REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (1)
The overall theme of October’s Gospel readings is of Jesus speaking truth to power. They take place directly after Jesus’ provocative public entry into
Jerusalem, and his ‘cleansing’ of the temple – making the sacred place ritually ‘clean’, so as to be worthy of hosting God’s worship.
Having travelled throughout Judea, Galilee and beyond, engaging with the crowds and teaching those who chose to follow him, Jesus now arrives at the spiritual home of God’s people. Here he directly challenges the behaviour of the
religious authorities – those who should be leading the people towards God, rather than raising sanctimonious and hypocritical obstacles to people’s faith relationship with God.
The chief priests, elders, and others take turns in sparring with Jesus, trying to catch him in theological riddles. Jesus responds with parables, and with riddles of his own, both establishing his authority over them and provoking them to seek other means to shut him down. We are reminded that Jesus openly discredited them – but without subordinating their authority:… do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they
do not practise what they teach. (Matthew 23.3)
Jesus’ speaking truth to power is an action that Jesus’ disciples have continued through the centuries whenever and wherever there is injustice – whether social, economic, political, or any other kind of injustice. If we are following Jesus and living out our faith relationship in our daily lives, then we are called to take his approach in the opportunities we have in engaging with our leaders – particularly
leadership in the Church and leadership in government. Some of those opportunities are elections, and referendums.
This month’s referendum is our opportunity to speak truth to power – Christ’s truth to our government. One perspective on the Voice is that, coincidentally, it would provide a formal and ongoing means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Is- lander peoples to speak their truth to Australian government power for themselves. Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: Vocation – the call to serve
Our Diocese uses the feast day of St Matthew as an annual reminder to engage
with our calling. Part of our understanding of our faith in Christ is that he calls each
one of us to follow him – in the same way that he called people during his own
Some were called directly by him, like the fishermen disciples and like Matthew the
tax-collector. Some followed Jesus after having had some other need met by him,
like Mary Magdalene. Some followed him after having an unexpected encounter
with him, like Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross.
Regardless of how we end up being attracted to Christ and his way of self-giving
love, we recognise this as a call to follow him. Paul referred to this when he wrote:
Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.
(1 Corinthians 7.17) Indeed, the word vocation derives from the Latin vocatio: a call,
We also understand that through our baptism each of us is gifted by the Holy Spirit
to enable us to fulfil our vocation. The concept of vocation is sometimes limited to
being a religious (monk or nun) or ordained person, such as deacon or priest.
However, Christ calls us to a diverse range of life-responses (vocations), which is
not limited to roles within the church community.
Nevertheless, it is good to be prompted to reflect carefully on what Christ might be
calling you to within his Church: being involved in cleaning, administration or
maintenance – helping with the playgroup, welcoming or other hospitality – assisting
as a reader, intercessor, or communion assistant – or training and being licenced
as a lay reader, deacon, or priest. What role is Christ calling you to? And what opportunities can we provide for you to
explore, or further fulfil, your own vocation?
Your priest, Fr John
In our current Gospel readings Jesus continues to teach his disciples how to work together as a community of followers. Forgiveness is such a challenging subject, and Jesus’ teaching on the matter keeps that challenge front and foremost in how we respond to others. Indeed, the challenge is a central aspect of the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our sins* as we forgive those who sin against us. (*or trespasses, or debts)
We both need and want forgiveness for ourselves, but can find it hard to give and receive – and yet Jesus connects these together. We might also be distracted by how to enact forgiveness, and think that forgiveness means being nice, or not holding someone to account. I would argue that being nice can be deceitful, and not holding people to account for their actions can be irresponsible. We still need to safeguard ourselves and our community – we sometimes even need to safeguard the perpetrator from their own unkindness. Over and over again Jesus tells us to look at our heart motives. When it comes to how to enact forgiveness, we need to get our own heart motives right-aligned with God’s heart motives first. What does God want for any sinner? In the parable of the unforgiving slave, that slave should have taken his cue from the generous-hearted mercy of the king. Similarly, we need to take our cue from God’s attitude towards each of his children. Once our heart motives are aligned with God’s, how to enact that becomes easier to work out.
Focusing on forgiveness firstly within ourselves then means that forgiveness becomes possible even for those who are separated from us through time or distance. Forgiveness also enables us to step out of the ongoing effort of holding something against another, and allows God to deal with that person or situation.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: Mutual accountability in the community of faith
In our current series of readings from Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for when he won’t be with them in person. Jesus is focused on teaching his disciples how to function as a community of followers, and gives them – and us – the assurance that when even just two come together in his name, he is present in that interaction. One of his teachings that most church communities appear to ignore concerns how the church community as a whole attends to inappropriate behaviour. The degree of a community’s health is not dependent on whether members behave badly or not, as bad behaviour is inevitable. Most people do the wrong thing at some point – and some people have a pattern of bad behaviour, for a variety of reasons. A community’s degree of well-being is shown through how the members undertake reconciliation with each other: acknowledging where the other person is, and apologising where we’ve been at fault, or could have handled things better. The particular aspect that Jesus highlights is that where people refuse reconciliation, then they show themselves not to understand or accept the fundamental teaching of Jesus: that of forgiveness, and reconciliation. When Jesus says: ‘let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector’, he does not mean that they are to be made unwelcome, or excluded. Rather, that we recognise that they are actively refusing to follow in the Way of Jesus – and are therefore fundamentally deficient in what it is to be a Christian. So Jesus tells us to regard them either as a Gentile – someone who is not of the faith – or as a tax-collector – someone who has betrayed the faith, and is not living it. And that, like the lost sheep that was searched for and found, we should not stop encouraging them to be reconciled, and restored to the church.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: the Way of self-giving love
Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16.24-25) This direction by Jesus is repeatedly misunderstood, so that Christians often either ignore it, or embrace it too literally so that it becomes death-making rather than life-giving. Contrast this with the following prayer we often say after making our communion:
Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. This prayer uses the phrase living sacrifice from Paul’s letter to the Romans (12.1) While there are indeed times when particular people are called to martyrdom, God usually needs living disciples through which to bless others. And not just disciples who are physically alive, but who are alive with the joy of being in an intimate faith relationship with our Lord. It might help to use the word self-giving instead of sacrificial – e.g. self-giving love rather than sacrificial love. It’s the same thing. And most of us know how this works: parents give of themselves so that their children can flourish. Good spouses, siblings and friends give of themselves to enable those they love to benefit. And those who are elderly might be blessed through younger people giving of themselves. This is self-giving, sacrificial love – we already know how to do it. The shift that Jesus asks us to make is not only to enact self-giving love towards those we care about, but to everyone we encounter – including strangers, those who might not be ‘worth’ it, those who we dislike or who dislike us. When we do this, then we are indeed denying ourselves, ‘taking up our cross’, and following Jesus in his Way of sacrificial, self-giving love.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: Including others
All of today’s readings speak to foreigners/Gentiles joining with the Jews in
their faith relationship with God. Isaiah refers to ‘foreigners who join themselves to the Lord’; the psalmist writes: ‘Let the nations be glad and sing’ -thus including the Gentile nations; Paul writes of Gentiles as ‘wild olive shoots’ being grafted into ‘the cultivated olive tree’ of Israel; and Jesus is
confronted by a Canaanite woman, and commends her for her faith.
An important aspect from these readings, taken together, is that it appears ambiguous whether the Gentiles become – or are expected to become – Jewish in their culture. I suggest that the approach described in Isaiah is true for all of them, in that foreigners do not ‘join themselves to Israel’, but rather ‘join themselves to the Lord.’
This is an important missional mindset for us to have: we shouldn’t invite people to join us – rather, we should invite people to join the Lord. The former simply encourages people who are already like ourselves, whereas the latter
helps to open the invitation to include people who are not like us.
We are custodians of a sacred space – a house of prayer, and so of course we invite those who have joined the Lord, or are interested in joining the Lord, to gather with us in this particular sacred space. However, they don’t have to be like us, and they don’t have to become like us.
When Jesus was confronted by a member of Israel’s ancient enemy, the Canaanites, he did not require her to convert from her culture. Instead he
acknowledged her faith in him, and responded to her need. In the same way we are to follow Jesus’ example.
Your priest, Fr Joh
REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven (Isaiah 55.1-5. Romans 9.1-8, Gospel: Matthew 14.13-21
Over the previous three Sundays we have heard parables from Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven. These are not descriptions in the context of some unearthly realm, but in our earthly context. The dynamic processes of sowing seed, separating wheat from weeds, acquiring hidden treasure or
an expensive pearl, and sorting fish in a net – are all metaphors from our earthly lives.
Today’s Gospel story of the feeding – from only five loaves and two fish – of the five thousand men (‘besides women and children’) is often understood as a miracle. It can also be understood as a parable. This is not to deny that the event actually happened, but rather to also help us engage with the
deeper meaning – of God feeding his people with the bread of heaven. Previously Jesus had been talking about the kingdom of heaven in earthly terms, and in today’s story he enacts the kingdom of heaven on earth. The hungry are fed by the very Word of God, and it becomes a banquet with enough for all the people of God – symbolically shown through twelve basket of leftovers, one for each tribes of Israel.
Part of the mission of Jesus is to establish God’s kingdom on earth. His teaching helps us to understand better what heaven on earth looks like, so that we learn to recognise it whenever it is enacted. And then he demonstrates it. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are giving thanks that Jesus manifested heaven on earth, and that he continues to manifest his heavenly kingdom through our participation in it.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven
Isaiah 44.6-8, Romans 8.12-25, Gospel: Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Last Sunday we started looking at Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven, from chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel account. Jesus tells a series of parables about the nature of heaven on earth – how we conduct our faith relationship with God, and how we engage with God’s kingdom in this lifetime.
Last Sunday’s parable of the sower and the seed can be understood to describe how people – within the kingdom of heaven – respond to God: those who are not teachable or open to God (seed on the path); those who only make a half-hearted response (seed on rocky ground); those who are unfocused and distracted (seed amongst thorns); and those who are teachable, whole-hearted, and focused in their response (seed in good soil).
This Sunday’s parable of the wheat and the weeds is about how we respond to others in the kingdom of heaven. And yes – there are weeds in heaven on earth!
There are plants that produce fruit (whether in the form of seed grain or something else) which is of no nutritional value, or even toxic – a metaphor for people whose actions and attitude are unhelpful and even damaging.
The question is: how and when do we weed them out? The problem is that it can be difficult to see who is a ‘weed’ and who is ‘wheat’ until later. We can sometimes be too hasty in judging people and trying to exclude them from heaven on earth. Jesus encourages us to wait to see what fruit is being produced.
In a different teaching, when his disciples ask whether some people who had been
unexpectedly killed were more sinful, Jesus explicitly tells his disciples: ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ (Luke 14.5) The implication being: don’t concern yourself about the sinfulness of others – rather address your own sinfulness. Similarly, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus tells us to leave the ‘weeding out’ – the excluding – of others to him.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven
Isaiah 55.10-13, Romans 8.1-11, Gospel: Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
As we resume the lectionary readings set for this liturgical year, we find ourselves at the start of another sermon series – this time from St Matthew’s gospel account.
Over these next four Sundays Matthew gives us a series of parables and miracles by Jesus, describing and demonstrating the Kingdom of Heaven. In contemporary culture heaven is often depicted in terms of St Peter at the pearly
gates, and people queuing up on puffy white clouds, waiting to be given their harp and halo before joining the crowd of angels inside. Sometimes a long deceased pet dog is shown bounding up to greet the new arrival.
Jesus presents us with very different images of Heaven, and seems to be focused on a different concept. The big fat clue is of course in the prayer that our Lord has taught us: “Our Father in heaven, … your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven …” Jesus preaches, teaches and enacts Heaven on earth. So the images we will engage with over the next few weeks are of seed being sown, wheat and weeds competing with each other, hidden treasure and a priceless pearl
being found, and a full fishing net being emptied. We also have enacted parables showing what Heaven on earth is – and is not – with the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus’ home town rejecting him.
Today’s parable is of seed being sown profligately everywhere, so that there is as much chance as possible for any of the seeds to find the right conditions in which to flourish. Reflecting on this after our sermon series on the characteristics and attitudes of being missional, it suggests that the mission of God should not be limited just to what appears to be the ‘right’ soil. Rather, we should allow for the missional seed perhaps to flourish even in unexpected places.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION Acts 28.1-10, Canticle: A Song of Hope, Gospel: Luke 7.36-39,44-50
Having looked at each of the Five Marks of Mission over the last 6 weeks, today we conclude with reflecting on a missional attitude: are those who are being missional hosts or guests? In the past
some missionaries might have had the attitude that the missionary was the ‘host’ of the Gospel, and the indigenous community was the ‘guest’, who would be fed the Word of God. Our Scripture readings today turn this notion around: it is the presumed ‘guest’ who is offering the real hospitality as host, which makes those engaging in mission the real guests. This is an important context for mission in our own situation,
and particularly in Australia. The words for our first hymn speak directly into this missional attitude:
1. As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame, so the church is meant for mission,
giving glory to God’s name. Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care,
we join hands across the nations, finding neighbours everywhere.
2. We are learners; we are teachers; we are pilgrims on the way. We are seekers; we are givers;
we are vessels made of clay. By our gentle loving actions, we would show that Christ is light,
in a humble listening spirit, we would live to God’s delight.
3. As a green bud in the springtime is a sign of life renewed, so may we be signs of oneness
mid earth’s peoples many hued. As a rainbow lights the heavens when a storm is past and gone,
may our lives reflect the radiance of God’s new and glorious dawn. Ruth C Duck, ©1992, GIA Publications, Inc.
A comment published with this hymn, on the Church of Scotland website: This hymn embodies a modern take on the nature of mission:
that it does not ‘bring civilisation’ but Christ;
that it is passed between ‘neighbours’ and not from those who tell to those who listen;
that we all learn as well as teach;
that we share the Gospel in humility, listening at the same time to those who receive.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION Acts 17.16-34, Canticle: A Song of Redemption, Gospel: Matthew 8. 23-27
As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here? – which
looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Fifth Mark of Mission:
to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the
earth. The ABM has adapted these words, to:
Protect, care for and renew life on our planet.
The Gospel passage is a description of the authority Jesus has over the created world. This provides a context for the Acts reading, where Paul gives a speech at the Areopagus in Athens, and refers to a hymn to Zeus that acknowledges that we are part of the god’s creation – or, for Christians, God’s creation. People and cultures have made the mistake of treating the earth and everything in and on it as a limitless resource to be exploited for profit. Even if we personally don’t share in this attitude, we find ourselves part of a socio-economic system that is dependent on this attitude. Systemic change is needed for people to survive and thrive. If other creatures – whole eco-systems of creatures, plants, fungi, bacteria and
so on – are not surviving and actually thriving, then we ourselves will not be able to thrive. We can quite rightly understand that if our (human) community is thriving, then that is a sign that God is blessing us – blessing us through the actions of people. The same is true for communities that include all other creatures. If any eco-system (even those that include humans) is thriving, then that is a sign that God is blessing that eco- system – blessing it through the actions of creatures (including humans.)
Conversely, if any community (human or otherwise) is not thriving, then inevitably it is the result of creatures – predominantly humans – not playing their role in balance with others. Stewarding and cherishing God’s creation is part of the role we believe God has ordained for us. As the writer of Genesis described it: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
(Genesis 2.15) The Church needs to help lead the way in fulfilling this primal purpose.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION Acts 11.1-18 -Canticle: A Song of God’s Children-Gospel: Luke 11.37-41
As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here?- which looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Second Mark of Mission: to teach, baptise, and nurture new believers. The ABM has adapted these words, changing from how to grow the church community to focus on what kind of church community we strive to grow:
Build welcoming, transforming communities of faith. The connection the readings have to this Mark of Mission might not be immediately apparent. The Gospel passage is an interaction between Jesus and a Pharisee, where Jesus challenges the understanding of ritual cleanliness. In the Jewish faith of that time – as we understand it through Scripture – there was an emphasis on the external acts and conditions of ritual cleanliness, which were taken to be an outward sign of an inner reality. The inner reality had to do with one’s worthiness of being able to enter into God’s presence, and therefore being able to stand before God in the synagogue or temple. If one was ritually unclean, through contact with bodily fluids of either people or animals – especially people not of the faith or animals not deemed acceptable – then one had to undergo whatever purification was prescribed to become pure enough to encounter the purity of God. Jesus’ teaching resets this understanding.
The Gospel provides a context for the Acts reading, where Peter describes a dream that gave him deeper understanding of how God treated even ‘unclean’ Gentiles as worthy of receiving God’s Spirit – without having been purified first.
These readings highlight the kind of cultural barriers that any long-established organisation or community develops that insiders intrinsically know and comply with, and which excludes outsiders. Any community that wants to include others needs to regularly view themselves from the outside, and address barriers that obstruct people in enjoying the blessing of being part of that community. In short, how do we welcome into God’s kingdom seekers who have previously had an unhappy church experience, or who have no church experience? This is an ongoing question. Engaging with it tangibly is what this mark of mission is about.
Your priest, Fr John
As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here? – which looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Third Mark of Mission: to respond to human need by loving service. The Gospel passage is John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as the Lamb of God. It provides a context for the reading from Acts, where the apostle Philip encounters the
Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah’s words describing the prophet as a lamb, who was
humiliated and denied justice. The eunuch was someone who had himself experienced humiliation and a denial of justice, so Philip sits with him to explain how Isaiah’s words speak to the Good News of Jesus. The destitution of those who are poor and needy is often described only in terms of their physical needs, such as water, food, clothing and shelter. The ABM has adapted
the words of the 3rd mark of mission to go beyond mere material responses:
Stand in solidarity with the poor and needy.
To ‘stand in solidarity’ is to dignify with a relationship of compassion and respect, as
well as helping such people – in accord with their own preferences – with their physical needs. Underlying all of Jesus’ responses to individuals in need was his treatment of them as people worth engaging with, worth taking notice of, worth responding to. Jesus honoured them for who they were and where they were – and it was this honouring that enabled the physical miracles to then take place.
Jesus commissions us to continue his mission in the world. We do so by responding to those who are poor and needy in the same way he did.
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION: 11TH JUNE
The Gospel passage is Matthew’s description of the interaction between Jesus, under
arrest, and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. It provides a context for the reading
from Acts, where the apostles are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. As we work through the 5 Marks of Mission in our sermon series and Bible Study course, the 5 Marks are not being addressed in numerical order. This week we are looking at #4: To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. The Anglican Board of Mission has
adapted this for their work as: Mission mark 4: Challenge violence, injustice and oppression, and work for peace and reconciliation. Even the best forms of government have aspects that are weak or contradictory, or favour certain people over others. As a result, other people find themselves suffering from the injustice that results. We are disciples striving to follow the Way of Jesus and to continue his mission: so do we ignore such injustice or do we respond? And if we respond, how best do we enact Jesus’ teaching: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’ (Matthew 5.9) Note that Jesus is not calling us to be passive peace-keepers, but active peace-makers. The Anglican Church of Australia has a national code of conduct for all clergy and church workers, Faithfulness in Service. It includes the following: 6.23 When engaged in civil disobedience, do not act violently or intentionally
provoke violence. Note that it does not state ‘Don’t engage in civil disobedience …’, or ‘If you engage in
civil disobedience …’, but ‘When engaged in civil disobedience …’.
When last did you follow the example of Jesus and the Apostles and engage in civil disobedience to help draw attention to unjust structures in society and pursue reconciliation?!
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION 4/6/2023 Acts 2:37-47, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
The Trinity (also called The Hospitality of Abraham) is an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. The Trinity depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8), but the painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. At the time of Rublev, the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love
and humility. from Wikipedia
The Holy Trinity is not a concept that is named in the Bible. However, early Christian theologians have found this label to be a useful description for contemplating the different aspects of God, as we encounter him in Scriptures. A simple metaphor might be that ice, water, and steam are all forms of water, so we understand them all to be aspects of the same substance. We can build on the analogy and perhaps think of ice representing the Son – God in tangible form; water representing the Spirit – flowing as the water of life, and used in baptism; invisible steam representing the Father – our invisible God who is over all, and in all.
However, the most important aspect that the Trinity represents is the idea of God being Relationship. Not a relationship, or the relationship, but simply Relationship. Relationship is at the heart of community. The relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friend and friend, between sister and brother. These are the fundamental building blocks of community. And our Christian faith is not simply the faith of individuals, but also the faith of our church community—it is a communal faith, inspired by the Divine Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer— source of all Love, all Light, all Life. And, more astoundingly, God invites each of us to share in and participate with his Divine Community. God calls on us to join with him as pro-creators of his kingdom of
love. We can’t do this simply as individuals, but are compelled to do so in community—in community with each other, and in community with the Divine Community, the Holy Trinity.
How Awesome is this? What a Mystery! What a Blessing!
Your priest, Fr John
REFLECTION 28/5/2023 Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, Gospel: John 20:19-23
The Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, was born in 272AD (or CE,
Christian Era). Although he lived most of his life as a pagan, as emperor he
enabled the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared
tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. He convoked the First Council
of Nicaea in 325, which produced the Nicene Creed. He died on the Day of
Pentecost in 337AD.
Because Christianity was now acceptable, it was able to flourish and grow
without restriction, which appeared to be a good thing. However, being
accepted at the highest level of power in the state, meant that Christianity
then took over as the state religion. If one was an aspiring politician, it was
important to be seen to be a Christian. It also meant that leadership within the
Church was sought by people with political ambitions.
All nations with Christian governments since then have enabled Christendom
to flourish, wherein people are assumed to be of the Christian faith culture,
unless they state otherwise, and people were recorded as having ‘Christian’
names, regardless of their actual faith.
The end of Christendom started with the disillusionment of the First World
War, and has been growing since then. For many of today’s church-goers, it
is only the older generations that still retain the Christendom mind-set that we
grew up with. It is a mindset that still works for many of us – but does not work
anymore for the younger generations.
The way forwards is to recognise that the model of Church has to move from
Christendom mode to Missional mode. We need to learn again from the early
Church – the pre-Constantine Church – and learn from stories like those told in
the Book of Acts how to have a missional mindset again.
And it is appropriate to start it on the day of Constantine the First’s death – the
Feast Day of Pentecost.
Your priest, Fr John
JESUS OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST
I have recently re-read an old book that was given to me many years ago. It is a commentary on “The Prayers of the New Testament” by Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury. I have been reminded again that all through the New Testament there are prayers of many kinds . . praise, petition and intercession. Some are very brief, others much longer, and the longest is found in the Gospel of John chapter 17. It is sometimes called the High Priestly Prayer and our gospel reading today is the first part of this prayer. This is a great prayer of intercession in which Jesus, on the eve of his crucifixion, prays to his Father on behalf of his disciples. He had previously promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we will soon celebrate at Pentecost. This great prayer is the fulfilment of the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews. There the writer contrasts the Old Testament priesthood which by its nature was limited in its power by time and place, with that of Jesus as our great high priest, who “lives forever to make intercession for us” as “the mediator of a new covenant”.
There is much to consider in this prayer and I commend it to you for careful reading and reflection. But I will offer a few particular points to consider. Jesus prays very specifically for three things . . for their protection, and for their unity (see verse11) and he then goes on to pray, and this may seem surprising at first, that they may have joy (see verse 13). I will leave to you to consider how far we may have fallen short of that for which Jesus prays, not be discouraged but be renewed in our commitment! A final thought. Jesus begins by speaking of his disciples as those whom God has given him. In a very real sense this is true of all Christian ministry, whether by clergy or by lay people. The people whom we serve, in whatever role, as teacher, preacher, parent or carer, are in a very real sense those whom God has given to us. We should all be both challenged and encouraged by this.
May Our Risen Lord bless you all . . Lloyd George
REFLECTING ON THE READINGS Acts 17.22-31, 1 Peter 3.8-22, Gospel: John 14: 15-21
As we enter the final fortnight of the Easter season, the gospel reading points to what lies ahead in the Church’s observance of the events following on from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Church names Thursday coming, 18th May, as Ascension Day – the day on which the Church traditionally remembered and celebrated the ascension of Christ. This is in accordance with Acts 1.3: After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Ten days after the Ascension, there is the Pentecost event, which marks the moment when Jesus’ first disciples finally ‘get it’, and are empowered by God’s Spirit in the same way that Jesus was at his own baptism. Pentecost is from the Greek word for fifty, and was a Jewish observance fifty days from their Passover festival. In the same way that Passover was Christianised as Easter, so the Jewish Pentecost has also been Christianised, while retaining
its name. So Jesus provides his first disciples with the assurance: ‘In a little while the world will
no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.’ And just before this, anticipating his ascension and also Pentecost, Jesus says: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’
Up till then the first disciples were dependent of Jesus being physically present with them. But he had to prepare them to be able to continue his ministry – God’s work – without his physical presence. And so he spells out: ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth … You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’
It is invaluable for us to intentionally engage with those first disciples during the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost, so that we can likewise benefit from Jesus’ transition from being physically present in the world to being spiritually present in our hearts and in our gatherings. We need to be able to do this not only for ourselves, but to be able to respond to someone like one of our youngest parishioners, Tess, who
made this prayer last Sunday: ‘Dear Jesus, I would like to see you in real life.’
Some questions for discussion:
1. How do you know that God is present in your life?
2. How do you prefer to think of God in your life: as God, as Father, as Jesus, as
Spirit, or as …? (There are no wrong answers for this one!)
3. What are the different moments when you might be particularly aware of our
Lord’s presence? E.g. receiving communion, reading Scripture alone, singing a
hymn with others, contemplating a painting …
4. How would you respond to Tess’s prayer?
REFLECTING ON THE READINGS. First Reading: Acts 2: 42-47. Psalm 23. Second Reading :1 Peter 2: 1-10, The Gospel:John 10: 1-10
Today’s teaching taps into a familiar theme of Jesus being a shepherd of his flock, as echoed in Psalm 23. When Jesus says ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep’, we understand that Jesus is referring to himself as the shepherd. He then implies that he is also the
gatekeeper. After this opening paragraph, Jesus starts to unpack his mixed metaphor. In the
second paragraph Jesus focuses on his saying ‘I am the gate.’ Our gospel reading today stops at this point, but if we continued reading, verse 11 has Jesus saying ‘I am the good shepherd.’
If this is a little confusing, let us bear in mind that in John’s account, Jesus gives us a number of ‘I am …’ statements. They augment each other, providing different perspectives of who and what Christ is. The metaphor of Jesus being a shepherd is easily understood: a shepherd is a person with a particular role and responsibility.
The metaphor of Jesus being a gate might appear to be less accessible, since a gate
by itself is an inanimate object. But Jesus adds a gatekeeper as part of the mechanism of the gate – to give it the ability to discern, and to enable it to open and close.
Alongside the gospel metaphor of Jesus being the gate, Peter, in his first letter, provides us with another metaphor – of Jesus being the cornerstone. Again we are reassured that this is no inanimate object, but somehow a ‘living stone’. And it serves a crucial purpose: to enable God’s people to be built into a spiritual house.
Finally, the reading from Acts is a wonderful description of how God’s people were being built into that spiritual house. Over and over again across the centuries church communities have used this description as a vital blueprint for either church planting or for renewal within established church communities.
Questions for reflection:
- Jesus said: ‘Whoever enters by me will be saved.’ Where do you try to find safety
or security through your own means, and where do you strive to do so through
- Who or what does Jesus – as the gate – close himself against?
- Jesus said: ‘[they] will come in and go out and find pasture.’ As you move in and
out of situations in your life, do you strive to make these transitions through
- Jesus said: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Are you alert
to having life through Jesus? Can you discern and celebrate where you are
blessed with this life in abundance?
Sometimes these kinds of questions can be challenging to understand. But don’t walk
away from them; reflecting on them with others can be very helpful.
Roster for Next Week (First Sunday of month) – 7 May 23
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Our Journey into the Heart of God. all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life, Easter: Witnesses to Jesus rising to new life, the resurrection.
Our journey from the empty tomb to meet with the Risen Christ. We meet him in the garden with Mary, we meet him on the road, we meet him as he explains the scriptures, explaining how the Messiah was to suffer and die before rising to glory, our hearts burn within us; we meet him and recognise him in the breaking of the bread deepening our understanding of the importance of the Eucharist in our spiritual journey, we meet him in the upper room; we see him as our risen Lord. We reflect upon: What his coming through closed doors reveals about His resurrection body. Where He went after meeting with Mary in the garden and leaving the disciples after breaking bread with them at Emmaus? What Jesus has sent us to do, how we are to be a kingdom of priests serving [our] God and Father and how we base our life on the power to forgive. The doubts of Thomas, our doubts and how Jesus comes to us in these times. How do we believe if we don’t see? How do we see Jesus? (John and 1 Peter) How we were reminded by the Paschal Candle of the light of the resurrection and that Jesus is `the Alpha and the Omega’, the God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Peter, in both the reading from Acts on the day of Pentecost and in his letter, witness to the early churches experience of Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. How we, in our life experience Jesus, summarise who he is, the things that we have seen him do and our experience of his resurrection. Ultimately, we ask ourselves why we believe in Jesus, do we believe that He has risen from the dead and why?
The Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A 26th March 2023 Reflection on the Readings Our Lenten Journey From Death to Life Our journey through Lent is coming to its destination. Our reflection on Jesus life and ministry is coming to its culmination. As with the healing of the man born blind and this week’s story of the raising of Lazarus, a whole new reality for humanity begins to emerge. Human brokenness and the consequences of sin, are seen in a new light. We need to recognise the healing work of God in our midst and in Jesus, new life is for God’s glory. This week’s readings are about this, the power of God to bring new life even in the face of death itself. We see the death of a nation, the death of hopes and dreams, and the death of one of Jesus’ closest friends. In each case we see God’s power at work, transforming death into new life. Our hope is in God who never stops creating. Ezekiel 37: 1-14 Meditation • How do we/I feel the `powerful presence of the Lord’, how have you felt the hand of the Lord on you. Have you had any visions in the Spirit? • How do we hear this story? • What does the vision of dry bones being given life say to you in your life and experience of life? • What does the resurrection spoken of here reveal about Jesus resurrection and our salvation in Christ? The story of EZEKIEL and the dry bones must be one of the most familiar in the Hebrew Scriptures. Surely there is nothing more dead than a pile of dry bones. The image makes one think of a long-deserted battlefield, or a town ravaged by plague many years before. Ezekiel prophesied to the Israelites in exile for whom life must sometimes have seemed utterly hopeless. They had lived through the destruction of their nation, and everything that gave them a sense of themselves as a people. Now all they were left with were a few fossils to remind them of what they had once been. When Ezekiel follows God’s commands there is hope, and a new beginning, not only for him but for his whole community. The power of God to bring new life is not limited by how dead things are, or by how long they have been dead. God’s loving purposes are not ultimately thwarted by exile, defeat, destruction, or despair. When God’s Spirit blows, even dry bones can come together again. Ezekiel’s lived during a time of great upheaval in Israel. He, together with many of his people went to live in exile in Babylon in 597 B.C. The exile and the later fall of Jerusalem were revealed to Ezekiel as resulting from Israel’s failure to keep their covenant with the Lord God. After the fall of Jerusalem and a period of `doom and gloom’, Ezekiel was granted a number of visions which offered hope to Israel. The messages of hope were often expressed in terms that paralleled the creation story and prepared the people of Israel for a `new creation’. God was going to put his Spirit within people and in so doing give them the power to live closer to Him. In this story, the renewal and recreation of Israel is spoken of in terms of a resurrection form the dead. It reveals: * the renewing power of God’s Spirit. A power that is greater than any degeneration that we experience in this life. * that the wind can be a conveyor of God’s Spirit. `Come from the four winds breath….'(v. 9) * that the experience of being renewed will bring people closer to God. `And you will know that I am the Lord God..’ (v. 13) * that being renewed is like being raised from the dead. * shows us that we are more than our bodies because the people whose bodies were restored must have been dwelling somewhere before they were raised. (Jews called it Sheol) Supported by Jesus in the Gospel passage when he speaks of Lazarus only sleeping. * shows us that the resurrection is something different from the Jewish idea that the dead went down to Sheol, the world of the dead, for it speaks of a new existence. * challenges us to reflect on how the resurrection will actually affect us, how will it take place? How will it affect our physical existence? How do we experience the new creation? * deepens our thinking about the dynamics of salvation and the raising of the `dead’. This revelation from Ezekiel forms part of the web of beliefs that we have about the resurrection. In times gone by and still for many today, cremation is not an option, based on this and other prophecies. We need to ask ‘if God can raise dead bones of people, why can’t he raise people from ashes?’ Psalm 130 In PSALM 130, the psalmist sings of the hope that is found in relationship with God. Hope is to be found in the very nature of that relationship: if God were not available we would not cry out for help in the first place. If God were not forgiving we might simply cry out in fear. God knows our iniquities as individuals and as a community. In spite of this, God loves us with a steadfast love that enables us to persevere when things look bleak. We can look forward to the dawning of a new day. Romans 8: 6-11 Meditation • Discerning what is human and what is of the Spirit • How do we know that we have the Spirit within us? • How do we experience the life of the Spirit? According to Paul, in today’s reading from ROMANS, we have a choice before us. We can live by worldly values and desires, looking after our own and aspiring after the conventional accomplishments and goals of the society around us, or we can live according to the values and desires of God. The way of the world leads to death and despair. But the way of God shown to us through the life of Jesus Christ is the way of new life and transformation. Through Christ we can discover the life in our bodies; the life in our community (body); and everlasting life that reaches beyond the ‘flesh.” Things of the “flesh” simply do not last forever. “Flesh,” of course, is a metaphor. It refers not only to people’s bodies, but to all that is mortal and transitory. In and of itself “flesh” is not bad, but living as though it is all that is important will ultimately lead us to despair. If, on the other hand, we can live as though death is not the end of everything, and as though God, who raised Jesus from death, can transform any situation, then we will find new life even in that which is mortal. St. Paul tells us that through Jesus we are set free from the law of sin and death. This is one of the consequences of Christ’s resurrection for us. Jesus came in `the likeness of sinful flesh’ and `condemned sin in the flesh’. Human beings now have two basic choices: (i) to live by the Spirit or (ii) to live by the flesh. But we can only live by the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ dwells within us. This is a fundamental truth. It is not a matter of complicated doctrine. We should trust that through belief in God through Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us and continually seek to follow the Spirit in all that we do. Similarly, if `the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells’ within us, then we will know with certainty the truth of Christ’s resurrection as well as the various other truths about his life. For it is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God. John 11: 1-45 Meditation • As with this miracle, the healing of the blind man and Jesus various other miracles, do you believe they really happened? • The themes of Ezekiel and especially our death as we contemplate Lazarus in the tomb for four days. Where was he? Why did Jesus say he was asleep? • How did Jesus know that Lazarus was dead? Why was he so moved by Lazarus death? • Why was Lazarus raised, when he died again later, as far as we know of old age? Does the raising of Lazarus help you to believe in Jesus resurrection? • The love that Jesus had for Lazarus, Martha and Mary. We grieve because we love. • The meaning of Jesus saying ` “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. • What does Jesus death and resurrection mean to us? How does he free us from bondage? Today’s reading from JOHN is perhaps the most poignant example of God’s power at work through Jesus. We hear Mary’s cry of despair, “if you had only been there my brother would not have died.” And we hear Jesus’ response as he weeps. Then, through the power of God working in him, Jesus brings Lazarus back to life again. As in the other readings for today, John points out that the power over death itself can come only from God. Furthermore, nothing is beyond the power of God. Lazarus is dead for four days.-a sign to Jewish readers that he is well beyond the point at which body and soul were believed to separate-and yet God, through Jesus, can still resuscitate him. It is like putting flesh on dry bones. Of course resuscitation and resurrection are not the same. Lazarus is not resurrected in this story; he comes back to life to grow old and die again. Nevertheless, the intended parallel between Jesus and Lazarus is clear: if God can bring Lazarus back to life again then death is not ultimate. There is hope for us in this world and the next. This is an exceptional story in that it involved God doing something that appears out of the ordinary. Lazarus was allowed to die, so that Jesus could demonstrate the power that God has to raise the dead. Although, as mentioned above, the raising of Lazarus could be seen as a resuscitation, this story, together with the vision of Ezekiel, helps us to understand the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for us and God’s has power over life and death. The resurrection is not just something that we wait for but is something, that through Christ, we experience now and at our death. The resurrection points us to the new life of the world to come and the way we come to experience eternal life, by being renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We develop a deeper understanding of this new life, this resurrection life by exploring what the story reveals about death in human life. Jesus describes Lazarus’s death as Lazarus falling asleep. We wonder as to Lazarus’s experience of being asleep. Was he conscious at all or in a deep sleep? Did he dream? Was this experience of everyone who died prior to Christ who went to the world and the dead, Sheol? The old Testament understanding of death is fragmentary at best. Although death came into the world through Adam and Eve, what happens when we die is not clearly spelt out. On one level the world of the dead seems a murky existence. Yet there are glimpses of resurrection hope. Ezekiel being one example. The raising of Lazarus is prefigured in Elijah raising a young boy from death (1 Kings 17:17 – 24) Elisha raising the son of the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:32 – 37) are two examples. Job , during his trials and tribulations, exclaims 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25 – 27) at the conclusion of God’s revelation of himself to Job, Job says 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; Through Jesus’s ,death and resurrection, the last enemy, death, was conquered. This is Jesus ultimate purpose. The conversation between Jesus and Martha becomes a discussion about the resurrection, a discussion about Jesus ultimate transforming purpose. The Pharisees believed that there would be a resurrection at the end of time and this was the popular view of Judaism at the time. The Sadducees did not believe this. Martha believes in the general resurrection but Jesus then takes this conversation deeper. In saying ‘I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me even though they die, will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’, Jesus gives us a profound insight into the resurrection. It is a very challenging passage. Obviously there is much discussion about this passage, particularly amongst scholars. The deeper truth it reveals is that not only do we have new life in death through Jesus resurrection but this new life is eternal life ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’. Jesus is the first fruits of the new creation and although we die we have eternal life in him now. All the dead are raised as Peter speaks of in describing Jesus descent to the world of the dead after his crucifixion. (1 Peter 3: 18 – 4: 6) `Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27 and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation’. (John 5:25 – 29) It would be overly hasty to suggest that `the resurrection of condemnation’ meant people going to hell forever. As Peter says ` But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does’. (1 Peter 4:5 – 6) In the light of the resurrection, in our death we see the truth of our life, for good or for ill. Accepting the judgement on our life leads us into resurrection life. Jesus offers this to all who have ever lived and will live. We urge you to extend the lectionary reading by three verses (tov. 48), to include people’s reaction to this extraordinary event. Some, seeing what Jesus has done, rejoice and believe in him. Some begin to plot to kill him, believing that Jesus’ power even over death could mean the destruction of all that is holy to Jerusalem and Rome. That may seem an extreme reaction to us, but perhaps it is important to consider what our own reaction might be. Have these stories become so familiar that we are not moved to a strong reaction at all? Or do we find something so surprising and joyous that we would risk everything to follow this one who is so filled with the power of God? Based on The Whole People of God, 2011. Italics the Locum.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling , Worshipping and praying together. Lent: Our Journey into the Heart of God.
all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life,
New life in the face of death
Hopefully, the story of the Blind man who comes to see both physically and then has a direct encounter with God in Jesus, sees spiritually, has given each of us moments of seeing. Moments where we are aware of our own blindness and then see life, our lives in a new light.
Our Gospel passage for this Sunday leads us deeper into this experience, to see death in a new light, to see death in the light of Jesus death and resurrection. ‘Lazarus come out’.
In the prayer of blessing over the water of Baptism, the celebrant prays `Pour out your Holy Spirit in blessing and sanctify this water so that those who are baptised in it may be made one with Christ in his death and resurrection. May they die to sin, rise to newness of life, …..’ Being made one with Christ in his death is also described as being buried with Christ, buried with Christ in baptism. The purpose being that the new nature might be raised up in us and the fruit of the spirit grow and flourish in us.
Sunday by Sunday, every moment of our days, we are living our baptismal calling, living the baptismal life. During lent, we give this greater focus as we turn our hearts and minds, with Jesus to Jerusalem and journey with him to the cross and into new life.
We speak so often of dying with Christ, of dying to sin; Yet what does it really mean?
We experience death in many ways. Through the loss of loved ones, those near and dear to us, The loss of a job, financial loss, decline in health, failure to respond to the needs of others, our own failures, just to name some of the ways that we experience loss In our lives. Human sinfulness is often involved in our losses and our experience of death. Sin is the loss of who we are. Ultimately, we experience death in the death of Lazarus and in the death of Jesus as we prepare for our own death. This might seem morbid, yet it is very important part of our life journey.
Some of the losses we experience are beneficial. The many ways that we can die to sin and experience new life. Yet once more as we draw closer to Calvary and focus on Jesus death on the cross, we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of life, death and eternity. We pray as how Jesus death on the cross has taken away the sins of the world. We pray how Jesus experienced his saving death. We experience his saving death. In this Sunday’s gospel passage, Jesus describes Lazarus‘ death as Lazarus being asleep. Paul in Thessalonians speaks of those who have fallen asleep. Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus speaks of how the dead will hear his voice. Samuel comes out of the world of the dead, summoned by the Witch of Endor at Saul’s request. Moses And Elijah speak with Jesus on the holy mountain when Jesus was transfigured. Jesus after his death descends to the world of the dead forgiving all who had died in the flood. Ultimately all who have died. Glimpses of the mystery of life, death and eternity.
Yet as with the other miracles and signs in John’s gospel, this weeks gospel story of Lazarus being resuscitated, is the final miracle performed by Jesus before his death and resurrection. As with the others they show the work of God and consequently glorify God. Jesus parallels his response to the question of who sinned that the man was born blind with Lazarus death being for God’s glory. Death is being revealed in the light of Christ, In the new life to come through Jesus death and resurrection.
Hopefully in our encountering the story of Lazarus once again we come to see our death, death in life in this light.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling , Worshipping and praying together. Lent: Our Journey into the Heart of God. all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life, Lord, help me to see
Today is “the Sunday of the Man Born Blind.” This gospel reading has been used since early days of the church to help those preparing for baptism and understand the process of enlightenment they are going through. In this story the blind man progresses from the restoration of his physical sight to a deeper enlightenment about God until he is able to recognise Jesus as his Redeemer.
Today is also Mothering Sunday. This is a more ancient day than Mother’s Day, which emerged in the 19th century in America. Mothering Sunday goes back at least to the 16th century. We celebrate both as we take any opportunity to celebrate our mothers.
The story of the man born blind leads us into a deep reflection on light and sight and
the opposites darkness and blindness-not seeing. Day and night, light and dark are at the beginning of creation. It is not easy for us to understand this phenomenon as it was not until the 4th day of creation that the sun, moon and stars were created. Light and dark are often seen as representative of good and evil. Although this is a theme throughout the Scriptures and particularly in John’s gospel, it is an
oversimplification to associate them in this way. One aspect of our reflecting upon this theme is for each of us to reflect on how we experience light and darkness, in our own lives. The wonderful gift of sight and the many blessings and benefits that being able to see gives us. We are also aware of the blessings of the night, a time for rest, of new beginnings, of growth; most if not all life begins in darkness. It is also a time of inner knowledge, the understanding of things beyond our physical sight. Perhaps a knowledge that people suffering blindness are more aware of. This helps those of us who have sight to reflect upon what
it would be like to be blind and in so doing be mindful that there is a sense where we are all spiritually blind, or have been. In one sense, it is hard to know what we cannot see. Our journey of faith, our journey of enlightenment, is that of the man born blind. On one level, he represents all humanity, each and every one of us. Spiritually we are on a journey from darkness to light. ‘For once you are in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light’. (v8) Sleepers awake. A journey to true faith in God. Regaining our spiritual sight has a parallel in the story of Samuel choosing David. The Lord says to Samuel ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not
see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD
looks on the heart’. (v7)
Journeying into the light, living in the light, seeing with the heart, leads us to being filled with light as Jesus was at the Transfiguration and experience Jesus as the light of the world. We ask God to enlighten us in every aspect of our lives. Just as the Samaritan woman was healed by Jesus revealing the truth of her life, and enlightening her understanding of herself, and the man born blind was freed from the damage, probably of original sin, so, by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can be freed to live in the light,
to be lead into all truth. In these complex times of significant social change, particularly in the relationships between men and women, the roles we play in human life and particularly the way we nurture children, it is worth focusing on the importance of baptism in exercising this responsibility. Having a child baptised and bring them up in the baptismal life, is vital for the child to be healed of spiritual blindness that the child can learn to live in the light and come to faith in Christ. In these times when fewer children are being baptised, it is important we reflect on the importance of ‘infant Baptism’.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling with our companion or companions, sharing the journey, as we reflect on questions of Faith, the Scriptures and pray together. Lent: Our Journey into the Heart of God. all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life, Worship in spirit and truth.
As we walk prayerfully during our Lenten journey going deeper into the heart of God, dying with Christ in order to rise to new life with him, this week we reflect upon worship.
The Samaritan woman hears Jesus offering her living water, water that ….will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ and hearing Jesus revealing how ‘God is Spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth’. Jesus acknowledges that he is the Messiah the one who ‘will proclaim all things ….’,
And so doing sets the foundation for true worship. Our Christian life is to explore how to worship in spirit and truth. The temptations of Jesus, prepare us for this in that it revealed that we must not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father, there were not to put the Lord God to the test and that we are to worship the Lord our God and serve only him. Worship is at the heart of our relationship with God. We give worth to God above all things.
In our Parish, we have been quietly reflecting upon worship. Every aspect of our worship is meaningful and intentional. The preaching continues to explore the truth revealed by God. Here has also been some discussion on the use of the overhead projector. In some churches, the overhead projector is used to present the whole
service. In other churches, people still focus on having a prayer book. In our church, in recent times, initially influenced by Covid, we have used an extract of the prayer book service. This was something good that came out of Covid for it has
led us, I believe into more prayerful space for worship. There is a deep meaning to Jesus saying to the woman at the well that she has had 5 husbands and that the man she was with was not her husband. The 5 husbands can represent the 5 senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell,
and taste) and in true worship we go beyond the senses. Hence in worship, as we do, to be led to focus much more on the prayer of our hearts than looking at things and reading them, knowing the service off by heart, we come to a deeper place of worship within ourselves and into a
deeper experience of what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. The heart is the gateway to heaven, the secret place where we meet with
the Father. This is the path that we have travelled on in my time with you.
The next stage of your journey might be different but I hope you will not lose sight of the depth of the worship we have come to experience because we have created this opportunity to be more inwardly focused in our worship.
As Bill Ray, in the Lenten study booklet suggests, it is important for our worship that we prepare every Sunday to gather together to worship in
spirit and in truth. Part of this preparation involves, as we noted last week, praying the scriptures. We also reflect upon our lives, naming the sins that we need to confess at the beginning of the general confession but also all that we are thankful for in our lives. We focus on all that we need to offer to God in prayer being mindful that God is with us.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling with our companion or companions, sharing the journey, as we reflect on questions of Faith, the Scriptures and pray together. Lent: Our Journey into the Heart of God. all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life,
The Centrality of Prayer in our Baptismal Life and Calling,
This week our Lenten study focuses on prayer as central to our journey in Lent.
Prayer is at the heart of our life in Christ and the Lord’s prayer is foundational to our prayer life and gives us a basis for many aspects of prayer.
One very important aspect of prayer is to pray the Scriptures. One of the purposes o us printing the readings each week in the pew sheet is to help you in this process. To pray the Scriptures, we initially read the passage slowly and reflectively and then return to key passages and slowly turn it over in our mind asking God to give us a deeper understanding of what they mean. Applying this approach to our readings for this week and especially the gospel, we reflect upon another important Lenten theme and that is of baptism. The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus leads us into the heart of our understanding of
baptism. We need to be born of water and the spirit born from above. The Lenten groups that met this week reflected on baptism and our understanding of baptism inour tradition.
Baptism has been the source of much conflict and division between the various churches of Christendom. These divisions have proved very difficult to resolve. We can play our part in the process for a better understanding in the time to come by reflecting on our understanding of baptism as a sacrament and our experience of
baptism. Our focus on baptism, in this parish, in recent times has been to concentrate on the significance of Jesus baptism and what it reveals to us in our experience of God. Heaven being opened, the spirit descending upon us and God speaking from heaven. (Matthew 3: 13-17) This experience having an earthly culmination in the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1-8) prior to its fulfilment in Jesus death, resurrection, ascension and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 2) This is a less legalistic approach to baptism and gives greater emphasis to the experience of baptism, the inner reality. Sacramental baptism is one very important step in this journey . We encourage people to be baptised as an expression of their faith in Christ, of turning to Christ, repenting of Sin, rejecting false and unjust living, renouncing Satan and all evil to be born of water and Spirit, to be born from above. For children there is a commitment by parents and God parents to nurture this experience in the child that they might one day affirm it for themselves, preferably in confirmation. We pray that God will deepen our understanding of Baptism.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling with our companion or companions, sharing the journey, as we reflect on questions of Faith, the Scriptures
and pray together. Lent: Our Journey into the Heart of God. all creation being transformed through Jesus death on the Cross and rising to new life
Lent has begun. We live our lives waiting upon God and the empowering of His
Spirit. Lent is a time of prayer, reflection and fasting. In this time we all seek to grow
in Christ. Our main focus begins with just being with God and reflecting upon our life
in Christ. Who we are in him? We seek to explore more deeply what it means for each one of us to be baptised into the life of Christ, into his death and resurrection. What it means for us to die with him,
to die to sin and rise to new life with him. What have we lost through sin? How has it effected our relationship with God? We are created in the image of God. Sin has damaged God’s creation. We cannot
repair ourselves. God needs to repair us. May each one of us make this time of Lent a time of renewed commitment.
- spend more time in prayer
- study the Scriptures by: (i) ensuring that you reflect upon the Sunday readings
before and afterwards (ii) reading a book carefully for example a Gospel or Epistle.
(iii) use a Lenten study Book (iv) join in a Lenten Study Group.
- Fast: by denying ourselves, either through giving up something or going out of our
way to help someone. In this light reflecting upon changes we and our society need
to make, to better care for the environment and address the injustices of life.
Lent is a good time to work on ourselves so that we can leave aside anything that
might be preventing us becoming the person that God has created us to be.
The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles Travelling with our companion or companions, sharing the journey, as we reflect on questions of Faith, the Scriptures and pray together.
The transfiguration of Jesus on a high mountain is a revelatory event of who Jesus is and who we are in him. As a revelatory event is important that we follow Mary’s example at the birth of Jesus and `ponder it in our hearts’. Just as Moses had an encounter with God on Mount Sinai, so Jesus, with Peter
James and John has an encounter with God on a high mountain. It might have been Mount Tabor or Mount Hebron, but which mountain is not certain. This event takes place late in Jesus’ life and ministry and comes after his 1st prediction of his death and resurrection. (Matthew 16:21-23) This prediction had challenged his disciples’ faith in him as the Messiah. The transfiguration, helps renew their faith, although they were struggling with what the prediction meant. It did not fit
with their understanding of the role of the Messiah. Jesus also explained to them that
this would become clear after His death and resurrection.
Some say that his Transfiguration was a glimpse of His divine glory that He forsook to become a human being and was also a glimpse of the glory to come. It can also be seen, particular by comparing this revelation with his baptism, that he was now, in his humanity, fully indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This process is described by, particularly Eastern Orthodox Christians, as the divinisation or deification of our humanity, where
through purification of our mind and body and the illumination of our mind by the Holy Spirit, we experience union with God. We are being recreated in Christ to become like Christ. Our readings last week, gave us some insight into how we are purified through the Holy Spirit cleansing our hearts.
The Transfiguration is a wonderful and encouraging revelation. The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives us a glimpse of our glory that is to come in Christ and that we are recognisable in the life to come. It also confirms Jesus as a fulfilment of the law and the prophets and the voice from heaven and once again affirming him as God’s Son. The passage from the 2nd letter of Peter is a profound confirmation of the Transfiguration. Peter says that we (Peter, James and John) were there and saw it as it is described and heard the voice from heaven. As a consequence, ‘You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’. (2 Peter 1: 19) The transfiguration prepares us for our Lenten journey to the cross and resurrection, A journey, like the road to Emmaus, where Jesus walks with us explaining the Scriptures, why the Messiah had to suffer these things before entering his glory and then was recognised in the breaking of the bread. This is a journey into the heart of God.
Looking to Jesus: A Journey in Faith Epiphany to Lent Seeking Renewal in Christ Travelling with our companion or companions, sharing the journey, as we reflect on questions of Faith, the Scriptures
and pray together.
As we well know, in the first half of the church year, we primarily focus on the significance of the various events of Jesus’ life as well as reflecting upon some aspects of his ministry. The events are revelatory of who Jesus is. At the Annunciation, the angel reveals to Mary the nature of her child and his divine
purpose. This is also revealed to Joseph by an angel in a dream. At Christmas, the shepherds witnessed to the message of the angels about him. The epiphany began with the visit of the wise men, some time after his birth. Possibly up to two years. His birth being revealed to them by the Star of Bethlehem.
This Sunday we celebrate ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’, forty days after his birth, which, based on celebrating Jesus’ birth on 25 December, is 2 February. We are celebrating it on the nearest Sunday which is a common practice. This feast commemorates how Jesus, as a baby, was presented to God in the
Temple in Jerusalem. A fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi. It is a combined feast, commemorating the Jewish practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth and the presentation of the child to God in the Temple and his buying back (redemption) from God. This is part of the unfolding of Jesus’ journey as a human being as witnessed to in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It is also known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary, and the Feast of Candlemas (Initially, this was a feast for the blessing of the candles to be used in the church in the following year. Later it became associated with the Presentation). Yet another name for it is the Feast of Encounter because the New Testament, represented by the baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna. Joseph offered
two pigeons in the Temple as sacrifice for the purification of Mary after her childbirth and for the presentation and redemption ceremonies performed for baby Jesus. The sacrifice of pigeons rather than a lamb showing the poverty of Joseph and Mary. This sacrifice, as with all the Old Testament sacrifices, leading us to reflect upon the significance of sacrifice in the atonement and our redemption fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the Cross. ‘The sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 2:17)
The presentation together with the naming and circumcision of Jesus-giving him the name revealed to Joseph and Mary, reveals a fundamental theme of Jesus’ life. He came to fulfil the law and the prophets. The encounter with Simeon and Anna is part of this but also as a further revelation of who Jesus is. In his
encounter with Jesus, Simeon’s life purpose is fulfilled. It is the same for us. When Simeon takes Jesus in his arms, we take the Christ Child in our arms, God reveals to him, to us, through the Holy Spirit that this Child is the promised Messiah, the consolation of Israel, the Light of the nations. Jesus is the Lord’s
anointed one. Simeon’s response in his prayer of blessing, prophesies that Jesus is to be the glory of Israel and the light of Revelation to the Gentiles. Simeon has finally seen salvation. Simeon’s encounter with Jesus is followed by Anna’s. She too witnesses to who Jesus is.
For us the presentation leads us to reflect upon the importance of holy places and the role they play in nurturing our experience of God. How we, having been initially presented to God in our baptism, present ourselves to God at the altar, time and time again, when we come to worship and are encouraged to live our daily lives with the awareness that we are dedicated people, consecrated to God and to lead holy lives. Simeon and Anna encourage us to persevere in this consecrated life seeing this dedicated life as more important than any worldly achievements. They encourage us to recognise the presence of Jesus in ourselves and in others irrespective of worldly status or stated of life and how Jesus is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. We to are encouraged to witness to Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The presentation finds its complete and perfect fulfilment in the mystery of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord which we are now turning our attention to, once more, as we begin to prepare for Lent and then, Easter.
Reflection Sunday, January 29nd, 2023
As our journey through the season of Epiphany continues, today’s readings give us a glimpse of God’s longings and the workings of God’s heart. God longs for us to know him – to be in an intimate relationship with him. So, what does life as the people of God look like? Are we willing to abandon our own directions and desires. Are we
willing to move beyond all that we think we know to follow the path that Jesus sets before us, to open our hearts and minds and souls to the new life he calls us to through the presence and power of the Holy Spirt?
In the reading from the book of the prophet Micah, the focus is on what God really wants, not on what the people think God wants. The people of Israel wanted to know what they could do to be acceptable to the Lord. In an oppressive and deceitful society, they had lost a sense of what the Lord considers as good. God gave them a
concrete answer. He wasn’t seeking mechanical, ritualistic worship. All he wanted was for his people to do what was right in relationship with him and in their relationships with each other. Micah 6:8 summarises this. When we practice justice and mercy, when we walk humbly with our God, we participate in God’s reign and God’s life.
In Psalm 15, the questions invite us to look at our lifestyle and see if it is consistent with what God asks of us. Our faithfulness is shown in our integrity – in our thoughts, words and actions. Who you are on the inside must match who you are on the outside – not thinking one thing, then doing another. Our integrity – our faithfulness –
is characterised by things like speaking the truth in our hearts and not going around talking about other people (gossiping). In the passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world are compared. As far as human reasoning is concerned, the
message of the cross makes no sense. It is perceived as foolish. Paul, however, argues that the message of the cross is not something that needs improving by the addition of human wisdom. His warning is that we need to be cautious of testing it by human wisdom. You can’t see the truth by looking at it from the outside. It might look weak and foolish but if you commit yourself to it you will discover that God’s
weakness and foolishness are actually a whole lot stronger and wiser than the best the world has to offer! The way you live out the life of love and mercy that Jesus lived is what matters. In the gospel passage we are reminded again that God’s way of thinking and act- ing are different from the ways of the world. The Beatitudes describe the nature of a true child of God. They are descriptive of God’s mind and Jesus’ heart and, by implication, Jesus’ followers. They express the values of the kingdom of heaven, giving us a view into God’s world. They provide a powerful example of how the world should be and what we need to work towards. They describe circumstances that people may have chosen or had imposed on them. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers and the persecut- ed. The Beatitudes are a call to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future. The blessings are both present and future. In Jesus of Nazareth, the future has arrived in the present. The kingdom is now and not yet. God is acting in and through Jesus to turn the world upside down. In whatever circumstance you find yourselves in, there is hope and there is always the call to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
Reflection Sunday, January 22nd, 2023
Themes of light, call, repentance, the kingdom of heaven and salvation flow through this week’s readings. In the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the arrest of John the Baptist is a pivotal moment. When Jesus hears the news he withdraws to Galilee and makes his home in Capernaum so that “what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled”. (Matthew 4:14, NRSV) Capernaum is the ancient land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in Isaiah 9:1, our Old Testament passage for today. Capernaum is an area with many Gentiles and is of particular significance for the shape of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is the saving light of God to those living in the darkness of despair. He is the one, the king,
who will establish his reign of peace and justice in the world. Jesus picks up where John the Baptist left off proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17). His call to “repent” in this gospel is not primarily about people feeling sorry for their sins. Instead, it is more concerned with
our transformation – a change of heart and lifestyle, turning your life in a new direction. This is shown in the immediate response of his new disciples. They change the direction of their lives and follow him. Jesus is the light and salvation that Isaiah speaks of. The theme of light and salvation continue in todays psalm. Here God is worshipped as light and salvation. The writer of the psalm trusts in God’s presence as a refuge in the midst of difficulties. In the midst of recent difficult times, I can attest that God was my refuge – and my strength. Those of us who are followers of Jesus – who believe in him and trust him – have a wonderful resource to draw on when times are tough. In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we go back to the theme of repentance – changing directions – as well as being united in our outlook. This is made possible because of God’s saving grace. Paul calls the body of Christ at
Corinth to follow in God’s way – to live into the way of God. This is what allows change to happen in the community of faith. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit within in us and around us, we are invited –
called – to follow God’s way. We are challenged to make changes and choices that that will enable us to work together in living out the values of the kingdom of heaven and to share God’s love and grace with others.
Reflection Sunday, January 15th, 2023
Over time, the Gospel of John has gone from being my least favourite gospel to my favourite gospel. You might be asking how this transformation happened. When I was studying for my Bachelor of Theology, I was blessed to have biblical scholar Dorothy Lee as my lecturer for that gospel. The way she explained the language and symbolism made it come alive for me. When we read the gospel in little snippets on a Sunday, we don’t really get to join all the dots and see the big picture that John has for us. The prologue (John 1:1-18) is the key for understanding and appreciating the full force of the whole gospel. It has been
written to call the reader, who already knows the story of Jesus, into a deeper faith (John 20:31).
The dualistic imagery that John employs to get his message across is brilliant. In their book, Interpreting the Gospel and Letters of John, Sherri Brown and Frank Moloney assert that the contrasting images of light and darkness, life and death, above and below, truth and lies emphasise the differences between this world and the divine. They highlight the presence of good and evil as well as the potential responses of right and wrong. They encourage us to make decisions about where we stand in the scheme of things. As with our gospel readings from the past two Sundays, the spotlight in this week’s gospel is still on revealing who Jesus is but there is also an invitation for the reader to come and see who he is, to come and find out for themselves. There is only one way to find out who Jesus truly is and what following him is really about – through a lived experience.
When Andrew and Peter met Jesus their lives changed. They chose a new direction – the path of discipleship. The Holy Spirit continues to invite us into the same life- changing encounters with Jesus. Answering that invitation with a “yes” is not easy. It asks that we commit to a giving of ourselves, to making sacrifices that allow the reign of God to be manifest in our lives and in our world.
Sherri Brown and Francis J. Moloney, SDB, Interpreting the Gospel and Letters of John: An
Introduction (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2017), 142-143.
Reflection Sunday, January 8th, 2023
Imagine the scene of Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, standing in the Jordan River. He’s just finished giving the Pharisees and Sadducees a piece of his mind, calling them a “Brood of Vipers” for coming to him to be baptised. He recognised that they
weren’t coming to be baptised for the right reason – a change of heart and mind – true repentance. They were just going through the motions, so he warns them with this powerful proclamation: ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful
than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his
hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Matthew 3:11-12, NRSV) Now imagine Jesus coming and standing humbly before John, asking for the same baptism. The same baptism the Pharisees and Sadducees and many others from that time and place had sought. No wonder John the Baptist is surprised! He seems to know that Jesus is the one coming after him, the one who is more powerful. Yet here he is seemingly identifying with ordinary people and their need to repent – to turn away from their sins. This was not what he imagined would happen. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. But Jesus reassures him that he is working towards the same agenda.
That this is all part of God’s plan. He humbly identifies himself with God’s people by taking their place, sharing their repentance, living their
life and, in the end, dying their death.
Reflection – Sunday, January 1st, 2023
Now that the New Year is here, most of us have probably packed up our Christmas trees and lights. We most certainly won’t hear Christmas Carols in our shopping centres because I know that Hot Cross Buns are already on the shelves. The business world is already gearing up to make the most money they can on the next event that the community celebrates. Many of us are already back at work and there
is a sense that Christmas is over. It’s back to business as usual. Even though we never really stop celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the church is moving from the season of Christmas into the season of Epiphany. The Epiphany of Our Lord actually falls on January 6th and marks the final day of the Christmas season but we are celebrating Epiphany today because none of
us will be here to do so on Friday. Because Epiphany is so connected to Christmas, I couldn’t let it pass without a celebration. On this day we celebrate the manifestation – the revelation – of Christ to the world, God’s coming in unexpected places and people.
The reading from the Gospel of Matthew presents us with an interesting paradox. Those whom we expect would be open to the birth of the Messiah – Herod, the chief priests, the scribes – shut him out. They fail to see who he really is, despite the many signs that point to his being the Christ. Perhaps they are too consumed by things of a worldly nature, with their own politics, prestige and power, to be able to see the
wonder some of the less prestigious people of their world saw – such as the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth (mentioned in the Gospel of Luke) or the strangers from the East (the Magi or wise men) whom we are introduced to in todays reading. The Magi are Gentiles, foreigners, astrologers who read in the stars of the birth of the “new born king of the Jews”. They are “outsiders” – not mainstream Jews who
would be looking for a Messiah. Yet these outsiders are the ones who have travelled great distances to seek this new born king. Outsiders are the ones who recognise who Jesus is and on bended knees, worship him. If we look even more closely at the passage, there is much symbolism in the fact that the Magi are from the East – the direction of the rising sun, of the new light of day – but also the direction of Christ’s second coming. The story of the Magi only appears in Matthew’s gospel. Why? It’s such an amazing and important story you would think that it should rate a mention elsewhere. The structure of Matthew’s gospel gives us a few clues. This gospel is structured around five discourses on the coming of God’s kingdom. At the outset of the gospel, set within the narrative of Christ’s birth, Matthew highlights the universality of God’s reign and, by extension, the universality of salvation (See our second reading from Ephesians 3:1- 12). Salvation is meant for all, if we are willing to follow God’s signs of the gift. What
does that mean for you as you reflect on the year just past, as you ponder the start of a new year and the promises and possibilities that it holds? Has the wonder of the Christmas story been packed away for another year like our Christmas trees and lights or is it well and truly alive in you, made even more wondrous and exciting by the story of the Magi, causing you to do as they did – to get down on bended knee and worship him as the Lord and Saviour of your life.