Monthly Archives: July 2023

Lammas – 30th July 2023 – Penny Ashton


Today we have come together to celebrate Lammas.  Lammas is derived from a Celtic celebration rather in the same way as the dates and focuses of many of our Christian celebrations are.  The Celtic name for Lammas is pronounced Loo Nassah, and our name for it comes from the Saxon for Loaf Mass.  Alison has given more detail about this in this week’s newsletter.  It was traditional to celebrate harvest of first grains and make a loaf from them to put on the church altar, and Alison has also been good enough to bake us a Lammas loaf which we have on our altar today to remind of God’s goodness in provision of another harvest.

Lammas is one of the ‘in-between’ festivals.  The four main points of the year being the two solstices and the two equinoxes.  In between them come Candlemas when we celebrate the returning light, Rogation when we ask God’s blessing on the growing crops, Lammas which is the beginning of harvest and Hallowe’en at the end of harvest and beginning of winter and the returning dark.  Lammas also came at the end of what might have been for many a lean time, as few staple food crops can be harvested any earlier in the year, and last year’s stores may have been used up some time ago.  Co-incidentally for us, these festivals often fall on or near 5th Sundays when we meet to worship together.

As it is mentioned in both our bible readings, I had hoped to be able to tell you today all about manna, but it has not been easy to find a good definition.  The favourite seems to be  the sap of Tamarisk tree although there are several other varieties of manna, which include honeydew from the larva of certain insects presumably similar to aphids.  It forms at night and dries in flakes on ground in dry desert regions and I learned from the New York Times that some chefs still cook with it.  Apparently it has an interesting flavour which different people perceive differently – to one it may appear lemony, to another minty.  I also read that it looks a bit like Grape Nuts, if you are old enough to remember them, mixed with aquarium sand!  It is also possible to buy a nougat-like sweet made with manna in Iraq but my guess is that it would be expensive.

In our reading from Exodus it is easy to see that the Israelites are not happy.  Despite the facts that they had seen plagues in Egypt and the Passover, had seen Red Sea parted for crossing and coming back to stop Pharoah, that at their first oasis stop, which they called Mara (bitter) they had complained that water tasted bitter until God showed  Moses a piece of  wood which would sweeten it and at their second oasis camp at Elim they had found 12 springs and 70 palm trees.  I now understand why some chapels and a church denomination have taken that name as it was obviously a place of plenty.  However, it is easy for all of us to forget the good things that have happened when times get hard again, and they were now complaining – this time of starvation and once again, God provides for their needs.

From our gospel reading it seems that grumbling could have been a national characteristic.  This crowd had seen Jesus performing miracles of healing, and so had followed him around the lake.  Here they had seen the generosity of God shown with 5000 men – not counting women and children – fed a meal of bread and fish with baskets full left over.  It is possible that they were now following in the hope of more free food.   It could be that the crowd contained quite a few casual or itinerant workers who had little or no security of income or food which would account for them being able to follow Jesus for days at a time.

As soon as they catch up with Jesus, he sees through them, and challenges them with the thought that they were probably more interested in free food than in more teaching.  He reminds them that they should be more interested in their spiritual welfare – food that endures for eternal life, and this gives rise to the question at the beginning of our gospel reading – ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’  Jesus reply is quite clear – they should believe in him as he was sent by God.  This raises another challenge from the crowd, that despite all that they have seen Jesus do, they want him to prove it again, and ask for a sign – (In John’s gospel the word ‘sign’ often refers to a miracle) – as they want Jesus to feed them again, as Moses fed their ancestors in the desert.  This brings Jesus to his main point – he is the one sent by God, and he is the way in which our spirits will be fed.  This chapter of John’s gospel is a long one and details the debate that follows this claim made by Jesus, but at the end it says many stop following him at this point as his teaching was too hard.

In the news this week we have heard a great deal about how our climate is changing -and now doing so alarmingly rapidly.  We can no longer escape the fact that all the signs point to the uncomfortable truth that the changes that are happening are the result of human activity, and it is only by changing the way we live that we can hope to return our climate eventually to one that is easier to live in.  We must accept the hard truth that currently those who are suffering the most from climate change are largely those who have done the least to cause it.  I cannot be the only person who sees an irony in people taking flights to the Mediterranean only to be unable to leave their hotel rooms because of the extreme heat.  We have been the fortunate ones this year as the path of the jet stream has given us the sort of summer weather that we love to complain about.  Much of the damage has been brought about by over consumption in the wealthier nations.  We would do well to return to the teaching of Jesus and learn to rely on God to supply our needs as he has promised.  It may not be everything we want – the crowd that followed him discovered that, but it will be all that we need, with hopefully enough left over to help supply the needs of those who are currently doing without.

Lammas is when we give thanks to God for his goodness in providing the promise of a harvest, and to remember where the true bread comes from.  It is also – with the beginning of harvest, a reminder that summer is beginning to come to an end.  If this is a thought that disturbs you, it is worth looking again at the end of the story of the flood when God promises that not only will he never again destroy the earth by flooding, but also that ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease’ (Genesis 8:22).  Summer will come again – God has promised it!

Trinity 7 23rd July

Trinity 7

Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 13.24-30,36-43 –  In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Several years ago, I heard a great story about a small child learning the lord’s prayer from an African Bishop. It went like this – the mother of a small child approached her Vicar to discuss an issue she had with little Jonny. Little Jonny had been learning the Lord’s prayer. By in large he was now saying it and praying it pretty well. But the mother was concerned and shared her dilemma as to whether God would understand that little Jonny was adamant (and would not change his understanding of one of the phrases) as only a three year old can, where he was saying – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from eagles. Frankly I can understand little Jonny’s preference for eagles over evil. I have enjoyed eagle spotting on Mull and the Outer Hebrides in the past (see above!). Also eagles are much more tangible and easy to understand for all of us than evil is!

Evil is such a harsh word – very dominating and dark. And I wonder how many times we have reflected on what that phrase – Deliver us from evil actually means when we say it day by day and week by week. One of the hardest things when explaining the Baptism Service to the parents and godparents is also the question and response – Do you renounce evil? – I renounce evil. And I for one, usually hedge my bets a bit with an explanation akin to us wanting good and wholesome things for their child which is a bit of a cop out!

Both renouncing evil and being delivered from evil, suggest evil is around us day by day. Something we need to choose to turn away from and something we may need rescuing from or guiding away from. Our gospel reading also used evil in a day to day sense – counting the weeds as the children of the evil one and pointing out the ramifications of choosing the dark side rather than the light

Evil is pretty difficult to define – Evil is a broad term used to indicate a negative moral or ethical judgment, often used to describe intentional acts that are cruel, unjust, or selfish. Evil is usually contrasted with good, which describes intentional acts that are kind, just, or unselfish. Talking about evil and discerning good from evil as I am going to attempt this morning/evening – is actually pretty hazardous and here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Firstly: discerning good from evil isn’t always easy. Even for those of us who have been making this sort of judgement for years. In some cases it is very straightforward. However in others one person’s good may be another person’s evil. We are also probably better at discerning good from not so good – as saying something is evil is pretty hard
  •  A second hazardous point about discerning good from evil is that we have to make these judgements for ourselves and be capable of making these judgements for ourselves. Societies do not work well where one person is the arbitor of this power and others are unable to make free choices for themselves, or when leaders say one thing and do another. Likewise society doesn’t work well where there is no consensus on meeting the common good for all and everyone is out for themselves and dishonest to get their own way. We are reaping the downsides of both of these in our society today.
  • Whilst I am talking about society – there is another common theme about our young people – I want to explore. This is that we are not doing a particularly good job of teaching our young people the differences between right and wrong, between good and evil. This is very difficult because positive influences and values – making good judgements is clearly written into our current education system. What is happening is that this teaching is being over-ridden by the negative life experiences children have in their lives. If their experience of life does not match up with the values they are taught, it is not surprising that youngsters struggle to make judgements of this sort.
  • Another troublesome area in this murky ground of good from evil is in how to express ourselves. Stating that something or someone is evil (in our judgement) is not a good starting point for discussion. This is one of the reasons the Anglican Communion (and the Church of England in particular) is in such difficulty over all the gender and sexuality stuff. Whatever the rights and wrongs are of the debate – I am not going there! Condemnation is not a good starting point – however well-intentioned it is. That leaves the condemned feeling they will not be listened to even if they tried to express themselves. We are proud of our system of justice for this very reason, where we are viewed as innocent until we are proved guilty. Rather than being viewed as guilty before we are proved innocent.
  • The final complication I want to touch on in good/evil debate. I am sorry if I am making this whole question of good and evil more difficult this morning/evening. Is the reality that we are called to love our neighbour (and not to condemn them!). Obviously, the Christian life involves some self-discipline using judgements for ourselves about ourselves and about our own choices and life experiences is fair enough. This is the basis of seeking God’s forgiveness for the things we do wrong. It’s a healthy and wholesome thing to do and it should be between us and God. Sometimes a third party – trusted friend, soul friend can be helpful in getting us back on track. However we need to be very wary, and very, very discerning over the temptations of using our powers of judgement on others. Frankly judging others is not going to get us very far in introducing our God of love and in loving people into the kingdom. Someone shouting on the street corner – that we are all sinners or someone naming our sins to us is pretty uncomfortable. Pointing out the depths of wickedness is not going to encourage people into our church. We have I hope earnestly got beyond burning heretics at the stake. Throwing the first of many stones. Sometimes when we do this, we are just as guilty or even more guilty of whatever it is that has got us stirred up!

Jesus didn’t behave like this with people, he started by building up relationships with people – the marginalised and the lowest of the low. Those who would have been branded as evil in his day. He respected them and cherished them as individuals – he didn’t condone their previous actions or collude with them. He welcomed them, accepted them and loved them and we should model our general behaviour on his example. And remember we want people to experience the love of God through our words, actions and attitudes, and not our fallibilities and human limitations

Being loving is definitely the choice for most circumstances, but there are just a few occasions when we may need to go further in helping others in their discernment of good and evil. And this is in the tricky area of those with whom we have close relationship. When we are faced with the dilemma of such a person, making choices we know deep within are not good for them. We too need to follow Jesus’ path by not condoning or colluding, but loving them despite themselves and praying for them. And being there I suspect to help pick up the pieces. Just as they would help us when we are the ones making the dubious choices. My view is that this should be the exceptional case and not the rule. Based on the truth that we are not always right about everything, and this kind of action should be based on prayer for that person and there be a sense of God’s presence in our heart for them. Love needs to be the basis of our actions and not our own purposes and desires.

This has been something of a marathon contemplation on discerning good from evil ranging from the difficulties we have with this word evil through to the need for all to be able to make judgements in society. From making discernments for ourselves as part of our spiritual discipline through to the challenge of our close relationships. Overarching all of this is Jesus example of love and acceptance – the model we should be following. I end with a short silence to ponder and then a prayer

Let us pray Silence Loving God, may we look more keenly, listen more quietly, speak more gently. May we love with integrity both ourselves and those around us and may we love from your heart for all people and all creation. Amen          Some material is copyright Church House Publishing 2000-2023, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible ©1989/1995

Trinity 6 – 16th July 2023

6th Sunday after Trinity – 16th July 2023

Isaiah 55:10-13, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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

When I was in my church youth group, I played a part in a sketch of the parable we have just heard from Jesus – the parable of the sower. This is the first of many parables in Matthew’s gospel. If I was to ask us to list parables, I am sure this one would come out almost immediately!

Do we want to know what part I had in the sketch – I was second seed! This meant I was crouched down in the middle of two other girls. For each of the times, as someone told the story, the seed was sown on the different grounds, the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on the good soil, we three seeds tried to grow. Other members of the youth group played the birds and the thorns etc and of course, we only successfully grew when we were sown on the good soil. There was a lot of crouching down I remember and growing (and I wished I was one of the birds which would have been easier!). I also thought that the person playing thorn 2 was a bit over enthusiastic about choking me!

After the sketch – this was the first time I can remember where I know I tried to explain a Bible passage to people. Not quite sure why I got the job at the end of the sketch. But I then had to explain what the point was we were trying to make. I have no idea what the 17 year old me said – but it was a bit of a portent of things to come perhaps!

Any way let’s dwell a little on 3 themes that emerge from this story for application to our lives today.

The first theme is about growing – there is a lot of growing for us to do – even you might say lifelong growing! As there is always something that we can learn about how much God loves us, and how to be an effective Christian modelling the lifestyle of Jesus Christ. I don’t think we should ever stop growing in faith, and there isn’t a box to tick that says I’ve learnt everything I am going to learn about our faith. I recognise there is learning and growing we need for each and every day, and it is one of the reasons why daily engagement with Bible reading and prayer is so important. It definitely provides food for the journey and often very appropriate food just when we need it.

The second theme I want to dwell on is that we have a God who will always dust us down and let us start again, if we make a wrong turn:–

  • if we act like seeds growing on the path and get caught up in the works of the evil one,
  • or if we act like seeds that have no roots and fall away when troubles come as sown on the rocky ground,
  • or even if we get caught up in the lure of stuff in the world, and loose sight of what is important like the seed choked by the thorns.

God’s forgiveness and mercy is vastly beyond our understanding and wider than any ocean – and we must never doubt that God will forgive us when we recognise our mistakes and turn back to him.

The third theme (and I must say this was given to me by Penny at our supervision on Friday!). She had read somewhere about us reflecting on the generosity of God through this story. When it comes to sowing seeds  I usually concentrate on making the soil the best it can be and I don’t waste seeds in places where they are unlikely to grow like on the path or amongst the rocks and thorns. Typical of Jesus’ stories and miracles, there is a lot of seed being thrown about here and this is another example of overwhelming generosity inherent in God’s love. It can go along with the generosity at the wedding banquet when Jesus made a huge quantity of wine (far more than was needed) and my favourite visual aide memoire – the equivalent of six wheelie bins. Or the generosity at the feeding events (for four and five thousand men, let alone the women and children present who weren’t counted) where everyone ate their fill and there were baskets and baskets left over.

Generosity is an important quality in us and our lives. The question have I been generous in my response is a good tester question for guiding us, because Jesus was pretty much generous to a fault!

I am going to finish by giving you the explanation of this parable again from the Message remembering our need to grow all the time, God’s forgiveness and our need to respond generously!

 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.

 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.

“The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.”


References: The Message – Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989, 1995 ©

Trinity 5 – July 9th 2023

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

The final part of our Gospel reading today has some deeply reassuring words of Jesus – so typical of his love for us. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jesus is contrasting his way of living on earth, lightly, lovingly, with integrity and open-heartedness to the guidance of God’s spirit with the minutiae of rules and regulations of the Pharisees. (Pharisees lived based on 613 rules (just remembering all of them is mind boggling!). Though it may sound like it a little – I don’t think this is Jesus saying follow me and have an easy life. He is saying follow me and have a fulfilled life in him. Being a Christian is challenging and far from an easy option, but depending on Jesus will give us both life and rest we need to follow his unique plan for us. The version of these words from The Message (an American modern language version of the Bible) makes this clearer I think

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. (I think this means meaning and purpose and hope etc). Jesus goes on I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

I particularly like in that – learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace is a RHYTHM that is governed by God and does not change. We can do nothing to earn it, and is not about our worthiness of it. From Jesus’ fullness of life, his coming to earth, dying and rising again. Fully God and fully human –  we have all received grace upon grace. There is a constant movement or waves of this grace in our hearts and lives.

I like the analogy of the waves on the shore for grace. One wave comes in as another is going out. The ebbing and flowing of the waves of grace leads to deep transformational change that shifts our observations of reality. Those shifts change our perceptions, our interpretations, our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and actions, helping us to live, grow and depend on God’s love for us more and more. Amen.

References: The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, 1989, 1995 ©, The Message Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson, Photo of waves at Freshwater West taken by Alison in June 2023