Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Let’s start the day with a thought provoking question. Is Christianity relevant in today’s increasingly secular world and does it have anything to offer society in the 21st century?
The world today seems consumed in a headlong rush for material wealth, with greed, avarice, sexual misconduct, a lust for power and the desperate clinging on to it, whilst a look beyond the comfort of our own homes reveals a scene of depression, despair, hunger, strife, with whole populations around the world living in desperate poverty without access to food, water, or medicine, the things we take for granted. Indeed, there are millions in the world who do not have access to the many “luxuries” we in the Western world enjoy, although often we may prefer not to look too closely. It seems to be a place where the great god Mammon, the god of evil, Satan as the old books name him, is very much in charge. Yet as St Paul wrote to the young church in Rome, Jesus Christ is Lord of All (Romans 10:12). Now, clearly if Jesus Christ is Lord of All then Mammon is not, and therefore there is a good case for us, as Christians, to do what we can to change the status quo; to show the world that there is a better way. In other words, that Christianity really does have something to offer the 21st century world.
Since, as St Teresa of Avilla reminds us: ‘Christ has no hands on earth but yours….’ the question becomes what can we do? Do we wring our hands in despair saying “Yes, of course, I agree and they should do something”? Or perhaps, “I am too old to do anything. It’s up to the younger generation.” Or maybe “Me? What can I do? I am not qualified to do anything!”
Today is the Second Sunday before Advent. Advent is a time of preparation; preparation for the coming of Our Lord and in today’s reading from St Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25 v14-30 we are reminded that we have been given talents. Talents that do qualify us to make the world a better place. In the reading Jesus explains the Kingdom of Heaven to his followers. To do so He uses the allegorical example of the master leaving on a journey, giving care of some of his money to his servants. To the first he gives five talents, to the second two and to the third one. The first two servants invest their money and return a profit to their master, whilst the third does nothing with his; he simply buries it. On his return, the master is naturally pleased with the first two and rewards them accordingly, whilst the third is punished and thrown out.
Now let us look at the parable in a bit more detail. The master was obviously a wealthy man, an important man since in New Testament times the talent was a gold Greek coin equivalent to a whole year’s wages for an ordinary working man. Yet he was willing to leave eight of them in the hands of his servants whilst he was away. Notice that the servants expected him to return as two of them worked with the valuable resources they had been given for the benefit of their master. On his return he rewarded those who had used the talents wisely to make a profit for him by promoting them to a higher status, whilst dismissing the servant who did nothing with his.
Of course, the word talent has a different meaning in English today; one which the Jews of Jesus’ time would not have recognised as so would have understood a different message. And maybe you see a different message in this parable, so be it. Anyway, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word talent as: ‘Power or ability of mind or body viewed as something divinely entrusted to a person for use and improvement; considered either as one organic whole or as consisting of a number of distinct faculties; (with plural) any one of such faculties.’ ‘Divinely entrusted’? That’s interesting. Let us look at the parable again since perhaps this is a clue as to its meaning for us today. The master must be Jesus whose death and resurrection caused him to leave this mortal world to go to His Father. But as Christians we believe that He will return to this earth at some point to unite it with heaven in a glorious Kingdom where all His Creation will live with him in peace for ever. In the meantime He has entrusted us with something valuable, talents, which like the servants in the parable we must use to prepare the world for that great and glorious day of His return. Here we must remember that no one knows when that day will come, and that is a vitally important point – no one knows when that day will come. When it does those who have used their talents for His purpose will be rewarded with a crown of life. (Rev 2:10), whilst those who haven’t will be cast into the outer darkness.
So, how are you using the talent(s) God has given to you? Are you using it to improve your neighbourhood, your society, your world, to make it a better place, ready for the coming of the Kingdom? Or are you using it for your own benefit? Of course you will not change things overnight. Indeed you may feel there is very little you can do. But, whatever it is, you are called to use your God given talent, to do what you can for your neighbour and thereby serve God. That the task will not be easy since it will turn the present state of affairs upside down for, as we have seen, God’s Kingdom is diametrically opposed to the habits, manners and customs of today’s society. It may well involve getting out of your comfort zone and perhaps going places you would rather not go. As Rowan Williams once said: “You don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud”. But perhaps this advice I read the other day may help: ‘Breathe deeply and know that you are in the presence of God who is with you as you continue your ministry.’ Thus we have the reassurance God gave to the Israelites in the desert that is just as valid today: It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV) Indeed, apart from our talents, the greatest gift that God has given us is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Make no mistake this is your ministry, to start now in helping to build the Kingdom of heaven that is to come, to make the world a better place today by demonstrating the love God has for all his Creation. As Christians we are the Body of Christ, each having been given his or her own distinctive talents. Together as a community of believers we can, with God’s help move mountains – and let’s face it there are a great number of them to move!
So, yes, Christianity is relevant in today’s world and it does have a great deal to offer to society. It offers a completely new world, a world of peace, love and justice for all. And since we have been given talents to use for that purpose it is up to you, and me, to do something about it. (DV)
A few weeks back I wrote about the weeds in my lawn. Now, as any gardener knows, weeds tend to return and so here is another piece on the subject. This one ends with an environmental plea; one that I hope we will all take to heart.
Firstly, let me introduce you to a man with whom I share the same birthplace and religious upbringing. He was born just over one hundred years before me but, like me he was brought up in the Anglican tradition. There, however the similarities end as our life journeys took a very different course, although a love for poetry and the environment is common to each of us. Indeed, if he were alive today he would have welcomed wholeheartedly the Pope’s Encyclical Laudato Si. Like Pope Francis he became a Jesuit, having taken the advice of John Henry Newman to embrace the Roman Catholic tradition whilst studying at Oxford aged 22. I am referring, of course to Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ.
Hopkins had been a prolific poet since his days at Highgate School and continued to write poetry alongside his duties as a Jesuit priest. In 1881 whilst a pastor at a church in Glasgow, he spent some time in the little village of Inversnaid, some 40 miles north of the city at the head of Loch Lomond. Near the village are some streams that race down over rocks into the lake. In addition to his love of the natural world Hopkins loved to hear how people speak, their dialects, their accents, their intonation patterns and that love shows up in this poem that I invite you to read aloud as Hopkins intended. Importantly as I said earlier, the poem ends with an environmental plea that resonates with us today. I hope you enjoy it.
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáawn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ
If you enjoyed this poem I invite you to visit: https://hopkinspoetry.com/ where you will find out more about the man and his poetry.
How can we as Christians be distinctive in the world?
The answer one might expect is that ‘faith divorced from action is futile’ James 2.20(RSV). But this implies a Christian faith whereas compassion for our neighbour whether in terms of social justice, or concern for the environment is not the sole prerogative of the Christian. There are many Jewish and Muslim charities, for example. Indeed, some charities do not appear to have a link with any religion at all. Equally some people who deny any religious affiliation do, and have done, great and vital work in the field of social justice. So, rather than ‘faith without works…’ it seems to be ‘works without faith’ (certainly a Christian faith.) Let me explore this a little further by introducing you to two very different people from different backgrounds and a different period of history.
The first is Annie Besant (1847-1933), who was born into a wealthy family. She was five when her father died at which point she went to live with her teacher, Ellen Marryat. Religion was her chief preoccupation although she preferred ritual to her teacher’s plain serviceable faith, (She was prevented from converting to Roman Catholicism only by a prior commitment to the Oxford Movement). In 1867 she married the Rev Frank Besant, ‘an impecunious, parsimonious, stiff necked young man whose evangelicalism was described as serious’. In 1871 she felt that God had been unjust in failing to spare her daughter from a near fatal illness and so lost her faith. Three years later, in 1874 the marriage broke down and she moved to London. Here she devoted the same relentless passion she once had for her religion to social justice for the poor of the East End. She published a halfpenny newssheet called The Link that sold like hot cakes. Its object was “building up” of a “New Church dedicated to the service of God”. In her autobiography she writes: ‘There the petty injustices inflicted on the poor found voice; there the starvation wages paid to women found exposure; there sweating was brought to public notice. A finisher of boots paid 2s. 6d. per dozen pairs and "find your own polish and thread"; women working for 10½ hours per day, making shirts - ' fancy best" - at from 10d to 3d per dozen, finding their own cotton and needles, paying for gas, towel, and tea (compulsory), earning from 4s to 10s per week for the most part; a mantle finisher 2s. 2d. a week, out of which 6d for materials; "respectable hard-working woman" tried for attempted suicide, "driven to rid herself of life from want. Another part of our work was defending people from unjust landlords, exposing workhouse scandals, enforcing the Employers Liability Act, Charles Bradlaugh's Truck Act, forming "Vigilance Circles" whose members kept watch in their own district over cases of cruelty to children, extortion, insanitary workshops, sweating, &c., reporting each case to me.’ Charles Bradlaugh MP was an avowed atheist though energetic social reformer and a good friend of Annie Besant
The second character is Cyrus, one of the most powerful rulers of his time (around 500 years BC). In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, (Isaiah 45:1-6), we learn that even though Cyrus did not know God, yet God worked through him, giving him all that he needed to help accomplish God’s plans; the release of the Israelites from their Exile, enabling them to return home to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem.
Each of these cases seems to illustrate that good works can be achieved without faith in God. Yet each confirms the view that God has a specific purpose for every member of His Creation, whether it is humankind or the rose in my garden whose specific purpose is to be beautiful, and brighten an otherwise dull day by reminding me of God’s glory.
The message of Sunday’s Gospel reading, (Matthew 22:15-21), is that we all belong to God completely and are therefore called to offer God our entire selves. Jesus confirms that our first duty is to serve God, and to give God what is due. So whether we volunteer to work in a soup kitchen or a food bank, give money to charity, or simply phone a friend who we know to be lonely at this time for a chat, we are serving God. John Henry Newman once wrote: ‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught.’ It is in this way we Christians can be distinctive in the world. By being a 'bond of connection between person', for by loving our neighbour we love God.
This week, let us pray for the rulers and leaders of our world, particularly during these difficult times, asking that God will work through them towards justice and peace. We ask too that the Holy Spirit will guide each of us in how we can serve God best.
Each year Her Majesty the Queen invites a number of members of the public who have made a positive impact on their community to a Garden Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Tea and sandwiches are served with a slice of cake, but the highlight must be to see the Queen who will come down at 4pm to take tea in the Royal Tea Tent with specially selected guests. Dress, of course is formal, morning suit or lounge suit for the gentlemen and day dress with a hat for the ladies. Obviously any old dress will not do, and so time for an expensive new one! As only a relatively few members of the public are invited to the Party it is a great honour, something that will bring great joy, so that the Royal invitation will no doubt remain on the mantelpiece for years to come as a reminder.
In Sundays Gospel reading (Matthew 22:1-14) we hear about another garden party. Here Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the wedding feast of a king for his son. Here, too, many people are invited but, strangely, the select few who were originally expected to attend declined, and so the king ordered his servants to scour the highways and byways to bring in any person they found. Thus the party was filled with a variety of people who might not normally have been seen in polite society, “good and bad alike” (Matt 22:10); even the thief crucified with Jesus found a place at table. You see, rather than just a select few being invited, everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation is welcome in the kingdom of heaven. And, yes, like the guests at the Queen’s garden party they were attired in their best wedding clothes.
Now, think about that for a few minutes. How wonderful is it to know that God welcomes each and every one of us into His kingdom “good and bad alike”! Remember, however, that although we are all invited we do not have to accept His invitation; as the parable tells us many did not. What about you, will you accept His invitation? Maybe you think yourself unworthy but our loving compassionate God loves every member of his Creation equally.
Let me repeat that, we are all invited to God’s wedding banquet; in accepting we must allow the rags of our old life to be exchanged for the freely given robes of holiness and right living. ‘Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’ as St Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans (13:14).
And what should be our response to such a wonderful invitation? St Paul again, this time from his Epistle to the Philippians that we also heard on Sunday: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4
I invite you to join with me in a simple prayer: ‘Father it is such an honour to be invited to your banquet; make us worthy of our calling. Amen’.
On Sunday at St Mary Magdalene we celebrated Harvest Festival. It was not the usual service, with the church decorated with the produce of God’s bounty, no singing the familiar harvest hymns but, sadly, just a bare church. Nevertheless it was a celebration of thanksgiving for all that God has given us, as it should be and has been down the years.
This morning’s mist reminds us that autumn is on its way, “The season mists and mellow fruitfulness”, as John Keats once wrote. So we leave one season behind to enter another. There will be difficulties and dangers ahead, with no doubt, some pain and sorrow; the coronavirus is after all still with us and shows no signs of abating. But let us, at this harvest time, rejoice in the bountiful abundance of God’s good gifts to us and be thankful that God has promised to walk with us every step of the way. Let us also remember that whilst autumn will be followed by winter still, to quote Shelley this time: “If winter comes can spring be far behind?”
Here are the prayers I prepared for yesterday's service:
We have no right to be envious at the generosity and mercy God shows to others
Loving Father, We thank you for the rich provision of the harvest gathered in but:
We dare not ask you bless our harvest feast
Till it is spread for poorest and for least
We dare not bring our harvest gifts to you
Unless our hungry brothers share them too.
Not only at this time but every day
Those whom you love are dying as we pray.
Teach us to do with less, and so to share
From our abundance more than we can spare. (Lilian Cox)
Strengthen Peter and John our bishops, Michael, Graham and Peter our priests and all your Church in the service of Christ that we may be united in your truth, live together in your love and reveal your glory to the world. Lord in your mercy
Loving Father, increase in us love not only for the victims but also the perpetrators of evil and violence in our world; for all governments which run on corruption and fear. We pray for a change of heart and attitude, an awakening to a better way of living, and the courage to reject wrong principles. Bless and guide Elizabeth our Queen: give wisdom to all in authority: and direct this and every nation in the ways of justice and peace: that we may honour one another, and seek the common good. Lord in your mercy
Loving Father, The current restrictions make it difficult for us to gather together as much as we would like, but may our closeness to family and friends make us never exclusive, shutting others out, but always inclusive welcoming others so that we may serve Christ in one another and love as He loves us. This year we cannot collect goods or donations for those who have so little at our Harvest Festival, so let us show that love for our neighbour by supporting the local food banks for those in need. Lord in your mercy
Loving Father, we pray for those suffering from diseases for which at present there is no cure. May they never lose their faith in your loving purpose. Grant wisdom to all who are working to discover the causes of disease, and the realisation that through you all things are possible. Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body mind or spirit: give them courage and hope in their troubles: and bring them the joy of your salvation. Lord in your mercy
Loving Father, at this hour some souls will pass from this life into the unknown world. May their release be merciful, and may they find light in Thee, who art the God of all flesh and victor over the grave.
We have had a bit of rain here recently which has refreshed the grass and the plants. Of course, it has also refreshed the weeds, which are a constant problem for gardeners! After all, no gardener plants weeds in his lawn as a matter of course and they do seem to require increasing attention. It has been said that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, but what purpose do they serve?
Weeds certainly do not get a good press in Holy Scripture but then Jesus is using them, along with their counterparts, wheat, in his parables to represent something else, i.e. as allegories. Wheat represents the believers, the just perhaps, whilst the weeds represent the unbelievers, the unjust. Yet as Matthew tells us: ‘He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ Matt 5:45 NRSV.
Again, no farmer in his right mind would deliberately sow weeds alongside his wheat crop. Yet the concept of rotational farming, where a field is left fallow for a year, has been common practice for a long time. More recently the European Union paid farmers to set aside part of their land whilst we gardeners are encouraged to leave part of our gardens untouched for the benefit of the wild life.
St. John Henry Newman once said: “God created me to do Him some definite service.” A service specific to him and to no-one else. I take the Franciscan view that all of Creation is one family with each element having been made with a specific service for God in mind. So Brother Sun and Sister Moon, wind and weather, as well as each tree, plant, animal, bird, insect and, of course, human being has his or her specific task to perform; a service not allocated to anyone or anything else. In the plant world, for example, since it is in the wrong place, the clover that has taken root in my lawn is a weed. Therefore I should dig it up it and dispose of it. But wait, the humble bee is feeding on the nectar it provides before going on to pollinate another plant and in due time serve as food for a passing bird. So the clover in the lawn is performing the service it was created to do.
And, like Newman, you and I have been created to do a definite service. We may not know what it is, but as Thomas Merton once wrote: ‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.’
That mission, that definite service, may take us out of our comfort zone. We may have to meet with people, take on tasks or enter situations we would rather avoid, but if that is what we are called to do, then so be it. As Merton says: I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
With that assurance, what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for?
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Matthew 16:13-20. Here Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. I believe that this question had bothered the disciples for some time. Did they all accept Peter’s seemingly startling response?
As I told you recently, I gave up my rabbinical studies to follow the carpenter around Galilee as John, the locust eating wild man of the desert, had suggested. Many people are following him just now, but I think some are simply attracted to what they see as magic tricks whereby he appears to heal people. Yet his healing cannot be a trick as he has cured all sorts of illnesses so many times. It seems that demons obey him and leave their victims, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see. These must be miracles. Then there is his teaching. He is a charismatic chap so that people listen to him, even though what he is saying is sometimes quite disturbing and perhaps uncomfortable to hear. For example, he often challenges authority by suggesting that we focus too much on the strict interpretation of the words of the law. That upsets the elite, I can tell you! After all, the Lord handed the law down to Moses for us to obey, and they believe we must follow it to the letter. Nevertheless, what he says makes a lot of sense. But who is he? Jesus certainly isn’t just a penniless carpenter from Nazareth, so is he Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets, as some say?
Well, just yesterday as Jesus was teaching the crowd a couple of blind men started making a fuss. They had heard that Jesus had cured other blind persons and they wanted to be healed too. The disciples tried to hush them up, to send them away, but the men were having none of it. They just shouted even louder. But it was what they cried out that struck me: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David”. They were addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’! Now, our books teach us that the Messiah who will lead the Jewish people in glory will come from the line of David, but why would these simple, ragged, blind beggars think that this is he? Having been blind for years they don’t even know what he looks like. Then I recalled a passage from one of the scrolls we had to learn as students.
When the time came to choose a new king, the Lord instructed Samuel to go to the house of Jesse since the successor would be found from amongst his sons. Samuel thought any of them suitable but the Lord rejected them all. Instead he chose the youngest, the shepherd boy David. A seemingly strange choice but then: “… the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” So, being blind, the beggars could not see the outward appearance of Jesus, but the Lord had inspired them to look at the heart of his message, at what Jesus had been saying and doing, his teaching and his healing. In that case is Jesus the long awaited Messiah?
At that He turned to me and asked: “Well, what do you think? Who do you say I am?
In these dark days .when coronavirus is still causing havoc across so much of the world, where there is so much sadness, pain and anguish, it is perhaps understandable to ask "Where is God in all this?" After nearly forty years wandering in the desert, often going without food or water and still not reaching the Promised Land, the Israelites must have felt exactly that. "Where is God?" Towards the end of his life Moses gave the people this assurance: 'The Lord himself goes at your head; he will be with you; he will not let you down or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged' Deuteronomy 31:8 RSV. We too can hold firm to that assurance; God will never let us down or forsake us. He will always be with us. For that assurance I thank God.
My Intercessions for last Sunday took the Lectionary readings as a basis, since they speak of our faith in God who will never let us down. . I reproduce them here in the hope that you will find comfort in them.
God is faithful to us through all the storms of life, yet our faith in God is so very small
Faithful God, we thank you that our churches are opening so that we may worship you together in communion and share the Eucharist once more. Hear our prayer for those of our family who are unable to join us here at present. We bring before you too, all those who are persecuted for their beliefs and may not pray openly. Strengthen Peter and John our bishops, Michael, Graham and Peter our Priests, and all your Church in the service of Christ, that we who confess your name may be united in faith, live together in love, and reveal your glory to the world. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, the world is a stormy place, racked not only by the coronavirus pandemic but also by hatred and violence, confusion and bewilderment, restlessness and fear. As your Son stilled the storm, so we pray that your calming and reassuring presence may be sensed, bringing peace and goodness, righteousness and hope. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, sometimes in the storms of life we let each other down, we mishandle opportunities and come to the end of our strength or patience. Bless us with your love that will never let us down. Give grace to us, our families and friends that we may serve Christ in one another and love as He loves us. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, we bring to you those who are suffering in mind, body or spirit. We remember especially those facing long and incurable illness; those cast down by the cares and sorrows of daily life. In your mercy maintain their courage, lift their burdens and renew their faith, that they may find in you their strength, their comfort and their peace. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, we place in your loving keeping all those who have died, knowing their dependence on you and your limitless mercy. We thank you for them and their gifts to the world, and ask that we may in our turn come across the waters of death to meet you and live in your company for ever.
On another topic my friend Lauren offers a Sonnet for the Feast of the Transfiguration which can be found on Malcolm Guite's website: https://malcomguite.wordpress.com/2020/08/06/a-sonnet-for-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-6/
Do have a look at this beautiful sonnet, it is well worth it.
May God walk with you and bless you all.
Wednesday is the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene. As she is the Patron Saint of our church we celebrated her festival last Sunday. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so together as a family in church but “virtually”, but I don’t suppose she would mind.
July has always been a difficult month at home, as an unseemly number of annual bills fall due this month. The situation has been made worse this year as a couple of major items of household equipment needed to be replaced. And, of course this coronavirus has meant that we have been “confined to barracks” for over three months now. When are we going to be able to get out to meet our family and friends in person? Or even just go shopping as we used to do? Oh, and one of the roses is not doing at all well. In fact I had thought of replacing it later this year. Where was God in all this? I know people continually ask that question, perhaps more than ever during these dark days, but sometimes it does seem that He has abandoned us.
This morning I went out into the garden and there was a bloom on the little rose! It seemed to say to me “Did you not recognise me? I have been here all the time and will continue to be. I promised never to leave you or forsake you. Did you forget that?”
Like St Mary Magdalene I had failed to recognise Jesus at first, but he had been there all along.
As I was writing an essay about the Hebrew covenants for my course assignment I must have dozed off.
What was I doing on the banks of this river flowing through the desert? Who were all these people listening to this wild-eyed, ranting, madman? I should be in class in the city studying the Torah or listening to the wise words of the Rabbi, since I was training to become a priest myself. Yet there is something mesmerising about this fellow. ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is come near’ he is shouting. One of our group asked if he was Elijah for we know that Elijah will come again to foretell the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah, but he said that he was not. He said that he was the one foretold by Isaiah ‘the voice crying out in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord”’. What intrigued me was when he said that there was an unknown person in the crowd who was far greater than he. We’ve heard predictions like that before, Nehemiah said something similar many years ago, but we know that the Messiah will be one of us, not one of this ignorant rabble. Yet, I hung about for a while, I was in no hurry to get back to class. A long queue was building up for the wild eyed rabble rouser, whose name was John apparently, to baptise in the river. In the main they were all peasants from the surrounding area, but one man stood out. He was a tall chap who seemed to have a quiet air of authority about him. Someone said he was a local carpenter, but there was just something about him that made people pay attention. When it came to his turn John hesitated but the carpenter urged him to go ahead.
I had been with John for a few days when the carpenter passed by. John said that he knew this man was God’s chosen one because he saw a dove descend on him at his baptism. God’s chosen one? The Messiah? This ragged carpenter? At first I did not believe it, but John urged me to follow him. I found out where he was staying and went to listen to him. I think it was the dove descending on him that settled things for me. You see, all covenants God made with the Israelite nation in the past were confirmed with a sign, the rainbow in Noah’s case, for example. The dove was the sign that the carpenter was the new covenant of whom Nehemiah spoke, the Messiah.
I gave up my classes and followed the carpenter for the next three years. It all seemed to be going so well when we entered Jerusalem that last time, but as I hid in the crowd at the execution ground, everything had gone wrong. It was never supposed to be like this. Later He appeared to us again in that upper room. Thomas expressed all our feelings saying Him “My Lord and My God”. But Jesus asked a very pertinent question: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
I believe. What about you, you who have not seen?
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years