Monthly Archives: February 2022

Sunday before Lent – Penny Ashton

Sunday before Lent – Exodus 34: 29-end, Luke 9: 28-36

I wonder if you have ever tried to have a conversation with someone who was wearing a head torch?  It is not possible to look them in the face, as the torch completely blinds you as I once discovered.  It seems that the people of Israel and Peter, James and John had a similar experience in our two bible readings.

Last week with Alison, we looked at part of the second narrative of the creation.  This week our Old Testament reading is the account of the second time that Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from God.   You will recall that after the first occasion he came down from the mountain and found that the people had given him up for lost, and thinking that God had deserted them. had persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship.  When Moses returned, he found them in a frenzy of worship to the calf and in his anger, he smashed the tablets of the law that he had brought down.  That part of the story doesn’t end well, but Moses was able to persuade God to allow the people a second chance, and so he climbed the mountain again.  On this occasion Moses has made a further request of God – that he might be allowed to see him.  Perhaps after the trauma of the first occasion Moses needed God to reinforce his calling.  Whatever the reason, God explains that to look Him in the face would be more than anyone could bear, but he allows him to hide in a crack in the rock while God goes by.  God protects him by covering him with his hand until He has passed, but allows Moses to see his glory when he has passed.  When Moses descends the mountain again, he learns from the reaction of the people that just being that close to God has made his face shine so that they cannot bear to look at him, and he wears a veil to cover this.

Starting on Wednesday, we shall be looking in all our reflections on various parts of the Lord’s prayer.  Like so many of the gospel readings recently this is something that appears both in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, and in Luke’s version Jesus gives the prayer in answer to a request from the disciples – in Luke chapter 11 the disciples find Jesus praying and ask him to teach them how to pray.  That request ‘Lord teach us to pray’ from Luke 11 v1 could well be our text for today to lead into Lent, as it was when Jesus was praying that the disciples saw him transfigured in this glorious way. This experience obviously stayed with them very clearly, as it is reported in Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, and there is very little difference in the detail in all three versions.   Shortly after it has happened, when they descend the mountain again, they find the rest of the disciples in some distress as they have been unable to heal a boy brought to them by his distraught father.  After Jesus has healed the boy and the crowds have left, they ask him why they were unable to and his answer, as given in Mark’s gospel is that it could only be done with much prayer.  No wonder the disciples asked for instructions.

The prayer that Jesus gives us is very short – even the longer version from Matthew’s gospel said quite slowly takes less than a minute to say.  I don’t think for a moment however that Jesus intended our prayers to begin and end there.  I am becoming more and more convinced that our most effective prayer – and perhaps the one that just might bring us nearer to the state of having shining faces gets its theme from a country song (written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schiltz) that was a hit for Ronan Keating and featured in the film Notting Hill – ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all’.  We used to begin our Sunday worship with sentences from scripture – as we still do at funeral services, and one that I remember hearing often on a Sunday morning is from James 4: v8 ‘Come close to God and He will come close to you’.  Both Moses and Jesus knew this as we saw from our readings.

Silence is an increasingly rare commodity these days.  I am often vaguely irritated when I see people out and about wearing earpieces.  I am sure that listening to music helps them to exercise, and audio books are a good way to experience literature, but you cannot hear the birds sing, the sound of the wind in the trees or the water going over the waterfall with them in.  Not to mention the call of a friend nearby or the sound of a motor that would like them to move out of the way!  I wonder if more people would be concerned about the degree to which birdsong and population has declined recently if they took out their earpieces to listen.

We have a monthly meeting in Wincanton that I value greatly – it happens usually on the first Monday of the month in the Baptist Church, and is called a Julian meeting after Dame Julian of Norwich.  At 10.30 after a short chat together, we light a candle and listen to a short reading which we take turns to bring, and then move into a time of silence for half an hour before a short prayer of blessing and we go our separate ways.  Put like that it sounds a bit pointless, but it is a real opportunity to be in an attitude of prayer with others who are doing the same, and to just relax in the presence of God.  If you would like to attend, you would be very welcome, and I am happy to talk to anyone more about this.  Or perhaps you might like to try spending more time in silence as part of your Lent observance to see if you can be more aware of God’s loving presence.

I would like to finish today with a short, guided meditation that was given to me at the end of my Exploring Spirituality course and which I find useful in stilling and centring my mind on God.  I hope that you do to.

If you are reading this at home, do try the meditation which is on a separate sheet – you will need to find somewhere quiet to sit comfortably, relax and concentrate for a moment or two on being aware of your breathing before reading it slowly. Click Here: Meditation Be Still

2nd Sunday before Lent – Rev Alison Way – 20th February

Genesis 2:4b-9, Luke 8:22-25

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

There is a children’s story – called the ‘three trees’ of which we might be familiar. To give you a bit of a taster of how it goes it starts like this. There were three young trees growing on a mountain top, and each had a dream. The first wanted to hold a great treasure, the second wanted to be made into a ship to carry kings and the third wanted to grow so tall that people would look at it and always be drawn to God.

In the story and in different ways each of the trees got their wish. The first tree, once it had reached full maturity was cut down and made into an animal feeding box, which was the one that Mary laid Jesus in as a baby in the Bethlehem stable – hence its dream was fulfilled that the tree held the greatest treasure we have ever known. We have only recently left behind our remembrance of these events, and it is always important to remember the power and the vulnerability that came to earth at the first Christmas.

So what of the second tree? I suspect we have worked out given our gospel reading today, that the second tree, once it too had reached full maturity, was made into the disciple’s fishing boat, and the king it carried was Jesus on the stormy day the disciples’ encountered. I have long loved this story in the gospels, and if I am asked by children what my favourite Bible story is – this would often be the answer. While Jesus slept, the disciples got increasingly agitated as the storm got going. We have had a lot of stormy weather this week to contemplate. We weren’t in a boat buffeted by the waves (or at least I certainly hope we weren’t on Friday) but we can readily imagine the peril and fear. I didn’t particularly enjoy watching the trees being violently shaken (and specifically not the rather wobbly telegraph poles opposite my house shaking in the wind).

I didn’t have the option on Friday to do what the disciples did. I wish I had! As the situation grew worse, the disciples woke Jesus. I have always been very struck by the description that Jesus slept as the storm got up. His connection with God held him and enabled him to sleep (whilst the disciples were getting increasingly panicky!) Jesus rapidly calmed the situation. This must have been so impressive to watch when it happened. Jesus asked the disciples ‘Where is your faith?’ This is a very good question. As we are always beloved children of God, our response to that love God has for us is our faith. This question Jesus asked of the disciples ‘Where is your faith?’ does speak to our hearts today. If we were with Jesus in the boat in the storm – how would we answer? Would we too be both afraid and amazed at his actions and the love he had for us. It is an interesting combination, and one that would leave us perplexed and thoughtful.

The physical storms and the other kinds of stormy times we experience can be very testing. We often describe the difficult times in our lives as storms even if they have nothing to do with the weather. These times when they come along, have a nasty knack of getting us firmly out of our ‘comfort’ zones and happy places. They are never very welcome, but often the times when we learn and grow the most, when we get back to the first principle of relying on God to give us the strength we need for each next step we make. When our faith is a source of peace in the face of adversity, when we find the still small voice guiding us and inspiring us in ways we might never have noticed in better times.

In stormy times, we do really only need to concern ourselves with the next step we need to take, and we need to be wary of making the situation worse by wanting to know more than anyone can about how life is going to turn out? Life in general seems to have been very short on certainties in recent times, and that has been draining! The lack of certainty in our present circumstances has been trying, but there is no lack of certainty in the love God has for us. Sometimes we just need to hand over to God the things that are troubling us the most in our prayers, and the time will come when our prayers are answered to God’s plan and unique design for us (and not our own of course!).

So after that diversion into thinking about the second tree which became the disciples’ boat. What of the dream of the third tree? The third tree wanted to grow so tall that people would look at it and always be drawn to God. Like many of us the third tree had a different path to the one it expected. It didn’t get to grow tall, and the tree was cut down before it reached full maturity. The wood was left in the wood store for many years. Yet this third tree did get to point to God forever and uniquely, because this was the tree that was used for the wood of the cross used to crucify Jesus. The version of the three tree story explains how the tree struggled as it was carried through the jeering crowd and the pain of bearing Jesus as he died. And yet on the Sunday morning, as the earth moved beneath the tree, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. And this made the third tree strong, as the tree knew that when people thought about the cross, they would always think of God’s forever love for us as the tree had wanted.

As our thoughts turn to the cross once more as Lent is looming on the horizon, this is the time to attend to our faith and renew our spiritual walk.  I hope we are giving some thought and prayer as to how Lent this year is going to attend to our faith.

One of the things we may need to dwell on in this spiritual walk is given to us in the second account of creation in Genesis, which was our first reading today. A bit like last week with Luke’s beatitudes, we are more familiar with the first account of creation, which gives an orderly account each day of God’s activities. The second account of creation and the chapter that follows it serves a different purpose from the first. Yes, it is important to understand that God made the world in all its complexity, but this second account explains more of the role of humankind, and then goes on to explain how humankind got in its first big messy storm (apples, snakes etc…).

In the Genesis 2 story, we get a much more intimate description of how God made the first man. The man was formed from the dust of the ground, and then God literally breathed life into him. The touch of the creator is on each of us and in each of us – we have not been made in quite this way, but God’s touch in our hearts and lives is just as important. Each breath we take, each move we make, each beat of our hearts, each turn of our fortunes, we are God’s beloved children and we cannot make God love us more or less, God loves us at our best, at our worst and in sorrow and in joy! In our spiritual walk this Lent, we do need to dwell in the love God has for us to feed our faith no matter how stormy our current experiences are.

In the Genesis 2 account, God then makes a garden filled with trees, including the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good or evil. We don’t get another reference to the tree of life until the latter part of the vision in Revelation – where in the eternal city, the tree of life then spans the river of the water of life and produces 12 crops of fruit each year, and has leaves for the healing of the nations. And one day we will see that in all its heavenly glory. This is the second thing we need to dwell on in our spiritual walk this Lent, that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save us, so that we can know God’s love for us now, but then more fully for eternity. Yes, we will need to reflect on how the cross made with the third tree’s wood points to God’s amazing love for us, but also see in faith how this opened the heaven’s to us and opened our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit today.

I talked last week about starting on Ash Wednesday, attending the churches together lent course, and our reflections on the Lord’s prayer in our worship. I hope whatever it is that we decide to do to help us reflect on our spiritual walk this Lent it will help us to rely on God’s love for us, will build up our faith and will draw us to God’s love for us now and forever. Amen

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

3rd Sunday before Lent – Rev Alison Way – 13th February 2022

Jeremiah 17:5-10, Luke 6:17-26

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

The gospel reading we have just heard, is not the most familiar version of some of these sayings of Jesus. This year we are in Luke’s gospel primarily, and the most familiar version of some of these sayings of Jesus is in Matthew’s gospel. We even have coined a special name for them – the beatitudes. I did some work on these sayings with some year 5 children once, and we described them as “be attitudes”. Attitudes to life that would help us live well! How to be! It did help us to get into them and understand them a bit better, they do contain a level of wisdom but not easy to understand wisdom!

Anyway, Luke’s take on this is all a bit different. In Matthew these sayings are the start of what we describe as the sermon on the mount, and in Luke there is not a mountain in sight! Jesus is also looking and potentially addressing these remarks to the disciples rather than the crowd gathered as a whole. In Matthew we only get statements that started ‘Blessed are’ where as in Luke we get four starting ‘Blessed are’ and then the opposite sense of the statement starting ‘Woe to you’, which are a tougher hear to those living in the relatively affluent parts of the world.

There’s a lot of topsy turvey, inside out and upside down about these statements which reflect an understanding of God’s kingdom and not conventional wisdom. We would not conventionally say for example it is blessed to be hungry or rejected for example. Nor would we say it was a woe to be rich, full or laughing! Jesus’ teaching of the woes indicates there are potential barriers to living a blessed life, if we become too obsessed by what we have and are living too much for ourselves and not for others.

So how do we live a blessed life? The prophet Jeremiah in our reading shows the critical point being trust in the Lord. In fact, not just trust in the Lord but living as those whose trust is the Lord.

Jeremiah started with an illustration of a plant living in an arid place impacted by any adverse conditions that come along, being those who rely on human capacity rather than God’s love for them. This is compared with an illustration of being rooted in the Lord as being like ‘a tree by water’ and able to withstand difficult conditions come what may. We are blessed when we are rooted in Christ, the water of life. This stems from a deep desire to know him and to have him in every part of our lives. It means we surrender and submit to God. God is the one who keeps us settled and grounded.

Are we aware of our roots? What are we rooted in? Where does our trust lie?

We are often aware of the roots of plants and trees, certainly when we work in our gardens, or when a tree dies or blows over in a storm. Trees and plants often have deep roots that can draw water and nutrients from the soil even in very dry periods. We can rarely see the roots (and often they are as deep and wide below the ground as the tree is above it!) but we know they are there, growing over the years and sustaining the plant’s development. The analogy for us as Christians is clear: we are to be rooted in God, seeking to do God’s will, trusting in God’s power and grace at all times.

Jeremiah asks us to be aware of our roots and where our trust lies. He asks us to be cautious about our choices, to suspect our own motives which can be perverse, and to consider the fruit of our doings. For us or for God? This is always a good question. And one that can help us turn back and re-assert our determination to follow God’s will for our lives and not the devices and desires of our own hearts. It is interesting the way Jeremiah describes this with the Lord ‘testing the mind and searching the heart’. There is a sense that God knows us and loves us better than we know and love ourselves. We need to pay attention to the motivations of our hearts. A good test question – is “will this build the kingdom of God?” Things which are self-serving or self-righteous do not stand up well to this testing question.

Going back to the beatitudes in Luke’s working of them. They are also things to make the first disciples and us think. The first and second blessed and the first and second woe statement addresses material wealth and hunger. The danger here is that our personal orientation towards our material goods and bounty limits or warps our orientation towards God.  The commentary I read suggested we can be sucked into self-confidence based on what we have, or it just being about how we can enjoy our lives, rather than the walk of discipleship and faith. It is my view that we need to be very careful about money and stuff that it doesn’t become an end in itself. The uncomfortable reality is we live in the part of the world where food is plentiful (yet we still have record numbers of people regularly using food banks and let alone the parts of the world where food is scarce). In many ways the pandemic has shaken some of our confidence in the material stuff of life – But the point Luke is getting to is a different matter – staying confident and reliant on God.

Lent is looming over the horizon, starting on 2nd March and we are approaching a time when generally we pay more attention to our spiritual health as we prepare for Easter. It is definitely time to start thinking about how we might mark Lent this year in our individual walk of discipleship. We may wish to join the Churches Together in Wincanton Lent course – based on the film ‘The Way’. More detail about this is in the newsletter this week.

Coming to worship on Ash Wednesday is also a good starting point. (The Communion Service with optional imposition of ashes is at 7pm on 2nd March in Wincanton). We spend a little longer in this service clearing the decks and repenting of our sins – but it is a helpful fresh start or reset in our walk with God.

I also think an important theme for this Lent is taking time to look at our reliance on God. In our worship during Lent, we are going to explore the statements of the Lord’s prayer week by week (with a bit of a breather for Mothering Sunday). This prayer is something we say day by day, week by week and year by year and is a distillation of our reliance on God and all he has done for us. Maybe we can spend more time week by week during Lent, dwelling in these words for ourselves. If we would value help in doing that, or guidance to material which might help do not hesitate to get in touch.

Whatever we decide to do for Lent, let’s make sure it touches our hearts and their priorities because as I said earlier this is the crux of the matter in our walk of faith. I am going to end with repeating a couple of verses from our Isaiah reading.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat come, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Amen


Some material from © Copyright 2002-2022, ROOTS for Churches Ltd.

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

Word Biblical Commentary Luke by John Nolland and Word Biblical Commentary Jeremiah by Peter C Craigie et al.

4th Sunday before Lent – 6th February 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 6:1-8, Luke 5:1-11

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

Both our readings today are about a moment of call on someone’s life from God. First, that magnificent passage from the early part of Isaiah – describing his vision with seraphs and lots of wings. It was how God called him to become a prophet. Isaiah did not feel worthy and his sins was forgiven via the action of Seraph with a hot coal.

Being a prophet means being a messenger from God. A go-between from God to his people. The characteristics of a prophets encompass 3 specific things. Firstly, that call from God – An experience or experiences to convince them to do what God wanted – As Isaiah had and to which he responded – Here I am send me. Secondly, a message from God to pass on – At least one often more as in this Isaiah’s case many across the first 40 chapters of his book in the Old Testament. And thirdly, Prayer – A lot of time spent in prayer and praising God, and having a good relationship with God.

Isaiah did a range of things in response to his call to and for the Israelite people of his day. He offered forgiveness of sins. He renewed the covenant promises of their ancestors. He encouraged people in times of suffering. He encouraged the people to live the way that God wanted. He also prayed diligently. Finally, Isaiah told of things to come using the messages he got from God – Both short term things to help the Israelites in their current situation and also to point forward to a time when God would intervene decisively in the life of the nation by sending his own special representative – We know all about this as this was about sending Jesus. And it is early chapters of Isaiah we turn to in our prophecies in Advent and Carol Services. All of this happening some seven to eight hundred years before the birth of Christ.

Our offertory hymn today is 235 a modern classic I the Lord of sea and sky – based on the ideas in the chapter from Isaiah we heard. The words of the chorus respond to a question from God. Whom shall I send? And continue.. Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Where we are called by God we need to respond as Isaiah did. Here I am, send me!

The second reading was one in the early days of Jesus ministry. It has been a lean night for fish for Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen on the shore of lake Gennesaret. After teaching the people, Peter followed Jesus instructions to go fishing out deeper. Peter vocalised his compliance because Jesus had asked him and the mother of all catches followed promptly. Like Isaiah, Peter recognised his sinfulness, and yet Jesus still called him and used him. Do not be afraid Jesus said – from now on you will be catching people.

These moments changed things radically for both the prophet Isaiah and disciple Peter. They responded and followed the path God had for them. Peter’s was a bit rocky but I find great solace in that – when I trip over the rocks on the way too.

I am struck by these thoughts of call coming on the day Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. And we remember her in our prayers this day and as she also marks the 70th anniversary of her beloved father’s death. From that day and well before in fact the Queen has lived a life of devoted Christian service and has seen her role very much as a call on her life from God.

We feel we know the twists and turns of the plot of this story, particularly this day with her being many miles away in Kenya at Treetops. Dramatisations are widely available of how our Queen became next in line to the throne (but please remember they are dramatisations!). But we don’t really know I suspect, one minute as a reasonably young child, it was unlikely to be her destiny and then it really was too! Her father died young in our terms at 47, and long before she would realistically have expected to be approaching the throne. We will remember her words from her 21st birthday broadcast

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted in our service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given.

God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.

The essence of her response to the challenge set before her has been to recognise it as God’s call on her heart and life. Just like Peter’s and Isaiah’s. Six months before her coronation, the Queen asked the people of our country and the commonwealth to pray for her That God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I will be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.

From what we have seen, God has clearly and unequivocally answered those prayers and she has been a leader with deep and authentic faith, and whose wisdom has benefitted many she has encountered over all these years! Later this year we will be giving thanks for her as part of the Platinum jubilee celebrations. Be that via the beacon lighting, the national concert and horse display and in some special worship. But today let’s learn from her example of Christian discipleship and following God’s call on her life as we contemplate God’s call on our lives.

I am going to end these thoughts reflecting on call with the traditional prayer for the anniversary of Queens accession to the throne. The text of this is also available in this week’s newsletter

Let us pray

O God, who providest for thy people by thy power, and rulest over them in love: Vouchsafe so to bless thy Servant our Queen, that under her this nation may be wisely governed, and thy Church may serve thee in all godly quietness; and grant that she being devoted to thee with her whole heart, and persevering in good works unto the end, may, by thy guidance, come to thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.



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