You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
It will soon be March; that’s three months since we made all those New Year’s resolutions. So how have we got on? Now might be a good opportunity to look again at them to see how many of them we have managed to keep. Some will have been easy to keep whilst others, more difficult to achieve, may have ended up in the bin, at least until next year. Yet if the resolution was worthwhile, and only careful discernment will have determined that, should we not have tried a bit harder? Alone it may not have been easy, but with someone else’s assistance, could we have achieved our goal? Did we not think to ask our best friend for His help and support? Many years ago the psalmist said: ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Psalm 46:1(NIV). Why did we not ask Him to help us? Indeed, later the Evangelist spells out the message quite clearly: ‘Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”’ Matthew 19:26 (NIV). Jesus is always there for us, willingly offering assistance, if only we will take it. Did He not say: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30(NIV).
I rather like the picture painted here. Jesus as the son of a carpenter would have been well used to making, or helping his father Joseph, make yokes for the local pack animals. His listeners too, would have been familiar with a yoke that binds two animals in tandem. Pulling a heavy load is so much easier if the two work together as one. Jesus then, is here (not there) ready to walk with us, to help carry our heavy load, along the way God has laid down for us, if we will accept his yoke.
Lent starts on February 14th this year. It is a time to turn away from our sinfulness and recommit ourselves to following Christ; the perfect time to look again at our New Year’s resolutions. To tackle those that prayerful discernment tells us really do need keeping. And remember we are not alone for: “With God all things are possible”
Virtually every room in our house has a bookshelf groaning under the weight of books. Having been brought up before the digital age I love the feel of a book; somehow a downloaded eBook is not quite the same. Once I would spend hours browsing in the local library, before taking home an armful of books, on loan for a fortnight. All those wonderful adventure stories set in wild exotic places capturing my youthful imagination. (As I grew up my tastes matured you will be pleased to know!) Even today I find it difficult to pass a second-hand bookshop, whilst the online retailers are just too tempting. What annoys me, though, is to see a book defaced by a previous reader’s annotations, comments or underlining. Often a second-hand book will be covered in other people’s scribbles! Perhaps defaced is too strong a word and maybe I am being pedantic, but I do think that for all the time and effort the author puts into his creation – that’s what it is after all - his work deserves to be treated with respect.
In the same way God took a lot of time and trouble in creating the Universe which, rather like the lending library, he has loaned to us to look after temporarily. Yet do we treat that loaned gift with respect or do we scribble all over it? Sadly, over the years we have defaced Planet Earth in so many ways. The Amazon forest has been, and is being torn down at an alarming rate whilst we all jump into our cars powered by fossil fuel thus adding to the pollution of the atmosphere. Recently we hear that the people of Cape Town in South Africa have to draw water from standpipes because the reservoir supplying the city has dried up. All this is as a result of global warming. There is an argument, of course that says: “I need to dig coal to provide for my family. Someone else can worry about global warming.” And, in the same way, I can still read my scribbled on book. But is this the right approach? In his encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis calls on each of us to take ‘swift and decisive global action’. It is no coincidence that every country in the world, except one, has signed up to an agreement to limit the emission of greenhouse gases to reduce the effect of global warming. The reductions specified are small but it is a step in the right direction.
As I treasure my random collection of books, let me give the same attention to my care of this fragile planet.
Will you pray with me, please: “Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.” (Pope Francis) I give you, Lord, what I am and possess. Heal my heart. Amen.”
The Gospel and Epistle readings at Mass following the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are taken from the King James Authorised version of the Bible. However, since language moves on words and phrases sometimes have a different meaning now to that originally intended. Equally, the words and sentence construction it uses can be difficult for the modern reader or listener to understand. No doubt that is why we have such a proliferation of Bible translations in existence nowadays. Perhaps it is no wonder then that the AV - indeed the Bible in general - can be open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding, so that texts may be taken from it to validate an opinion or viewpoint which may not be what the writer intended, but nevertheless appear to confirm the speaker’s viewpoint. Indeed, there are some in our world who use religion as an excuse to treat others terribly; but theirs is no valid religion, despite their frequent claims to be its only authoritative followers.
Of course, it is not only texts from the Bible that can be misinterpreted; how often have you said something only to wish in the same instant that you could take it back? With this modern day dominance of social media, what might have been wiser to think about before publishing is out there for the entire world to see in an instant. And once said or published it cannot be unsaid – the words are out there. Yet many years ago the author of Proverbs was aware of the potential problems when he said: ‘Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity’ Proverbs 21:23 NIV (UK). (The KJV says: ‘Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.’) But, St Paul had the right idea when he wrote his letter to the church at Corinth. Here he said: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’ 1 Corinthians 13:1(NIV). And that is the key, say what you have to say with love, not hatred or ill-will.
The words of the Bible, whichever version you prefer is as true today as it ever was, we must not forget that but, please, I pray, let us remember the words of the Psalmist: ‘I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”’ Psalm 39:1 (NIVUK).
Think before you write, or speak and pray before you think!
As I mentioned last week I had to attend hospital yesterday for a check on my eyes. I had never been to this particular hospital before, and so was not quite sure what to expect. However it does have a specialized eye unit. In fact, on arrival the signage in the foyer was very clear making it easy to find the correct department. In the waiting room there were a great number of people; people of every age, size, shape, religion and ethnicity you could think of. The clinic was extremely busy, indeed, one of the nurses said that they had seen 100 patients one morning last week with a further 117 at the afternoon clinic. I wondered how long I would need to wait to be seen but the whole process worked with the efficiency of a well oiled machine so that I was seen by the consultant on time.
Like their patients, the staff too, was equally ethnically diverse, but that made no difference to the way in which they treated them. That is the point that I must emphasise; despite the high volume of patients, each one received the same high level of kindness, courtesy and respect, whoever they were.
Yet there is so much racial and religious hatred in the world today. Why? What possible reason do people have for inciting violence against others on the basis of their religion, gender or the colour of their skin? Why do “we” think we are superior to “them”? I appreciate that the Psalmist said: You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour Psalm 8:5 (NIV), but he was referring to all men, not just the well heeled, middle class white person who may, or may not, attend a Christian church on Sunday. After all, Jesus came to earth as a Jew but every man woman and child on this planet is made in God’s image.
This busy hospital, whose staff came from such a wide range of races and religions, set an example for the world. If they can work together as effectively as they do, and treat all their patients with the courtesy and respect that they showed to everybody yesterday, why cannot the rest of us? As Jesus Himself said: ‘For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ Mark 3:35.
There was no doubt that God was there yesterday in that busy hospital department.
And I was pleased to learn that the mole on the back of my eye though near the optic nerve is not malignant.
I have to go to hospital later this week for tests on my eyes. I don’t think there is really a problem but the local ophthalmologist wants a second opinion on a mark on the back of my right eye. Our eyes are a very important part of our physical makeup; I can’t imagine not being able to see. Yet how often do we look but not actually see.
It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Sunday’s Gospel reading was from John 1:43-51. Here Philip tells his friend Nathaniel that they had found the ‘One about whom Moses wrote in the law... Jesus, the son of Joseph, the man from Nazareth’. Nathaniel’s contemptuous response was “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see” said Philip. When he met Jesus Nathaniel saw how utterly wrong his initial response had been. But how often do we judge on first impressions, or perhaps on what others tell us, about a person? Do we see the families of refugees trying to get in to our country as simply rough, dirty scroungers only after our jobs and our free healthcare? Do we ask why don’t they stay in their own countries and get on with it? Or what about the chap sleeping rough in the shop doorway in the High Street? Do we ask why doesn’t he find a proper home for himself? Listen to God’s words to Samuel: ‘for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart’ 1 Samuel 16:7 KJV (AV). Is the Lord not asking us to look beyond our neighbour’s outward appearance; to ask ourselves, would people really risk drowning in the Mediterranean simply to get access to free medical care? And surely no-one would want to risk hypothermia by sleeping on the cold, hard pavement in the middle of winter with just his dog for company if there was an alternative.
The prophet Isaiah exhorts us to: ‘Lift up your eyes and look around’ Isaiah 60:40. If we do that what will we see? Yes, we will see the glory of God’s magnificent Creation but we will also see the beauty that lies at the heart of our neighbour. After all, God lives within him just as He lives within you or me; as Christians we are not an elite class of people superior to all others. In fact Our Saviour came as a Servant-King and we are called to imitate His life and actions. So, whilst looking around, as Isaiah asks us, let us take a long hard look at ourselves, our attitudes towards others and our actions. If we really use our eyes to look we can see the problems others less fortunate than ourselves are suffering. And then we are called to make a start by showing compassion to them.
Next week I will let you know how the eye examination went!
I can just imagine the look on Joseph’s face when these obviously very wealthy guys turned up in the rough, scruffy neighbourhood in which he had managed to find a temporary shelter for himself, his wife Mary and her baby son. If the neighbours had had curtains at their windows they would be twitching like mad now to see what was going on! Bedecked and bejewelled men definitely of some status with camel trains, drivers and a host of servants, all richly dressed. Whatever were they doing in this neck of the woods? Clearly, they were passing through having taken a wrong turn somewhere. But no, they stopped outside the Joseph’s house, well cave really, but at least it was somewhere to stay until Mary was fit to travel. And having stopped the princes, kings or whatever they were, dismounted from their camels and asked if they could enter Joseph’s home. Well, what could he say? “Of course, come in you are most welcome but I'm afraid we have little to offer you.” Anyway, they went in and as St Matthew’s gospel tells us: ‘they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh’ Matthew 2:11(NIV). What was Joseph to make of that? He really couldn’t get his head round what was going on here. The gifts were for the baby Jesus whom the wise men had rightly recognised as the Messiah: gold to celebrate the Wealth of God’s creation; Frankincense to celebrate his Power in the World and Myrrh to symbolise his approaching death.
The question then is what gifts do you have to bring to the Messiah? St Paul sets out quite clearly what we are called to do in his letter to the Romans where he says: 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:5-8 NIV. Don’t feel confident about that? Then there is one thing, one gift that God has given to us all, the most precious gift that we can offer to God, our lives. But how? Remember: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV.
Since there is far too much anger, hatred, violence, corruption and madness in the world today, let us strive to love God and our neighbour, whoever he may be, with all our hearts, minds and bodies. That surely is the greatest gift we can offer to God.
Here we are at the first day of the New Year! Where has the past year gone to? The time seems to have flown by! Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? What is on your list? How will 2018 be different from 2107? What are you going to change? Remember that whatever resolutions you make for the coming year to improve you physical well being, look at your spiritual life too. How does that need changing?
The fact that you are thinking about making New Year’s resolutions shows that you feel that there is something you could do to improve your life, yet change is not always easy to embrace. The very word can send shivers down your spine since it normally refers to new beginnings but it can be difficult for many people, certainly as we get older when many of the familiar things seem to have disappeared. Maybe we are looking back at the ‘good old days’ through ‘rose coloured glasses’ but the old familiar ‘comfort blanket’ is well, comfortable, and safe; why would anyone want to change it, to venture into the unknown. To take that step into the darkness requires patience, guidance and the freedom to let go of familiar things rather than gripping on to them more tightly. It is not easy but then Jesus realized that when He said: ‘ ‘strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ (Matthew 7:14KJV) In making changes there is always the danger of throwing out that which is good and useful along with the bad and unhelpful; but then you are making New Year’s resolutions so you want to change. In any case, the alternative, carrying on in the old way, is not really making any progress at all, just continuing in the same old rut.
Yet whatever changes you make, it is important to hold on to the fact that in the midst of this turbulent, chaotic, ever-changing world there is one constant. Many years ago the prophet Isaiah said: ‘Therefore, thus says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken.’ Isaiah 28:16. So take comfort that whatever the world throws at you, or whatever changes you choose to make in your own life, God is that cornerstone; that Anchor of hope, the one safe, firm foundation on which you must build your faith.
Before making any resolutions pray for God’s guidance, and then ask yourself two questions: what have I done for God in 2017 and what more can I do for Him in 2018?
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
May I wish you and all your family peace and joy this Christmas, and many blessings in the New Year.
At this time of year across the country, in schools and church halls, children are rehearsing their parts for the annual Nativity play. Whilst some will take the starring roles, others will play what seems a lesser role, for example as sheep. Of course, each part is important since without sheep there would be no shepherds and thus no angel to bring them the Good News! It is always a joy to see the happy, excited faces of the children as they take their places on stage to bring the age old story to life once again. Each performance will be different and perhaps that is part of the joy of it. What is more important however is the impact the Nativity play has on the performers and those in the audience watching as together we sing the old favourite carols, and a few new ones as well.
It is a joy too, to open the Christmas cards that come through our letter box and to read the messages and the news of friends far away; news of births, marriages, new careers, new opportunities opening up for them or their children. Sometimes, however the joy is tinged with sadness as we open a card signed this year by just one friend as their husband or wife has died or perhaps is now looked after in a care home as dementia has taken its toll.
For many this season will be tinged with sadness as there will be an empty place at the festive table. Sadly, too, there are some who have no one with whom to share their Christmas meal, who will receive no cards and indeed have no-one to send a card to. For them this Christmas time will seem as empty as every other day with only their “friends” on the TV screen for company. And spare a thought for those whose worldly possessions are contained in a carrier bag, who have no home and are struggling to survive. Yet at just such times our faith teaches us that only the healing and peace that Christ brings can ease our burdened hearts, and it is for Christ’s coming we pray.
As we light the third (rose) candle on our Advent wreath let us pray for the joy of Christ’s coming; for the joy in the children’s hearts as they perform the Nativity play. Let us pray too for the joy in receiving cards and messages from our friends and loved ones far away. And let us not forget to pray for those for whom Christmas will be just another lonely day.
In the words of the old hymn let us: “Rejoice, rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”
Peace and joy to you all this Christmas.
In St Matthew’s Gospel we learn that the crowds were coming to Jesus to hear him teaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and to be cured from ‘every disease and every sickness’. Matthew 9:35 (NIV). Clearly there was too much work for him, in human form, to do alone and so he instructed twelve of his disciples to go out amongst the Jewish people to proclaim the good news, to cast out unclean spirits, to cure every disease and sickness as well as raising the dead. Quite a tall order for a bunch of untrained fishermen, tax collectors and the like! Now, of course, Jesus was well aware that the time would come when he would not be around on earth, yet people would still need to hear God’s message and to receive God’s healing power. Thus he instructed his disciples; a trial run, if you like, whilst he was still with them. That they succeeded in their mission is amply illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles; but also in the fact that, 2000 years after His death His Will and Word are still a powerful force in the world today.
The original twelve disciples are long dead but we are called to take their place, to be God’s disciples today. We may not all be able to cure the sick or raise the dead but we can proclaim the Gospel. As St Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”. Whilst there is no evidence that he did use those words his life and actions certainly demonstrated their import. And really we have no excuse since we received the Holy Spirit at our baptism just as the disciples did at Pentecost.
So, in the midst of all our preparations for Christmas, all the shopping for gifts, food and etc let us make time in prayer and reflection to prepare ourselves for God’s mission for us on earth; to proclaim the good news, to show God to all people at all times in our lives and actions.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years