Thursday, 12 March 2009

Corporate Greed

Thursday 12 March 2009 Holy Communion at Cheddington

Reading Jeremiah 17

5 This is what the LORD says:
       "Cursed are those who trust in mortals,
       who depend on flesh for their strength
       and whose hearts turn away from the LORD.

6 They will be like a bush in the wastelands;
       they will not see prosperity when it comes.
       They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
       in a salt land where no one lives.

7 "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
       whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
       that sends out its roots by the stream.
       It does not fear when heat comes;
       its leaves are always green.
       It has no worries in a year of drought
       and never fails to bear fruit."

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
       and beyond cure.
       Who can understand it?

10 "I the LORD search the heart
       and examine the mind,
       to reward everyone according to their conduct,
       according to what their deeds deserve."

Gospel Luke 16

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "


Trusting in yourself, or trusting in the Lord? The consequences of both these choices are explored in today’s readings.

The prophet Jeremiah likens a person who trusts in himself to a bush growing in a waste land. It can rely on no depth of soil. There is no water to keep it going when the sun beats down and the earth is parched. The person who trusts in God is like a tree growing by a stream. Its roots are in the water, and it can withstand the heat. Its leaves are always green and it bears good fruit.

God seems to favour the rich man in the gospel story. He lives in luxury and dresses in fine clothes. The local people have compassion for Lazarus, and take him every day to the rich man’s gate, so that the rich man may have the blessing of bestowing his help on the one who needs it. The dogs lick his sores, providing some comfort to him and the disinfecting properties of the dogs’ saliva. But the rich man ignores his plight. The rich man relies only on himself.

Both men died. The rich man wanted to alert his brothers to the consequences of relying on their own prosperity and neglecting their duty to help the poor. The rest of the story is about repentance. It’s another Wisdom story about how we should live our lives, hijacked by Jesus and made into a parable for us to contemplate.

In this day and age, and in the midst of these unprecedented economic times, there is an additional corporate lesson to be learned – not only by those who through greed and neglect brought us to the present crisis, but also by those who seek to rely on ill gotten gains whilst others lose their livelihoods and suffer as a result.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Cost of Discipleship

and the security afforded by a banker’s pension?
Cheddington, Lent 2, 8 March 2009

Gospel Mark 8 TNIV

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."

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 38 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."


This is the first prediction of Jesus’ passion. From this point, the emphasis in Mark on miracles and healings is reduced and more weight is placed explicitly on the cross and its significance.

3 passion predictions in quick succession. Jesus predicts own trial and death with accuracy . If his prediction was given in quite such detail and repetitively, it’s difficult to explain disciples’ apparent confusion when events actually occurred. It’s possible Jesus could from this point on see with clarity that his ministry was not being accepted by authorities, that it would inevitably lead to conflict and violence, and that this would mean he would be tried and put to death. From disciples’ later reaction they did not appreciate the full force of this prediction and its impact.

In each of the 3 predictions, Jesus does not say “I will suffer and die” but constantly refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man.’ In Mark, Jesus often talks in this way: the meaning is ambiguous but seems to have to do with his suffering and vindication.

Peter, who just beforehand has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah in answer to the question “Who do you say I am?” now protests. He is sternly put down in the strongest terms. Jesus says his words are from Satan and not his own. The temptation is to divert from the way of suffering and death and pursue a worldly route to power.

Whenever we are most in doubt about our worth and convinced of the weakness of our faith, we can remember Peter and all his failings – Peter who doubted and denied, yet still became foremost amongst the disciples and led the early church.

Mark’s emphasis on suffering and death is a salutary warning to all potential converts reading his gospel. He wants to leave them and us in no doubt about what might lie ahead for the disciples of Jesus, both then and down the ages. As the church gets smaller and more marginal, and attitudes towards the different faiths change, we do face the spectre of increased persecution as we look ahead and see what might be coming in the future. It’s a sobering thought, but we have many models in the early church as to how to face persecution, both state and personal.

Put another way, Jesus is saying the cost of discipleship is high for those who would follow him. The dangers might not be physical here in Cheddington, but the impact may still be life changing. Ask me 12 months ago if I would be doing something like this rather than putting my feet up and enjoying retirement, and I would have told you the chances were slim. Yet here I am.

Ultimately what Jesus is saying is that his destiny is to suffer and die, and we must be prepared to be obedient in our own way to the same degree. Notice that his teaching is not confined here to his disciples but addressed to the whole crowd. Would that all evangelists today were prepared to be as explicit when preaching their message as Jesus was.

In the very early church, with severe persecution and thousands of lives lost, this message must have had a special resonance before the conversion of Constantine.

So as we continue observing Lent, we are asked to identify with the suffering of Christ to the extent that we take up and bear our cross in our own way. It does not mean that in this day and age we may be called to give up our lives, although Christians in some parts of the world are still subject to great persecution even unto death, but we may have to give up all security and claims to look after our own interests.

The message however stark is far from hopeless. Our hope is that in God’s own time the Son of Man will usher in the Kingdom – indeed the Kingdom as we know is already here in the ministry of Jesus and the community of believers, the church.

And the next thing that happens in Mark’s gospel after this teaching is the Transfiguration, the precursor of glory to come and the revelation of the divinity of Christ as witnessed by Peter, James and John.

If nothing else, during Lent, and in the midst of world economic troubles brought about through greed, let the words of Jesus sink in. The things of this world do not satisfy or feed the soul. Will a massive pension provide security and happiness to the hapless banker?

36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 38 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Thursday 5 March 2009


Reading Isaiah 55

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
       call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
       and the unrighteous their thoughts.
       Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
       and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
       neither are your ways my ways,"
       declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
       so are my ways higher than your ways
       and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Gospel Matthew 7

Ask, Seek, Knock

7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

9 "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.


Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near. Ask and it will be given you. Seek and you will find. Your Father in heaven will give good gifts to those who ask him.

Today’s readings all about prayer. But do they ring true? Is it your experience that God gives good gifts to those who ask him? Or do you sometimes feel God is not listening, or has other ideas of what is needful?

The Isaiah reading is like the Woman Wisdom we read about in Proverbs. Seek the Lord while he may be found are wise words, probably addressed to the whole of Israel rather than to any one individual.

Matthew 7 on the other hand is all about prayer and conduct. It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount. The chapter opens with a warning not to be judgemental. Take out the log in your own eye before you remove the speck in your neighbour’s. Do not give what is holy to the dogs. Do not cast your pearls before swine, or they will trample them in the mud and then turn on you. More wisdom.

Verses 7 – 12 fit into this scheme of things. They are followed by more warnings – about entering the narrow way, avoiding false prophets and the like. So they are not so much about personal prayer or intercession as about the nature of God himself.

God is portrayed as kindly towards us, his creation. He is not depicted as the God of wrath and vengeance we see in the Hebrew scriptures. Like a father who wants the best for his child, God will always want the best for us. That’s not to say we will always be given what we ask for, any more than a child should be indulged with every passing whim or desire.

As if to emphasise the fact these few verses are more about God and our conduct towards him, the passage does not end by talking about the faith we need in order to pray aright, or with any example of how to pray – no, it actually ends with the Golden Rule. In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

So, there we have it. God is beneficent and kindly towards us, and wants the best for us as any parent wants for their child. The wisdom we gain from this is not how to pray, or how to ask for the good things God wants to give us. No, it is to model ourselves on God’s love, in the way we treat our fellow human beings. For just as God wants the best for us, so we should want the best for our neighbours.

That’s the message from today’s gospel reading. It’s about prayer, sure, but not intercession. It’s more about our conduct towards others, treating others as God wants to treat us. Amen