Trinity 19: Show me the Money

This week my daughter discovered that her pocket money had lost its value. You see, my wonderful girl is very good at saving, but likes to save her money in different pots, and when she checked her money for old £1 coins ahead of the deadline, she missed one out.

It isn’t particularly remarkable as a coin. It is scratched and worn from its 16 years of circulation, 16 years of being rattled around in pockets and purses, rung through tills, slotted into machines, dropped into piggybanks. Like all legal tender it bears an image of the Queen’s face, and a ‘tail’ on the reverse. What may be remarkable is that it isn’t one of the many fakes that became part of our financial system.

Some coins it seems are more valuable than others. I checked this one out on-line and the 2001 Celtic Cross is one of the rarer coins. It isn’t in mint condition by any means, but a bright shiny one is going for 40 x its face-value on ebay, and even one as battered as my daughter’s could fetch double its original spending power.

In today’s gospel, Jesus asks to check out a Roman coin. It wouldn’t have been a rare coin, a denarius was common tender – it was the daily wage of a labourer or soldier – and as we would expect of a Roman coin,  it bore the image of Caesar.

Upon looking at the coin, Jesus declares that it belongs to the one whose image and title it bears, and he does this in response to a question asked by the Pharisees and the Herodians. Now the fact that these two groups were joining together to ask a question of Jesus was rather suspect; normally they would have little to do with each other, Pharisees avoided pagans and politicians as much as possible, Herodians were supporters of the puppet king who relied upon his relationship with Rome for any status. The religious leaders would hold fast to the commandment to have no other Gods than YHWH and to make ‘no graven images’. The coin now in Jesus’ hand bore a graven image and the legend ‘son of god’. The item in his hand was certainly not kosher.

The question asked of him, though, is not whether he should be handling such money, but how it should be used. Margaret Thatcher was not the first to introduce a Poll Tax. The tax at the end of the 1980s was deeply unpopular and was the cause of much protest, and perhaps even the end of Thatcher’s ‘reign’. Protests included parades and banners, slogans and button badges and ‘little old ladies’ going to prison instead of paying what they believed to be unfair taxes.

If Jesus said that Jewish people should not pay the Roman Poll Tax he would be causing an uproar. The Herodians would have every reason to arrest Jesus. However, if Jesus said that Roman taxes should be paid, not only would he potentially lose his good standing with the ordinary people who struggled to pay these taxes – he would be seen as siding with the Romans.

What Jesus does is turn the question on its head. Jesus looks as the coin  and then asks what seems to be something rather simple: whose head is on the coin? Or, we could say, what value is the coin? Not just the surface value of a denarius, but the value of roads, defence, legal systems. If these are elements of life that you value, then of course you need to pay for them. However, these are only the things of earthly life. What the Pharisees should be more concerned about is the value of heaven.

Read it here.

Just as the coin has been made with the image of a ‘god’, all humans have been made in the image of the living God. Each of us has the imprint of Jesus, in essence each of us is a child of God, and if we choose to follow Jesus we take on his name too, ‘Christians’. We, then, become the coins that should be paid to God, just as the denarius is paid to Caesar for the good things of his realm.

We can quibble about taxes and whether they are fair or not, and we can be concerned about how those taxes are spent. That is our right as citizens of this land, but we should be more concerned about being citizens of God’s kingdom. Our actions and energies need to  be devoted to God’s reign of mercy and justice and love for everyone made in his image. The Pharisees, it seems, have lost that understanding of what it means to be God’s chosen people, and Jesus reminds them. They had tried to trap Jesus, but Jesus is the one who holds the keys to freedom and liberation, and once more he walks clear.

So how are we to view this conundrum today? Each year I have to file a tax return. After over a decade of doing so I am now able to do so without bursting into tears, but I always find it stressful. Each year I simply follow the instructions and do the sums, send it off and hope for the best – hope that I don’t owe anything. There is part of me however which hopes for a tax rebate – perhaps I have over paid, or forgotten to offset something against my final bill. I am sure I am not the only one to do this! However, although I may hope for a reduction in tax paid, I never ever want to see a reduction in the service I get from the NHS, or other tax funded service providers.

Do I treat my relationship with God in this way too? If I go to church on Sunday can I offset that against being nice to people for the rest of the week? If I go to church at Christmas and Easter does that release me to have a lie in every other Sunday? If I make an annual donation, or help with the flowers at harvest does that put me in the clear for the rest of the year, will that ensure that the church is still there for me when I want it?

God wants all of us. Not just the dour faced, Sunday best, twice a year version. Jesus came to earth to live an earthly life in relationship with humanity – a normal, earthy relationship, not a highly polished one for high days and holy days. This is his desire. Is it our desire also? To be in his presence, to learn from him, listen to him, spend our lives walking alongside him and working for his Kingdom to become fully present in this kingdom?

This is the question Jesus is asking the Herodians and the Pharisees: what is it that they truly value, and how will they live their lives accordingly?

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • Have you ever received a tax rebate (in real life or in Monopoly) and how did it make you feel?
  • How do you think Christians should respond to unpopular taxes?
  • Do you have any memories of the Poll Tax/Community Charge of the late 1980s?
  • What would you say are the most controversial taxes of today, and how do we view them in a Christian light?
  • What do we view as our ‘taxes’ to God’s Kingdom?
  • How can we ‘pay our dues’ with joy rather than the dread of a tax return?

Something to pray:

 

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Trinity 18: You are cordially invited…

The JK wedding dance changed the way that weddings are perceived. No longer set in tradition, but open to new interpretation, to making the day personal and more welcoming and relaxed for guests.

Gary and Tracey’s wedding dance enabled everyone to join in with the celebrations, their guests weren’t just there to watch, to spectate, they were there to be part of the solemnities as well as the celebrations, in body, mind and spirit.

Today’s gospel reading is another parable: The Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Read it here. In the story a King prepares for a Royal Wedding. No expense is spared, he hasn’t just slaughtered one fat calf but several, as well as his oxen, and yet, no-one comes. Imagine the excitement as the invitations are written and sent out, the sense of expectation as the food is prepared and the finest clothes are made for the day. You would expect the guests to be feeling similarly excited; the day arrives, the banquet is prepared and fine clothes are laid out, but no-one comes. To say the King is disappointed would be an understatement at the very least, however, he is determined that the celebrations will go ahead, and he sends out his slaves to remind the guests that the party is ready. The guests haven’t forgotten though, they had no intention of coming in the first place. They couldn’t care less about the King’s wedding, his generous invitation, the fattened calves and oxen. Some resent the reminder, and attack the slaves.

Disappointed, heartbroken, but not beaten. The King sends his slaves out again, this time to those who had not been invited first time round. He doesn’t send them to the ‘chosen ones’, but to the ordinary folk going about their business, some of them trustworthy and hardworking, others a little crooked with a past record. These second guests are delighted to be invited, quickly change into their finest clothes and eagerly attend the banquet. The King comes to meet these loyal people who have responded with joy to the last minute invitation; he is the very epitome of a genial host and the guests are enchanted to be in his presence. The story has a happy ending, a blessing of a wedding day – or so it seems.

Suddenly the King notices someone who isn’t wearing the correct clothes, and he is angry, so angry he has the guest tied up and thrown out into the rubbish dump. This seems a little harsh! The guest had been given no warning that he was going to be invited to a Royal Wedding, how was he to have wedding robes to hand at such short notice?

But of course, this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a parable, a story with a twist. Tom Wright describes parables as being

dreams in search of meaning.

We are not to understand this parable literally, it is a story full of codes and images which need interpreting just as troublesome dreams do.

The King in the story is God. The wedding celebration is that between Christ and his bride, the church. The A list guests are the Israelites, God’s chosen people, who had chosen not to attend. Those who have chosen to follow business and family desires rather than God’s call upon their lives to be a beacon of God’s love to all other nations. The slaves sent out to remind the Guests of their invitation are the prophets of the past who have been at best ignored, at worst, murdered. The B list guests are the Gentiles, those previously thought not good enough for the Kingdom of God.

But what about the guest who was rather discourteously removed because of his lack of smart attire? Of course the clothing isn’t literal. What is missing from this guest is a sincere heart. Everybody else has turned up wanting to be accepted, and their ‘clothing’ is an humble desire to repent and be made good enough for the kingdom. The one who hadn’t worn the correct clothing, is like one who wants to sit on the edge of worship, who wants to be seen as being a respectable member of the church community, but isn’t prepared to make any sacrifices in order to do so; isn’t willing to seek forgiveness for the wrongs done, or even to accept a need to be forgiven. This guest wants all the trappings of the party without being fully present in body, mind and spirit.

So what does this parable have to say to us today? I am reminded of a quip from Adrian Plass,

Pillars of the church hold things up and obscure vision.

Our God is a generous God, his love pours out on us in abundance, as does his forgiveness. Love, however, doesn’t travel one way and nor does forgiveness. The most important of all the commandments is

to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Real love means getting involved, getting dirty, being prepared to stand out, not of maintaining an air of respectability.

Jesus, didn’t love us from afar, he loved us from the cross. Jesus showed his love for the lepers by healing them with his touch, he showed his love for children by taking them in his arms and blessing them at the end of a tiring day, he showed his love for the sinner by going to their house for tea, he showed his love for women, by allowing them to sit at his feet and learn from him.

Jesus showed his love for us by forgiving us for everything we have done wrong and every misdemeanour as yet uncommitted. Jesus showed us how to love and to forgive when he cried out from the cross,

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Jesus taught us to do the same when he gave us the words to pray on a daily basis,

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…

We are all invited to the wedding banquet. How will we respond to the invitation?

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What is the best party/wedding reception you have been invited to? What made it so special?
  • Have you ever held a party that people did not turn up to? How did it make you feel?
  • What do you think prevented the A-listers from attending the party?
  • How do you think the B-listers felt at the invitation?
  • What made the difference between accepting and declining the invite?
  • Do you think the wedding guest in the wrong clothes was treated fairly – why?
  • How can we make sure that we are dressed properly to accept God’s invitations?

Something to pray:

Living God, we come at your invitation to celebrate, to receive, to eat at your table and be filled.

Help us to prepare our hearts and minds to receive all you offer and to clothe ourselves with your gifts of love, joy, peace, goodness, compassion and humility – whatever is pleasing and honouring to you – freely offering ourselves in the service of Christ who freely gave so much for us.

Nick Fawcett

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Trinity 16: I Don’t Want to!

These are the war cries of toddlers and teenagers: the child who stamps their foot when asked to do something, the one who says yes but means no and wanders off when there is work to be done, the one who moans and complains that life isn’t fair. These are also the voices of God’s people, never satisfied, always wanting other people to solve their problems.

The Israelites, having been rescued from slavery, having experienced the awesome power of God deliver them from the plague that brought death and despair to their neighours and captors, who parted the waters for them to escape to the other side of the Nile, who have been fed miraculously by manna from heaven, who have been guided day and night by God’s own presence, are still emotionally and psychologically slaves. They have not allowed their spirit to be freed, and so look for the bleak and the broken and the despair that will fall upon them. Read it here.

The Israelites have been guided to Rephidim to camp for the night. Perhaps the day has been long and hot, their mouths and throats as well as their feet are dry and dusty. They are tired, they are thirsty, they are querulous and argumentative. They must have felt an element of hope as they approached the oasis known today as Wadi Feiran, a sense of relief that they would be able to quench their thirst and wash themselves clean, but when they get there they cannot access the water. It has been suggested that they couldn’t get close enough to the water due to the presence of Amelekites, whatever the reason they are tired, thirsty, angry and lashing out at Moses, their leader, God’s spokesman.

God cares for his people, he may not like them and their moaning at this time, but he loves them. He removes Moses from the mob and takes him to a safe place where he can perform a shepherd’s trick of hitting the limestone and cracking open a fountain of pure water: a miracle of creation as far as everyone else is concerned, a miracle of preservation for Moses, and for the elders who go with Moses and witness the event, a sign of Moses’ leadership and intimate relationship with God. For now the people’s thirst is satisfied – but their moaning won’t be silenced for long. Moses names the area after their behaviour and attitude ‘Massah’ or ‘Testing’, after the Israelites’ attitude towards God, and ‘Meribah’ or ‘Quarelling’ after their grumpy and untrusting behaviour.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and Jesus tells a story, a parable. It is the tale of two brothers asked to help their father. The first brother stamps his feet and refuses, ‘I will not!’ he exclaims, but upon reflection changes his mind and puts in a good day’s work. The second brother at first seems to be the willing and obedient one, but he is quite clearly only paying lipservice, for despite his enthusiastic reply ‘I go, sir’, he slinks off when his father’s back is turned. Read it here. 

This is not the story of real family values, but a morality tale to try and explain why God’s people, the ancestors of those original Israelites are still so grumpy. They are represented by the second son, the one who speaks positive words but never backs them up with actions. These are the Pharisees and Scribes, the leaders of the synagogues and other Jewish rulers who are sharp on the word of the law, who seek to honour God in the ritual cleanliness and rule keeping, but have forgotten to put into practice the Shema to love God and love neighbour.

The first son represents those who would normally be viewed as outcasts, these are the tax collectors and publicans the prostitutes and lepers who are outcast from the clean and upright religious society of the Israelites. They are the last people you would expect to be found working in the vineyard, a common symbol for God’s kingdom, and yet the Father seeks them out and gives them a purpose they take pride in. The others see only work and shun it, and in doing so, shun the blessings of the Father too.

The religious leaders, had been horrified as Jesus had built relationships with such undesirables, broken all rules of purification and done so unashamedly. Jesus sought to love neighbour as well as God, and his understanding of neighbour was too wide for the liking of those who claimed to love God and neighbour but did nothing about it. These, however would be the people to gain entrance to God’s kingdom, those who may have been reluctant to begin with – and who wouldn’t be after a lifetime of being thought of as unclean and unworthy? – but worked with passion and energy.  The religious leaders in the long term would be the ones to be left out.

So were does that leave us? Do we say the right things but never manage to follow them up? Have we felt rejected from ‘normal’ society and would leap at the chance to be affirmed? Perhaps we are somewhere between the two. As with all matters of faith, Jesus gives us choices. Will we moan and grumble like the Israelites, forgetting all that God has done for us and focusing instead on that which seems harsh and unfair? Will  we act like the brother who wants to be seen to be saying and doing the right thing without actually putting any effort into serving God? Do we see blessing in the invitation to be part of God’s family and to work in his vineyard?

Perhaps the real question is whether or not we are ready to grow up and take on our responsibilities as mature members of God’s kingdom, working for the good of all, or are we still throwing tantrums and our toys out of the cot as we proclaim that life’s ‘not fair!’

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • Can you remember what you were like as a toddler/teenager?
  • What is the biggest tantrum you can remember having?
  • Can you remember the cause of the tantrum?
  • Are you one of life’s natural volunteers or one of life’s shirkers?
  • How can we focus our hearts and energies on serving God without grumbling?

Something to pray:

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Keep it Reel: Wreck it Ralph

On the surface of it, Wreck it Ralph is a film about gaming – as seen from the inside. Who knew that ‘retro’ was just a term for being old – but cool with it. From within, though, we discover that even the bad guys have hearts, and the good guys aren’t all they seem to be.

It is the 30th anniversary of the game Fix it Felix Jnr, but not everyone is invited to the party. Whilst the inhabitants of Niceland are enjoying drinks and dancing, fireworks and a fifteen story high cake, Ralph is at a meeting for bad guys, ‘Bad Anon’. Ralph doesn’t want to be bad any more, he doesn’t want to be living in isolation away from the ‘nice’ people and their hero Felix, Ralph wants to be accepted for who he is – but he isn’t sure who that is anymore.

Meanwhile, over in Sugar Rush, Vanellope is also living in a dump. Vanellope is full of fun, and is loving and kind and generous, but nobody knows that because she is an outcast. Vanellope has a condition which makes her a danger to herself and to others, but worse than that, she is simply ‘uncool’. Just as Ralph wants to be a good guy, Vanellope, wants to be a racer; but for both of them, it is more than a dream, a desire, a wish, for Ralph and for Vanellope it is about finding out who they truly are.

Of course, discovering our true identity is never simple, there are troubles and tribulations to overcome, and having not-so Nicelanders as our neighbours and super cool ‘mean girls’ as our classmates makes it even harder to do so. Yet, as we work our way through these ‘bonus levels’, we work it out.

Often we hear this spoken about as a sense of calling, or vocation, within Christian circles. I like to think of it as us learning to recognise the person God has created us to be, within any sense of shame or fear or feelings of inadequacy.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvellously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

Psalm 139: 13-16

Perhaps growing up is also about working out that we are never truly alone, because the God who knew us as we were growing in our mother’s womb, also knew the differences about us that would make us special, that make us the people we are. God has also placed within each of us a passion, something we were ‘born to do’: things that other people see as faults, God knows to be our strengths. Maybe it is also about learning to recognise God’s presence in our lives, even when, especially when, no-one else has faith in us.

 

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Harvest Festival: Share the Love

I am looking forward to my first Harvest Festival celebrations this Sunday – the church will be beautifully adorned and the altar laden, hopefully, with bounteous gifts from our store cupboards, and then it’s off to the village pub for a meal in good company, with apple crumble for pudding!

Harvest is a twofold activity – it is a celebration, an act of thanksgiving and worship, recognising the hard work that has gone into bringing home the harvest, and producing it in the first place, and thanking God for the blessings of sun, rain, fertility and safety. It is also a time of sharing, an act of joining together as a community, of thinking of those with less than ourselves.

After such hard work, whether in the fields, gardens and allotments, or in the office, factory or laboratory, the temptation to keep our ‘harvests’ for ourselves and those closest to us is strong. The ‘harvest’ this year may be good, but what about the lean years? We all need to have a little stored up in our barns for the times when the crops have failed, or a nest egg to cover the roof falling in, the children’s education, our retirement. However, Jesus warns us against this fear of failure to provide for our own.

In this year’s gospel reading from Luke we are warned not to hoard our harvests, our incomes, so that we can take it easy for the rest of our lives – so there go the plans of an early retirement!

Read it here.

Jesus encouraged us only to pray for our daily bread; when the Israelites wandered the wilderness, God provided Manna enough for each day. When we store up so much food we cut ourselves off from the rest of our community. If we have enough food in our barns to last a lifetime, we no longer need to work in the fields with the rest of our communities. We will not stand shoulder to shoulder as we bring in the harvest, we will not celebrate together at the end of the gathering in. There is no togetherness in the lean years or the fat years, because we have bunkered ourselves down with our abundant harvest isolated from the rest of our community. We become recluses of wealth.

We also become isolated from God: as we withdraw from a need for God’s provision, we find ourselves removed from a place in which we can receive God’s love too. This is not what God wishes for us, indeed this goes against God’s plan for humanity, for the whole of God’s creation.

So harvest, which has been celebrated from the very beginning of creation, re-connects us with God in thanksgiving, even in the lean years, the years when the weather has been unfair, the work back breaking and the yield low, because we are still here, and God still loves us; and harvest re-connects us with our neighbours, the communities we live in and those far away, as we look at whatever the harvests yielded this year, and choose to share it. Each of us has a choice to make – to hoard our ‘harvest’ or to celebrate and share it. For those of us who choose to share it though, we will discover that in the sharing we are enfolded in God’s love.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What were you encouraged to do with your pocket money?
  • If you are a farmer, gardener, allotmenteer, how do you celebrate your seasonal harvest?
  • If you don’t work on the land, how do you celebrate your monthly ‘harvest’ (pay cheque)?
  • Some people are natural spenders, some natural savers and others natural givers – how can we best balance the three, in order to honour God?
  • How do we mark harvest when the yield is low?
  • How can we support others whose ‘crops’ have failed?

Something to do:

Hold a mini harvest celebration in a fellowship group or with neighbours – what can you bring that represents your own toils and endeavours and how God has blessed you in them?

Something to pray:

Lord, your harvest is the harvest of love; love sown in the hearts of people; love that spreads out like the branches of a great tree covering all who seek its shelter; love that inspires and recreates; love that is planted in the weak and the weary, the sick and the dying.

The harvest of your love is the life that reaches through the weeds of sin and death to the sunlight of resurrection. Lord nurture my days with your love, water my soul with the dew of forgiveness, that the harvest of my life might be your joy.

Frank Topping

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Trinity 13: Time for Action

We gloss over Moses’ acceptance of God’s quest to challenge Pharaoh to release the slaves. We speed through 9 of the plagues that tempt Pharaoh to relinquish his stronghold over the Hebrew people, and now we zone in on the 10th plague, the most terrible of them all: the death of the first born male. There is an echo here of Pharaoh’s decree that all Hebrew boys should be killed at birth, but it is much more than that. The firstborn is the most precious child, the heir, the one hopes are pinned upon for the future. And this plague is total, not just humans, but prized animals too.

There is a way to protect your family from the avenging angel though – and Moses shares that knowledge with the Israelites. Of course the best way of saving a nation from devastation would have been for Pharaoh to have abolished slavery in his lands at the first request; he has had plenty of opportunities to do so. Now things are desperate. Nothing is able to move the hardened heart of the Pharaoh, the heart that allowed fear and prejudice to develop into hatred and murder.

Moses, having warned Pharaoh of the plague to come, now prepares his fellow Israelites to protect themselves. They are to prepare a meal that will provide sustenance for the long journey into the night and freedom, a meal that will be quick to cook…

All is to be done in a hurry because God’s time for action has come.  Andrew Knowles

The preparation of this meal involves the slaughtering of a lamb, and the slaughtering of a lamb involves much bloodshed. This blood is to be a sign, daubed over the lintel and door frames, for death to pass over the house. It is also the sign that the judgement to be meted out on Pharaoh’s people will not be meted out on God’s people. The Israelites are kept safe within God’s covenant of love.

For the Israelites this night brings feasting and freedom, for the Egyptians death and desolation.

Pharaoh has sinned. Pharaoh has not listened to please from the people or from God’s messenger, now he has no choice but to listen to God as the ultimate sanction is carried out. Read more here.

Jesus speaks of the problem of sin in the gospel of Matthew. He already knows that within the church, not yet even formed, there will be disagreements and disputes. Jesus knows that we will cause offence to each other, sometimes accidentally and sometimes purposely. Jesus knows that humans are fallen creatures, creatures who have fallen a long way from the Trinity’s ideal of love. Jesus has already seen bickering and powerplay within the 12, he has heard heated comments that have caused wounds which he has had to heal. He knows that he will not always be on hand in such a directive way to mediate, and that his chosen ones, his new church, will be tempted to air their grievances in the broken ways of the damaged world: expensive law suits, insurance claims, selling stories to the tabloids, gossiping and tale telling and disharmony in worship.

How wonderful to be able to read this and think that Jesus was wrong, that we have been able to follow him without upsetting anyone. But there would be no truth there. The biggest argument I remember from the church I grew up in was about the state of the vestry. It wasn’t part of the original building, it was falling away down an eroding hillside, but was useful for the flower arrangers. It would cost so much more money to rebuild than to make safe….. There are apocryphal tales of arguments over the removal of pews from churches, changes in service times and the format of the services, of what side of the church the piano should be situated. People take sides, feel slighted, and before we know it, the church is at war with itself. Is this really what Jesus died on the cross for? Are we really so inward looking that we spend all our energies on internalised arguments, when the rest of the world is hurting?

Jesus, gives directions for conflict resolution (so much easier without emails and social media to cloud the issue), so that we can put such arguments to bed and focus on the gospel instead. Read them here.

Now more than ever, it is the time for us to head this advice. Harsh words have been spoken in our church. Harsh words in loud voices. Naming and shaming and casting blame has continued outside the church walls too and it has to stop. Today I want to be the first to take a step towards reconciliation of any hurts – historical or current. As priest of this place I can speak forgiveness and repentance for what happened on both sides during the Civil War which split our two parishes – the echoes of which can only occasionally be felt now, but still linger in some dark corners. And as a member of this church I can offer my apologies for any hurt that I may have caused to any brother or sister here. I ask your forgiveness for any harsh or loud words that I may have spoken, or anything that I may have said out of turn. Will you be willing to soften your hearts and forgive me?

Will you also be willing to humble your hearts enough to know if there are any hurts for which you are responsible, that you need to seek forgiveness for?

Before we share bread together at the Lord’s Table, there is an opportunity for us to receive Christ’s peace, but also to make peace with others. Maybe this could be a time for quiet personal prayer to make peace with God about an issue, or perhaps it is a time for action, of actually offering a hand of peace.

St Paul writes to the Roman church reminding them to love each other. To love as Christ loves, with a fullness of heart for those who have denied and betrayed him as well as those who have been loyal. Can we do the same?

Owe no one anything except to love one another.

Read more here from Paul here.

Something to think about:

  • How were you taught to say sorry when you were a child? What memories do you have?
  • How important is it as adults to apologise for mistakes?
  • What was Pharaoh’s biggest mistake?
  • Was it fair that the Egyptians should share the same fate as Pharaoh?
  • Can we be held responsible for the sins of our nation?
  • How can we begin to make amends?
  • Is there anything which we need to seek forgiveness for, or to give forgiveness for, and how can we enact it now?

Something to listen to:

Something to pray:

Hands who touched the leper, touch my wounded heart;

Hands who healed the blindman, heal my aching soul;

Hands who cured the lame, mend my disjointed life;

Hands who embraced all life, enfold me in your peace.

Lord, merely touch and heal cure and forgive.    Giles Harcourt

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Trinity 12: On Holy Ground

Moses, the baby who survived the murderous intentions of the Pharoah, and was instead raised as a prince in the Pharoah’s palace, has grown up. Much has happened since we last saw him being pulled out of the water, and he is now living with his father in law and tending his sheep.

Moses hasn’t forgotten his fellow Hebrews, they are still dear to him and close to his heart, but there is nothing he can do. Not only has he now settled down as a family man with responsibilities, but he is a murderer who dare not return to his home town. It is too dangerous for him to go back.

And yet, God calls him.

As Moses is tending to the flocks in his care, he notices a bush that has been set alight. This may not be unusual in dessert circumstances, but although this bush blazes it is not being consumed by the fire. How can this be? Moses steps closer, and as he does so, the bush speaks to him: the bush tells Moses to remove his sandals for he is standing on holy ground.

Of course, the bush isn’t really speaking, just as it isn’t really burning. God, Yahweh, is using the bush to gain Moses’ attention, and now he has it, he has something really important to tell Moses: God tells Moses that he hasn’t forgotten. It has been a long time since God spoke to Abraham, promising him descendants as many as the stars, Jacob’s wrestling encounter with God is now history, even Joseph’ s rise to fame is no longer mentioned. The God who spoke to these great fathers has been silent for so long it is as though he doesn’t care anymore, that he has nothing to say to contemporary society; but God is speaking now, and he is speaking to Moses:

I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.                                                                     Exodus 3:7-9

All this time that the Israelites had been missing God, presuming him to be dead, he was listening to their cries; and now after all this time, he is ready to wade in and release them. Moses’ heart must have been soaring to hear these words, after all, it was in protest of the cruel way that the Israelites were treated that he ended up killing a slave-driver. But God continues,

I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.       v10

Moses’ heart was stirred in compassion and anger by the plight of his people, he had called out to God and now God replies, but it isn’t the answer he wants. He isn’t ready for this kind of response – this isn’t God being the Superpower who rescues, this is God being the commander who sends someone else into battle.

Many, many years later, the Israelites once more begin to feel that God is silent, missing, AWOL at least if not presumed dead. God’s people are oppressed  by invading powers, puppet kings and dishonest leaders of the the faith. Then along comes one who seems to be the promised Messiah – Jesus – but what does he tell his followers?

Deny yourselves pick up your cross and follow me.                                  Matthew 16:24

This isn’t the response they were looking for either – they have been looking for one who will reclaim the throne, reclaim the temple and ease the burden of his people, instead he promises hardship and death – his own death and theirs too if they follow him.

What kind of God, of Messiah, is this?

This God is one who listens, and hears the cries of our lips, our hearts, our thoughts, but looks also for the passion that will put itself into action. God listens and hears, and then calls us to work with him in bringing the kingdom of justice into presence.

Moses panics, ‘Who am I?’ he asks, ‘to do such a thing’. God could reply that he is the one, the one who was chosen since birth to have a dual heritage, rights and privileges, a heart for his people of birth and an understanding of the political etiquette of his people of upbringing. He is the one who has access to an audience with the Pharoah, and now an audience with the King. However,  Moses has asked the wrong question: it isn’t who Moses is that matters, it is who he is talking to: God.

I am who I am, the Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob…                                                                             Exodus 3:14-15

The disciples, were also struggling. They had hope and faith in Jesus, to make all things right for them. They experienced belonging even in hardship in following Jesus, but what would all that mean if Jesus was going to end up dead upon a cross, and lead them to the same bitter end?

When our hearts are filled with anguish about the injustices in this world, then God is calling us. God hasn’t ignored the plight of those in need, he is waiting for the right time to light the bush that will set our hearts on fire with indignation. Jesus will call us to follow him into places and situations we would rather not go, but just as God promised Moses, he will travel with us.

Today we stand on Holy Ground. Today we have taken time out from our busy schedules to stop and listen to God, to put Jesus first. We will pour out our anguish for the world to him in our intercessions. Will we though, be willing to take off our shoes as we enter into this holy space? Will we be ready to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus? Will we go where the God of our forefathers, the great I AM is leading us?

You can read the story of the burning bush here, and Jesus call to pick up your cross here.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • Have you ever seen a bush on fire?
  • Why is it noticeable that the bush is not consumed by fire?
  • Is there a time when you have felt as though you are standing on Holy Ground – what was special about it?
  • Do you hear God speaking to you, or does it feel as though God is absent?
  • What injustices are etched on your heart? What can you do about them?
  • Is there a cause or situation that you have been praying to God about, with seemingly no answer?
  • What could God be leading you into?

Something to pray:

Go, and know, that the Lord goes with you: let God lead you each day into the quiet place of your heart where he will speak with you;

Know that he loves you and watches over you—that he listens to you in gentle understanding, that he is with you always, wherever you are and however you may feel: and the blessings of God be yours forever.

 

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