Read Mark and Inwardly Digest? Where’s Nathanael?

Once again we find ourselves not in the Gospel of Mark! In this season of Epiphany the lectionary wants us to consider how those who met face to face with the adult Jesus responded to him, as well as the visitation of the Magi to the infant Christ. Today we are asked to think about Nathanael and his response – quite an intriguing one – the thing is, Nathanael isn’t mentioned in Mark’s gospel. Mark recalls how the four fishermen instantly responded, dropping their nets and becoming ‘fishers of men’; also Levi who gave up the lucrative tax collecting business, but none of the others’ stories are recorded. Philip who features in this passage from John alongside Nathanael is at least listed amongst the 12, but Nathanael isn’t (unless he is hiding under a pseudonym – there are many suggestions that Nathanael is referred to as Bartholomew in the other gospels.)

So why is Nathanael so important?

Well Nathanael is one of those very special types of people who we might call ‘the salt of the earth’, ‘a rough diamond’, someone who would call a spade a spade, someone without any airs or graces, or as John writes, ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’.

Nathanael doesn’t seem to hold any airs or graces, he is certainly not one to have the wool pulled over his eyes. His first response to Philip’ invitation to ‘come and see’, is rather a rude scepticism, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’.

And yet, when he sees Jesus face to face, it is clear that they have already met. Nathanael seems to like the way that Jesus describes his character, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ he asks, which I can imagine him saying with a bit of a grin and a wink, as if to say ‘my reputation goes before me’, as if to own the description as being true.

Jesus answers him by saying, in a round about way, that they have met before, ‘I saw you under the fig tree’. Fig trees were known as places of prayer. Nathanael may be a rather sceptical rough diamond who doesn’t hold back, but he is also devout and faithful – a strong combination for a disciple, and he now recognises that Jesus is the one to whom he has been praying all this time. He declares,

You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Long before Peter makes his declaration of Jesus as Messiah, Nathanael has nailed it.

Underneath his fig tree, Nathanael has found a ‘thin space’ between heaven and earth, here, in his devotions he has found a connection with the heavenly realm, but that is nothing compared to what is to come. Jesus promises this descendant of Jacob, that he too will see

heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending

but, for Nathanael, the prayerful, the ‘ladder’ that connects the two will be Jesus himself.

This is Nathanael’s epiphany moment: Nathanael meets the man of his prayers, finds himself loved and accepted and called into a purpose. What is our epiphany moment? Nathanael’s began with prayer, devout and regular prayer in a place of peace, set aside from daily life: not a monastery or a temple, but an easily found place that he could make his own. Nathanael, first got to know God in the ethereal realms of spirituality before coming face to face with the Son of God. If we want to discover God’s love and purpose for our lives then we too need to begin with prayer. Not just the prayers in church on a Sunday, but regular, personal prayer in your own set-aside space. There Jesus will come and find us, and call us, and there we will find his love and acceptance, and if we are willing to accept it, his calling too.

Read the gospel passage here.

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • What to you would be ‘Nazareth’ – a place from which no good could come?
  • Why do you think it was important for Jesus to have Nathanael in his ‘pack’? What attributes do you think his ‘lack of deceit’ could bring to Jesus’ ministry?
  • Why do you think Nathanael is given so little column space in the other gospels?
  • What unusual ‘attributes’ do you think you have that could be of use to God? If you are meeting in a group, spend some time thinking about each other’s attributes and perhaps, kindly, sharing them.
  • How can you safeguard time for personal prayer? Where is your ‘fig tree’?
  • Spend some time now, quietly waiting upon God – have something to hand to prayerfully fiddle with as you do so (a ribbon, some prayer beads, play dough..)

Something to pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you know us better than we know ourselves, seeing us as we really are, with all our faults and limitations, our quirks and weaknesses, yet giving your all for us in love.

Help us simply to know you better – glimpsing a little more clearly who you are in all your glory, greatness, love and compassion – so that, in love, we might give back to you in love, offering our worship now, our time today and our discipleship always, in grateful response. Amen.                                                               Nick Fawcett

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Say a Little Prayer for me.

If you are a user of social media, then you can’t help but notice how much more people seem to be praying nowadays. Cute pictures and sad pictures on Facebook often come with the caption ‘don’t scroll down without typing Amen’; and the hashtag #Prayfortheworld keeps coming into play as various atrocities take place. But what does it really mean to pray?

This is a question that has been pondered upon ever since God created the world and sought to have a relationship with humanity – even the disciples were confused by the subject matter and so asked their teacher how they should pray. In answer Jesus gave them a set of guidelines – what to pray for and how to pray. In the gospel of Luke, the conversation is recorded with an emphasis on persevering in prayer. And to trust for the right answer.

Prayer is not something that many of us find easy and natural to do (hence the need to persevere), and perhaps the reasonwe find it difficult is that we are going about it the wrong way. God is so often mistaken for a Fairy Godmother:

 

…someone who will come and long and make all our dreams come true, even in difficult circumstances. Or perhaps Father Christmas:

….a gift giver, whose love and generosity is world renowned, and yet comes with a huge caveat – to receive you must make it to the ‘nice list’.

God is neither a Fairy Godmother nor Santa Claus. God longs to give to us, but we need to be ready to receive, and so the instructions Jesus gives the disciples and have been passed on to us through the gospels, begin with a call to worship.Yes, God wants us to spend time with Him, but he is not simply a benevolent old man, a doting grandfather, God is God, creator of the universe, God Almighty. And so we are to remember that God is our Heavenly Father, and is to be hallowed, God is to be recognised as Holy and so spoken to with reverence in our prayers.

And we are to pray, not selfishly for the things we want, as if we are children working our way through the toy section of the Argos* catalogue, eyes wide in greed (*please substitute as your cravings permit – for me it would the baking section of the Lakeland catalogue); we are to pray in accordance with God’s heart. We are to join our hearts with heaven’s heart, so that what we are seeking is truly divine. We are to seek God’s kingdom, God’s justice, God’s hospitality, God’s provision, God’s love, here on earth, and we are to be willing to be the ones who make it happen, we are to be prepared to ‘walk the talk’ as it were.

Then we can ask for the things that we need – but even then we are to ask not for ourselves as individuals, but for us, the whole of the human race: Give us this day our daily bread. If we are to pray as Jesus would pray, we are to ask that we have enough to eat each day.Not that our store cupboards may be fill to over flowing, not that we have so much food rammed into our fridges that half of it never gets eaten, but enough for today; and if we only ever eat enough for today, perhaps there will be enough to go round so that those without will also be given enough for their day.

Jesus then tells the disciples to pray for forgiveness. Perhaps forgiveness isn’t at the top of our wish list when we come to prayer. We may pray for health and healing for friends and loved ones, we may pray for help with broken relationships or exams or other troubles, but forgiveness? Not so much. When we pray for help, we often do so as innocent parties, and yet Jesus is telling us to examine ourselves first. If we are truthful with ourselves and with God  then we know that there are things we have done wrong and these may often get in the way of healing. First we are to ask for forgiveness for ourselves, but then we are to ask for help in forgiving others – or perhaps that should be the other way round. You see, it is difficult to find space in our hearts to receive forgiveness when we are harbouring grudges there. We need to let go of our sense of self importance and let Jesus move in.

And then, the prayer, unexpectedly ends. We are so used to the formulaic ‘Lord’s Prayer’ tripping off our tongues that we forget that Jesus was giving advice on how to pray, not writing a set piece of liturgy. The final piece of prayerful advice Jesus gives is that we should ask not to be led into times of trial: the final piece of advice is to pray for protection. What we need to be protected from is left rather open ended. We tend to think of protection as something we need in times of war or disease. We all suffer the trials and tribulations of life on earth, but as other translations have indicated, times of trial often come from the temptations around us, and the protection needed is the self awareness needed to resist.

Jesus was asked how to pray, and in his response we have inherited a prayer that is used in devotion and worship, in fear and death, at weddings, baptisms and funerals too. It is recited by primary school children and soldiers. Sometimes it is dwelt upon and meditated on, but other times it is just rattled out…

Jesus told his disciples to persevere in prayer, to pray with meaning and feeling and passion. When we take for granted the gift of prayer, when we mumble over the words of the Lord’s Prayer so that we can get on with the next thing, we are dishonouring God, we are abusing the teaching, debasing the gift. The problem with confusing praying with wishing, and God for a Fairy Godmother, is that we get disheartened when our dreams don’t come true, and we give up when our prayers aren’t answered instantly, with or without fairydust. And it is when we treat God as some kind of holy Father Christmas that forget to recognise our brokenness – we are so busy trying to avoid getting on the naughty list that we cease being honest, and we begin to believe that we don’t need forgiveness. Instead we keep piling onto our own spiritual wish list all the things that we want God to do for us, when the best thing we can do is humble ourselves before God, and seek help in beginning again with nothing.

So as we sit or kneel to pray, as we are invited to pray the prayer that Jesus taught, let us first remember in to whose company we have been invited, and then pray not just with confidence, but also with reverence, with humility and with perseverance.

Read Luke’s version here

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What is your earliest memory of praying?
  • Why do you think the teaching from Jesus has become a formulaic prayer?
  • When do you find prayer easiest?
  • When do you find prayer most difficult?
  • Is there one element of the Lord’s Prayer that speaks most clearly to you at the this time?
  • Break the Lord’s Prayer down into single sentences spend some time in silence with each line.
  • Choose one sentence or clause from the Lord’s Prayer to meditate upon throughout the week.

Something to pray:

Time to wake up, Tabitha!

Everyone thinks that Tabitha has died. They are wailing and mourning in that passionate, and loud, Middle Eastern way and she doesn’t stir. They have even washed her and ‘laid her out’ ready for burial, and still she doesn’t move or even sigh. Tabitha has died.  But Tabitha is much loved: not only do her friends find themselves unable to believe that she has gone, they keep reaching out in hope for an alternative to the funeral arrangements. And so Peter is called for.

Tabitha’s story is one of the great resurrection stories. Jesus has ascended to heaven, returning to his Father, but the kingdom ministry has been left in the questionably capable hands of Peter and the other disciples. Peter, having been one of the few present when Jesus raised the Synagogue leader’s daughter from the deep sleep of death follows the pattern that Jesus has set.

Peter clears the room, prays in the sudden peace, and then commands Tabitha to ‘get up’.

At once, Tabitha opens her eyes, and seeing Peter before her, sits up. Peter offers her his hand, and helps her up so that she can be returned to all those who had been in mourning for her.

We can easily get distracted in  reading this story by the many gifts that Tabitha had as a seamstress, and her generosity in making clothes for the widows. Our minds can wander, as we consider what it is that we might be remembered for, what gift or attitude towards others would cause them to mourn in such a way that death isn’t a viable option. However, it isn’t what Tabitha does that sets her apart, it is who she has been listening to, who she has allowed to guide her in life and now even in death,that sets her apart. Her generosity with her gift as a dressmaker is a by-product of her faithfulness.

In the Gospel of John we discover how Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, and of those who follow him as sheep: sheep who recognise his voice and follow him.

Tabitha is one who has heard his voice and followed him. Tabitha has followed Jesus in the way that she has lived her life, but she has also followed him in her death, and now she follows him into resurrection life. Peter, tasked with leading Jesus’ sheep now that he has returned to heaven, calls Tabitha by name, and she hears not the fisherman, but the shepherd.

Tabitha may or may not have met Jesus in the flesh, but she has placed her life in his hands. None of us will have met Jesus in bodily form – it is only through our faith and prayers that we can connect with him, and yet still he calls us by name. There are so many voices calling for our attention that it can be hard to distinguish the one voice who brings fullness of life from all the other voices who offer us quick fixes and investments. Sometimes Jesus’ voice will be heard in the most unexpected of places, and his messages of hope will come from the most unlikely of people, and we will only recognise them if we have drawn close to Jesus in prayer, and worship, and reading his word.

This Pentecost, our archbishops are calling us to prayer. We are being summoned to use the Lord’s Prayer as a tool for reconnecting with Jesus and with our heavenly Father and for bringing all the things of this world into his presence. Perhaps we can set our alarms for midday, to wake us up from the things of this world that distract us, and to stop, find a corner clear of noise and hustle and immerse ourselves in those words of prayer that Jesus outlined for us 2,000 years ago,

Our Father, whoart in heaven, hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,

for thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory,

forever and ever, Amen.

Something to watch:

Some questions to think about:

  • What has been the most unexpected place you have heard your name called?
  • What do you think it must have felt like for Tabitha to hear her name?
  • Have you ever heard Jesus call your name?
  • What does it mean to ‘hear’ Jesus call your name?
  • How can we learn to listen out for the shepherd’s voice?
  • What does the Lord’s Prayer mean to you?
  • Could you challenge yourself to set an alarm for midday to remind yourself to pray?

Something to pray:

God’s Mighty Women: The Nag!

Jesus tells a story about a nagging woman – or if we were being a little more polite, a persistent widow – she’s not real, it’s just a story, a parable, but Jesus uses a woman to show how God’s favour can be won.

In a previous passage a woman was used to highlight God’s diligence in seeing out the lost, in this passage Jesus uses a woman to highlight how we need to be persistent in prayer. Jesus chooses a widow as the heroine of the story. She is weak and helpless, vulnerable, her only hope is an unjust judge. She has no one to defend her, to stand with her, support her. Eventually the judge responds to her. Her cause is heard.

Regardless of how vulnerable we are, God wishes us to be persistent in prayer. Women are often thought of as the weaker sex, yet Jesus values this woman, this archetype of the widow. I wonder if there are parallels for today? Women have come so far with regards to equality. Hey, we can even vote, go to university, hold our own bank accounts, use contraception. But there are still some ‘glass ceilings’ and even in God’s Church. Are we not nagging God enough? Are we not persistent in our payer. We need to keep faith, remain hopeful, and above all persevere in our prayers.

The Blue Skies of Autumn: A Journey from Loss toLife

2015-04-27 21.40.21I got into bed and listened to his answer machine message over and over again to hear his voice. Where was he? Find me, Simon. Call me. Come home. That night I started talking – to the sky, to the ether – I didn’t know who or what, I just pleaded. My father was a vicar and I had always prayed with Mum and Dad at night. We said thank you for our day and everything we loved. It was a special ritual but I didn’t really understand why we did it. For some reason that night I didn’t want to say I was talking to God. I didn’t know if anyone was listening but that ritual somehow felt more important than it ever had before.’                                             Elizabeth Turner

The attack on the Twin Towers in New York has impacted the world in so many ways – it is one of those events where conversation will turn to ‘where were you on 9/11?’ I was in my first week at theological college bewildered by a 2nd year level block week on Christian Ethics. Another story in the papers that week concerning my childhood vicar had already left me struggling and this shook my theology a little more.

Elizabeth Turner was at work in London. Her husband was in New York. They were expecting their first child.

Simon, Elizabeth’s husband never came home.

The Blue Skies of Autumn is Elizabeth’s story, it also her son’s story, of how she survived her grief at the loss of her husband and survived the gift of her son in amidst the social and political debris of ground zero.

I am a little saddened that Elizabeth didn’t find comfort from Jesus as she ‘prayed’, which is perhaps, in part at least, because I am a vicar and a mother and I hope that my own children’s relationship with Jesus would be such that they would be able to recognise his presence in amongst their own brokenness, whatever it may be, just as I have. However, I am also encouraged by the love that Elizabeth received from so many people and the life that they helped her to find amongst the death of her husband and her marriage.

I find myself wondering how any of us with or without a Christian faith would respond at a time when we would be expected to pray and to find comfort, not just in the regular ritual of voicing our concerns and angst and maybe even hope out loud, but in the knowledge that our prayers are heard by a God who hears us, loves us and has power over life and death – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. But that would be our story, and this is Elizabeth’s.

Soul Food: My Lenten Lapse (oops!)

2015-03-27 09.01.35

This week I received some painful news. It happens from time to time, an it’s not the news so much as how we handle it. I found myself walking through the churchyard praying ‘Sorry God, I’m going to break my fast – I just need to break into those birthday chocolates, and the left over chocolate cake in the fridge, and maybe a beer….’ And I felt God say, ‘It’s OK, my precious child, don’t fret’. And so I did indeed dive in!

Do I feel guilty about eating chocolate, or cake, or even drinking beer? No. It helped soften the immediate blow of the pain.

Did I feel sad? Yes.

I feel sad, because the purpose of fasting through Lent isn’t to prove how stoic we can be, it isn’t about dieting, it isn’t about being pious or earning heavenly brownie points. It is about drawing closer to God, about clearing away all the clutter so that we can focus more intensely on our relationship with Jesus.

I feel sad, not because I ate chocolate. I feel sad, because, other than those brief few words, I didn’t spend time with Jesus. I didn’t find a  safe place to be with my heavenly Father and allow him to take away the pain, I didn’t spend focussed time with Jesus trying to see his light shining through this bleak moment.

But just as there is no point in crying over spilt milk (or devoured chocolates), there is no point harbouring feelings of guilt or sadness and allowing them to build a wall blocking off our relationship with God. Today is my ‘day off’, my Sabbath rest day, so I’m going to sign off and spend some time now pouring everything out to Jesus properly, not just random thoughts pinged off. I’m going to take time with my Bible and my journal. I going to sit in the sunshine and let the Son’s light bring warmth and rekindle the hope that was dampened this week.

Soul Food: Lenten recipes

As mentioned in my post on Ash Wednesday the hardest thing about giving up meat for lent is finding ways to eat vegetables and feel that we’ve had a proper meal (more cabbage anyone?). One way is to order a Veg Box to be delivered to your door – we have been doing so with Abel and Cole – the joy of this is that they not only ensure that you have plenty of fresh fruit and veg but that you have recipes and suggestions on how to eat them.

Heartbeet risotto went down so well with hubby that he took the leftovers to work with him. Children not enticed by it’s beautiful pinkness.

http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/recipes/heartbeet-risotto

One lenten recipe that does go down well with the whole family is that for Prayer Pretzels. According to The Easter Squad pretzels were made by monks in the Vatican who gave them to the poor during Lent as a reminder to pray. The shape of the ‘knot’ representing arms crossed in prayer. The Easter Squad provide a recipe for chocolate pretzels, but as we have given up sweet things for Lent, I made savoury pretzels using a recipe from a children’s book for cheese straws.

Savoury Prayer Pretzels

2015-02-27 15.18.56As this recipe comes from a children’s book, it is fairly easy to make – it does include paprika which my girls prefer to leave out!

Ingredients:

  • 115g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 55g vegetable fat (but butter will do)
  • 75g cheddar cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  1. Heat the oven to 200c/ gas 6
  2. Measure the flour and paprika into a bowl. 2015-02-27 14.46.38
  3. Break the butter into pieces and add to the bowl, rub between your fingers to make a crumbly texture.
  4. Stir in the cheese.
  5. Add the egg, mix, and then mould into a doughy ball.

 

 

 

6. Pinch off small pieces of dough, then on a floured surface, roll into ‘sausages’ 25cm long.2015-02-27 14.59.01

7. Fold the right end up, and then cross the left over it to resemble arms at prayer.

2015-02-27 15.00.172015-02-27 15.00.32

8. The tricky bit is now lifting these onto the greased tray (a fish slice helps) before putting into the oven to cook for 10mins.

2015-02-27 15.04.06

9. Once cooked, leave to cool on a rack before nibbling, prayerfully, of course!

 

Epiphany: Who, where, why?

For all sorts of reasons it’s been a busy week, and as I sit down to write these week’s sermon I am feeling drained. So I turn to Milton Jones’ little book of 10 Second Sermons:

Hearing God’s voice is often like trying to hear a satnav that you’ve locked in the boot of your car because you thought you wouldn’t need it.

I wonder if that would be enough food for thought for my congregations or if they, and I need a little more help in understanding what God is trying to say through the words of the Bible passages set for today? I fear the latter!

As we continue through the season of Epiphany, of Jesus’s true identity being revealed to us, the theme of listening is key. When it comes to understanding what God has to say to us we have the option of locking our Bibles in the boot of the car, or keeping them to hand where we can rifle through the pages seeking out the truths he wishes to share with us.

As we trawl through our Bibles this week, we begin with Samuel.

Who is Samuel? Samuel is a young boy who has spent his childhood since the age of two, dedicated to serving God. Samuel’s mother struggled to conceive, and so, recklessly? faithfully? desperately? promised God that if he gave her a child she would dedicate him to God. Which she did, visiting him just once a year. It’s not a choice I could have made as a parent, but this is her story not mine. And this is what makes Samuel the child that he is. A longed for child, a prayed for child, a child dedicated to serving God. His whole life had been one short experience of worship.

Where is he when our story takes place? Well, unsurprisingly, given all that we know about his life so far, he is ‘lying down in the temple of the Lord’. This is Samuel’s home – the place where he has been brought up, the place where he has learned to read and write, to know right from wrong and to be obedient to the Jewish faith. Samuel is as close to God as he can be.

Why is he there? Because this was the purpose of his life: to love and serve God. Samuel’s name means ‘God has heard me’, and now Samuel hears God. Here, as close to God as he can get, Samuel hears God’s voice as clear as if he was stood next to him. And Samuel responds, ‘Here I am, for you called me’. Samuel grows up to be a great judge of Israel, a forerunner of their kings: A good man who ruled with wisdom and justice and who listened to God.

If we flip through the pages to the gospel of John, we are introduced to some others who hear God’s voice.

Who?  Philip and Nathaneal – both are Greek Jews, Philip is a friend of Peter and Andrew, and Philip introduces them to Nathaneal. These people have been connected to each other and form a chain of friendship, of community and soon to be, discipleship.

Where are they? Geographically they are in Galilee, Philip we are told, comes from Bethsaida, but more specifically, Nathaneal has been spotted sitting under a fig tree. A fig tree wasn’t just a cool and shady place to take a rest and watch the world go by, a fig tree was the place where you could go to pray.

Why are they there? They are there, in Galilee because they are seeking a response from God, they are ‘under the fig tree’ because they are listening out for God’s voice. And they find what they are seeking – Jesus comes walking towards them, recognises Nathaneal’s integrity and prayerfulness, and promises them the ultimate revelation – a promise that they will see the angels of heaven ascending and descending upon the Son of God.

If we wish to be enveloped in a epiphany of who Jesus truly is, we need to find the answers to these three questions:

Who are we? Are we a collection of bones and muscles,  sinews and fibres, nerve endings and brain cells, wrapped up in skin and hair, some of us more beautifully than others? Or are we each of us, made in the image of God, his beloved, who he longs to be in a loving, caring, challenging relationship with?

Where are we? Samuel was in the Temple, Nathaneal was under the fig tree. If we wish to hear from God we need to put ourselves in places where we can hear God, where we can be near to him, where others can help us to understand. We need to remove the satnav from the boot. If we are always hiding from God, always too tired or too busy to even attempt to listen to God we will never hear from him. Never hear and understand how much he loves us, never grasp hold of the amazing adventures he has in store for us, if we only choose to accept them.

Why are we here? We are here because wants us to be. We have been loved into existence, none of us are accidents or mistakes, we are all part of God’s wonderful plan and he has a role for each of us. To serve him, follow him, become his disciples; to lead others to know how much God loves them too, to serve them, to lovingly and loyally befriend them. To enable others to have an epiphany moment with Jesus too.

Our final reading for the day, takes us to the very end of the Bible, to the book of Revelation. Here we find angels weeping, because there is no-one who is worthy to unroll the scrolls who reveal just who God is. No-one that it, until Jesus appears. Jesus is worthy. Jesus is the one who reveals to us God’s true identity, amongst the prayers of the saints and the singing of angels. But Jesus doesn’t just reveal this truth for us, he has ransomed us – people from every tribe, every language every nation. We have been restored into the full image of God, and we have all been called to be priests serving God, and together forming his Kingdom.

 

Some questions:

Is there a place where you feel closest to God?

In the image of God, Who am I? As a group, who are we?

Where  do we think God wants us to be? If not here, where? If not here, how do we get there?

Why are we here? As individuals, as fellowship groups, as churches? Are we fulfilling our calling?

If prayer (hearing from God) is such an essential part of our identity and calling, how do we create spaces to do so?

Spend some time in prayer for each other, but first spend some time in silence simply listening out for God’s voice.

A prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you know us better than we know ourselves, seeing us as we really are, with all our faults and limitations, our quirks and weaknesses, yet giving your all for us in love.

Help us simply to know you better – glimpsing a little more clearly who you are in all your glory, greatness, love and compassion – so that, in love, we might give back to you in love, offering our worship now, our time today and our discipleship always, in grateful response. Amen (Nick Fawcett)

We seek to know Christ better by growing in faith, worship and prayer.

We seek to know Christ better and to make him better known, by loving and serving our communities, and by growing in faith, worship and prayer.

Today’s Gospel reading reads a bit like a script for a Tarentino film, or maybe even something out of The Godfather. Jesus tells a story about a vineyard. It is a beautiful vineyard, fruit bearing and loved and protected by its owner with fences and watchtowers, and when he has to go away he leases it out to tenants. As harvest comes, the owner sends his slaves to collect his produce, but the slaves are met with aggression and violence: one is beaten, one is killed and another is stoned. This behaviour is repeated with even more zeal when the owner sends more slaves. So the owner sends his son, expecting him to be given the respect he is due, however, the tenants recognising that the son is the heir of the vineyard kill him to planning to seize the inheritance.

Jesus asks his listeners to finish the story for him – what will happen when the owner of the vineyard returns?

The story is not really about a vineyard – parables are never what they seem to be. The symbolism of the vineyard would have been well known to the Jewish listeners: the vineyard represents God’s people and the fence that protected it was the Torah, the holy writings and laws given by God to Moses. Indeed Pharisees, the teachers of the law, would often refer to building fences around the fence to keep the Torah protected – this resulted in rules around rules which produced very little fruit and limited access to the true Torah. The High Priests, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, were, of course, the tenants, and the slaves who they tortured and murdered where the prophets who had been ignored, and worse. The fruit, the harvest, are the people that these religious leaders should have been nurturing spiritually, and bringing home to God.

Danebury Vineyard Harvest
Danebury Vineyard Harvest

The really sad thing, isn’t just that the religious leaders have gone astray, or even that they failed in their task to reveal God’s truth and love to others, but they had never bothered to get to know God, and when Christ came, they murdered him instead of getting to know him. By fencing off the main contact they had with God they deprived themselves an others spiritually.

As a team of churches, we have a vision of being the complete opposite of this parable. We seek, instead of turning Christ away and of denying God’s authority, to know Christ better. This we can do by spending time in prayer and worship. But what are prayer and worship.

Prayer is simply spending time with Jesus and focussing on him; but finding time to set aside for something as ethereal as prayer is something we find really difficult to do. Arrow prayers – the instant emergency type prayer that we may send up when we have lost the kids at the beach, or an ambulance passes by, or maybe even when we are moved to thank God for something good, the birth of a child, a beautiful view, a tax rebate, are all good and worthy, but are too short for really building a relationship.

Prayer isn’t necessarily beautiful words strung together meaningfully. The prayers of intercession in church can be beautiful examples of this, and help us to grow as a community, and as we pray for our community to reach out to them too. Sometimes the best conversations we have with friends are full of laughter and in jokes and half spoken sentences because we know each other so well. Prayer can be like this. Sometimes the time spent with a friend is time crying on a shoulder and words aren’t needed at all. This too can be prayer. Sometimes time together can be spent in silence. Sometimes we really need to be told that our (spiritual)bum really does look big in ‘that’! There are times when we sit and chat (or not), there are times when we do things together, go for a walk, dig the garden, eat, drink, and guess what, this can be times of prayer too. Intentionally spending time with someone is what builds a friendship, and that’s true with God too. The more time we spend wit his son, the more of himself he will reveal to us.

Paul realised that following God isn’t a matter of living a righteous lifestyle, ticking all the boxes and keeping all the rules. He had tried that, and was very good at it. Paul was a Pharisee himself with a powerful Jewish heritage, but it wasn’t enough. God isn’t a religion, but a person to emulate and know, a relationship to be had, and once he stopped persecuting Jesus’ followers, he was free to pray properly and to worship fully and to know Christ better. Paul writes to the church at Philippi 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him

Another way of considering ‘worship’ is worth-ship – to give to God what is worthy of him. To recognise him as the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who is love, the one who desires to know and be known by us. To be ‘Almighty’ and ‘all matey’ at the same time is pretty awesome. The Greek word for worship is προσκυνέω (proskuneo) which literally means ‘ to come towards with a kiss’ – this could be more smoothly translated as ‘to kiss the ground before [a superior]’.

Worship at Spring Harvest
Worship at Spring Harvest

We worship when we come to God with the whole of our beings, when we bodily as well as mentally lay ourselves before him. There’s the doing (the kissing of the ground – or even blowing kisses to according to some Egyptian sources), and the coming (the bringing ourselves to a place where we can meet God). For many this will be in a place of worship, a church, a gathering, a Christian holiday even, for others it will be a way of life, bringing everything we do as an offering of love.

With both prayer and worship, it can be argued that we can meet with God on our own – which is both true and right to do; but we also need to meet together to support and nurture each other, to party together in God’s presence and build our shared life with him.

Our vision speaks of growing in faith in such a way that it pours out into our communities – and this can only be done when we meet together.

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