Sailing into Advent

Happy New Year!

It may not feel particularly new, and certainly not shiny right now, but today, Advent Sunday, is the beginning of the church year, or ‘liturgical’ year if we want to use words of more than one syllable. ‘Liturgy’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘works of the people’, it is the way in which we worship, witness, and work together, to borrow from our Team strapline, and not what the vicar does.

It may seem a rather strange time to begin a New Year, the days are getting shorter, not longer, and the urge to hibernate is strong (at least with this vicar). The early church chose the darkest time of the western year to celebrate the birth of Christ, Jesus the light of the world, coming to be one amongst us. As we come, naturally, to the darkest point in the year, we are reminded that the brightest of lights came to be with us all, brightening even the most despairing of hearts and situations.

Advent, is a time of preparation: a time to prepare our homes for welcome guests, for family celebrations, for friends who share our tears and laughter throughout the year. It is also a time to prepare our souls to engage once more with the greatest story ever told.

As the church turns into a new year, the focus on preaching changes too. A new gospel to follow (farewell Luke, hello Matthew) and different Old and New Testament books take precedence in the lectionary (the calendar of readings for church services). This year Genesis is the Old Testament book of choice, and we will be focusing on the beginnings of our Judeo-Christian faith.

This first Sunday in Advent our gospel reading, from Matthew, reminds us of the story of Noah, one of our Genesis heroes. As Matthew recalls Jesus urging us to ‘watch and wait…to stay awake…to be ready’ we are also taken back to the beginning, to those who ignored Noah and were taken by surprise when the floods washed them away.

It is difficult to be ready for something when we don’t even know when it is going to happen. We lose the sense of urgency and the air of expectation. We know when Christmas comes because it is the same date each year, and even if we were to forget the shops would give us swift reminders from long before Advent is upon us. Noah didn’t know when exactly the floods would come. He lived in the dessert and the thought of flooding was inconceivable, but Noah had faith in God and followed the instructions looking for the rain clouds to appear, warning others to watch for the storms, to pack their belongings and board his boat. Of course they didn’t believe him, and their disbelief cost them dearly.

It was inconceivable, quite literally, that Mary should bear a child at all, and certainly not the longed for Messiah. Many had been watching out for the Messiah to arrive, but few were there to receive him.

When Jesus returns will will be ready? Although God’s promises are true, and God has promised to return and renew all creation, I find it inconceivable that it will happen in my lifetime. Jesus taught his disciples to keep the faith. It didn’t happen in their lifetime, and it may not happen in mine, but will I heed Jesus’ warning, and live my life as if he is already on his way?

Will I prepare my home for this honoured guest, will I prepare my heart by worshipping him now and coming to know him through prayer? Will I try to come closer to God, not to secure a ticket on the ‘ark’ of his return, but to be able to love and know him and his desire for my life, for his kingdom come?

This advent, keep the faith. Watch and wait as Noah did, watch and wait as the early disciples did, watch and wait as though his scheduled flight had just landed, and seek to live our lives in ways that will make him feel welcome.

Andrew the Saint of those who Search

Sir, we wish to see Jesus.

John 12:21

It was Andrew who was always looking out for something new, something different. It wasn’t that he was attracted by passing fads, or latest trends, it’s just that his soul wasn’t easily satisfied.

Andrew, like his brother Simon, and cousins James and John, was a good Jewish boy, or at least, as good as the next Jewish boy. Andrew’s faith was based upon the teachings of the Torah, the Chronicles of the kings, and the promises of the prophets; and he heeded the prophets whose message was to repent of what was not good or Godly, and to keep looking for the coming Messiah. So it was that Andrew found himself following John the baptist, when his fishing duties allowed, and was present when Jesus was baptised.

Andrew was there when Jesus walked along the banks and when John pointed Jesus out saying, ‘behold the lamb of God’; and it was Andrew who introduced his brother to Jesus, who renamed him Peter.

Andrew searched for the good, searched for the better, in a culture oppressed by false leaders and religious hierarchy. A culture not too dissimilar to the one which Isaiah raged against, many years before, perhaps one not too dissimilar to our own. A culture in which the rituals of religion had become more important than walking in the ways of God. Andrew found in Jesus the true way to walk, a way of humility, of forgiveness, of treating others with respect regardless of status.

Andrew sought God and sought good, so perhaps it was no surprise that when some Greeks asked Philip to introduce them to Jesus, he took them to Andrew.

So here we are on St Andrews Day, remembering the disciple who sought for God and found Jesus, and allowed him to change his entire life. Andrew already believed in God, already took part in the rituals and festivals, but until he found Jesus, his whole life and everything in it was somewhat lacking. As a disciple of Jesus, his whole life was turned around in a way that he wanted everyone else to have the opportunity to experience. A life in which past wrongs are forgiven, hope colours even the oppressed, and everyone is valued and loved, just as God loves.

Will we walk in Andrew’s footsteps and keep seeking the good and the Godly in our world? Will we help other seekers to meet Jesus, and welcome them with arms outstretched?

Read more from the prophet Isaiah here. Read more of Andrew’s story here.

Christ the King

We come to the end of our year with Luke’s account of the gospel truth. We don’t finish on a glorious note, however, despite the church declaring that this Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. Instead we finish on the lowest moment in Jesus’ ministry, the most painful and despairing time, as Jesus hangs from the cross in shame and agony for simply being himself.

All the hope that Jesus had inspired in his followers, fades away, as he labours over his final breaths. The soldiers cast lots gambling for his clothes, they mock him and offer him sour wine; the people stand by, watching, this horrific spectator sport; the leaders continue to scoff him, taunting him to save himself; and a sign above his head declares that he is the King of the Jews, a sign that no-one believes to be true.

One of the criminals hanging alongside him joins in with the taunting, wasting his breath in frustration, perhaps, that the ‘king’ he is hanging alongside has no power to save either of them. Another criminal, another ‘dead man hanging’ chooses to use his breath and his words differently. This man sees something different in Jesus, in his last moments of life and in his death. In his reflection he sees himself as the man rightly convicted of a crime and deserving his punishment, and yet he reaches out in hope, even at the eleventh hour.

Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom.

Luke 23:42

We have the same choices to make today as did those who shared that space in history with Jesus. We can choose to gamble away all hope in Jesus, we can walk away in despair, we can mock him and taunt him, we can blame him for not rescuing us from the things we have done wrong. Or we can choose to reach out, recognising that we have done wrong and deserved to be punished, but hoping instead for mercy.

St Paul wrote to the church at Colossae urging them to remain strong in times of persecution, and that they are inheritors in Christ’s Kingdom. That they have been ‘redeemed’, had their sins forgiven just as the prisoner who hung from a cross next to Jesus, also found freedom and forgiveness.

And this is all lovely: a personal invitation to join the Kingdom of Christ, as renewed people, restored and forgiven and treated as royal family. Christ’s kingdom is so much more than a heavenly family, a regal crown; Christ’s kingdom is one which incorporates the whole of creation, is not divided by state boundaries, or overwhelmed by dominions or powers. Jesus is the king of all. It just doesn’t feel like it.

Often we can feel more like the mocking criminal, if Jesus is the king of all why doesn’t he save us? Why doesn’t he return and retrieve his throne from corrupt and immoral leaders, why doesn’t he stake his claim over the dominions of sickness and evil?

When Jesus died, he didn’t just sleep for a few days before returning victorious. Jesus went into the depths of death, and hallowed it. Jesus made even the darkest most fearful places holy, and brought hope and life where none was ever expected again. Jesus won the war between life and death, but battles still rage on. We are invited to be a part of those final battles knowing that the ultimate war is over, and that we are on the winning side, we belong to the Kingdom that overcame death, we belong to Christ.

We are challenged, and these are indeed challenging times, to act like the second criminal who hung with Jesus, and not to speak out of anger or spite or fear, but to seek Christ’s kingdom, even when everything seems lost. And when we have times of sorrow, despair, or doubt, we can hang on to those words that Jesus spoke to his fellow condemned man,

Truly today you will be with me in Paradise.

Luke 23:43

Read Luke’s account here, read Paul’s letter here.

Swords into Ploughshares

What does it mean to beat swords into ploughshares? Or spears into pruning hooks? How do we walk in his paths? What even is a ploughshare?

One of the traditional readings for Remembrance Sunday speaks of all these things, we hear it annually, but do we ever stop to really think what it might mean? This year I have been stopped in my tracks, been inspired by two soldiers who lived 100 years apart, and the way in which they have made these words a reality. Read it here.

The first, a Chelsea Pensioner and former regular in the Middlesex Regiment, recently raised over £6000 for the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Warchild, through a sponsored walk. The 71 year old walked 610 miles over 46 days carrying a 40kg kit bag. He often slept under the stars, and at one point was caught up in a thunder storm. Despite being a pensioner he says that he wasn’t ready ‘to put on his slippers and doze by the fireplace’.

The other soldier to inspire me was Second Lieutenant Alexander Douglas Gillespie of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was killed in 1915. What was extraordinary about this soldier was his sense of vision. Even in the hell of the trenches he wrote home with dreams of creating a sacred path, a pilgrim’s way, between the lines, turning No Man’s Land into a place of peace. Many years later a charity has made his dream a reality, and in doing so has ‘beaten swords into ploughshares’.

Alan Rutter was the first to walk the way. For him it was a pilgrimage to honour the men who died along that front, but it was also a way for him to draw close to God. He took with him two Bible passages, to keep him company and to guide him…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

…and he described the journey as benefiting him ‘physically, mentally and spiritually’.

So how do we turn swords into ploughshares? We look for the hope in times of despair, and the good in times of evil. We seek the sacred in the most unholy of places, and we keep our eyes set on all that is good.

Jesus once walked a road with a load that was too heavy to carry. His journey took him to the cross where he transformed a place of evil into a place of hope an healing, and death into life. A retired soldier walked from Dunkirk to Pfetterhouse, tracing the steps of thousands who had gone before, giving their lives for a greater peace. A visionary dreamed of a Via Sacra that would bring life and hope from war and despair.

As we remember all those who have gone before us, perhaps this Remembrance Sunday it is time for us to choose the paths that we will walk.

I would make a fine, broad road in the ‘No-Mans Land’ between the lines, with paths for pilgrims on foot and plant trees for shade and fruit trees, so that the soil should not altogether be waste. Then I would like to send every man, woman and child in Western Europe on a pilgrimage along that Via Sacra so that they may think and learn what war means from the silent witnesses on either side.

Second Lieutenant Alexander Douglas Gillespie

A ploughshare by the way, is ‘a sharp steel wedge that cuts loose the top layer of soil’, a farming implement.

For All The Saints….

November marks the beginning of Kingdom Season in the church. It is a time of remembering and mourning and looking forward with hope. Ordinary Season is put to bed with All Hallow’s Eve, commonly known as Halloween, (not usually celebrated by Christians unless to hold a light filled party in opposition to the night that darkness reigns). All Hallow’s Eve taunts us that there is still plenty of darkness in our kingdoms.

However, as the 1st November dawns bringing with it the light of All Hallow’s Day we are reassured that no matter how ‘spooky’ the night may seem, light is stronger, and the light of Christ strongest of all. On All Hallow’s Day – often referred to as All Saints – we celebrate that in Christ all and everything is hallowed, made holy, just as in the Lord’s Prayer,

Hallowed be thy name…

We remember the saints, those who have walked in Christ’s light throughout their lives, for some the whole of their lives, others only a short period as they discover Jesus’ love for them later in life. We remember the biblical saints of course, St Peter, St Andrew, St Mary, St Michael; as well as canonised saints such as St Leonard, patron saint of prisoners, and Mother Theresa. We are also affirmed in our own lives as disciples of Jesus, each of us who seek to follow him and live our loves accordingly, and we take this opportunity to encourage each other in our shared walk as Christians.

The 2nd November is All Souls’ Day, when we remember all those who have gone before us. Some we may be certain of in their saintliness, some whose halo could be seen whilst still alive, creating an aura of goodness around them as they lived and breathed. Others seemed much more ‘earthy’ and like us, sometimes being wonderfully kind and loving but at other times perhaps a bit less so…. Perhaps some we have huge difficulties being civil with, but who are we to judge? We remember them all, those who have died more recently by name, and commend them to God.

This opening trinity of feasts is followed by Remembrance Sunday, when we call to mind the sacrifices made of those who have served. We wear our poppy with pride, but also a sense of sorrow that they were ever needed, with sorrow that kingdom could rise against kingdom in such a devastating way. And as we do so, we look forward to the coming Kingdom of Christ, when Jesus will return and his Creation will be renewed, not just physically with hope for a broken planet, but spiritually too. Forgiveness will abound, so that we can spend eternity with a greater depth of understanding of each other, hurts can be healed, love will abound, and there will indeed be no more sorrow. The lamb and the lion will be able to lie together without any fear.

As we sit at the beginning of this season, we are set the passage from Luke’s Gospel, referred to as Blessings and Woes,

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
   for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
   for you will mourn and weep.

‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

This passage from Luke is often confused with Matthew’s similar passage known as The Sermon on the Mount. There are some key differences though, for a start, Jesus is here speaking on the level. Jesus isn’t elevated as a teacher would be, but down among the people, at one with them. We can pick out clues from the text, the use of single and also plural ‘you’, that Jesus is talking to a wide variety of people: this is an inclusive ‘sermon’ not a lesson set aside for the disciples, or a lecture for the Jews, or a warning for the Pharisees.

This ‘sermon’ is also notable because the blessings and woes are not linked with each other. The blessings are assurances for those who are already poor, hungry, sorrowful, and the blessings come now in the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Kingdom itself.

Likewise the woes are referred to in the present tense. All the blessings the rich and satisfied will ever receive are here and now, for them, life will not get any better.

Jesus’ teaching echoes the song his mother sang when he was still being carried in her womb, and so, at the end of the church year when we are drawing to the culmination of Christ’s story, the conclusion we all look forward to in the the words,

Thy kingdom come…

we are brought full circle to the beginning to the churches New Year, Advent. We look forward both the the coming of the Saviour as a baby who will live a human life on earth, and the coming of the King of Heaven and Earth, who will reclaim this fractured and broken world, and heal it, and us, once and for all.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

   and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

   from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

   and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

   and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

   in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Luke 1, The Magnificat

A Single Thread, a Single Sheep and a Single Coin

This week I went to the book launch of A Single Thread set in Winchester Cathedral. I was particularly keen to attend, not just because I enjoy Tracy Chevalier’s writing, but because one of my churches features in the novel.

At the launch Tracy spoke about how she looked for the feminine in the story, and how her novels always seem to have that balance between the masculine and the feminine. In this latest novel set inbetween the two World Wars when there were a million ‘surplus women’, the masculine skills that built the cathedral are set alongside the cushions and kneelers being made by the group of women that our heroine joins. The band of bellringers is balanced by the guild of broderers.

In the gospel passage from Luke, a similar thing is happening: Luke balances the male, external world of the shepherd with the female, internal world of the housewife.

Both the shepherd and the housewife have lost something of great importance to them and they seek and seek for it until it is found, and then they are so delighted and relieved to be reunited with their lost item that they celebrate with others.

The shepherd loses a single sheep. Surely this happens all the time? Sheep wander and get lost, or get picked by prowling beasts. The woman loses a single coin, a penny perhaps; who doesn’t lose coins down the back of the sofa? This too is surely an ordinary encounter. In both cases the sheep and the coin are not the only ones, they are just a single sheep from a flock of 100, a single coin from a band of 10. Yet each are valuable.

The sheep is valuable because the shepherd knows it, the shepherd has spent time with it, has identified it’s quirks and character. This is no ordinary sheep, it is his sheep.

The woman hasn’t simply lost a coin, but has lost one of the 10 silver coins she was given at her wedding. The coins would have been part of a headdress, and when a coin was ‘missing’ it would indicate something missing from the marriage, it would indicate divorce. The woman hasn’t just lost a coin but has lost her status.

In telling these stories of lost and found, Jesus is trying to help the Pharisees to understand just how valuable to God are the ‘lost’ and the ‘shamed’. The member of the flock who has gone astray, the woman who has not valued her marriage, are God’s beloved children and he will seek them out and bring them safely home; and then, because of his great love for them, will rejoice with the angels when they enter into the heavenly realms.

Jesus’ love is for all. He cannot be boxed into a holy cubby hole, and neither will his love be reserved exclusively for the good, the safe, the pious, regardless of gender.

For years, despite Jesus’ speaking out against the cultural norms of his times, women have been belittled and devalued in our readings of the gospel. In some churches and Christian circles still, the mantra ‘equal but different’ is used to keep women quietly on the tea rota and out of the pulpit. Women have been accused of ‘tainting’, making unclean, communion tables when they have fulfilled their priestly calling by celebrating at them, despite the way in which Jesus touched the unclean, male and female, and made them whole. Luke shows us how Jesus reaches out to male and female, feminine and masculine, and proclaims each worthy of a party in heaven.

We are slowly beginning to give women the same working rights as men (in the West at least), we can even have female bishops now, but what of others that are deemed ‘unclean’? How often does the phrase ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ been used of someone who is ‘other’ than us? Perhaps this statement could be used, properly, of someone serving a prison sentence, and yet it only ever seems to be used of those whose gender identity is other than heterosexual.

If Jesus were to tell parables of the ‘lost’ now, who would feature in them? If Jesus were to be found drinking and eating with ‘the wrong people’ today, would it be because he was marching at Pride, or dancing at a gay bar, or sharing a meal with a trans woman?

The lost are only lost when nobody cares enough to seek them out, to bring them home, to restore them to a place of honour; and are only truly found when someone cares enough to rejoice over them.

Invitation to the VIP Suite

I remember the Old Testament tutor telling us how he had met his wife. He had been studying in New York at a Jewish seminary and attended synagogue on the sabbath. In the door way were cards, placed by members of the synagogue who had space for a visitor for lunch. Anyone could take a card and simply turn up and be welcome, because nobody was a pauper on the sabbath, everyone was a prince. Of course, he picked a card and turned up to have lunch at which the beautiful daughter was also in attendence….

Jesus is invited to share a meal in the house of the Pharisees on the sabbath. Perhaps he had been invited by this same principle, perhaps they were simply including him, as a rabbi, in the discussion often held at table, and Jesus was among them as teacher and preacher for theological and philosophical discussion. Perhaps the Pharisees were interested to see what scandal would occur with Jesus as their guest, after all ‘they were watching him closely’. What they weren’t expecting was a lecture from a guest on hospitality.

Jesus however notes the ungracious way in which the guests are vying for the best seats. Social etiquette denoted who would sit at the head of the table, who then at his (yes, his) right and left hand, and then moving down the table in lessening degrees of status. There is no humility in Jesus’ fellow diners, and each pushes to be seated at the head of the table. We are not told where Jesus has sat, whether he had been placed at the head of the table as the most interesting guest, even if not the most respected, or if he had simply seated himself at the other end of the table watching whilst diners jostle for top spot.

Either way, he sees them and their actions, and begins to tell a tale about being invited to a wedding party, which warns that in claiming the top seat guests faced the indignity of being asked to move aside for someone more important. It is far better to take the lower seat and be asked to move up, than it is to take a higher seat and be asked to move down. I wonder if any of the guests suddenly felt uncomfortable in their hard won seats?

The guests are not the only ones who face criticism, the host does too. The host is warned about being exclusive in his invitations, dining only with those who will invite him back in return, or can promote him and grace him with their favour.

Just as Jesus’ table etiquette is about humility in choosing where to sit, so is his guest list. Choose those who cannot offer hospitality to share your table. Be blessed in the presence of others and not by what they can offer in return.

Throw the banquet by all means, be lavish and generous, as Craddock comments,

Nothing for Luke can be more serious than a dining table.

Fred B Craddock

but be generous in your invitation of the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite the social outcast to be included in your social gathering.

As we read this story, we cannot help but think of another banquet. One at which he who should have sat at the head of the table, instead removed his robes, knelt at the feet of his guests and bathed them, taking on the role of the lowliest member of the household. We cannot help but think of the guests that evening, friends who would run away and hide when he was in trouble, friends who would betray him, deny even knowing him… This Jesus was not speaking uncomfortable truths for everyone else to ponder upon, but lived them out. This man, this rabbi, was accused by others of eating with publicans and sinners, whilst also providing a feast of bread and fish for those who would never be able to repay the offering.

And as we reflect upon the way that Jesus lived, perhaps we also reflect upon our own version of ‘hospitality’, a custard cream and a cup of tea after church and a quick ‘how are you’, really doesn’t cut the mustard, it really pales in comparison with the synagogue lunches on offer.

How are we to become more radical in our hospitality? Perhaps we could begin by giving up our precious seat on the train when it is packed to the gills? Perhaps we could share lunch after the service and not just ‘a nice cup of tea and a biscuit’? Perhaps when meeting someone new, whether in church or elsewhere, we ask them to come dine with us, and see what relationships blossom.

Read the full story here.

A Day for Re-creation.

Jesus was a good Jewish boy. Sometimes it is hard for us to remember this, after all didn’t, the Jews kill him (actually no, the Romans did, but some Jewish leaders conspired against him)? We fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus was the first Christian, after all, those of us who follow Jesus, who name ourselves after him, refer to ourselves as Christians, but again, No. Jesus lived his life according to all the rites and rituals of the Jewish faith and none that Christians ascribe to. Jesus did not celebrate the Eucharist, he wasn’t baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he never set foot inside a church.

Jesus celebrated Passover amongst other Jewish feasts and festivals, he was circumcised not baptised, and he worshipped in the synagogue.

To be in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was Jesus’ custom was to be at the heart of Judaism in its most prevalent and in many ways its strongest form. In Luke’s own day, Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, but there were synagogues in every city.

Fred B Craddock

It is in the synagogue that today’s tale takes place. Jesus and his Jewish disciples (no they weren’t Christians either), have come to worship. Also at the synagogue are other Jews, as you would expect, some who had come to fulfil roles of leadership and others who had simply come to quietly worship with their community, just as they would every Sabbath. What marks this Sabbath day out, is that Jesus had been asked, or given permission, to teach. We must assume that this was happening with the synagogue leader’s knowledge and permission, and that he knew of Jesus’ reputation. Either they were drawn to what he had to say and wanted to learn from him, or they, like other synagogues leaders in other towns, wanted to try and catch him out: what would he do this Sabbath day that was against Torah?

Jesus is teaching when he sees a woman come in. Perhaps synagogue worship didn’t have a specific start time, perhaps it was usual for people to just turn up and join in whenever they could. Perhaps this woman was always late, and perhaps her lateness was because of her physical disability. Nobody else seems to notice her, so perhaps she had a reputation of coming in once the teacher had already begun.

The woman hobbles in, and Jesus stops mid sentence (I imagine), and calls her over. This woman had been crippled for 18 years. For 18 years she had not been able to walk well, nor was she able to hold her head up high and look others in the eye, she was so bent over that for 18 years she had seen more of the ground, more of her feet, than the sky, than the faces of loved ones. For 18 years she had been bent in a position of subservience; now Jesus calls her over.

Woman, you are set free from your ailment.

Luke 13:12

As Jesus touches this woman, she is able to stand straight. For the first time she can stand tall amongst her peers, within her community, for the first time in 18 years she has something she can truly praise God for and she can use her whole body to do so without pain. And she does. Alleluia! You would expect that her worshipping community who had seen her struggle for 18 years would also praise God with her, surely this is something to be celebrated? But no, instead the synagogue leader becomes indignant, and starts throwing around accusations about breaking the Sabbath commandments,

There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not the sabbath day.

Luke 13:14

It is interesting to see how the synagogue leader frames his complaints, because the woman did not come with the intention to seek healing, Jesus called to her, not the other way round. Neither did Jesus come with the intention to heal, but rather to teach. When the healing and the synagogue leader’s indignation come together though, Jesus’ teaching moves to a new level. We assume that Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom of God and how it is coming near, how Yahweh wants to mend the broken relationship with his people, and now we have the perfect illustration.

The woman has come bound by a spirit of brokenness, and Jesus sets her free to worship God; and yet the rule-keeping synagogue leader would deny her this freedom, because he himself is bound by the letter of the law, so bound that he is able to better care for his animals than members of his worshipping community, those in his spiritual care.

Interestingly, if the woman’s condition had been critical, if she had received a blow to the head, had a heart attack, or fallen and cut herself in his sight, then Torah would have permitted Jesus to have responded with life saving first aid; because the woman had been able to live with her condition for 18 years, it wasn’t critical and could wait.

Just like the woman we often remain bound when we could be healed if only we would ask. We remain bound by other people’s assumptions of us, by our not wanting to trouble anyone, and definitely not drawing attention to ourselves. We may not be bound by physical infirmities, indeed despite having ‘disabilities’ we may have freedom in ways that others don’t. Perhaps we have sought healing and been disappointed, but there is a difference between being ‘healed’ and being set free.

This woman was healed of whatever caused her to be bent over, but more than that she was released from a spirit, a disability, which prevented her from being fully able to worship God.

How do we come to God holding together the desire to be healed and to be released to worship and live our lives fully for God, when there is also a fear of disappointment? Perhaps we begin with working out just what it is that keeps us bound, it may not be an illness or a disability, it may be the attitudes of others. For the hobbling woman freedom came when one person took time to notice her, to value her and to draw her into God’s light; when the rules and laws were loosened enough to let her breathe and healing to be enacted upon her.

If we are to receive healing, and be agents of healing for others, then we need to be open to those in need, those who may shuffle in late and keep to the shadows, those who nudge us out of our comfort zones and cause us to question the way we have always done things.

Jesus calls the synagogue leader a hypocrite, for all his rule keeping in order to protect the holiness of the Sabbath has caused it to be devalued. The day for rest, restoration and re-creation is a God given day, and Jesus shows us the way to be blessed, and bless others by it.

Read the whole story here.

Teach us to pray…

The disciples ask their teacher how they should pray. They have seen their rabbi at prayer many times, they have lost him only to find him up a mountain deep in conversation with Yahweh, and they have attended synagogue with him regularly.

They are all good Jewish boys, and would have been taught the correct prayer life by their parents and in the basic schooling they received as young children. But they want more. How can they achieve the same level of devotion that Jesus has? They have seen how prayer can bring healing and release, and taken it out on their missions and experienced it for themselves. Some of them have even seen Jesus transfigured. Still they seek more.

Perhaps they feel that they are missing out? Perhaps word has come from John’s disciples about the prayer life they experienced with their rabbi? Andrew, it is believed, was a disciple of John prior to following Jesus, perhaps he felt that something was missing?

Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.

Luke 11:1

So how did John teach his disciples? We have no record of John’s relationship with his disciples, understandably, as the gospels focus on Jesus and John bows out shortly after Jesus’ baptism, and then of course he comes to a sticky end.

What we do know about John though, is that his way of life was more ascetic, perhaps more disciplined. John himself lived a very simple life, wearing animal skins and grazing for his own diet. His teaching was on repentance and the only ritual he held was that of baptism, of being cleansed in preparation for the one to come.

Perhaps John had given to his disciples a form of prayer that was an identifying mark to the group. We know his disciples fasted and prayed. It was not unusual for rabbis to teach specific prayers. Notice that the text treats prayer as a learned experience, not simply as a release of feelings. Discipline is clearly implied.

Fred B Craddock

What the disciples received and we have inherited is a formula for prayer that covers just about every aspect of life, but differs dramatically from the ascetic lifestyle of John. The first thing that the disciples are required to do is draw close to God, not keep him at a distance for fear that our earthliness will be an insult to God. Jesus tells them to call Yahweh ‘Daddy’.

The prayer begins surprisingly, by calling God ‘Abba’ – ‘Dear Father’.

The Jews have several names for God, and a hundred ways of avoiding his holy name. No one has ever presumed to call God ‘Daddy’. Jesus is inviting his friends to share his own intimate relationship with God. This is not like any prayer that has ever been before. This is love talk.

Andrew Knowles

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John had taught them, instead he teaches them a new intimacy with God. In what has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ there is no call to repent of our sorrows, but instead an invitation to come into the Father’s presence and to ask for what we need, with an assurance of the Father’s love and desire to give us all that is good for us.

Yes there are the words about seeking forgiveness, but they come with an assurance that sins will be forgiven, rather than a fear of not being good enough; and those words, along with a plea to be protected from temptation, come after the disciples have been invited to ask for their daily needs.

John teaches us to make ourselves ready to come into God’s presence, and Jesus welcomes us in.

The disciples asked to be taught to pray as John’s disciples had been taught, instead Jesus teaches us once more the power of love. To be accepted as worthy to be in God’s presence and to join the heavenly pursuits of love and forgiveness.

The disciples had asked the wrong question of Jesus. They wanted to be taught to pray as John’s disciples prayed, instead Jesus teaches them to pray as co-heirs of the kingdom.

Read it here.

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