seasons and celebrations of our Church year reach. For on this day, we take more time to look at our lives through God’s eyes and to own up to these deep, dark secrets of our hearts.
The Ash Wednesday collect would have us exploring these depths by creating and making new and contrite hearts in ourselves. Where contrite (which is not a word I would use every day) means feeling sorrow for what we have done. It goes on to have us – Lamenting our sins (forcibly and strongly regretting the things we know to be wrong). And if that were not enough to go on to acknowledging our wretchedness – Being honest and open about where we have fallen short. But to do all of this in the assurance that the God of all mercy will forgive us. That means taking on board our forgiveness from God for what we have done wrong, and moving on afresh and renewed. With new heart (and having forgiven ourselves too – rather than to continue to carry this stuff along with us expressing it in emotions like guilt and heavy heartedness for our wrongdoings!)
In our gospel, we had an example of Jesus reaching the deep, dark places of the heart. As he listened to the pharisees and the woman caught in adultery. He listened to God in his own heart and found a deep wisdom that transformed those it touched. It spoke so vividly of God’s forgiveness.
Let’s just recap the story concentrating on the forgiveness it offers. One day, the scribes & the pharisees came to Jesus dragging a woman, who they claimed had been caught in the act of adultery. They reminded him forcibly that the law of Moses said to stone such women. It is clear from what the gospel says, that they were doing this to trap Jesus and so some charge might be brought against him. The trap in this was that on the one hand, if Jesus condemned the woman, his reputation love, compassion and mercy would be shot. He would be at odds with the Roman authorities because it was not allowed for non-Romans to order or carry out the death penalty. But also, on the other hand, if Jesus pardoned the woman he would be encouraging a lax approach to the law of Moses, and even condoning or encouraging people to commit adultery. Pharisees and scribes would be able to have a field day with that too!
Thankfully their trap didn’t work in the way the Pharisees had wanted. Instead of choosing the two options the Pharisees had in mind, Jesus did something else. He knelt down and wrote on the ground. Seems a strange thing to do and what did he write.
I read an interpretation of this passage in a book by Michael Mitton, and he suggested this that the word used for write here is really the word for “write down a record against”. Therefore what Jesus was doing was writing down the sins of the men who had brought the woman to Jesus. So he might have looked one man in the eye and written theft and another and written hurting your wife. And so on – so each man present was shown a statement of the deep secrets of their hearts their own personal sins. Imagine how powerful that experience would have been. Jesus looking into your eyes and then writing the deepest, darkest, secret of your heart in the sand for all to see. Combine that with Jesus saying pointedly – Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. No wonder, if this is what happened, that one by one the men walked away…
Jesus also got to the darkest depths of the heart with the woman too. He probably saw a wounded and unhappy life, someone longing to be loved and who had been badly treated. Even by these particular men who had used her to trap Jesus. After all probably this story, should not be known as ‘the woman caught in adultery’ but the men caught in hypocrisy!
To help this woman to understand God’s forgiveness and mercy, Jesus is clear with her that no-one condemns her. None of them who brought her to him nor Jesus himself. But Jesus does make it clear, what he expects from her in the future. Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again. From the heart of God’s forgiveness for her, Jesus gives the woman a fresh start, another chance. The way Jesus treated her will have inspired her to live differently. Wisdom and love have come together in this event, and brought healing and renewal for her. And even the Pharisees and scribes if they had stopped, reflected and seen what was really going on here, they too would have the chance for the renewal and healing on offer here.
As that healing, renewal and transformation was available to all on that day it is just as available to us all today. For today it is a bit like this, Jesus is looking into our hearts, as he did with the scribes, pharisees and the woman. If he looked into our eyes – What would he write in the sand about us? Whatever it might be, whatever the darkest secrets of our hearts are – Let’s bring them to God in our prayers of penitence today, and then take on board the renewal and healing God’s forgiveness brings and let the Holy spirit transform us deep within.
It is important for us to let go of these things, assured that our God of compassion and mercy has forgiven us and then to move on with renewed heart into Lent, where we can concentrate on growing closer to the God that loved us so much. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
Collect (Ash Wednesday) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)
2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit Amen
So here we are – on the verge of Lent once again. As tradition has it we have the story of Jesus’ moment of transfiguration. Transfiguration is not an every day word – and is a special kind of transformation on a grander scale. It literally means – A change that displays God’s glory in Jesus, in God’s son. The word transfigured is describing this glory radiating not just from around Jesus but from within Him – as part of who he was, giving us a tangible deep sense of who Jesus was.
I want us to pause for a moment and shake off our preconceptions about this and imagine we are in the shoes of Peter and James and John. When the stories of Jesus get too familiar, we can tend to lose sight of the wonder and mystery. In these moments much was revealed to them – of Jesus being God’s son.
The purity of the dazzling white appearance points to this as does the reality of the two great forefathers of faith Elijah and Moses along side Jesus. They bring great credibility and integrity to this moment. I don’t know what Peter thought he was witnessing – but in the face of such wonder – he is babbling. (Any of us who in the face of crisis or greatness tend towards babbling – knows why he is doing this!) After all Peter was a simple fisherman, he must have been amazed, and the passage says even though he found something to say (really he did not know what to say!)
If all of that wasn’t dramatic enough – we then have a voice from an overshadowing cloud – adding to the scene and stating the reality playing out in front of Peter and James and John. The voice says This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! Confirmation of the importance of the moment is there in the voice of God. We have echoes in our mind of the voice from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism, which started with the same 2 phrases, This is my Son, the beloved. Peter and James and John would not have been there for the baptism, and only have heard about it – but now they are seeing and hearing for themselves. And then just as quickly as it had started, it was done. Suddenly, there was just Jesus and this moment of wonder, awe, and mystery that is the transfiguration had passed.
We have this moment year by year as a herald to Lent, as it is a significant turning point. In Mark’s gospel, up to the end of Chapter 8 the story is pretty action packed with healings, miracles, teaching and parables. Shooting from the hip one after an another, but from then onwards including the gospel we heard to today there is a change of tack and focus. Coming next on from this, is some action described as happening over 6 days, as the disciples are coming to terms with who Jesus is and what is going to happen to him. First in this six day period, Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah. And even as soon as them coming down the mountain Jesus starts to open the disciples’ eyes to teach them about how he will suffer and die and rise again. He even ordered the disciples with him to tell no one about what they had seen.
In our terms today, for Jesus the transfiguration was a very very significant ‘reveal’ moment witnessed by 3 of his closest disciples. A real turning point – A turning point is an event marking a unique or important historical change of course. Or a turning point is one on which important developments depend. Something that changes our direction and focus. Most of us will have ones we could refer to in our lives, and events which have changed the order of things entirely and forever.
Sometimes a turning point – literally turns our life in another direction – and we turn from the path we have been on to one going in another direction. Sometimes a turning point brings clarity and feels like we have turned a full 360 degrees and though we are still looking at the same things we see them in a new informed light – whatever the circumstances of the turning point has brought. For many of us a significant turning point may have been taking on board the Christian faith in the first place – certainly that is the case for me. Or for others significant turning points have come when we first met a future partner or had the first child or of course when someone close to us dies.
I think all this Covid stuff has been something of a turning point – en masse for all of us. This time last year we were still gambling along normally, though the news from across the world was beginning to get increasingly alarming. Turning points bring us to new places but are not comfortable or cosy! Turning points are times of challenge, revelation and change.
In our Church calendar we are rapidly approaching a significant turning point too – as we turn towards preparing for Easter and the season of Lent. Lent starts solemnly on Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of our journey to the cross and resurrection of Christ. This is a time to take on board some challenge, revelation and change in our lives to mark this turning point. This Lent as there always are, there are lots of options on how to have a holy Lent. The most important thing is whatever we do needs to bring us closer to God.
For some this may be ‘giving something up’ for Lent – I have to say I am not particularly recommending this approach for 2021. Though you can disagree with me about this I think things are tough enough in our lockdown as it is.
I am much more in favour of ‘taking something up’ for Lent – at the beginning of this service I talked about a number of things we could take up:-
Greater depth in our daily prayers – characterised by daily praying with our cross prayer stones (available from both churches see the newsletter as to where you can collect one from).
Greater depth in our daily bible reading – characterised by engaging with the #livelent reflections from the Church of England, via the booklet, daily emails, or app.
Greater depth in our worship – characterised by engaging with our weekly Night Prayer on Zoom (you can also connect to this on the phone – get in touch if you want to do that).
Greater depth in our fellowship and learning together by joining the Churches Together Lent course looking at the beatitudes on Zoom – called Happy and Blessed.
Another suggestion might be tackling some of the things that show greater love for God’s beautiful world, reducing our carbon footprint, our use of plastic, switching to planet friendly cleaning products, recycling more and so on…
Make sure whatever you do is something that is sufficiently challenging (but not too much deprivation in our times of isolation from one another) to bring about a turning point that brings you closer to God. All this allows the power of the Holy Spirit that is with us in everything to make us more Christlike. We need this to be something transformational for us (something that will change us through God is working in us and through us). And dare I say we need this to be something “transfigurational” for us – which displays God’s glory in Jesus, in God’s son
We are looking this Lent to approach it in the knowledge and hope of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus transfiguration was working from the inside and brought a tangible deep sense of who Jesus was and everything he has done for us. This Lent let’s get beyond surrounding ourselves with God’s love from the outside – even though that is always good. Let’s get down and really deep, and allow time for God’s love to well up from within ourselves – so we are truly instruments of that love. So that God’s love dwells in us and overflows from us in all that we are as God’s love dwelt in Jesus and overflowed in him on the mountain during the transfiguration.
Let us pray
Almighty God, we ask you to show us something more of who you are and how awesome your presence is. Overcome our fear of the unknown, and lead us into a new experience of you. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
https://www.rootsontheweb.com/lectionary/2021/111-january-february-2021-b/transfiguration/ a gathering prayer