Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37) is a very familiar story that everybody knows. But even the best known stories can be hard to understand. So perhaps if we look at the setting that might help us. For example, where were Jesus and His disciples, and why did the lawyer ask Jesus that question? But finally and most importantly, what message does this reading have for us today?
To answer the last question first. Let me be clear that I am simply a guide; just one explorer on the landscape who has followed one path. But there are many other paths to be discovered. May I suggest that you read the text again for yourselves, carefully and prayerfully? Listen to what God is saying to you.
Anyway, Luke tells us in the previous chapter of his gospel that Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Perhaps it is significant that the first parable told on the journey is about people coming and going on the very road Jesus himself will shortly tread.
The road from Galilee to Jerusalem was dangerous – and still is - since it passed through Samaritan territory. Why was that dangerous? Simply because Jews and Samaritans had hated one another for hundreds of years by Jesus time. Both sides claimed to be the true inheritors of God’s promises to Abraham and Moses. Both sides regarded themselves as the rightful possessors of the land. And possession of land was vital in those days. Indeed even today few Israelis will travel from Galilee to Jerusalem by the direct route since it would take them through the Palestinian West Bank with the associated risk violence. In exactly the same way, most first century pilgrims making that journey would prefer, as Jesus himself did, to travel down the Jordan valley to Jericho and then turn west up the 3300 foot hill to Jerusalem. It was much safer. But still not completely safe. The 17 mile long desert road from Jericho to Jerusalem had many twists and turns. Thieves and robbers lay in wait out of sight in the nearby hills and valleys, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. A lonely traveller therefore was an easy target. And, when he was left half-dead, those who went by couldn’t tell whether he was dead or alive. Since Jericho was home for a number of priests the story Jesus tells may well have been based on fact. In any case, the priest and the Levite would, almost certainly have feared defilement since touching a corpse would have made them unclean according to Jewish Law. The Samaritan would have had no such qualms. Perhaps, given the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, it isn’t surprising that the lawyer could not bring himself to say “the Samaritan”.
The lawyers question asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life was a standard rabbinical question. A question to which, as he knew perfectly well there were standard answers available. His aim, rather was to put Jesus on the spot. To force him to say something that might appear heretical. When Jesus makes him reveal his own understanding, and then simply agrees with it, the lawyer now needs ‘to win the point’ to justify himself. In other words he had to show that he hadn’t asked a trivial or obvious question’ but needed ‘to come out on top in this public confrontation’. He tried to gain the initiative by demanding a more precise definition of his neighbour. He wants to know who counts as his “neighbour”. For him, God is the God of Israel so that “neighbours” must be Jewish neighbours. Indeed in Jesus’ parable we might have expected to hear how a Jew should show love to anybody, even a Samaritan. But Jesus doesn’t say that. He says rather that the Samaritan may be nearer to God’s kingdom than the pious but merciless Jews. The lawyer asked “Who is my neighbour” but Jesus suggests that the real question is “Do I behave as a neighbour, to everyone?” Do I behave as a neighbour to everyone?
For Jesus, Israel’s God is the God of grace FOR THE WHOLE WORLD, and a neighbour is anybody in need. Jesus’ telling question at the end isn’t asking who turned out to be the neighbour of the half dead Jew lying in the road. Underneath the apparently straightforward moral lesson (go and do thou likewise) we find a much sterner challenge. He is asking the lawyer, “Can you recognise the hated Samaritan as your neighbour? If you can’t you might be left for dead.” His challenge to Israel is to see that confrontation with Samaritans, Romans, and pagans of every sort is not the right way of living and showing God’s grace. He is urgently offering the way of peace. It is only the children of peace who will escape the self-inflicted judgement that will befall those bent on violence.
So how does this contribute to our living today?
First of all we can be grateful that despite all the pain and problems of the world, there are Good Samaritans around today. Think back over the last couple of years. We all know of very ordinary people who were good Samaritans to us during those difficult days. Someone who brought shopping in for us. Someone who rang to check we were ok. Our nurses and doctors. Or do you remember Cpt Sir Tom Moore who raised a vast sum of money for the NHS, but more importantly proved such a morale booster just when it was needed. I’m sure you can think of many more who were good Samaritans to you and your family.
On an international scale remember the scenes on TV of hundreds of frightened, displaced and stressed Ukrainian refugees being welcomed at train stations in Poland and in Germany. They were met with food and drink and given SIM cards for their phones. There were medical teams and translators waiting to help. There was a crowd too, hundreds strong, of Polish and German families standing there offering their homes to the refugees. Those Polish and German families beautifully embody Jesus teaching, by welcoming complete strangers into their homes. Likewise, in our own Diocese we are welcoming refugee Ukrainian families into our community
What a challenge that is to us the church. How well do we welcome strangers into our churches and our hearts? How open are we to welcoming ‘different’ people? To those not part of our ‘holy huddles’ or those we’re not comfortable around? If we truly remembered Jesus’ simple command to ‘do to others as we would have them do to us’ would we not greet them as friends, with a warm embrace? Would we hold their hands and listen to their story, offer compassion, kindness and comfort?’ Let us take a few moments to think about that.
Of course, as individuals we don’t have do great things. A simple kind word or gesture may be sufficient. To sit with those who need comfort. To listen as Uncle Fred tell us the same story he has told us a thousand times before! To care for those in need. To be a good neighbour to everyone, whoever they are. In other words as Jesus instructs us elsewhere: ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ John 13:34. This morning, and every morning, let us ask ourselves; “To whom can I be a good neighbour, a Good Samaritan today?”
Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 8:26-39), is at first reading a bit strange but it is most wonderful. Most exciting. Most reassuring, since it goes to the very heart of our Christian Faith.
Now, all Jewish literature, of which the Holy Bible is just one example, can be read on several different levels. It uses symbolism to get the message across. We need to unpick that symbolism to see what God is showing us. We need to look at this passage again, prayerfully and carefully, to see what we can learn from it.
In the preceding verses Luke tells us that Jesus had calmed the storm that arose whilst crossing the Sea of Galilee. Today’s passage tells us what happened when they arrived at the other side.
Jesus and His disciples had come to the province of Decapolis. The area where the Gerasene people lived. It is likely that the disciples knew the area having sold their fish in the markets there. Earlier Decapolis had been settled by veterans of Alexander the Great’s army. In Jesus’ time it had become a Roman province although many Jews also lived there. Essentially it was Gentile territory. That explains the presence of the pigs! Jews do not eat pork. It was considered unclean but the Gentile population would have no such dietary problems.
On arrival they were met with a man who had been chained up under guard, in the desert outside the city for a long time. He was tortured by many evil spirits. They had caused him to tear off his clothes and break his chains. On seeing Jesus he fell at His feet and cried out His Name: “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” When asked, he gave his own name as Legion. Legion is of course the name of a large cohort of Roman soldiers. It might be taken to indicate that he had a considerable number of problems. He begged Jesus to take those evil spirits away. To heal him. Jesus does just this by sending the evil spirits into the pigs to drown in the sea. When the townsfolk come to see what had happened they saw the man fully clothed, in new clothing since he had torn off his old ones, sitting at Jesus feet, at peace. Seeing the demon-possessed man cured they were afraid and asked Jesus to leave, which He did. We are not told where He went but that isn’t part of the story.
All very puzzling but let’s look at the story again on another level. Maybe that will help us to understand God’s message for us today.
The key to the story, I think, is that in Jesus’ time sickness was of thought to be the result of a sinful life. In that case, Luke is saying that the man had committed many sins in his life. Again, we do not know what they were. But they were many. In other words he was a thoroughly bad lot! As a result he had been chained up outside the city. He could do no more harm there. Yet the remembrance of those sins had driven him out of his mind. He needed to start again. He wanted to start again. He wanted to wipe the slate clean. But the events of his past life continued to haunt him. He could stand it no longer. He knew that God alone could forgive sin. And here, today, he recognised, standing in front of him was “the Son of the Most High God”! His reaction was to fall down before Him, confess his sins and beg for forgiveness. And that is exactly what Jesus did. He forgave him and gave him the peace he so fervently craved.
But why were the townsfolk afraid? Because like the demon possessed man they knew that God alone can forgive sins and here was this itinerant Jewish Rabbi doing just that! Who was he? This was all a bit frightening. Best send him away.
The pigs? They being unclean creatures, now symbolically bearing the man’s sins, were washed away in the sea. Of course water cleanses. It washes away the dirt and grime but it does not change the inside. It doesn’t alter the bodily form. If the swineherds had rescued the pigs from the sea, they would have found pigs. Dead pigs but pigs just as they had always been.
I think we can now see how the message of this morning’s Gospel reading relates to us.
As Jesus forgave the Gentile demon possessed man’s sins He has the power to forgive our sins, too. To take them away. To wipe the slate clean for us. To wash us clean. To give us new clean clothes. A new life. To give us peace. We are washed in the water of baptism. It doesn't change our physical form, we are still the same that far. But we are changed spiritually..
Indeed, that is the whole reason that He came to earth. The whole reason why He died on the Cross and rose from the dead. Jesus, the Son of God came into the world to save sinners. To save you and me!! The God who created the whole Universe, who put the stars in their place and made us from the dust of the earth came to earth to take away the sins of us, mere fallible humans. How amazing is that? And not just you and me but everybody who seeks Him and confesses their sins, regardless as to who they are.
The God who created the whole Universe, who put the stars in their place and made us from the dust of the earth came to earth to die for us, to take away our sins. We mere fallible humans. No wonder the man fell on his knees before Jesus. So should we! After all, what have we done to deserve such love and compassion? Absolutely nothing! In fact just the opposite. We have sinned and continue to sin. But God’s love for us is unconditional. He knows that being human we will sin again and again. Yet He is always there waiting for us to come to Him. To ask His forgiveness. Forgiveness that He freely gives. A God who is prepared to do this for us deserves all the praise, and honour and thanksgiving we can offer Him! And the whole world needs to know that. Rather urgently in fact!
Of course this is not some “get out of jail free card”. We need to repent. Truly repent. It is not a case of saying:” Sorry God” and then going away to do the same thing over again. We need to repent unreservedly. We need to mean what we say. And actually do something positive about it. We need to make a firm resolution to turn away from sin.
When we leave here this morning, refreshed by the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, let us proclaim to the world by our words and actions that: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God, came into the world to save sinners.
In the words of the Agnus Dei, which I think encapsulates God’s message this morning, let us pray: “Lamb of God have mercy upon us and grant us Peace. Peace as Jesus gave peace to the Gerasene Demoniac.”
The twin aims of our Christian Faith are Praise and Mission. In today’s readings we read that the disciples ‘returned to Jerusalem joyful’, having been given their mission.
Let us look at the events leading up to their joyful return to Jerusalem to see if we can discern the message for us today.
It has been a wild, confusing, helter-skelter few years for the disciples. It all started with this Rabbi calling them their trades to follow him. Note, He called them. For three years they had watched him heal the sick and listened to his teaching. They had become sure that he was the long awaited Messiah. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem was surely the time when he would declare himself King of the Jews and overthrow the evil powers oppressing them. But then after a few days things went downhill. Jesus was betrayed by one of His own. He was crucified, died and was buried. That seemed the end. No one has ever risen from the dead. And whoever has heard of a crucified Messiah?
Now, on the evening of the third day after his crucifixion, they were hiding in a room in the city with doors locked in fear of the authorities. This morning one of the women who had been to the tomb to anoint His body came back to say that she had seen Jesus. And, just now, the two disciples who had gone back to Emmaus returned to say that they too had seen and spoken with Him. What was going on?
At that moment Jesus appeared in the room, even though the doors were locked. There was no doubt that it was Him or that He was alive! In fact He had a meal with them. Luke records: ‘Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures and said to them: ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’ ‘You are witnesses of these things’ he said. This was to be their mission. They were to take the Good News to all nations.
Luke then records His final departure from the disciples. However, he does not connect the events together but just describes them as happening one after the other. We must not conclude that late in the evening of Easter Day Jesus would lead His followers to Bethany for a final farewell in the dark. This is confirmed in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles which tells us that Jesus spent more time instructing His followers before He finally left them.
That said on the Mount of Olives He gave them His blessing and ‘was taken into heaven’. They had hoped that either this was the time when Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel, or that they could go back to the old life travelling round the country, following him and learning from Him. But He had finally been taken from them. How were they to carry out the mission with which he had entrusted them? Jesus knew that they could not undertake such an important and dangerous task alone so He told them: ‘And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ They would be baptised with the Holy Spirit in a few days. The Holy Spirit would be their guide, support and comforter.
What happened next left them in no doubt that Jesus really was the Son of God. That He was Divine, just as He had been human. Luke tells us that: ‘While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ He would come again to earth in glory! He would return! Knowing that they returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’. Eager and willing to spread this Good News.
So what does this all mean for us?
First of all, the real message of Ascension Day is Jesus’ exaltation to His rightful place at God’s right hand. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was and is, and always will be Divine. By His death and resurrection He overcame death and took away the sins of the world. For such a great sacrifice as this we must give praise and thanksgiving.
Then, Christ is the Word of God and so to love him and to keep his words, which are the self-expression of what he is himself, are intimately bound up with each other. To keep the words of Christ is to treasure everything that Christ is. His words therefore, are not simply words of a Jewish Rabbi spoken some two thousand years ago, recorded in a book we know as the Bible. His Words are the Word of God. We can trust them. They are God-given.
Next, He will come again to bring His Kingdom of Peace, Joy and Love, over which He will reign triumphant forever. He will bring an end to the violence, vice and corruption that pollutes the world. He will bring heaven and earth together in one glorious and eternal union with Him.
Surely these are all excellent reasons to give Him praise and thanksgiving!
Now, the second element. Mission.
As the disciples were to be his ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’, so that is now our mission. To bring the Good News of God to the world today. To bring everyone to know God. Like the disciples we have the Holy Spirit to enable us to do that. Living as Jesus’ disciples, means setting aside some time each day to read God’s Word, carefully and prayerfully. Yes, prayer is most important for as the Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen says: ‘Let us listen to Jesus who dwells in the very depths of our heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t thrust himself upon us. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, it is the voice of a gentle love. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out.’ The Holy Spirit will tell us what God wants us to do and will help us to do it.
But faith alone is not enough. Faith and works are both needed for, as the Apostle James wrote, ‘faith without works is dead.’ (James 2:26) People need to see Christ in us, wherever we are and whatever we do. By the way we live our lives, by our word and by our actions. Whether that be preaching the Gospel, lending a sympathetic ear to a friend in her, or his time of need, in the queue at the supermarket check-out, or simply washing the dishes. In other words in our everyday lives we must show Christ. Even if it is just, “a smile a day goes a long, long way”, as my wife said.
The readings and liturgy for this wonderful feast day invite us all to share in the amazement of those first disciples of Jesus, so that we, too, can become like them – joyful followers of Christ. This week, let us pray for the opportunity to proclaim the joy of the Good News to as many people as possible.
Readings: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-end, Luke 24:44-end
There is so much trouble in the world today. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The destruction of the infrastructure of that country and the pain and suffering of its people. The despair of those displaced by that war. The effect on the other countries in Europe. The increasing cost of living here. And, of course, the Covid pandemic has still not gone away. People are still suffering from its effects. Where is God in all this? Is there any good news?
Well, yes there is.
Today’s readings all point to the Good News that God loves unconditionally, those who believe and follow Him.
The very familiar Psalm 23 tells of God’s comfort for those who believe: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’
And St Peter’s raising of the Greek lady Tabitha indicates that God’s love is not confined to one nation but is freely offered to all who believe.
In the Gospel reading Jesus sets out that message clearly. In fact He makes three points:
Firstly, Yes, He is the long awaited Messiah the prophets had predicted would come. The Messiah to lead them, God’s covenant people, to their rightful place as leaders of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Secondly, He stresses the need for those who wish to be His followers to believe that. And that is the key, Belief.
And lastly, He sets out very clearly God’s promises to those who believe.
In setting the scene of the Gospel passage, the Evangelist tells us that on that winter’s day, as ever, people gathered round him, eager to hear Him speak, or perform a miracle. The crowd included, of course some Pharisees and scribes. They asked him “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Now, some of the crowd may have asked out of curiosity, but others asked to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that they could use against Him. They all knew from their Scriptures that a Messiah was coming but was this the man? Certainly he seemed to have miraculous healing powers. They had seen the sick healed, the lame made to walk and the blind to see. And as a good Rabbi, or Teacher, he certainly knew the Law and the prophets.
There were a few problems, of course. For example, he did not always conform to their traditions and their interpretation of the Law. (By now the Ten Commandments had been amended, expanded and reinterpreted over the years.) If he was the Messiah surely he would conform to the Law in every respect, as every good Pharisee must. And he did have some rather harsh things to say about the Jewish establishment.
Jesus exasperated answer was, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe.” In other words, “Look, you have seen the sick healed, the blind made to see, and the lame to walk. You have heard me speaking. Is that not sufficient to prove who I am?”
The Jews, in common with many people today, I suggest, were trying to reason out if Jesus was the Messiah or not. But human reason will only take one so far. Belief, faith or trust,( they have the same Greek root pistis) go one step further, they cannot be defined by human logic. St. John Henry Newman once wrote: ‘Faith is a gift of God; we obtain it by prayer, we cannot gain it at once, but we can gain it at last.’ Reason precedes faith but does not, and cannot explain it.
To prove His claim to be the Messiah Jesus uses the analogy of a shepherd with his flock of sheep; something with which his audience would have been familiar. Here he points back to the good shepherd discourse described earlier in St John’ Gospel, but at the same time evokes the memory of David who was both a shepherd and a king. David whom they knew was the ancestor of the Messiah. However, “Because you don’t believe, you are not of my flock”, he says. “Those who do believe are my sheep. They hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
Now, and here is the Good News, He goes on to set out God’s promise to those who believe. And since we are of His flock in that we believe, what God promises to us.
But first of all, we need to remember that Jesus never promised that we will be saved from sorrow, suffering or mortal death. Jesus never promised that the road through life would be smooth, nor death easy. There will always be ups and downs, peaks and troughs, joy and sadness. Sometimes at one moment great joy and the next bitter sadness.
What He does say, however, is that He knows His sheep. He knows each of us by name. He knows what we need and what is best for us. He knows each of us by name. He knows what we need and what is best for us.
Then, He promises us eternal life; a life that will know no end. Death for those who believe, He says, will be not be the end but the beginning of a whole new and glorious chapter. Life in the presence of God. That may seem rather tenuous, something way off in the future. But eternal life does not begin in the future; God’s gift of life is already present in each of us.
And lastly, He promises; ‘No one will snatch them out of my hand.’ Here He is echoing God’s promise to the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land: ‘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.
If his listeners needed further proof of His claim to be the Messiah, He ends by stating quite clearly: “The Father and I are one.”
So, Jesus is the Messiah, He loves us unconditionally and wants what is best for us. It may not seem like that at times but we can trust Him. That means that at the sorest moment and the darkest hour we can still be conscious of the everlasting arms of God, beneath and around us. Even in those times we will know the serenity of God.
This week, then let us take comfort in God’s glorious promises and give thanks for all His gifts to us. This week, too, perhaps we can pray especially for those who, for whatever reason, may feel lost and without the protection of the shepherd they once knew. Let us also remember those who are searching for a flock in which to make their home. Amen
Readings: John 10:22-30. Psalm 23, Acts 9:36-43.
The other day I came across a quote by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest, professor, psychologist and prolific writer.
He wrote: “Lent is a demanding time, a time of listening to the voice within but also a time of paying attention to the needs of other people.”
“a time of listening to the voice within but also a time of paying attention to the needs of others”
In other words, it is not all about me and what I want. A sentiment that today’s Gospel reading (John 12:1-8) illustrates.
Lazarus, having been raised for the dead by Jesus invites Him and His disciples to a thanksgiving meal. Indeed, as you would expect, he was so grateful that everyone was invited! Of course, he, and all the people at table would have known by this time that the High Priest had condemned Jesus to death so that this may have been the last opportunity Lazarus had to invite Him and his friends to share his hospitality.
His sisters Martha and Mary are present of course. Martha preparing and serving the meal in accordance with tradition. Mary, the Mary whom the Evangelist Luke tells us sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teaching His disciples, even though Martha could have done with some help in the kitchen! Mary, for whom Jesus asked when He arrived in Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. Mary whose weeping when Jesus arrived to raise Lazarus caused Our Lord to weep with her. Mary who takes the most valuable thing she has, a jar of very expensive perfume, and uses it to anoint Jesus’ feet. Not only that she washes His feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. No respectable Palestinian woman at the time would be seen in public with unbound hair! Loose hair = loose morals!! But she gave no thought to herself or what people might think of her. She gave all she had to Jesus. The man whom she loved; the man who Martha had told her was the Messiah.
The disciples were horrified at her actions. Indeed, Judas voiced the sentiment of them all. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Very reasonable and very compassionate. After all, 300 denarii was about one year’s wages for the working man at the time.
Of course we know that Judas was a thief who wanted the money for himself not the poor. What a contrast to Mary’s boundless generosity!
So what can we take from this story?
I am not suggesting that anyone here is a thief, but before we condemn Judas out of hand let us ask ourselves, do we pay attention to the needs of others? Or do our own wants come first?
Do we sometimes make what appear to be very reasonable, and indeed charitable choices, to excuse doing something we would rather not do? Or perhaps to justify why we took some action?
Let us look at the refugee situation, for example.
The DEC appeal for Ukraine raised £55m on the first day. The last time I looked the figure had risen to £200m. A large number of people have signed up to house Ukrainian refugees. The Diocese has pledged to work to provide homes for 50 refugees. And our Newsletter this week has set out ways in which we can help. In all there has been a vast outpouring of compassion for them, not only in this country but around the world.
But do we show that same compassion towards refugees trying to cross the Channel to get to this country, even though some drown in the process. The latest figures are not officially available but in 2019 the Home Office records 35,566 asylum applications. (France received 128,940 applications, by the way.) Do we say, as I have heard recently, “They are only coming to take advantage of our NHS, but it has a backlog and can’t cope as it is. Why let them in? They’ve contributed nothing but they get everything for free.” Concern for the NHS? Like Judas’s apparent concern for the poor, very laudable. Yet I can almost hear Jesus’ response! The same response He gave to Judas. “You will always have the NHS with you, and it will always need funding, but you will not always have me.”
I appreciate that the Ukranians are coming here legally whilst those crossing the Channel are not, but is there really, deep down, a difference? After all, as Shakespeare had Shylock say in the Merchant of Venice: “I am a Jew. If you prick us do we not bleed?” Are we not showing an unconscious prejudice? Is concern for the NHS really what we mean? Is it rather that we don’t want these people living next door, in our nice clean, neat community? Don’t we recognise God in the refugee?
Or, what about seeking election to the PCC or leading the prayers? Or perhaps preaching the Gospel? Is our response, “Yes, of course, I’ll give it a go.” or “Someone else should do that. I can’t give the time. I have to take my grandson to football some Sundays.” Very laudable but what about those who have been doing the job for a while now and could do with a rest. Are we thinking of them or ourselves? Can we not see God in our fellow members of the congregation?
Yes, sometimes we want everything to go on as before. We can be rigid, set in our ways so that nothing and no one will change us. But we need to be open to God’s call to love our neighbour, whoever he or she is. We need to pay attention to the needs of others. It is not all about me, as Judas’s protest was.
Mary took the most precious thing she owned and spent it all on Jesus. What is the most precious thing we have? Our hearts, our lives. Are we prepared to give all to Jesus as Mary did?
One last point. The Evangelist sets the scene for this meal “Six days before the Passover”. And we know what happened before that Passover! Lent is running out. Next week is Palm Sunday followed by Good Friday. Let us not delay.
“Lent is a demanding time, a time of listening to the voice within but also a time of paying attention to the needs of other people.”
Readings: Genesis 2:4b-19, 15-25, Psalm 65, Revelation 4, Luke 8:22-25
Last year I found an unmarked envelope at the back of the kitchen drawer. It contained some dry dusty seeds. I had no idea what they were but I scattered them in the garden without too much care. Shortly afterwards green shoots appeared heralding a fine crop of beautiful flowers! How did that happen? Nothing that I had done could have converted those dry dusty seeds into flowers. So how? The answer can be found in our Old Testament reading which describes the creation of the world. God had created the world but there were no plant or herbs growing yet as God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and there was no one to till the ground. So, God provided the rain to water the earth and someone to work on it. That way the seed could grow. Yet that still doesn’t answer the question; how does the dry seed turn into a flower or vegetable? Again our Old Testament reading provides the answer: ‘then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.’ Once again, it is God who breathes life not only into man at his creation, or birth, but into the seed as well enabling it to develop into a flower, fruit or vegetable!
Now, whilst some may dismiss this version of creation as an out dated legend since scientists have shown that we humans evolved over millions of years, nevertheless someone or something must have breathed life into the first organism, whatever it was; a someone we call God, so maybe this is not so far-fetched after all.
What is clear is that God loves all his Creation; including the human being he made to care for it. He showed that love by creating not only food for man to eat and birds and animals to help him care for the planet but a companion, in the form of a woman.
The Lord God created you and me. How then should we respond to that love? This morning’s Psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving for the earth’s bounty. The opening words ‘Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion’ make that very clear right the way through the psalm, ending with the words: ‘the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy’, whilst the reading from the Revelation of St John the Divine, reinforces that response with everyone singing: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things’
God created all things and God loves His Creation. In fact so much that in St. Matthew’s Gospel we learn that; ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ Matt.5:45 NRSV. So that is why the weeds in our garden flourish! And so although Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden of Eden, yet God still showed his love and compassion for them by providing them with clothing to cover their nakedness as they wandered the earth.
Now, the one point is very clear throughout all three of our readings, and the psalm this morning and that is that God created Adam, and by extension us, to act as stewards of his creation but we do not own it. It is not ours to do with as we wish, it is God’s creation. Our Gospel reading tells us that when the storm threatened to sink the boat and drown the disciples, despite being experienced fishermen who would have known the lake like the back of their hand, there was nothing they could do to prevent the storm, only God, in Jesus could do that: ‘And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.’
God’s Creation, not ours, and we must respect that. Yet we treat it as if it were provided just for our own benefit. We mine for coal and other precious resources, we drill for oil and we tear down trees, we pollute the rivers and oceans with our discarded plastic. All to give ourselves a better standard of living with no thought about other people or future generations. As a result the earth is getting hotter so that we are experiencing more violent and devastating storms and floods as we have seen over the last few days and record summer temperatures.
It is clear that as stewards we have not done a very good job so far, but time is running out for us to work for a sustainable planet, since climate change affects everything from geopolitics to economies to migration, shaping cities and life expectancies. We are quite capable of making the necessary changes to our lifestyle, if we have a mind to do so. But do we have the will to do so?
Much was expected of the recent UN conference on climate change in Glasgow but whilst some progress was made, cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are still far from where they need to be to preserve a liveable climate, whilst support for the most vulnerable countries affected by the impacts of climate change is still falling far short. “The approved texts are a compromise,” said UN Secretary-General. “They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.” “They reflect the state of political will in the world today”. In other words it is someone else’s problem not mine. But, YES IT IS. Each one of us must play our part to show more respect for God’s Creation.
So, what can we do?
Well, we can lobby our politicians, and big business, to make a real commitment to the challenge.
The Church of England has drawn up a Route Map to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Now, getting to that level in the next eight years can sound a bit like pie in the sky but the aim is for us to do what we can, not what we can’t. We need to be realistic about what we can afford, and what is good value in environmental terms. So, as a church we at St Mary Magdalene must consider how we might become more environmentally sustainable. Prayer is, as ever a good place to start but the Diocese has a great deal of good advice on its website. Why not take a look?
But how can we as individuals make a difference? How can we reduce our carbon footprint? I offer a few ideas for your consideration:
Could we share cars, or maybe use public transport? Could we turn the heating thermostat down by 1°C or reduce the time that the heating is on by 15 minutes. (We need to be aware of the health and age of our family before turning the heating down too much. Hypothermia is a killer.) We might install low-energy light bulbs and think about switching to green energy. The Energy Savings Trust has some good advice. Again, we might look at how many air miles our food has travelled before reaching the supermarket shelf. Is there a more local alternative available? One of our neighbours eats a vegetarian diet one week but a meat diet the next. Is that an option?
We need to remember that God loves each of us and we are called to love him in return. One way we can do that is by a more careful stewarding of his creation, because unless we do something about reducing our carbon footprint now, things will only get worse. By doing something, even something quite small, we will show our love for God and for our neighbour, whoever and wherever he or she is.
So this week let us ‘sing and shout for joy’ in praise, gratitude and thanksgiving to our loving God and Creator for the beauty and bounty of His Creation. And let us take some positive step, however small, to care for God’s planet more carefully than we have done in the past.
Readings: Genesis 45:3-15, Psalm 37, 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, Luke 6:27-38
Jesus came down from the mountain where he had been to pray to level ground where the people from the surrounding Galilean countryside could assemble – and a substantial number of people were present. Doubtless many were attracted by Jesus’ healing powers, but He did not lose the opportunity to teach them. The lessons He taught them that day we now know as the Beatitudes. Earlier Jesus has called His first disciples but this teaching was not intended specifically for them but for all His followers – including you and me.
Throughout His ministry Jesus always said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it. The Law of Moses, with which those listening to his teaching would have been familiar, states ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’ Leviticus 19:18. In today’s Old Testament reading we heard that Joseph did not hold a grudge against his brothers even though they had tried to kill him. He obeyed the Law of Moses. However here Jesus takes that one stage further by saying: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. …… Do to others as you would have them do to you. …. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as you Father is merciful.” Now, that is something to get one’s head around, and I can imagine a few people hearing Jesus’ message that day saying “You are asking me to love the Romans who have taken my land; who have imposed excessive taxes on me; who have made life almost impossible for me? You want me to love them, to do good to them? Forget it!” and then walking away. And we might have sympathy with them since we sometimes feel the same way.
Our country may not be ruled by foreign invaders but we do live in a multi-ethnic society. And so we may ask ourselves do we really love those of a different race, religion, sexual orientation or even political opinion?
But let me tell you a story, a story of one community’s commitment with put their faith into action. It is a story I use by kind permission of the Community of the Cross of Nails which is based at Coventry Cathedral:
‘On the night of 14th November, 1940, Coventry and its Cathedral endured a one-off, but relentless, bombing campaign. Overnight, the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ offensive destroyed much of central Coventry, hundreds of its people and left its Cathedral in ruins. Only the outer shell of the walls and the tower remained standing.
In the days that followed, two enduring symbols emerged from the rubble: two charred roof-beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and placed at the site of the ruined altar, and three medieval roof nails were also formed into a cross, which became the original Cross of Nails (now located at the High Altar in the new Cathedral). Shortly after, the words ‘Father Forgive’ – deliberately neutral in content – were inscribed on the wall of the ruined chancel, and Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. During the BBC radio broadcast from the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over we should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’
The Cross of Nails quickly became a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany and the developing links between Coventry and the cities of Kiel, Dresden and Berlin, ( which had all suffered as a result of Allied bombing). Many were gifted, in thanks and in friendship, to contacts all over the world. By 1974 such informal friendships were numerous, and they were all drawn into a brand new Community of the Cross of Nails, which has continued to grow globally to this day. By this time, the new Cathedral, a landmark in post-war architecture, had been opened in 1962. Coventry Cathedral is thus one of the world’s oldest religious-based centres for reconciliation, and its work in preceding decades has involved it in some of the world’s most difficult and long-standing areas of conflict. Today the medieval ruins of Coventry Cathedral, freely open to all, continue to remind us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation. They stand today as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatised by war and violent conflict world-wide.
The Community became a worldwide network of some 250 churches, charities, peace-building centres, and educational and training organisations. All partners adhere to the three guiding principles of the Community of the Cross of Nails: Healing the wounds of history, Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and Building a culture of peace. Today, their greatest number of partners are in Germany, the UK & Ireland and the USA, but they also have sizeable numbers in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands and Central and Eastern Europe; overall, they have partners in 45 countries across five continents. Different partners may focus on political, racial, religious, social or economic reconciliation; they may address war and violent conflict, post conflict restoration or healing; their work can have broad and far-reaching, national or regional consequences, or it can make a significant difference to local communities and individual people’s lives.’
So what can we take from that story? Jesus’ command really tests our motivation and challenges us. The idea of loving our enemies is just as hard for us to put into practice as the listeners on that day would have found it. After all, it was all his fault. He started the argument. All I did was to give my opinion, but he wouldn’t listen. Why should I apologise to him? Why should I want to have anything to do with him? No, best to forget all about it. But remember the Provost’s commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible; to work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’ In other words he was echoing Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel reading – Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
You see, Jesus was illustrating an attitude of heart, a lightness of spirit in the face of all that the world can throw at us. We are called to be like this because that is what God is like; God is generous to all people, generous, providing good things for all to enjoy, the undeserving as well as the deserving. And, let’s face it, if we lived in a society where everyone believed in this God there wouldn’t be any violence. There wouldn’t be any revenge or divisions of class or colour or race. Owning property or possessions wouldn’t be nearly as important as making sure our neighbour was ok. Wouldn’t that be a better world in which to live? We are being invited to have a heart like Jesus, to reach out without wanting anything in return. We can have a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude to the faults of others. In return, we can accept God’s unconditional and generous love.
So, perhaps over the next week or so we might ask ourselves, “Do I have to be right all the time? Could I not listen to the other person’s point of view?” Am I prepared to welcome Jesus’s way of loving? There may be people I find difficult to love. Can I hold these people in prayer, helping me to love generously? Prayer is, after all the most powerful weapon we have in our armoury. But maybe we could give the other person a ring, or write a letter, or even an email. Just make the first move. Nothing may come of it but we will have tried. Again we cannot change the world overnight. On our own we cannot stop the wars raging round the world but we can pray for our leaders, for those in power that they may see sense and work for peace and justice.
Let me end with a prayer, the prayer that serves as a reminder that when we pray about the problems of the world around us, we need to begin by acknowledging the roots of those problems in our own hearts. This prayer, the Litany of the Cross of Nails, is freely available for use. It is prayed at noon each weekday in Coventry Cathedral and in the Cathedral ruins on Fridays:
‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. AMEN
Today's Readings: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-1, 21, 22.
Some years ago I was a manager in a large company. A safe secure job for life, or so I thought! One day as a result of one of many reorganisations within the company my role was axed and I was made redundant, along with many others in a similar position. So, on Friday I was needed, useful, a person with responsibilities within the company, but on Monday I was nobody. I had been thrown out unwanted, unemployed; just another statistic. I felt useless since the company continued in business without me, as if I’d never been there. I was not part of the company family anymore. I have no doubt many have experienced something similar. These last couple of years in particular have left many, especially the elderly, isolated in their homes, unable to meet with their families and hug their loved ones. Some may have felt, “I am not part of my family anymore.” In each case a feeling of not belonging.
But then God never promised us that life would be easy.
In this morning’s Old Testament reading the Israelites find themselves in just this situation. Dragged from their homes in Israel into captivity in Babylon, a strange place, a different culture, where people didn’t speak their language, where people worshipped strange idols. And they are slaves! They yearned to be free, to be back home in their own country, with their own people who had been left behind, with their own families and able to worship the God of their fathers freely. To make matters worse, they were aware that the Persian army was threatening Babylon. This probably meant they would just exchange one set of captors for another. And the Persians may be worse than the Babylonians!
It is in these circumstances that Isaiah gives them comfort and the reassurance that they may be away from their families but they are part of God’s family and nothing will keep them from His love. He writes that the Lord, their God, their Creator says: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’. Older commentaries take ‘I have redeemed you’ to mean ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against you’
In our Gospel reading St Luke tells us that at Jesus’ baptism, whilst He was praying, ‘a voice came from heaven “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”’. Now, Jesus did not need to be told that since we believe that Jesus and His Father are One, God. Rather it is confirms and gives direction to something Jesus said to his parents when they found him in the temple after three days of searching for him: “Do you not know I must be about my Father’s business?”
And what was His Father’s business? It was to bring us all together as one family into His glorious kingdom that Jesus came to earth, for this that he commenced his ministry following his baptism. A ministry that laid the ground for the coming of the Kingdom of God, a ministry that ended, not in death on the cross but in his resurrection, in his overcoming death and thereby taking away the sins of the world. My sins and yours.
So what does this all mean to us here and now?
It means, quite simply that God knows and loves us, whoever we are, wherever we are and whatever we have done, or not done. God knows and loves us just as we are and wants us to be members of His family. But we have been given free will, the ability to choose whether we accept His invitation or not.
At his baptism the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came upon Jesus and God called Jesus by name “You are my Son, the Beloved…” At our baptism we receive our name, our Christian name, the name by which God calls us. It is at our baptism that we choose to become a member of God’s family. And whilst a dove may not appear nevertheless the Holy Spirit comes to us. Yes, Emmanuel, God-with –us, is right here, right now, where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. The gates of Hades will not prevail against us, for we believe we will have a place in God’s Kingdom.
How wonderful is that? God is with us and loves us unconditionally. He has called us by name, we are His, part of His family. We belong to Him!
Now is the time to deepen our trust in God to lead us through the mud and muck as well as field and flower. In all of it, God comes to be with us, mercifully. St Luke tells us that at his baptism Jesus was praying. From our own prayers we may expect both the fresh energy of the Holy Spirit and the still quiet voice reminding us of God’s amazing, affirming love for us.
If we accept that by our baptism we are beloved of God then, individually and collectively, we will want to send out a message and an invitation to others “come and share our experience of faith, love and fellowship. The signals we send out as individuals, as families, as parish are really the only way that people who are searching for meaning in their lives may be led to find that meaning in the Gospel. The only way they will be led to become members of God’s family themselves.
So, when we feel lonely, depressed, forgotten, unloved, unworthy, or meet others in a similar situation, let us remember God’s message to the Israelites: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’. After all, Cyrus, the king of Persia allowed the Israelites to return home, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. They did not need to fear the Persian invasion for God had called them by name, they were His chosen people. In like manner, we, as a baptised Christians, are beloved of God, members of God’s family just as the voice proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism.
And yes, after a period of feeling depressed about not belonging to the family of the employed, a friend said: “I can’t offer you full time work but my diary is double booked tomorrow. Can you help me out just this once?” I did. More occasional work followed so that once again I felt useful. I need not have fretted for God knew my needs, He knows me by name, I am as we all are, His; a part of His family.
On Sunday I preached my first sermon at St Mary Magdalene Church.
On arrival I was met by a Churchwarden who greeted me with the words: " I hope you are in good voice this morning. Last nights storm took out all the electrical supply in the church. The fuse box just melted. So, we have no lights, nor microphones." The service went ahead with some people using the torch on their mobile phones to read the hymns whilst others just hummed along. Fortunately there was a window next to the Lectern from which I preached so I had a little light and with a bit of voice projection even those in the back pews heard God's message.
Here is my sermon::
This morning’s Epistle was written whilst Paul was in chains, in a prison in Rome. Whether Paul himself wrote it or someone on his behalf is the subject of debate amongst scholars, but that need not concern us here. It is addressed to the small community that Paul established at Ephesus in Asia Minor on one of his missionary journeys. It uses the analogy of the armour of a Roman soldier, perhaps the one who was guarding Paul at the time. I take from it that he is saying that as the soldier trusts his armour to protect him against his enemy so the spiritual armour of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit will protect them as the King James version puts it ‘on the evil day’. In other words the spiritual armour, a trust in God, can be trusted as the soldier’s physical armour. However, from this passage the words that leapt out at me were: “Pray also for me that I may be granted the right words when I speak, and may boldly and freely make known the hidden purpose of the gospel.” Now I am not in prison nor in chains as Paul was, but as I start my preaching ministry, I echo St Paul’s plea, and ask you all to pray for me that I may be granted the right words to speak. It is a daunting challenge and one that I have been trying to avoid accepting. When the small still voice first spoke to me I resisted and continued to do so for many months, despite the persistence of the call. After all, I said to myself, St Mary Magdalene already has three very experienced preachers. Does it need an aged novice like me? Anyway, what could I offer? I am not qualified to preach. But someone reminded me that God does not call the qualified He qualifies the called. So here I am.
I thank you, Father M, and you Father G, for all your encouragement and support and for delaying this commissioning service until my friends and family could be present. It is a great encouragement to me that so many of you here to support me.
The young church at Ephesus was probably no bigger than the congregation here and would have met in one another’s houses, sharing food, comfort and worship together. But also because there were so many enemies out there; pagan deities to be worshipped and antagonism from the Jewish community who would not accept them, for example. They came together like a family really. Family is important. Together we share each other’s joys and sorrows. Together we share the bad times as well as the good so that if one is in trouble the others will rally round to help. Together the family provides a safe place, a home, to which any member can return, whatever they have done, and know that they are always welcome. Our families teach us how to share, how to love, how to be fair, and how to serve others. Of course, being human not all members of a family will see eye to eye on everything. Indeed, even in the best regulated family its members will sometimes cause us a great deal of pain and suffering, and again none of us can predict the future, which can throw up some very nasty surprises, as the coronavirus pandemic has shown, but still we all share a common bond.
When the going gets tough for us, as it did at Ephesus, it is easy to forget that we are members of God’s family and turn away from Him, to seek solace elsewhere. But God did not promise that our path through life would be smooth, God knows that there will be ups and downs, mountains to climb, rivers and valleys to cross. Yet when the disciples were faced with the option of going elsewhere Simon Peter said, as we heard in our Gospel reading: “Lord, to whom will we go? We believe and know that you are God’s Holy One”. But even he, when faced with the ultimate challenge, did what I suspect any of us would have done and fled.
We are all members of the large and diverse family of God. It is a family made up of human members who may not see eye to eye on everything and indeed who will sometimes cause each other pain and suffering. Now, one thing of which we can be certain is that God understands the problems all families face. After all over the centuries, the millennia, His human family has caused Him untold distress and suffering and, sadly, continues to do so. But it is a family whose God and Father loves His Creation unconditionally, each and every part of it. As Solomon said in our OT reading: showing them constant love. He is a God who wants the best for them whoever they are and whatever they have done. And because of that, the one thing He did promise was that He will be with us; He will never fail us or forsake us so that we don’t have to carry our burdens alone. The prophet Isaiah writing many years before St Paul put it this way: 'For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.'
Let me tell you a story that illustrates that point:
One day, pre Covid, I had to visit the dentist. Whilst awaiting my turn a young girl about 4 or 5 years old, came bouncing in to the waiting room holding her father’s hand. Father explained to the receptionist that he wanted to register his daughter as a new patient. They sat by the window where they could see the traffic, the passers-by, the trees and the birds. The child had no idea where she was or why. Daddy had brought her here in his car and led her to this room, where everyone sat quietly reading or staring into the distance, waiting for something to happen. Anyway, there were lots of interesting things to see from the window. Daddy spoke to a lady but when she left them he was still there so everything was ok, wasn’t it? She climbed on his lap, gave him a big hug and a great big smile that lit up the whole waiting room. Father put his arm around his daughter and there could be no doubt about the love he had for her. A love that was clearly reciprocated. When the nurse called them to see the dentist father stood up and offered his hand to his daughter. She took it without hesitation, clutched it tightly, and went with him through the door and along the corridor. She had no idea what lay beyond that door or where the corridor led, but Daddy had a firm hold of her hand and she knew instinctively that he would not let anything bad happen to her. She loved and trusted him as he loved her.
So, whatever you do this coming week remember we are all members of God’s family, a family whose Father loves us and cares for us unconditionally. He is a God and Father, who will not let us face the slings and arrows of this world alone. In fact, He offers us His hand and calls us to follow Him, to go with Him. As the little girl took her father’s hand with confidence and followed him, even though she had no idea where they were going, or what lay beyond that door, so are we called to take the hand our God and Father offers us and follow him, even though we may have no clear idea where we are going. The hand that is offered is God’s unconditional love for us summed up in the word Abba, which means Father, but can probably best be translated as Daddy. Taking God’s hand and following him is our response to God’s unfailing love for us.
The last three years hadn’t worked out quite as the disciples had expected. John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus to Andrew who had brought his brother Simon to listen to what Jesus had to say. It was pretty powerful stuff so powerful that Andrew, Simon, James and John gave up their fishing business to follow this Rabbi. Indeed, when later Jesus asked Simon Peter who he was, Peter replied that: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Mat 16.16 His message was sound and the kingdom he proposed was exactly what was needed and just the opposite of the severe rule imposed by their Roman oppressors. Now since it threatened their positions within the Roman system his message upset the High priests and their cohorts. They realised that the Romans weren’t worried about how the Jews practised their religion, YHWH was just another god to them, but the idea of a Jewish Messiah or King Emperor would threaten them and bring down the retribution of the Empire. Hence their plan to get rid of Jesus.
The disciples had high hopes that things would change when Jesus assumed his rightful place as Messiah and thus ruler of Israel. His entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey that day seemed to be the time. But it hadn’t happened then; indeed he had been crucified as a common criminal. His resurrection and appearances to them in the days following gave them hope once more. When forty days after his resurrection he took them up the mountain called Olivet, they thought this must be the time for Jesus to take up his role as Messiah and restore Israel to its former glory. As Luke tells us: ‘Then they gathered round him and asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”’ Jesus did not address their question directly but did say that, ‘“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” and with that he was taken up into heaven, never to be seen again. Acts 1:6-9. There seemed nothing more for the disciples to do so they returned to Jerusalem to the upstairs room where they were lodging.
You can imagine their confusion, their worries, their anxieties and their fears. For the last three years Jesus had always been with them but now they were on their own. Their days of fishing were behind them but what lay ahead? They had Jesus’ last word, his command to go out into all the world to proclaim his message ringing in their ears. What a daunting task that would be! Yes, they had been out on their own before but then Jesus had been awaiting them on their return. Now He would not be! Where was he when they needed him? He was gone now, they had seen him taken up into heaven. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come on them but when would that happen and what use would that be? So many questions and Jesus not here to answer them!
I can imagine the Apostle James saying to the disciples assembled in that room: “Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit would come and he will. We just don’t know when at the moment but Jesus has never let us down yet, and I for one don’t believe He ever will. Let us stop panicking and pray as He taught us.” And that, Luke tells us, is exactly what they did. And, as promised, the Holy Spirit did come on the disciples at Pentecost, the Jewish Festival of Weeks that celebrates the bringing in of the Spring harvest. As a result with the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they were able to carry Jesus’ message to all nations of the world.
So, when everything seems to be getting on top of you; when you can’t see a way out of the troubles, the darkness and gloom surrounding you, remember how the disciples reacted, 'constantly devoting themselves to prayer' Acts 1:14, and follow their example. God is there and will walk with you wherever He calls you to go and however perilous the journey.
This week, when trouble comes knocking on your door: ‘Panic less and pray more’. May the Lord be with you this coming week in all you do and say.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK