Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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?
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years