Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday


First Reading

Joel 2.1-2,12-17

1Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near –
2a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
12Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
for the LORD, your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
17Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
“Where is their God?”’


Matthew 6.1-6,16-21

Jesus said to the disciples, 1‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’


Ash Wed marks beginning of Lent. It’s observed 46 days before Easter. Gets its name from ancient practice of placing ash on foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. Ashes are gathered after last year’s palm crosses are burned. The ash is mixed with oil of baptism and a little water. We are reminded that the palm, a symbol of triumph when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time was swiftly followed by defeat and death as the palms are reduced to dust.

The mark traditionally made is the sign of the cross. Left visible until sundown when it is washed off. Cross is the symbol of our salvation and a sign of the spirit of penitence with which we hope to keep this season of preparation for Easter.

Ashes are a symbol also of our mortality. All human beings are created by God from the dust of the earth and it is to dust that we will return. As it says in the funeral service, ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’

The imposition of ashes is an act that echoes the near eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one’s head and dressing in sackcloth to signify repentance before God. As we have just read in Joel, a penitent person would also fast, with weeping and mourning for missing the mark.

But today’s gospel reading warns us against excessive displays of piety or charity with the wrong motive in mind. Repentance is a private matter, between ourselves and God. It is not to be done in the hope of gain, for salvation is by the grace of God alone and not a reward for any action on our part.

And yet even though repentance is between ourselves and our maker, we have the promise of treasure in heaven rather than on earth. The sign of our repentance is not seen by others but by God, so our reward comes not from honour or admiration by those we know but from God who is in secret.

On Ash Wednesday we also look forward and resolve how we will spend a fruitful Lent. Hopefully this will not be by giving anything up, unless it is something that is not healthy for our souls. No, we should resolve to live lift to the full – not stopping doing anything but taking up those things that will help us become truly fulfilled as we travel the way of faith. What that might be will vary according to the individual, and will be harder than self denial. So now let us call to mind our sins in the Litany, and prepare ourselves for the imposition of ashes as a visible mark of our repentance and determination to turn to Christ in faith and hope of heaven. Amen

Observing Lent

Ash Wednesday 8.00pm Cheddington

Sisters and Brothers in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

At first, this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognise that, by careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Almighty and everlasting God
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent.
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that, lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
we may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect forgiveness and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Sunday, 22 February 2009


Mentmore Sunday 22 February 2009

Reading 2 Kings 2

1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "so be quiet."

4 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.

5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?"
       "Yes, I know," he replied, "so be quiet."

6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan."
       And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.

7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.

10 "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not."

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

Gospel Mark 9

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.


Today’s gospel is Mark’s account of Transfiguration. Same incident appears in both Matthew and Luke. Component parts of the story and even words used are very much the same.

Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain by themselves. Traditionally the location is believed to be Mount Tabor in Galilee. There, Jesus is transfigured before their eyes – meaning that his divinity somehow shone through his human form. His clothes became dazzling white. Literally the Greek says they were whiter than any fuller on earth could bleach them, which was always an occasion for some mirth each year in a previous church where the minister was Michael Fuller.

The disciples then saw two other men speaking with Jesus, whom they took to be Moses and Elijah. These two figures from the OT presumably represented the Law and the Prophets. The implication may have been that the contemporary Jews had rejected Jesus, but the authority figures of the past endorsed Jesus’ ministry.

Peter, James and John were of course terrified, and Peter made some sort of suggestion about building some booths or tents. It is not clear what these were for, but Peter’s use of the term Rabbi to address Jesus and the suggestion that they build these ‘dwelling places’ shows they regarded Jesus as equal to Moses and Elijah. It also demonstrates just how much the disciples misunderstood what they had seen.

The next thing that happens is the intervention of a voice from a bright cloud that attests to Jesus as ‘my Son, the Beloved’ and instructs the disciples to listen to him. The other two figures then vanish. God joined the figures of Moses and Elijah to endorse Jesus as the Son of God and not just a teacher or leader.

As the party comes down from the mountain, Peter James and John ask Jesus about the significance of the presence of Elijah. They knew the scribes taught that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah.

Here it is worth pointing to the difference in people’s attitude to death in the Old Testament compared to that of the New and ours today. In the OT death was the completion of the cycle of life. No one seems to have feared death. There does not seem to have been the same hope of eternal life. Heaven is where God resides not somewhere the people of the Hebrew Scriptures went to. God was the God of the living not of the dead.

Neither Elijah or Moses were recorded as having died. They were taken up to heaven, and so their appearance in the Transfiguration would not been seen as a type of resurrection because they had not tasted death in the first place. They had just come back from their journey into the heavens and become visible to men. That’s the way the Transfiguration would have been regarded through Jewish eyes.

How should we regard it today? Does it say anything to us, or is it another mysterious visionary story from long ago? No, because Jesus speaks to every age, and not just the time of his sojurn here on earth. Yes it is what we would today call a ‘mountain top experience’ but we encounter Christ as often in the valleys of our despair as we do at the peaks of our faith.

On the mountain top the voice is different though. On the mountain top we encounter God’s calming voice whereas on the valley floor his still small voice is almost inaudible through the din of competing human noise and speech. On the mountain top the glory of God is revealed, whereas on the valley floor it competes with the power of sin and unbelief.

No wonder so many Christians seek ways of spending all their time in mountain top experiences. They always seem to fail, perhaps because the valley floors are always there, and the rightful place for our ministry is with those who need our help down on the valley floor. So it’s no coincidence that as Jesus and his disciples descended to the plain, he was besieged by a large crowd. They were arguing with the teachers of the law about a young man possessed by an evil spirit. The disciples had tried to drive out the evil spirit and failed. Jesus healed the boy. After he had gone inside, his disciples asked “Why could we not drive it out?” Jesus answered “This kind can come out only by prayer.” So the mountain top is the place of refreshment and listening. The valley floor is where the action is. We cannot spend time in the one and not the other.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Old and New Covenants

Thursday 19 February Cheddington 9.15 Eucharist


Proverbs 8.1,22-31

1Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
22The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –
26when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.

27When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Reading Genesis 9

God's Covenant With Noah

1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 "Whoever sheds human blood,
       by human beings shall their blood be shed;
       for in the image of God
       has God made humankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."

12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Gospel Mark 8

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
       Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."


Mark 8 a key text for Lent Course – ‘Who do you say I am?’ where Peter declares Jesus is Messiah. But what did he mean? What kind of Messiah? Notice Jesus immediately teaches disciples about his death, and rebukes Peter when he protests that this is not the type of Messiah he expects Jesus to be. More in the Lent Course.

Let’s look at Noah. In Genesis 6.5 – 8.22 – story of the Flood. Stories of a great flood that destroyed human kind common across the Mesopotamian world. This may attest to some sort of cataclysmic event in early human history of the region, or may be oral tradition passed around civilised world.

Two cases in point: famous Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and the very similar Atrahasis. The Atrahasis also contains account of creation of human beings from clay before its account of the flood. Bible account differs in that there is a future for human kind. There is a Babylonian Noah in Gilgamesh but nothing about what happened to survivors of flood. In Atrahasis the flood comes about after a quarrel amongst the gods.

The author of Genesis by contrast has a theological reason for the story. It’s about the universal wickedness and sin of human beings. God is faced with the apparent failure of all his hopes in creation. God regrets his decision to create humanity, and determines to destroy it and start again. God is represented as fallible and almost human himself, unlike how God is portrayed in the OT generally.

Noah is the only righteous man. He is sole exception to universal wickedness. So God decides to make a covenant – first mention of the word in OT. Covenant is with Noah and family – sole human survivors of flood. This is renewed in our passage today.

Like a totally new creation, Noah and sons are to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the animals are no longer to live alongside man in harmony: they are to be killed and eaten. They are to fear humans.

The origin of kosher laws comes from this time: life itself was thought to be contained in blood – so humans were not permitted to eat meat containing the essence of life itself. Nor are they to kill each other: humans are made in image of God himself, so homicide is forbidden.

First covenant by God developed throughout scripture. Rainbow a visible sign to remind us as well as God himself of this undertaking.

So in Luke 22 Jesus the account of Last Supper says:

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

After our prayers, it is this new covenant we will commemorate once again in our Eucharist today.


Sunday, 15 February 2009

Mentmore Sunday 15 February


Proverbs 8.1,22-31 copyright TNIV

1Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
22The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –
26when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.

27When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.


John 1.1-14 copyright TNIV

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 4What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


Proverbs belongs to type of literature in middle east known as Wisdom literature. Other books in same category are Job, Ecclesiastes and in apocrypha Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus.

Philosophy in Wisdom books not like modern philosophy, but closer to a science of practical living. More than just a manual of good behaviour that enables us to maintain relationship with God by observing his decrees given to us through prophets and teachers.

Proverbs presents itself as textbook designed to educate humans in general and young people in particular in wise living. Wisdom is founded on fear of the Lord. But it is also personal. Wisdom mediates God’s revelation of himself in creation to human beings.

Wisdom is naus. Skill or ability. Manual skill of a craftsman. Navigational skills of seafarers. To learn about Wisdom is to become equipped with skills necessary to live a good and successful life. Disciplined life under authority of instructor or parent. Right conduct and right relationships. Shrewdness and prudence.

So Proverbs starts with the first of several instructions from a father to a son. The son is taught to avoid evil men – gangsters, robbers, murderers. Why? Because their attractions are self-destructive and foolish. To join in is to share their fate.

So it is strange to find Wisdom suddenly becomes personified. The Hebrew word is feminine. Wisdom is personified as a woman. She speaks with divine authority. To reject what she says is to deny the fear of the Lord.

Like a prophet, Wisdom takes her stand in public places and cries out to anyone who will hear her. She extols her providential role in good and orderly government of the world. She brings wealth and prosperity.

Wisdom claims to be a child of God. Her origins go back to before creation. During creation, Wisdom was there beside God. She took an active part in the design and construction of the world. She rejoices at what is brought into being, and as she brought pleasure to God, so she now brings joy to human beings.

It’s a complicated concept to grasp – and if that wasn’t enough the paired gospel reading is all about Logos – the Word. The Word was also with God from the beginning, but John the Evangelist identifies the Logos with Christ himself. All things came into being through him, and without him nothing was made. What came into being in Jesus was life and light – Jesus is the light of the world that illuminates everyone and banishes darkness.

The light is closer to our own experience than Wisdom or Logos. It is something we can understand more easily. We use light every day, and are used to turning on a light to eliminate dark places. So we can relate to Christ as the light.

Wisdom seems somehow more alien – a middle eastern philosophy that is easily boiled down into a manual for life, but one that speaks of a bygone age.

Fortunately, we don’t need to understand either concept to have a lively faith. At 10.30 we have an all-age service at Cheddington when we will try and reclaim St Valentine for the church. It is led by the Emmaus Group. My part is to sum up by relating love between human beings to Christian love.

You might think this is impossible in just a few minutes. I could not expound on Wisdom or Logos in that space of time, so how could I say anything meaningful about Love?

Actually it’s easy. Love is so simple to understand, whether human love or Christian love. It’s the application that’s hard. It’s not stepping over the boundary between self denying love and self serving love.

You can of course read I Cor. 13 as we do in most weddings, but there’s an easier way. Look in Matthew 22. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' That was how Jesus answered the Sadducee who was an expert in the Law. Anything else is exposition.

This is why our faith is simple enough for a child to grasp in its fullness. No need to wrestle with Wisdom or Logos except to deepen and expand the underpinning of our faith. But if you have not the time or inclination to do so, no matter. Love is all, and what better message is there on St Valentine’s weekend?


Thursday, 5 February 2009

Exhortations from Hebrews

Thursday 5 February 2009 at Cheddington
Epiphany 4

Reading Hebrews 12

The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Gospel Mark 6

John the Baptist Beheaded

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, [c] "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him."

15 Others said, "He is Elijah."
       And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago."

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

    The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." 23 And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom."

24 She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?"
       "The head of John the Baptist," she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.


Hebrews and extended series of homilies – chapter 12 starts with a homily on endurance. 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. We are to endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines those he loves in the same way as a father or mother disciplines their children.

Here the author of Hebrews is talking about persecution and the shedding of blood, not perhaps other forms of hardship. If you saw the BBC play with Julie Walters A Short Stay in Switzerland you might hope such words of exhortation do not also apply to someone with a long and painful illness, or the suffering of a child. The context of running the race set before us, and living a life holy and at peace with everyone marks this passage out as applying to a very different situation.

So we come to today’s reading, and we are invited to compare the God of the OT, burning with fire on a holy mountain, so terrifying that even an animal that strayed had to be stoned to death, with the same God of the new covenant in the heavenly Jerusalem.

You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

Faced with the holiness of God we must still revere him and approach him with awe, but not in the way Moses did, who trembled with fear. For Jesus, the kingdom of God began with his ministry. For the writer of Hebrews, God’s rule was inaugurated by the exaltation of Jesus Christ. For us, our response should be thanks in the community of worship, and that is the way today’s reading ends.

The final chapter of Hebrews contains exhortations. We are to love one another as brothers and sisters. We are to show hospitality to strangers, and live holy and blameless lives especially in relationships such as marriage. We are to follow the truth and not be diverted by strange teachings. We are to continually offer to God our sacrifice of praise through Jesus Christ his son and openly profess his name. Then the epistle ends with a blessing:

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Heavy Snow In London

On Sunday, the interactive talk at St Giles was about Candlemas.

One of the US derivations is Groundhog Day. The custom goes back to the early German settlers, who said that the groundhog will emerge from hibernation on Candlemas and if it sees its own shadow, the animal will return and hibernate for a further 6 weeks.

On Sunday the sky was blue and the sun bright. There were hard shadows as we came out of the church and headed off for lunch.

As Vicky and I drove down to London later the same evening, there was a flurry of snow. Not much. Certainly no more than we left at Cheddington, and that was barely perceptible. One hour later, after a cup of tea and a chat by the fire we looked out and about 2” had settled.

This morning, we had 10” and it is still snowing on Monday afternoon. We have lived in the centre of London since 1984 and have not seen snow like this before. Of course, we are ill equipped and transport is badly disrupted.

For the local children whose schools are closed it is a winter wonderland of snowmen and snowballs.

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