Monthly Archives: February 2024

Lent 2 – 25th February – Penny Ashton

Lent 2 2024

Our readings today seem to focus on trusting God even when nothing seems to be happening or we don’t understand the plan.  We often use a prayer which contains the phrase ‘God is faithful and just’ in it, but it is not always easy to understand where he is leading us.

In our reading from Romans Paul is writing about faith using the example of Abraham.  In the Old Testament reading set for today we read of how Abram and Sarai are given new names and the promise of descendants.   It’s worth remembering that they have already travelled from Ur – probably in Iraq via Haran which is in modern day, Turkey through Canaan to Egypt and then back to Canaan.  Abraham had received promise of the land of Canaan for his descendants in a vision, but in today’s reading God seems to be more direct.  Sarai had no children, which in those days was considered to be a shame, and so she and Abraham had tried ‘help’ God to achieve his promise with Hagar.  Although this did result in a son for Abraham, it also caused all sorts of problems for them – which can often be the case when we try to take over from God.

But this time the promise is more specific – that Abraham and Sarah would have a son and many descendants – not just Abraham by another woman.  This promise was made not just to Abraham and his direct descendants, but, as Paul points out, to us as those who share his faith.  God’s promise is to make him the ‘Father of many nations’. 

In our reading from Romans Paul is contrasting faith with adherence to the law using Abraham’s faith as his example – he continued to have faith even though had not yet seen any result of God’s promises.  We need to remember that adherence to the law is not relevant at this point in history, as Abraham comes many years before law is given, but it would have been important to those people that Paul was writing to, as many of them would have been Jewish by birth.  The promise is given several times over several years before it is actually fulfilled but Abraham’s faith doesn’t seem to waver although Sarah is not always convinced. One occasion she laughed when she heard it, which is why Isaac was given a name that roughly translates as laughter.

Peter, in the passage just before today’s gospel has just made his great declaration that Jesus is the Christ and the son of God.  In Matthew’s account of this Jesus tells Peter that this knowledge was given to him by God, and promises to Peter that he will be the rock on which church will be built, and to him will be given the keys of kingdom.  And yet very shortly after this great high moment, Jesus is calling him agent of Satan.  We have noted before that the disciples always try to stop Jesus when he tells them of what is to happen to him, but Peter goes too far this time.  He has gone in short time from making a great declaration of faith to the complete opposite, of knowing better than Jesus.

Jesus then goes on to give the hard challenge to Peter, the disciples and the whole crowd – and by extension to us.  Nowadays we have rather glamourised the cross – we wear it as jewellery and as a badge of office and we perhaps forget quite how dreadful this kind of death was, and what Jesus was asking of people and of us when he tells us that we will have to take up our crosses if we want to be his true disciples.   Jesus chose to continue towards Jerusalem, and the end that he knew well was waiting for him there.  In a sense we could say that it was at about this point in his ministry that he began to take up his cross as he tells us that we will have to.  It is also possible that Jesus recognises in Peter’s denial of his coming fate, an echo of the temptations that came to him in the wilderness – a time that we have based the 40 days of this season of Lent on.  It is worth remembering that Jesus’ temptations did not end when he returned from the desert to Galilee. 

There is a recent modern day example of a similar act that we have been reminded of  this week when we have so recently heard of the death of Alexy Navalny, who was such an inspiration to so many in Russia, and who chose – after recovering from being treated for Novichok poisoning – to return to Russia, even though he must have been aware that he was heading back into danger and his possible imprisonment or death.

 We have a saying that problems or difficulties that arise in our lives are our cross to bear; often this is used today about ill health or unwanted problems in life, but that is not what Jesus was referring to.  Everyone has occasional difficulties in their lives, but this is something very different.  Jesus is telling us that we need to be willing to lose our lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel or as some versions translate it, ‘the kingdom’, and this involves faith. 

One of the other readings set for today is the beginning of Hebrews 11, which contains a wonderful definition of faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11: 1 NRSV).  Here again, Abraham is a good example.  He had faith in God and his promises even though they were as yet unfulfilled, and God credited his faith to him as righteousness. But having faith is not something we can claim any credit for as Paul explains in Ephesians; ‘ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.’  (Ephesians 2: 8-9).  In a sense we have travelled in a circle – the faith we need is also a gift to us from God through his grace.

So, in essence, being good (keeping the law) will not get us any particular credit with God.  After all, there are a great many people who have no faith at all, and yet do amazing amounts of good for others.  We are only credited with righteousness by having faith, but that faith is freely given to us by God.  Everything is a gift,

Brian Draper in his lent reflections:  The Desert will Bloom #4 – The way of Jesus quoted an on-line post by Dan Sadler which sums it all up quite well:

‘Walk in confidence (for there’s nothing you can do to lose the love of God).’ And, ‘Walk in humility (for there’s nothing you can do to earn it).’

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

The Desert shall Bloom copyright Brian Draper

Lent One – 18th February

Lent one – 18th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

Genesis 9.8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-end, Mark 1.9-15

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

Because Mark says so little about Jesus time in the wilderness, just two verses:-

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

We have been given an insight by the powers that be that select our readings into the events immediately before and after this time of prayer and fasting, and preparation for Jesus’ active ministry of teaching and healing – proclaiming and enacting the good news of God.

Immediately before the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he is baptised by John. A significant moment accompanied by a sign from God. The reading says Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. It doesn’t indicate that everyone else who was there saw it – just that Jesus saw it. But it is hard to believe the assembled crowd didn’t hear the voice or at least a noise – sometimes prior to this – the voice of God has been heard like the noise of thunder by others witnessing it rather than the actual words.

The voice came from heaven, said ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ These words were a real affirmation of Jesus journey to this point. We recognise in our own personal experiences that someone saying to us ‘with you I am well pleased’. Is usually a pretty enjoyable and affirming experience. As is knowing we are loved – when someone genuinely tell us they love us as we are or that we are their beloved, it generally feels good.

God saying to Jesus – You are my son is also pretty significant. Mark’s gospel does not try to explain Jesus’ parentage or the technicalities of his birth. That is left to Matthew and Luke to describe (and the accounts do really differ from one another). In the run up to next Christmas 2024 may I commend reading the first 3 chapters of Luke and the first 2 of Matthew so we can see the significant differences and the continuity within them.

Getting back to the point today – In Mark this ‘You are my son’ is very direct and clear and as we continue to listen to Jesus in Mark’s gospel over the weeks ahead of us, we will find there is lots shrouded in mystery and the disciples are regularly told to keep quiet about who is is and what he is about. In a way this makes this clear statement You are my son from the voice of God quite surprising. But also this statement is likely to have been lost – as those who heard it witnessed an isolated event and would not have been significant in Jesus’ onward journey, as it was some 40 days after this that anything else happens in the public domain.

I suspect virtually everyone here has experienced baptism and has been baptised (though the vast majority here in keeping with our anglican tradition will have been baptised as infants). And therefore are unlikely to remember their own baptism. At some point in each service I generally say – Hearing and doing these things provides an opportunity to remember our own baptism and reflect on the progress made on our journey with God.

When we are baptised in its own way God is saying to us as much as he did to Jesus, You are my child, beloved, with you I am well pleased. And we stay God’s beloved children all our lives, recognising his amazing, overflowing love for us, and God’s hand in making us for his purposes on earth – and each to a unique and special blueprint is part of what our baptism is about. God loves his creation and has made us as we are reflecting the sense that with each of us God is well pleased. However what we do with how God has made us is another matter.

We have been made to fulfill his way and purposes for us, which are just ours and just what we should be doing to further God’s kingdom on earth. We have a clear choice about how we live as one of his special children – Recognised and dwelling in the heart of God as part of his family on earth. Perhaps it might all be easier if once we were baptised, the Holy Spirit just took over all the choices and decision making, and we were no longer capable of making choices for ourselves as to how we live, breathe or have our being.

That would certainly stop us making so many poor choices and straying off God’s path for us, but that would also make us mindless automatons and would deny us any ability to show God any meaningful love in return for his passionate love for us. We have discussed before the difference about how we feel about things we are compelled to do rather than things we choose to do. Clearly and thankfully the work of the Holy Spirit does not just take us over like this, and we don’t become automatons. The Spirit needs our co-operation – the spirit can work in us and through us in ways that can amaze and surprise us. I am currently being reminded of this in our Alpha material as we work through the course. But we need to be open and willing and available and with heart’s desiring God’s way for us in his kingdom  (and not whatever we think we want for ourselves in little kingdoms of our own construction).

The second half of the sentence I say at every baptism gets to the heart of the challenge. As we watch someone else being baptised we are urged to ‘reflect on the progress made on our journey with God’. How are we doing with our choices? How does our life and our lifestyle look from the outside looking in?

As we know words are one thing- but our actions so often speak louder than our words. I suspect I have discussed before the difficulties I have experienced driving in a dog collar. Where my actions are what is on display rather than my words. And I first really noticed this now nearly 20 years ago when I was first ordained. I hope this is not too trivial an example. But it makes a valid point. I suddenly found myself – realising that with my dog collar on I really needed to drive like a Christian. With a dog collar on – people give you very dirty looks if you are discourteous behind the wheel! Or cut them up! And people look very surprised if you have done some frankly dodgy or an inappropriate manoeuvre and pull away dog collar to the fore.

The truth is that I need to drive like a Christian all the time, Dog collar or not. The dog collar has brought to the forefront of my attention that I am not always doing that! And no one much likes being found out. What this means is I am not always showing the personal integrity. I would wish to demonstrate and that would best show God’s love for his world. At one level this is a trivial example – but it makes a deeper point. If we love God and recognise his power and love in our life and love him first- our lives near to bear clear witness to that in everything. In the days ahead this means we are embracing the sense that what needs to be visible in the baptised Christians which make up the church and as such represents the church itself is lives that proclaim the good news of God. That live in accordance with what Jesus taught us and where we are guided and moulded by the Spirit’s influence within us. And living the way that God has for us and that builds up his kingdom on earth.

As I have said before when I talk about lives proclaiming the good news that isn’t quite what it immediately sounds like. I am not talking the stereotypes – of Christians standing on street corners and calling everyone who passes by to repentance and faith in God – though we do at times need to stand up and be counted and be clear about our principles. Nor should we aspire to be a Christian that bring their faith into each and every conversation irrespective of how insensitive or inappropriate that might be. Or Christians that see every encounter as an opportunity to convert someone rather than to love them as they are and as God made them

Remove those stereotypes from your head – Living lives proclaiming the gospel, the good news is about living with our love God first in our hearts and visible in who we are and how we are, and our actions to speak in accordance with our words, and that our words and our actions – speak first of our love of God

Yes back on my stereotypes – We will need to stand up to be counted for what we believe sometimes and that may not always be comfortable. Also we may need to help other people on their journeys of faith

and help them recognise God’s love for them too. But neither of these things will be our default setting. Our default setting will be loving God with all our heart, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and in our loving our neighbours we want them to really understand how much God loves each and every one of us. And there are many many ways of showing that in our words, actions and lifestyles

Jesus after his time of prayer and reflection in the wilderness, proclaimed the good news as the teacher God made him to be would. Jesus needed to lead, preach and teach. We need to do what God has made us to do in his kingdom. God may not have made all of us to lead, teach and preach, but he has made us to do what we are uniquely suited for to further his kingdom and we all need to live thinking and adhering to Jesus example of a life lived with integrity. Jesus lived with his words being matched by his actions and his lifestyle. We need to proclaim the good news in the way only we can (whatever way that might be for each of us), but also with our words matching our actions and our lifestyles.

St Francis understood this in his own unique calling too – Preach the gospel he said – but if you must use words. Amen

Some material is copyright © the Archbishop’s Council 2000-2023 and The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989/1995

Ash Wednesday – 14th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.

Ash Wednesday comes around as we begin Lent, the traditional season of preparation for Easter, thinking through and dwelling on our Lord’s passion and the lengths Jesus was willing to go for us. The words of introduction I read earlier in this service described this as a season of penitence and fasting.

We will deal with the penitence after I have spoken today, with a period of self-examination and confession. Much longer than we normally do and aimed at wiping our slates clean with God (and maybe identifying areas where we might need to seek the forgiveness of people we have wronged). The latter is much more complicated sometimes, but necessary self-discipline when God points out in our hearts those things we need to address.

The second word there is fasting, which for most 21st century Christians is a pretty challenging word. At a trivial level I find fasting challenging as a Spiritual discipline, and my go to resource on spiritual disciplines – Richard Foster’s “A Celebration of discipline” remarks from the vantage point of 1978 (when this classic was written) that fasting was rather out of fashion (and in terms of consumerism our consumption has only got more complicated since the heady days of the seventies).

In our gospel reading today, we have some words of Jesus about fasting. First of all questioning our motives. Jesus was pointing out that false piety and practice (needing people to know we are fasting is not a good start). To use something that can be good for us, to our own ends is not the right choice! Or taking something like this, to get God to do what we want. Who has done deals with God, if I fast regularly, pray or read the Bible every day can this happen, please God? These kind of deals never work! We live in a consumerist, transactional world but we don’t have a consumerist, transactional God!

Richard Foster talks about the importance of fasting being about our relationship with God. He says ‘Fasting must forever center on God’. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained’.  He goes on to say that fasting reveals what controls us.

As Spiritual Disciplines go, I have to say I am not good at fasting. Like many adults I have a complicated relationship with food, and take some regular medication which makes this difficult (ie I take it twice a day, and I should not take it on an empty stomach!). But I was very interested that fasting has taken on a different meaning in the last few years, following some very wise words of Pope Francis in the early part of 2021.

Pope Francis said this – (and I have printed out some copies of it for you to be able to look at it now and take it home).


  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words; be silent and listen.

Pope Francis Lent 2021

There is quite a lot of those. Any one or two of them would be good for us. Perhaps this Lent, each time we find ourselves heading towards one of the things we could fast from – take time to follow the second part of the sentence.

I want us to identify up to 3 of these this evening that we could fast from this Lent. Mark up and consider them on the sheet with the pen provided, whilst I play a piece of reflective music – Be still by Keith Duke and featuring Kevin Duncan.

This time has just between us and God, and I will finish this thought – by reading them again (asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to our love and our commitment to God).


  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words; be silent and listen.

Pope Francis Lent 2021


A celebration of discipline – By Richard Foster – originally published in 1978

Sunday before Lent – 11th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

11th February – The Sunday before Lent.

2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-9

May the words of my mouth, and meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and our Redeemer, Amen.

We find Elijah and Elisha on the cusp of something really significant for both of them. An ending and a new beginning. For Elijah an ending of his earthly life – Being swept up to Heaven in a whirlwind, and for Elisha the beginning of his time as a prophet – asking Elijah for a double share of his spirit to enable him to do what was before him. We are also on the cusp of something significant with Lent starting on Wednesday and something different coming along in parochial matters as I move off to pastures new at Easter and the parishes enter a new phase with further parishes to work with on the horizon. In view of all this change and new things coming along, against the worrying backdrop of world events and the potential for escalating conflict rather than increasing world peace –  Let’s see what we can learn from Elijah and Elisha’s journey.

We find them on the start of their journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho and the river Jordon – This in total is about 35 miles (so very likely to have taken more than a day to do especially in view of what unfolds on the way!). Let’s think about each of these places and what is significant about them!

So the start was Gilgal. Gilgal was very significant – it was the first place that the Israelites camped after they had crossed the red sea and escaped from the Egyptians. They set up 12 stones taken from the river Jordan – (so it was a place of stones). From here Joshua set out with the people into the promised land. The stones were there as a big reminder of how God had saved his people, and God who acted on behalf of the people.

The spiritual meaning of Gilgal is rolling or rolling away or separation. God had rolled away their past, and the rule of Egypt over the people of God, and separated the people into a closer relationship with him.  Our Lenten fast will culminate in Easter, with another kind of rolling away for us (of the stone on the tomb) a physical sign of resurrection, which is how God has saved all people, and the way God wants us to understand especially how our lives should be separated via seeking the living God, as living sacrifices in our worship of God.

The next place Elijah and Elisha went too, was Bethel which means house of God. This is the place where Jacob had an amazing vision in a dream – of the stairway resting on the earth and the angels going up and down it. God made big promises to Jacob. When Jacob awoke he named it Bethel as he had had such a strong sense of the presence of the Lord.

In those days people would go to Bethel to ask questions of God and it speaks to us of the Lord’s presence. This is something we also really need in changing and challenging times ahead to live desiring and seeking the presence of God and being guided through the Holy Spirit. Attending to our spiritual disciplines in Lent (particularly prayer, worship and bible reading) would be such a good thing.

The third place listed is Jericho. What happened at Jericho? Walls came a tumbling down in the days of Joshua. This was the site of the first battle the people of God had as they entered the promised land. Remember this was 40 years on from the events at Gilgal – after years of nomadic wandering as the people of God. At Jericho we are watching the evidence of people walking by faith – not relying on our strength but leaning into God’s love for us. Really important in the times we are in at the moment that we lean into God’s love for us. We were talking about living by faith in Alpha this week, it has made me think how important it is for us to follow God’s prompting (and especially no matter how much it may not make sense to us at the time!). I have often described this as letting go and letting God – especially helpful when we really aren’t sure of the next step. Our most important action is to trust our God who loves us so much.

The final place Elijah and Elisha travel to is the river Jordan. What happened here – well two things – the start of Jesus ministry and his baptism. Baptism by baptism I add some holy water from the river Jordon to the font as we mark another Christian’s new start. Also what happened here was another miraculous parting of the waters – this time enacted by Elijah not Elisha so they could cross.

As we move towards Lent and remember Jesus’s walk and his journey of teaching, worship, praying, sacrifice and resurrection, we see the way God has saved us today (a little different from the exodus event for the people of God). We know the call of God comes to us through Jesus love for us. Elijah experienced this really dramatically at this point as he ascended into heaven.

This lent let’s spend the time recognising our lives as living sacrifices, seeking the presence of God, walking in faith and wondering at the length God went to through the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Let’s follow the call of God where-ever it may leave us in these changing times. Amen

References: Bible Study on Elisha’s journey by Ian Gordon.