Delighting in the Human Race

It rarely seems as if there is anything to be delighted about, when we look to news coverage and social media. ‘Jokes’ about acid attacks and rape, bickering politicians, homophobic attacks in public places….. but still God delights in the human race.

Let’s get this straight, God doesn’t delight in the bickering, the verbal and physical abuse, God doesn’t delight in the narrow minded approaches to gender and sexuality, or to bigoted ideals of purity. I think it breaks God’s heart to see what is supposed to be the crown of creation, humanity made in God’s own image, acting in such ungodly ways.

But broken, arrogant, wayward humanity is still God’s delight, and on Father’s day let us celebrate that.

Father’s Day, a day to be thankful for the father figures in our lives, to encourage and nurture men in their parenting roles and as role models: John speaks of the special relationship between Father and Son (although fathers and daughters can also have a special bond). For God the Father/Son relationship was that between himself and Jesus. As we read through the gospels we see Jesus, time and again, going off to spend some special alone time with his Father.

One to one time is precious for any parent and child. A time to be alone to share what really matters and to get to know each other as individuals. It is a time to be loved and valued and identified. Jesus took that time and we need to be able to take that time too, whether with our own fathers, or with our children.

We also read of Jesus, especially in John, telling his disciples that he and the Father are one. The bond between these two is more than that of a parent/child relationship, Jesus is more than just a chip off the old block, he and the block are one!

It is almost impossible for us to get our heads around, indeed Jesus tells his disciples

I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now.

John 16:12

Jesus promises that the Spirit of Truth will come to help them, and us, to understand. This is interesting because the Spirit of Truth, has been given many titles over the millennia, we know her best by the title of Holy Spirit, and we also know her best as male (!). Yet in Proverbs, which predates any New Testament writing, the Holy Spirit was known as Wisdom (in Greek Sophia) and was female.

Does not Wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

Proverbs 8:1

We also learn that Wisdom, Sophia, the Spirit of Truth, was part of creation, there before the beginning of the earth, there when God established the heavens, beside him like a master worker. It is Wisdom who speaks of delight, of being God’s delight, and also delighting in not just the works of creation, but specifically in the human race.

Trinity Sunday, as today is also known, is a day in which we are invited to become a part of the delighting. We may not fully understand the ability of God to be one and yet three (after all we are mere mortals), but it is because of the mutual delight and rejoicing and love of Father, Jesus and Wisdom, that we were called into being in the first place. Humanity was loved into being, rejoiced into our own creation, and delighted into existence. When we look at it that way is it any surprise that our own act of creation stems in what can be the most loving, joyful and delightful experience of sexual union?

Today, whether we are parents or not, male or other, we are called into this joyful celebration of loving each other, of rejoicing in the very being of our friends and neighbours, of delighting with God in humanity. Perhaps we are also called to become more delightful to each other too, and fully embrace our identity as children of God, as chips off the old block?

Read the Bible passages in full here.

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The Prime of Paracletia

Maths is not my strong point. I actually handed in some accounting which totalled twenty pence pieces at £6.85 and didn’t even notice.

An apostrophe in the wrong place I can spot at a mile and it makes my teeth grind, but numbers, just don’t equate! Thankfully there are others who live and breathe numbers, signs and co-signs, but even for them there are some mathematical dilemmas which are just unsolvable.

IMDB / Imagine Entertainment

In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced the Millennium Prize problems. These were a collection of seven of the most important maths problems that remain unsolved. One of these was solved in 2006, but there are still six problems waiting to be solved, and a million dollar prize to be claimed. Famously, Grigori Perelman, the mathematician par excellence, turned down the prize after solving the Poincare Conjecture.

One of the problems still unsolved is the Riemann Hypothesis, which focuses on Prime Numbers.

Riemann Hypothesis

Some numbers have the special property that they cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller numbers, e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, etc. Such numbers are called prime numbers, and they play an important role, both in pure mathematics and its applications. The distribution of such prime numbers among all natural numbers does not follow any regular pattern.  However, the German mathematician G.F.B. Riemann (1826 – 1866) observed that the frequency of prime numbers is very closely related to the behavior of an elaborate function

    ζ(s) = 1 + 1/2s + 1/3s + 1/4s + …

called the Riemann Zeta function. The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all interesting solutions of the equation

    ζ(s) = 0

lie on a certain vertical straight line.

This has been checked for the first 10,000,000,000,000 solutions. A proof that it is true for every interesting solution would shed light on many of the mysteries surrounding the distribution of prime numbers.

This problem is: 

Unsolved

The disciples and the early church are about to face a mathematical dilemma that will change their world: the way they understand God and the way they live their lives as followers of ‘The Way’. And it has a lot to do with Prime Numbers.

A prime number is, if I have got this right, a number which can only be divided by 1 and itself, eg 3,5,7.

The Jewish faith is a monotheist faith, there is one God. That’s simple enough.

But then Jesus comes along and says that he and the Father are one. This is complicated, but somehow the disciples, on a good day, have begun to comprehend that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore also God.

Now though, Jesus tells the disciples about a third person, who is also God. With me? Remember those prime numbers: a number that can only be divided by 1 and itself.

There is one God, the Father, the Almighty, Yahweh from the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. Jesus and the Father are One. Jesus is the Son of God, but was also there at the beginning of creation and will be there at the end, at the Re-creation of the world. The Holy Spirit is One, She is the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth who will abide in the disciples and in each who follow in The Way.

Three who are One, the ultimate Prime Number.

And here is the evidence:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

Acts 2:1-12

When the Holy Spirit (Paracletia) came upon the disciples, She gave them superhuman, holy abilities. When She breathed upon them they could speak and prophesy in languages formerly unknown to them. When She placed her power upon them, they had courage to speak out to thousands, and three thousand of them were baptised as believers on that day.

In the beginning, it was ‘a wind from God’ who swept over the waters.

When Jesus was baptised, Yahweh spoke love from heaven and the Paracletia perched upon him in the form of a dove.

When Jesus returned to heaven, to Yahweh, Paracletia took her place residing alongside and within any disciple of Jesus open to God.

There are many stories of bizarre happenings when people are under the spell of, or visited by the Holy Spirit, but we are not to fear her. Paracletia comes to bring truth, to help us build our relationships with Yahweh and Jesus, and to give us the courage to help others see the truth of God’s love for them too.

Love is the answer.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Shortly before Jesus is arrested and taken to his death, shortly as in a few short hours beforehand, Jesus talks about love. Not fear, or revenge, or counterattacks or even escape, but love. Jesus doesn’t speak about his martyrdom as a means of glory and an example for others, he speaks about love.

Love is the answer and you know that for sure…

John Lennon

The disciples, just like the children he has just likened them to, have spent much of their time with Jesus bickering, ‘who is the greatest?’ ‘which disciple is Jesus’ favourite’ ‘who will Jesus choose to be the leader’ ‘others are copying us’ ‘are we almost there yet’….

Now as Jesus prepares to take his last mortal breaths he tells the disciples that they are to love each other. Not bear with each other or put up with one another, but to actively love each other.

And how should they love each other? Not grudgingly, brotherly, rough and ready if I have to, love, but with the same love shown in the same way that Jesus has loved them. Jesus has shared everything he has with the disciples, he has taught them, corrected them, been patient with them, forgiven them time and again. He has been humble with them and honest with them, they will see him cry and sweat and bleed. They have witnessed him kneel at their stinking feet and wash them. This is how the disciples need to love each other: with everything they have.

The disciples have grown up with the knowledge that it is right to love God and neighbour: these were commandments handed down from Moses. Until now, though they haven’t been taught how to love.

If we are to believe what others tell us, to love someone means to shower them with gifts, to wine and dine them, to take them out and then take them home…. love is passionate, lustful, damaging to the credit card.

But if we are to believe Jesus, we learn that love is humble, sacrificial, and gives of ourselves, to enable others to live better.

And this isn’t just a rather lovely addition to our faith or our lives. Love isn’t a romantic or even spiritual fluffy cloud we suddenly find ourselves in when the worship and praise is particularly to our liking: love is a commandment that we commit to. We love even when we feel unloved or unlovely. We love when the recipient is having a particularly ugly day, when the recipient is rude, thankless, filthy…. because that is how Jesus loves us.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus

This is not how we want to love, this is not how we have experienced love, this is not how we are expected to love. It is counter-cultural and challenging and often brings no rewards. Love is a gift for others, not an investment for ourselves.

This is how God loves us.

And this is how God wants us to love others.

baaaaaa!

Even if Jesus had answered the Jews who had been asking him, they would not have believed him. If Jesus had stood up and said ‘I am the Messiah’ it is more likely that he would have been told that he was a ‘very naughty boy’ than he would have been worshipped as the Son of God.

The Jewish people had been so desperate for a messiah to come and save them, yet they didn’t recognise the anointed one when they saw him; well perhaps they did, but they couldn’t quite trust themselves to believe that it could be true. Jesus, after all was the carpenter’s son.

The only way for people to fully trust and believe was to experience Jesus first hand. To truly hear his voice and not just the words that he spoke, to find the truth in his healing presence and the hope in his loving actions.

As Jesus had spent three years proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God, some had indeed done so. They had given up their day jobs, the comfort of their homes, maybe even the respect of friends and family to follow him. They had recognised something special in his voice.

Peter in particular had heard something true. Peter, like the other 11 had given up his day job, fishing, and had left behind his home, even his wife who seems to have gone back to live with her own mother in Peter’s absence. When Jesus asks his 12 closest allies, who they think he is, it is Peter who proclaims

[You are] the Messiah of God.

Luke 9:20

When Jesus meets with Peter and the crew during that resurrection period before he returns to heaven, he takes Peter to one side and asks him three times if he loves him. When Peter answers ‘yes’, reversing the thrice-fold denial of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus asks him to take care of his sheep;

feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep

John 21:15-19

Jesus is shortly to return to heaven, leaving his flocks unattended. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not only does he know and love his sheep, but he knows that they need someone to follow, someone who will take time to get to know them, to understand the nuances of their own language, and will teach them to listen to his. This new shepherd will also need to be someone who has known the Good Shepherd and who will continue to listen to his voice and not give up when the going gets tough. He is asking Peter, the rock upon whom his church will be built, to shepherd his sheep.

Peter the disciple who first recognised Jesus as the messiah; Peter who followed Jesus when the other disciples ran and hid after his arrest, but also Peter who Jesus once likened to Satan (get thee behind me), and who was too scared to even admit to knowing him.

Being a shepherd isn’t about being perfect, it is about being faithful to the sheep. Likewise being a Christian isn’t about getting everything right, but about knowing when we are wrong and being prepared to do something about it. Being a vicar, a minister, a pastor, isn’t about being super holy, but about spending time listening, to God (the Good Shepherd) and to the sheep, and helping to keep the lines of communication open so that everyone can not just hear about God’s love, but experience it first hand.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

Read more here.

Holy Career Transformations

Three years earlier Simon had been tidying up after a poor night’s fishing. All night long he, his brother and cousins had been out in their boats, and had caught nothing, not even a tiddler. It was to be the last time they took the boats out fishing, until last night. Three years ago Simon had met Jesus, who ha called him to use his fishing skills for the Kingdom of God. Which is pretty impressive.

Three years ago, after a disastrous night (not) fishing, Jesus had told Simon to throw his nets over the other side of the boat, and when he had done so they had returned full to busting.

So much water had passed since then; Simon had witnessed Jesus heal people and feed people and cast out demons. He had even seen him return people who had died to the living. He had eaten with him, camped out with him, spent three years roaming the countryside with him. Jesus had even given him a special name, Peter, and told him that he would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church.

Peter’s life had become so bound in Jesus’, yet when Jesus was arrested he denied even knowing him, and as he was executed, he hid.

Here though was Jesus, waiting for him. Jesus is standing on the beach, next to a fire on which bread is already cooking for breakfast, but Jesus is looking for fish to serve with it. He calls out to the boats ‘have you caught anything?’ And Simon immediately recognises Jesus’ voice.

After they have eaten the fresh bread, and the fish that had been caught when Jesus’ instructions have been followed and the nets thrown over the other side, Simon and Jesus go for a walk.

Three years ago, when Jesus had renamed Simon ‘Peter’ he had called him to come and fish for people.

Fishing requires either luring individual fish on to a hook with some tasty bait, or trawling a net through the waters and then filtering out whatever is caught up in the nets, big fish, little fish, cardboard box…

Shepherding requires spending time with the sheep, getting to know each other’s voices, building trust and creating a safe place.

Once Jesus needed only fishermen because he was the shepherd, now he is handing that role over to Simon, who will once more become Peter, the rock.

Perhaps the difference between catching fish and tending sheep is the difference between preaching and pastoring. When we preach, we send out the nets not knowing who will be lured in, a bit like a soggy equivalent of the Parable of the Sower, but when we pastor we are building a flock.

The time of fishing was over for Jesus, he was soon to return to heaven, but for Peter, it was a time of transformation. He not only had to learn to stand solidly on land, but he had to learn to build solid relationships in order to build Christ’s church.

A Ghost Story

The setting is perfect for a horror film: everyone is on full fear alert following the gruesome death of a friend. One of the company is missing, he has gone out and not yet come back. It is evening. The doors are locked and enemies are all around. One of their closest friends has betrayed them all and they do not know who to trust.

The doors are locked, and yet, without evening knocking one enters who should be dead and buried.

But this is not a ghost story, this is a life story. Not a horror scene but one of love, peace and forgiveness.

The disciples are scared, and they have every right to be: their beloved teacher has been brutally murdered, and recent history attests to the threat upon the lives of all who have formally stood with someone who has met the same end as Jesus.

They are also confused and lost and bewildered: they do not know what to make of the empty tomb, and seem unable to grasp hold of the joyful news which Mary has brought them, that Jesus is alive. Let’s face it, who of us would believe such a story from a grieving, weeping, woman of suspect repute?

The disciples are finding it difficult to trust anyone right now, after all if Judas could betray Jesus, couldn’t any of them? Thomas has gone out for air, or something, nobody really knows, and Peter is being particularly morose and lacking any of the leadership which Jesus seemed to think he might have shown.

And then, he is there. Right in the midst of them, in the dusky gloom of evening, with the doors still locked, Jesus is there. A ghost before their very eyes. Except that Mary had said that she had seen Jesus alive, heard him call her name; and both Peter and John had seen the empty grave.

Jesus is there with them once more, just like old times, except that Judas’ absent shadow hangs over them, and Jesus’ hands are disfigured and scarred, and he has a wound in his side. And as he stands there, the disciples silently awed and full of fear before him, Jesus does three things.

Firstly, and maybe most importantly he speaks his peace over them, the peace which is unknown to humanity, the peace which speaks deep down into the very being, even in the darkest of situations, even when in the setting for a horror film. Their fear turns to rejoicing and Jesus has to settle his ‘class’ before they can all move one. Once more he speaks his peace over them, and now, bathed in Jesus’ peace, their hearts beating normally once more and their minds able to function, Jesus gives them the best ever present.

Receive the Holy Spirit.

John 20:22

Jesus gently breathes on each of them, and as he does so, they recognise God’s own presence within them. Never again will they be alone, never
again will they be paralysed by fear. Jesus will always be with them, even as he sends them out to be his church.

And then, before he leaves them, he challenges them to be people of forgiveness. Their role in life is to forgive others: it is a heavy gift to bear a significant role to carry. The forgiveness needs to begin in their own house, forgiveness for themselves, for each fell short when the cross loomed. Forgiveness of each other, for Peter who denied Jesus, for Judas who betrayed him, for the religious leaders, the roman politicians, the soldiers carrying out orders.

There will be those whose hearts were turned, ordinary people who found themselves in the crowd jeering ‘crucify him’. They too need to feel that forgiveness, and with it hope of heaven.

But what about Thomas? He had only wanted to escape the stifling air of that shared room, but he had missed out on hope.

Thomas has not received the peace that Jesus spoke over the others. He is still a troubled man and cannot believe the others when they speak so joyfully. He has not seen the wounds, and Jesus has not breathed his Holy Spirit into him as he did the others.

Thomas has been left out and he remains an outsider refusing to believe until he too has not only seen the wounds, but placed his hands within them.

Is Thomas asking too much? After all, we believe without having witnessed anything at first hand. Not too much for Jesus. Jesus returns, just for Thomas. Earlier he has prayed that none that God has given him would be lost, and that includes Thomas. A week later, the doors shut as before, Jesus returns and Thomas is there. Jesus speaks his peace over him, and as his heart finds that soulful rhythm once more, Jesus places Thomas’ hands in his wounds. Jesus doesn’t breathe his Holy Spirit into Thomas, not this time. This time Jesus’ gift for Thomas is the gift of faith.

Do not doubt but believe.

John 20:27

And then Jesus speaks to all of us. In the last of the beatitudes, Jesus speaks a blessing over those who have not seen, but still believe.

We have not seen with our eyes Jesus lay hands on a blind man; we have not heard demons speak Jesus’ name in fear; we have not tasted the bread broken by Jesus…yet we believe.

We believe, sometimes, some bits, today but maybe not tomorrow. We believed yesterday, but today is too tough, too ordinary to belong to a death defying God. We believe, we doubt, we forget. We find ourselves in places of torment, not peace, we find ourselves bearing grudges or out of favour. We find ourselves parched dry and spiritually lifeless. We never seem to be around when the super spiritual moments happen to others.

And Jesus says to us, touch my wounds.

Jesus asks, what will it take for you to believe?

And Jesus speaks his peace over us, breathes his life into us, and re-commission us to work in his kingdom here on earth, bringing forgiveness and hope to others in despair.

Read it here.

Easter Sunday: Who’s a ‘smartie’ now?

Judas thought that he was doing the smart thing by handing Jesus over to the authorities. He would gain money for the shared coffers (perhaps to replace those he had ‘borrowed’), and more importantly, Jesus would be forced to take the throne of a Messiah at last. But he was wrong.

The Chief Priests and other religious leaders gloated about how smart they had been, in working together to get the religious leaders on their side, and by working up the crowds to take on responsibility for getting rid of Jesus. But they were wrong.

Pilate thought that he had been incredibly smart in handing Jesus over to Herod for judgement, but they were both wrong.

The soldiers had been pretty smart in the way that they had carried out their duties, followed orders and benefited from the prisoners’ clothes. They too were wrong.

Peter had, perhaps, thought that he was the smart one, the one of all the disciples who would always be there for Jesus. But not any more.

Jesus had died and the world had changed. Now nobody felt smart.

The morning dawned. Mary still smarting from the bitter pain of watching a loved one die, was first at the tomb, her eyes smarting from the spices the women had been mixing and preparing to anoint Jesus’ body in the tomb. Not trusting her own vision of a tomb stone rolled away, she returned to tell the others, and was accompanied back to the garden of rest, where they found the empty tomb, and empty grave clothes, and slowly the truth dawned, but not smart enough to linger a while, the men return home, leaving Mary weeping in the garden.

Mary the least smart of them all. The one who had been cured of demons, who had followed and loved and served her Lord, had never made claim to status or greatness, like some of the ‘smarter’ disciples, but she lingered here now. Choosing to be present in her place of weakness and brokenness, not running away, not hiding.

Mary chose the smart thing today, although perhaps there was really no choice at all, her feet rooted to the ground. There she stayed and there, her eyes now smarting with tears of grief and shock and loss, found her teacher before her, calling her by name.

Read it here.

Nouns and Verbs: Happy Mothering Sunday

For some reason I found myself quite literally laughing out loud at a facebook page regarding Biff and Chip. For the uninitiated, Biff and Chip are the rather bizarre names given to two characters in the first books children are given to ‘read’ at school. They are dull, boring and involve children who are named after 1970s American TV cops. Except Kipper, who is named after a fish. The gist of the joke was around the detailed way in which children are taught grammar, specifically in this case, fronted adverbials (and no, I don’t know either). Which somehow brought me to a place of wondering just how important grammar is in every day life, and then for today.

Traditionally known as Mothering Sunday but if you try to find a card for your mother with this greeting outside of a Christian bookshop you will most likely find yourself on a wild goose chase. I know because I have tried. Just like her mother before her, my own mum is only satisfied with a traditional card, but it is not for the sake of tradition that she is so stubborn, rather because there is a huge difference between Mothers’ Day and Mothering Sunday: one celebrates a person,the other an action. Nouns and verbs.

Mothers’ Day is stems from the states and is celebrated in May. Other countries follow this pattern too. It is a day for giving thanks to mothers for all they do, and for one day to stop taking them for granted. It is a day in which mothers can expect to be brought breakfast in bed, flowers, gifts and lunch out. Schools and pre-schools will have been planning homemade gifts and cards for weeks and months in the lead up, and little ones will have great difficulty in keeping the secret. The same happens for dads in June. In the lead up to both events shops, pubs, restaurants all try to encourage us to spend our Mothers’ Day pounds with them, which means that wherever you turn you will be faced with reminders of the day. This also means that if you are not a Mother it is easy to feel ostracised by society.

Not all ‘career women’ are career women by choice. They may joke that they took the money option, and perhaps that is true, but perhaps it is also a way of covering up the years of negative pregnancy tests, of early miscarriages, of diagnosis of infertility, of failed IVF treatments. Some mothers’ have buried their children or are estranged from them. Some women never met the right person to have a child with. Some may be waiting to hear if they have been accepted as foster or adoptive parents, some may have been turned down. In amidst the celebrations of the ‘perfect family’ there is pain and grief and sorrow.

Then again there are women who should be delighted with the celebrations, having a brood of their own children and shelves filled with homemade cards and unidentifiable gifts, and yet this day casts a shadow over their own hearts. Women, and men, whose parents abandoned them, or were unfit, or who died far too soon, or maybe just recently.

Mother’s Day is not always a happy occasion, not for everyone.

But the church doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day, it celebrates Mothering Sunday, and all those who have ‘mothered’ us. Mothering Sunday is celebrated half way through Lent, and was a time when everyone was encouraged to return to their Mother church – especially those who had moved away from home to work in service or in industry. It is also known as Refreshment Sunday, a time when the Lenten fast can be relaxed, and those fresh eggs that the chickens have started to lay again, can be baked into delightful treats to be enjoyed before embarking on the second, more serious half of Lent.

Of course, for those returning to their Mother Church it was also a time to return home and visit ‘mum’ as well as ‘Mother’, and so the tradition of Mothering Sunday posies began with flowers picked from the hedgerows on the journey home.

The Bible reading set for Mothering Sunday, brings all these themes together. It is not a joyful one, we are not reminded of the ‘perfect woman’ in Proverbs 31, but of heartbroken women who never stop mothering our Lord.

We are brought to the foot of the cross. When most of Jesus’ friends had abandoned Jesus out of fear, four women remain. Jesus’ mother is there not able to let go of her firstborn son, her heart breaking as she had been warned it would, her soul indeed being pierced. There is nothing she can do to ease his pain, not wipe his brow or hold his hand as she once did when he was a child. She is a helpless observer of her son’s torture and murder. Her sister is there also, supporting and mothering her as well as her son, being present when her own son, also a fisherman and disciple, cousin even of Jesus, couldn’t face being present and feared for his life. Then there is Mary the wife of Clopas, followers of Jesus from Emmaus; little is known of them, perhaps they had no children of their own, perhaps they had viewed Jesus as the son they never had and had given him all the practical support they could afford, and had ‘mothered’ him in this way? And finally there is Mary Magdalene. The single woman who had found her meaning in Jesus and had followed him. Nurturing, mothering, him by pouring out the costly ointment to anoint and prepare him for all that was to come.

But there is one man, John, the other cousin, with whom Jesus had a much closer relationship. To this man Jesus gives a special job to do, a special role to play.


Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

John 19:25-27

We know that Jesus had other brothers, and that his own mother would not have become completely destitute at the death of her eldest son. We also know that John was not in need of a Mother as his was very much alive, and present. Jesus, however, knew that what these people, so dear to him, needed wasn’t another figure in their lives, a noun, but the loving and nurturing relationship that perhaps Jesus had fulfilled in their lives: someone to love and to be loved by. Someone to nurture and be nurtured by. In their grief and loss and faithfulness to the end, Jesus knew that what was needed in this darkest of places was the security of ‘mothering’. A verb.

So this Sunday, spoil your mums if you can. Bring them breakfast in bed if they aren’t up at the crack of dawn looking after others, take them out for lunch if they aren’t serving behind the bar. It’s OK to do so. Just, don’t leave it there. Remember all those who have mothered you. Whether they are male or female, related to you or not. Be thankful for all those who have nurtured you in the past and continue to do so, whether they are still wit you or have gone on ahead. Feel free to grieve the mothers who have gone and those who were never there. And perhaps feel the challenge to reach out and mother others who need to be loved, nurtured and supported too.

Seeking the Lord: A Holy Where’s Wally

From time to time we go through periods of great doubt in a beneficent God. Times when things go wrong on a huge scale: sickness in the family, financial struggles, bullying. Times when we can’t believe that a God who could intervene chooses not to: earthquakes, famines, ‘natural’ disasters. Times when we look at the crimes of humanity and wonder what it means to be made in the image of God.

Christchurch, Cyclone Idai, disagreements over Brexit, have been filling our newsfeeds, and we are right to wonder where God is in all this, but we are not alone in doing so. Humanity has been playing a game of holy Where’s Wally when things go wrong for hundreds, thousands, of years, and this third week of Lent we are reminded that this was the case even in Jesus’ time.

Terrible things have been happening: Pilate had executed, slaughtered, some Galilean Jews, and as if this wasn’t bad enough he had mingled the blood of the dead and dying with their sacrifices. If we have sympathy for Pilate on Good Friday as he is lured into a trap of sentencing Jesus to death, this story perhaps makes us think again. Pilate was bloodthirsty, and no respecter of faith. But who was at fault here? Was Pilate simply evil? Had the Galileans behaved in such a way that God had revoked blessing and protection from them? How had God allowed this to happen in a holy place? Where was God at this time of need, did God even care?

Eighteen others had been killed when a tower had collapsed upon them. Again, who was at fault, who had sinned? In our culture of blame and accountability we would suggest that the builders of the tower had been negligent and therefore the ones at fault (and owing compensation). Perhaps though, the collapse of the tower had also been an act of divine retribution upon those who were in its shadow. Or perhaps, as Jesus seems to be saying, it is just one of those things. Read it here.

Such attempts at calculation…are futile [and]…deflect attention from the primary issue: the obligation of every person to live in penitence and trust before God, and that penitent trust is not to be linked to life’s sorrows of life’s joys. Life in the kingdom is not an elevated game of gaining favours and avoiding losses. Without repentance, all is lost anyway.

Fred b. Craddock

There is a deeper question here though, and it is one which makes us look internally, rather than externally. Not what have others done wrong, but what have I done wrong?

Isaiah called God’s people to seek him whilst he may be found; to give up wrongdoing, to be repentant and seek God’s forgiveness. Isaiah also gives a warning that God’s ways are not like ours, and our thought patterns very different. Where we seek to find fault and responsibility for that which harms, God seeks to find a place of forgiveness for each who has wronged and healing for all who have been wronged. We seek justice, God provides judgement lace with mercy.

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

As we plough on through Lent, these passages from scripture remind us that there are faults within each of us, and if we are not willing to acknowledge them, be repentant and seek forgiveness, then we might just as well be under the rubble in Siloam. Jesus calls us to do some serious soul searching and take what we find to God, and there we will find mercy and grace. Read more from Isaiah here.

Jesus clarifies this for us in the story he tells about the fig tree. The tree has not yet borne fruit, and surely it would make more sense to dig it up and use the space, the manure, the time and energy on a tree that will provide figs. But the gardener says no, give me and the tree one more chance.

God’s call to us to come and repent is a call to receive one more chance. And God’s call is to each of us who may sin in a ‘small’ way, but also to those who wield guns and barbed words, those who seem to only be concerned abut their own well-being. This doesn’t mean that God will not judge them, or us, for our actions, but that when our hearts are truly repentant, grace and mercy meet at the place of judgement.

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