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.

Holding Fast

It is only the second Sunday of Lent, we are 10 days into the season of fasting, and already (for me at least) it is beginning to cut. My own personal discipline fails on a fairly regular basis, guests arrive, friends are reconnected with, and food is always at the heart of such gatherings. Then there is the day which is so busy or so emotionally draining that the emergency chocolate makes an appearance. Today we are reminded to hold fast, to keep going, there is a purpose to the pain after all.

Jesus is still close to the beginning of his ministry. Already he has upset Herod, apparently, and the Pharisees (not the baddies in this story) come to warn Jesus that the Tetrach of Galilee is out to get him.

Jesus doesn’t take these words to heart. He doesn’t reach for the emergency chocolate. Jesus’ resolve is steely and his response is filled with a combination of anger, determination and empowerment.

Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and, on the third day I finish my work.’

Luke 13:32

As Christians and students of the Bible we are trained to hear those words ‘on the third day’ and to understand in them a reference to Jesus’ death and passion. It was on the third day that the Resurrection happened, and that Jesus’ work on earth was completed. Jesus’ response isn’t just of anger, determination and empowerment, but also prophecy. Herod, may believe that he has the upper hand, but nothing is going to stop Jesus from fulfilling the task set before him. For now that task is to cast out demons and cure all sorts of ills, and if Herod is one such demon or disease, Jesus will cast him out too, at least for now.

And for now, the death threats that this whiley fox of destruction is issuing need to be put at bay. Jesus knows that death will come to him, and he also knows that it will have to take place in Jerusalem. A city which should be the gem in heaven’s crown, has become notorious for killing her prophets, and so Jesus needs to keep out until the time is right to face his ‘fate’. Before he does so, he laments over the city. His longing is to gather up Jerusalem’s ‘chicks’ and protect them, draw them close to him and show them God’s love and purpose for them. Jerusalem, its leaders and people just aren’t ready for him though, they will keep going their own way, until it is too late. Jesus’ heart breaks. Jerusalem is where he was brought as a days’ old infant and Simeon and Anna prophesied over him; Jerusalem is where he came with his parents on pilgrimage and he found his place in the temple communing with the teachers of the law. Jerusalem has been a holy and sacred place for him throughout his childhood. Now as an adult he has to turn his back on it, and it breaks his heart.

He will return, but he will not be welcomed for who he is, rather accused of being an impostor, beaten and abused, and led to his death. Jesus will not shy away from this end, he is resolved, determined. But the time is not yet right, and Herod will have to bide his time.

Read it here.

Safely Sheltered in the Fold

The story of the lost sheep is so well known that we try to give it a fresh slant by renaming the sheep as ‘found’ rather than lost, or focusing on the ‘searching’ shepherd, the Good Shepherd. Rarely do we consider the sheep left behind.

Hymns have described the sheep as being safely sheltered in the fold, other times the potential waywardness of the 99 who are left in the wilderness to fend for themselves is highlighted, but rarely do they get more than a fleeting mention.

I want to think about the 99. Today we celebrate the past year, and all that has taken place within the life of our parish. We also have to conduct some annual business: accept (hopefully) the official Church Report which will be filed in the annals of the Diocese, somewhere; verify that the church accounts are in order and that the external auditor has found no signs of the vicar dipping into the coffers,or the treasurer hiding any offshore funds for ‘PCC days away’.

We also need to appoint and re-appoint the office-holders in the church, and this is what causes more concern. Where are the people who are willing to commit to the once honoured role of Churchwarden, PCC Secretary, Sunday School Teacher? Perhaps these roles no longer hold the reverence or kudos that they used to, or perhaps people are just too busy. If people are too busy to serve God’s church, what does this say about a society in which we are all just ‘too busy’, or even about our relationship with God?

Back to those sheep. We know that one sheep had wondered off. Perhaps it had genuinely got lost, perhaps it had no sense of direction, or was trying to get some space away from another little lamb who’d had cross words with this one. Perhaps the sheep was an adventurer who went too far, or had been tempted away by some luscious grazing just out of reach. Perhaps the sheep had bolted in fear of a predator?

Whatever caused the solo sheep to become lost, the shepherd loves it and chases after it, leaving the others behind. And here comes my question: when the shepherd is away from the fold, finding that sheep, what are the other sheep doing? Are they minding their own business, grazing to their hearts delight, having a mindfulness moment? Or are they hoping and praying that the lost one will be safely returned? Are they ensuring the safety of the other sheep by setting up watch from potential predators? Are they preparing for the return of the lost one and working out how best to support it from getting lost again?

A vicar may often be referred to as a shepherd, and the parishioners as their flock. If the vicar is the one we look to to go out and find the lost souls, those who are grieving, or preparing for marriage, or bringing children to be baptised, what are the rest of the flock doing?

Each of us has a role to play, each of us belongs and our different gifts are needed for church to be family. Each member of the flock has a different gift, different amounts of time, or even wealth to use for the wellbeing of the whole flock, and for the glory of God. It is tempting though, to keep our noses down and to keep grazing, not giving a second thought to what else is going on around us, until the wolf looms.

My question for each of us today, is how can we be a united flock that works, plays and prays together for the benefit of each other and for the glory of God?

40 Days

Lent is upon us. By the time Sunday dawns we are already 5 days into the season, and the good news is that the fast can be broken for the Lord’s Day; for this is the day that Jesus rose again from death, the resurrection day, and so every Sunday is a mini Easter Sunday and a day of celebration. It reflects back to the response Jesus gave to the Pharisees when they accused the disciples of not fasting, ‘who fasts when the bridegroom is with them?’ Jesus is our bridegroom and he is present in the breaking of bread. We can breath a sigh of relief, coffee, chocolate maybe even a glass of wine….. Lent is upon us.

Lent is upon us and we will have chosen different Lenten disciplines, and some seemingly more abstemious than others, and that’s OK. The purpose of Lent is not to see how long or how much we can go without; it is a season of drawing closer to God and remembering, retelling the stories of faith.

Lent is upon us, and yet the set reading from the Old Testament describes how harvest is to be celebrated. Of course, harvest takes place in different ways in different cultures and the Israelite harvest described here is a harvest of first fruits, the first feast after a time of shortage. This first fruits harvest is more than just an offering to God though, it is a time of retelling the stories of faith and being reminded of how we fit into God’s story rather than the other way round. Read it here.

In this way individual Israelites take their very own place in the story and life of God’s people.

Andrew Knowles

Perhaps this is what Lent is truly about, finding a way to take our place in the story of God. By fasting (in whatever form) for 40 days, we are re-enacting the fast that Jesus took at the beginning of is earthly ministry. We are retelling God’s story, not just in the way that we follow the Bible passages in church and our own devotions, but also in our actions. By fasting, we are taking our own place.

We are taking our own place, but not as actors upon a stage, rather, by giving of ourselves in prayer and devotion, just as Jesus did. We are denying ourselves that which would normally distract us, and focusing instead on drawing closer to God, seeking God’s purposes for our lives, and finding the strength to avoid the pitfalls, the temptations that draw us away from God.

The Tempter is really quite clever and not to be underestimated. Satan doesn’t tempt us to do things that are quite obviously wrong, but things that seem to have a positive reward, for the ‘greater good’. Jesus is tempted to turn stones to bread, to feed his flagging body; he has already gone without food for over a month, he has done well, no one will notice, or mind. Except Jesus. He knows that if he cannot overcome his bodily needs there is no way he will be able to make it all the way to the cross, he knows that he will need to find strength elsewhere. He knows that nothing can be allowed to come between him and his Father, and that with the support of the Holy Spirit, he will be fine. Jesus is more than able to turn stones to bread, after all he created the stones in the first place, but it is not right for him to do so. Not now.

Through his fast, Jesus gives of himself; Satan wants Jesus to give to him, but he only gives to his Father. Jesus is tempted not just to satisfy his bodily needs, but to take short cuts to the cross: to be lifted high without the sacrifice, to find fame and glory, but without the holiness. And without the redemption for all people.

Luke orders his account differently from the other gospel writers, and in reading the various temptations we discover that the final, climatic temptation takes Jesus, and us, to Jerusalem. This is indeed where he will be heading, as we will discover as we follow the unfolding of the Easter story, however, there will be no angels to protect him. Despite the words of Psalm 91 quoted by Satan, when the time comes to protect the Son of God, the angelic army will be held back. Just as Jesus has to face the wilderness alone, the cross will be a place that only he can fill.

As the temptation passage comes to an end, Luke doesn’t close with the comfort of angels attending Jesus, but a warning that Satan will be back at a more opportune time. And he will, in the guise of Peter and Judas, and in his own doubts in the garden of Gethsemane.

Read the Gospel passage here.

Casting the First Stone

It’s Ash Wednesday and all our churches are gathering together to mark the beginning of the season of repentance. I have been asked to preach. I am happy to do so, I enjoy the challenge and am not scared of an audience. The Team Rector promises me he didn’t know what the reading was when he asked me, the only priest in the team who also happens to be a woman, to preach. Today we are considering the woman caught in adultery (read it here).

It’s a well known story: a woman is hauled before Jesus, she has been caught sleeping with a man who isn’t her husband for which the punishment is stoning to death; (not) funnily enough the man she is caught sleeping with isn’t brought forward to be judged, just her. #metoo?

Jesus takes his time. He knows what the scribes and Pharisees are up to. He also knows the law of Moses inside out and backwards. He knows that the judgement the religious leaders are seeking isn’t really upon this woman but upon himself. She is nothing more than a pawn in their game.

Whilst she stands shamed and fearful, Jesus takes on the role of Judge writing in the sand, drafting his verdict. The crowds he had been teaching are waiting with baited breath, the teachers of the law pester Jesus with questions, until he stands. Jesus doesn’t summarise the crime, he doesn’t pronounce her sentence, instead he gives permission for the men to carry out the punishment; after all, just as they had said, the law of Moses is clear, and this woman had been caught in the act, there is no doubt. Jesus calls for the one who has never sinned to throw the first stone, but he never steps forward. Each of them realises that they have committed their own sins, and none of them wishes to be found in the same shameful situation as they have brought this woman. One by one, they slink away, no stone has been thrown. Jesus releases the woman to start afresh, forgiven.

Today we stand before God. We kneel in his presence seeking forgiveness for all that we have done wrong. Perhaps we wrack out hearts for the hidden things that we have grown so accustomed to that we no longer think of them as sinful. We want to be freed, forgiven, given a fresh start.

But perhaps it isn’t the sins that we have committed that need to be forgiven, rather the ones we judge in others? Yes, their sins need to be forgiven, but that is between God and them, they too will have their moment of drawing in the sand. Perhaps what we need to bring before God is our own sense of self-righteousness, our judgementalism. We are a nation of people who delight in seeing the fault in others, and at this time our country is being torn apart by an ill conceived referendum and opposing views on what is best for the country. Sex and Religion may now be acceptable dinner party conversation, but mention Brexit and we are on very dangerous ground indeed.

There are other areas in our lives, as individuals, as church, where a difference of opinion becomes the beginning of a grudge. We build barriers between us and them and see some fit to enter in and others not. We find it hardest not to judge those who are so very different from us, but Jesus makes it clear. We are all God’s children, after all, each of us has been made in God’s image. Each of us needs to be treated with the same love and acceptance and affirmation that we long for as human beings, and this story from Jesus’ life and ministry illustrates that so perfectly. The woman isn’t perfect, none of us are. She has fallen and been caught breaking one of the great Ten Commandments, and she is judged. The accused seems so different from her accusers, in gender, status, social well being… and yet just like her, each of them fall short of the mark, and each of them tries to hide their fault by shining the focus on her.

Do we do the same? Do we judge others for not being ‘like us’? Do we spend more time blaming others for the ‘fine mess we are in’, ala Laurel and Hardy? If so, this Ash Wednesday as we mark the beginning of this season of repentance, let us ask God for fresh hearts, for eyes that can see clearly, and an ability to focus on our own need for forgiveness before we place the blame on others.

The Glory of God

Peter, James and John are not night owls. One would have thought that having been fishermen spending many dark hours out at sea fishing, they would have been, however, as disciples they often seem to struggle to keep awake at night. Yet, it always seems to be night time, or at least dusk, that Jesus chooses to take these three on a private encounter, and each time they fall asleep.

Perhaps it is in the night hours that the contrast between dark and light is most clear, and this passage from Luke’s gospel is all about the light. The dazzling, glorifying light of the presence of God.

It has happened before, of course, but not in the presence of ‘normal’ people. The great prophet Moses spent so much time in God’s company that he too began to glow: the holiness of God rubbed off on him to such an extent that when Moses spent time with the Israelites he had to wear a veil to cover his glowing face.

…the afterglow of God’s glory.

Andrew Knowles

Moses hadn’t known that he was glowing at first, it was only when everyone backed away in fear that he realised. From then on he only showed his face as evidence that he had indeed spent time with Yahweh and that what he had to say was truly from the lips of God (read it here).

The disciples’ experience is different. They are the ones who are in the presence of God already, but are only just beginning to realise this. Today’s mountaintop adventure takes place just eight days after Peter has made the declaration that Jesus is not any of the rumoured identities (John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet), but is indeed the Messiah (read it here)

The thing is although Jesus had left the glory of heaven behind when he was born in Bethlehem, to take on the dusty mantle of humanity, the disciples knew nothing of the choir of angels who sang at his birth or of the star that brought visitors from exotic climes. They had met Jesus in the dry lands of the middle east where everything is dust and nothing glows. Except God’s presence. Here and now, in the middle of the night, Jesus has his glory returned to him and he glows (read it here).

It is just eight days after Peter’s declaration, but is also eight days after Jesus has made his first prediction of the death that is to come. It is eight days after Jesus described his Passion to the disciples and eight days since he had to rebuke Peter for denying that this could ever take place. Eight days, and here the disciples find themselves not just bathed in the reflected glory of God, but in the company of Israel’s greatest prophets, Moses and Elijah, two holy men of God whom, tradition and scripture tell, did not die. Stories abounded of Moses going straight to heaven before death could take him, and scripture retells Elijah’s transportation to heaven in a fiery chariot (read it here). Would Jesus also escape death? No.Jesus is accompanied by the greatest Jewish icons of the Law and the Prophets – God’s word to God’s people – and it is their iconic status that we are to focus on. Jesus later says that he has come to fulfil the law and the prophets, and it is only through his death that this can be done.

For all Luke’s insistence on the continuity of Judaism and the Christian community, Jesus is not just another in a line of prophets; he is preeminent. He is to be heard, not over and against Moses and the prophets, but as the proper interpreter and fulfilment of what has been preserved in the scriptures.

Fred b. Craddock

This moment marks for Jesus the next stage of his ministry. This glorification reflects Jesus baptism. Then the heavens were torn apart as God shouted down to Jesus his affirmation and approval of him, this time, God covers Jesus and his companions with his presence. The intimacy of this moment could mean that God only has to whisper this time, those same words of love and affirmation.

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.

Luke 9:35

So why were the disciples there? The disciples were witnesses, sure, but Luke’s account already gives us two heavenly witnesses (the legal requirement) in the presence of Moses and Elijah, just as he provides evidence for the resurrection with two ‘angels’ and then again for Jesus’ ascension. We could perhaps also ask why we are here. Why does Luke share this story with us, why is it important for his orderly account? Why did the disciples who had been told to keep quiet about this event, finally share it with the other disciples?

This event is important for two reasons, The first is that Jesus is affirmed as God’s Son. Jesus is not just another holy man, another rabbi, teacher or preacher, Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is divine. Through the gospel so far we have seen much of his humanity, his keeping of the religious laws and rituals of his Jewish faith; now things are about to change. Here on the mountainside we see Jesus adorned in the glory of God, but it is not something that enrobes him due to his proximity to the Holy One as was the case with Moses; Jesus’ holiness emanates from him, it is not the holiness that comes upon him, but the humanity that falls from him. Jesus never ceases to be one or the other, it is only our perception that changes.

For the disciples, for Peter, James and John, this epiphany changes everything, takes them deeper into their identity as disciples and understanding of what is to come. Their first response, or at least Peter’s, is to babble on, trying to make sense of it, but he is not qualified to do so: the three men fall to awed silence. For us too, and especially us preachers, there is an urgency to explain, to decode, to clarify this mountaintop moment. Perhaps though, the correct response is awed silence.

Where is your faith?

The last time I wrote, it was about Jesus calling his first disciples. Jesus finds Simon (later to be renamed Peter) after a poor night’s fishing, and leads him to his largest ever haul. Then he asks him to leave all the fish behind and come with him into a whole new way of life. As Simon and his fishermen friends try to haul in the exorbitant catch of the day, the boats begin to sink. Even when in the midst of blessing, there is an element of danger and excitement.

Today we are back in the boats. No longer fishing, but travelling from one shore to another as Jesus acts out his power over all creation, performing miracles of healing and exorcism, proving that he is king over all creation. He begins in the midst of a storm.

The storm is not unusual, the sea (or lake) of Galilee is known for being placed in a bowl into which winds can swirl and swiftly whip up a storm even on the most peaceful of days. As the former fishermen and their leader travel to the other side this indeed happens, and the boat is in danger of sinking once again. Jesus is not  perturbed, the sailors are.

For Jews the water and what hides underneath is akin to all that is evil: it is in the depths that Leviathan and who knows what other sea demons lurk.

The waters rear up at the disciples on their way, although they don’t yet know it, to witness Jesus cast out demons from the Gerasene demoniac, and to return to overcome the shadow of death from the synagogue leader’s daughter; but first they are to witness Jesus calm the water, take control over the winds and the waves and all that lurks beneath the surface.

The disciples are scared. They are not scared of the wind and the waves, they have lived their lives battling the waters after all. They may have that customary Jewish fear of all that lies beneath, they may carry the superstitions of all sailors, but it is Jesus himself they are spooked by. It does not make sense that the one who brings peace to the waters brings fear to their hearts, but this is something new, and they don’t understand it, and don’t know what to think. What have they got themselves caught up in? Would they have been wiser, safer even, to stick with the known fears and dangers of the water, rather than the one who has power over them? If Jesus can do this to the demons of the deep, what else can he do? Is Jesus a safe bet or a dangerous rebel against nature?

Jesus, as always, sees more than what lies beneath the surface. His question to the disciples is not in response to the dangerous situation they have just sailed through, but is directed at the the turbulence of their hearts. These fishermen have just given up everything they know, even the dangers and insecurities of the sea, to follow him, but is it the right choice? Is it too late to turn back? Yes, they had panicked at the perishing waters, yes they had woken him from his slumbers (who sleeps through a storm???), after all it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at a time like this, and they had expected a helping hand, not a miracle.

But if they had expected to receive ordinary responses to ordinary situations, even slightly more extraordinary ones like the storm, then why had they bothered to give everything up for him? Jesus asks them,

Where is your faith?

Is their faith in the boats they knew how to handle, the waters they understand could be unpredictable, or Jesus, the one who had called them to help him announce the good news of the kingdom of God? A kingdom of which Jesus is the Prince of Peace. A kingdom in which everything is turned upside down and what has been accepted for generations is challenged. Although the disciples, like many of their faith had longed for change and looked for the long promised messiah, now that he is here, they are scared, and their childhood faith not put to the test before, is challenged. Jesus asks them, ‘Where is your faith?’ a question they will have to find an answer for if they are to survive as his disciples.

As Christians we pray

Thy will be done

but do we really mean it? We are so accustomed to finding comfort in our faith, in bringing Jesus ‘on board’ when life gets tough, but are we willing to be challenged and changed by God? Are we able to put our faith in Jesus when the demons of everyday life rear their ugly heads, and not be frightened away from our faith by the unexpected responses of the king of creation?

Being a Christian, carry Christ’s name and carrying the good news of the kingdom of God, means that not only will we find ourselves unexpectedly in the midst  of turbulent waters, but that Jesus responds in ways that we just can’t predict, and asks us to have faith in him and his ways. It means that we will be called to give up our privileges and our sense of empowerment to become vulnerable as we allow the King of Creation to take charge of his kingdom.

Read it here.

A Fishy Tale

Simon falls to his knees in shame as his whole adult life flashes before his eyes. Simon is a fisherman, not the most delicate of occupations, and neither is his language, or even some of his actions. He has been known to share fisherman’s stories over a jar or two after a tough night out and the stories don’t always ring true. There have been less nights with the lads since getting married as he has been keen to get back to the comforts of his wife after battling the winds and rains of a perfect storm in the dark, but before then……. well even Simon blushes a little to think about some of his antics. Especially here and now, with the rabbi in front of him.

Of course Simon had heard about the preacher. Jesus had kicked up quite a storm himself with his teaching that rocked the Pharisees boats, and people liked to hear what he had to say. Lots of people in fact, which is how Jesus and Simon are alone together on the family boat. Simon had been washing the nets after a tough night on the water with nothing to catch. There were no tall tales to tell and he just wanted to get home. But Jesus, had stepped away from the crowds and into the boat, his boat, and asked to be rowed out a little way. So he had. Never been very  good at saying No.

And as Jesus spoke, Simon listened; so close to the teacher he could practically see his heart beat with passion and his souls shine with heaven, and it was contagious.

As Jesus finished, he asked if Simon wouldn’t mind rowing out a little further, right into the deep water. The more Simon rowed the more the crowd dispersed. The sun was shining and Jesus sat with his eyes closed, soaking in the sun, resting his eyes. Then he opened them sharply, and Simon saw them twinkle with the water’s reflection, and then was amazed, as this carpenter turned rabbi began to give him instructions on how to fish. Deciding not to take offence, Simon lowered the nets, after all , if they came back up with even a singe fish, that could be supper; yet as Simon began to heave the nets in, he could tell from their weight that he was looking at a haul larger than supper, and larger than he could handle even with the help of Jesus’ carpenter’s strength, so he called his cousins, who brought their boat and together they landed their largest ever catch. From one net enough fish to overfill both boats.

And that’s when it happened. Simon saw all the good in Jesus and all the sinfulness in himself, and sank to his knees in sorrow and the knowledge that he cold never be good enough to keep this man company, this rabbi, this…Lord.

And yet, before they had landed all the fish, had chance to clean the nets once more and head to the market, Jesus had lifted Simon and called him to himself. Wiping way all that had gone before, Jesus showed Simon, and his fishing partners a glimpse of their new life, reeling people into the kingdom, into God’s presence, just as they had been.

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