Thursday, 30 July 2009

Parable of the Net

Cheddington St Giles Mid Week Communion

Gospel Matthew 13

The Parable of the Net

47 "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 "Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked.
       "Yes," they replied.

52 He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."


Last week – parable of Sower – purpose of parables explained. Followed by Weeds among Wheat, Mustard Seed, Yeast. What have they in common? All about Kingdom of Heaven. How do we know? Because nearly all say ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like...’

Last 3 parables lumped together. ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like...’ 1 Treasure hidden in a field 2 A merchant selling fine pearls and 3 A net thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.

Have you thought what they might mean? Why does the pearl dealer sell everything he owns to get the pearl of great price? If the prize pearl represents the Kingdom, what does it mean that we have to divest ourselves of all other pearls?

Or the man to finds hidden treasure in a field. He sells all he has and buys the field. What does that mean?

Today’s gospel reading is the third of the short parables. Its meaning is clearer. It’s about the last assize. Judgement falls on those who reject the kingdom. At the end of time, the net is hauled in and with it a load of fish. When the nets are examined, some fish are kept and the rest are thrown away.

Over and over again, the Kingdom is likened to something wonderful and unique. We have to make whatever sacrifice is necessary in order to fit ourselves to join the righteous. All is not rosy – judgement awaits those who miss the mark.

The meaning of the parable’s ending though is far from clear. The disciples say they understand. Then Jesus says every teacher of the law is like the owner of a house, who brings from his storehouse new treasures as well as old.

What does that mean? I leave you to reflect on what is being said here during the next week, and let me know what it says to you.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Bread of Life

CHEDDINGTON Sunday 26 July 2009

Reading 2 Kings 4.42-44

42A man came bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’ 43But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ So he repeated, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, “They shall eat and have some left.”’ 44He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Gospel John 6.1-21

1Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, 9‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ 10Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.


Whenever we read one of miracle stories in NT, we often ask ourselves “Did it actually happen or is there another explanation?”

The answer will vary according to the story, but broadly there are two schools of thought. One group interprets the Bible in the plainest and most literal way. What we read happened just as scripture relates it. Labels are not always helpful – they muddy the waters as much as clearing them, so I will not give this approach a name, but we all know many people who read their bibles in this way and we admire their uncomplicated, trusting faith.

The other group takes a more so-called ‘modern’ view. Back in the 60’s we spent a lot of time in our theology classes hearing about ‘scientific’ explanations for the miracles. So, for example, a strong wind blew back the waters of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). Lazarus was in a coma or suffering from a form of catalepsy. The boy who suffered from fits was an epileptic and other ‘healings’ were in reality psychosomatic. The darkness that followed the death of Christ was caused by a volcanic eruption, and so on.

Which approach do you take? Which is right? As so often is the case, neither of them. You see, the literalists in concentrating on the wonder of the miracle often neglect the hidden meaning lurking just below the surface. But the modernisers in their attempt to explain away the gospel account miss the wonder of the actual miracle and in doing so risk doubting the divinity of Christ.

How can I be so sure that there are hidden meanings, you may ask? For the clues, let’s delve into today’s gospel – the feeding of the 5,000.

A similar account to what we have just heard from John 6 also appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But Matthew and Mark have another version only a chapter later in each case: this is the feeding of the 4,000.

In the feeding of the 5,000 there are five loaves of bread and two fish. Everyone ate their fill and the remnants filled 12 baskets. Then in the feeding of the 4,000 there were seven loaves and a few small fish. 7 baskets of broken pieces remained.

Was this second account a duplicate that somehow slipped into the manuscript? Almost certainly not. After all, although Matthew makes no attempt to explain the two accounts, Mark deliberately draws our attention to them. Jesus asks the disciples:

When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets did you collect? They said 12. And the 7 for the 4,000, how many baskets full of broken pieces? They said 7. Then he said to them ‘Do you not yet understand?’

Numbers have great significance in the Bible. 12 is the number of tribes of Israel and the number of apostles. It’s a Jewish number. 7 on the other hand is Gentile. The feeding of the 5,000 takes place in a Jewish area. The feeding of the 4,000 in the Decapolis – a Gentile area.

The two miracles then may prefigure the two stage preaching of the gospel. First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles as Paul says. The message is the Word of God. Salvation includes the Gentiles and not just the people of Israel.

More importantly, like all meals in the New Testament we learn something about the Kingdom of Heaven. All is shared, all are equal, and all are provided for in great abundance.

John’s gospel may contain only one version, but John’s constant use of the word ‘signs’ instead of ‘miracles’ reinforces the way he interprets these accounts. In John, after a short interlude when Jesus walks on water, the following morning he explains in great detail the bread of heaven. In feeding the crowds, Jesus did no more than Moses when God provided manna for the children of Israel. But the same bread represents Jesus himself, who can feed the soul.

I am the bread of life Jesus says. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The way Jesus takes the bread, breaks it and distributes it to the people mirrors our own experience of the Eucharist through which we ourselves are fed. Jesus gives of himself repeatedly. The Holy Communion gathers up all the strands of allusion that the miracle story weaves together.

Important though the interpretation is, we cannot neglect the miracle itself. Clearly something amazing happened, even if the numbers and the details became invested with greater significance by the time the story was written down. After all, we must remember the gospels were written many years after the actual events.

All the miracles are in effect a speeding up of time. Water is naturally turned into wine by the action of nature. Vast number of people are fed by bread produced from tiny seeds. People are healed every day. What Jesus is doing is greatly speeding up the process of creation. So do we believe in the miracles? I would say, yes – then we move on, ‘drill down’ as accountants say these days, and understand the deeper significance and teaching that each one contains.

Let’s reflect on the meaning of the bread of life as we encounter Jesus during our communion today.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Cheddington Thursday 23 July 2009

Gospel Matthew 13

10 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

11 He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
       "Though seeing, they do not see;
       though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
       " 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
       you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

15 For this people's heart has become calloused;
       they hardly hear with their ears,
       and they have closed their eyes.
       Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
       hear with their ears,
       understand with their hearts
       and turn, and I would heal them.'

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.


Today’s gospel – interpretation of parables. Interlude between Parable of Sower and its explanation, then parables of weeds among wheat, mustard seed and yeast. This followed by explanation of Parable of Weeds.

Jesus only explains 2 or 3 parables. Meaning of rest left up to the hearer. Teaching by telling stories an ancient and effective means of getting messages across. Why the mystery? Why is his meaning not made plain?

Jesus quotes from Isaiah and from Psalms. He says people will listen but never understand. They will look but never perceive. If they would only open their eyes and ears, they would understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.

The meaning is not hidden from everyone, only those whose minds are not open to receive it. So when the disciples ask, Jesus explains what the parable of the sower actually means. But for those whose minds are not ready, they will not be able to understand.

Another reason is that the parables speak to each of us differently. This is evident from Godly Play. We show the children a box in which is the parable. Sometimes you cannot prise open the lid. Sometimes you can only life the corner and peep inside. Sometimes the lid comes off and you can see more clearly.

The message also changes as we grow up, and even each time we read the parables. The lost sheep means something to a 7 year old, but by the time she is 27 the meaning will have changed. At age 77 it might be very different still. This is the magic of parables.

It’s the same with other parts of scripture. How ready are we to receive the meaning of what we read? Our minds must be right with God before he will speak to us through his Word.

For if our hearts have become calloused and hard, or if our eyes are closed to the truth, or if we cannot hear with our spiritual ears, we cannot understand with our hearts and turn to God, who can speak to us in our minds and heal us.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

My yoke is easy and my burden is light

Thursday 16 July

Gospel Matthew 11.28 – end

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


When we feel we have failed, when we feel rejected, when we feel it is not worth going on with what we had planned – it’s worth flipping open chapters 11 and 12 of Matthew’s gospel and reading about the rejection of his ministry that Jesus felt.

These two chapters recount the failure of this generation to accept God’s message about the Kingdom of Heaven. They describe the failure of this generation to recognise the deeds of the Messiah. “The Kingdom of Heaven, from the days of John the Baptist until now,” Jesus says, “has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”

John’s ministry ended, as we know, in a humiliating death as we heard in our gospel reading on Sunday.

16 "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 " 'We played the pipe for you,
       and you did not dance;
       we sang a dirge,
       and you did not mourn.'

Jesus is in a reflective mood. But in between the apparent failure and rejection there are bright spots. Not all is bleak. Yes, it will be a bleak prospect for those towns which refused to listen to Christ’s message. For them, the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah awaits. But for those who hear his word and accept it with joy, the prospect is very different.

Jesus praises the Father for revealing the truth to little children, whilst hiding it from the worldly wise.

27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

The tone of rejection fades from his mind. Whatever seems to have happened on earth, Jesus and the Father are one. And just as Moses In Exodus prayed that he might know God, so we can pray this morning that we might know the Father. The reward of knowing the Father, revealed in the incarnate Christ, is rest – a lightening of the burden.

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Friday, 10 July 2009

A bee down the trousers

This morning I was being chased around the church yard by an active 2-year old called Jacob. We were admiring flowers, naming the colours, picking daisies, and playing hide-and-seek.

The toddler’s service was about to start as one mum, a hospital doctor, arrived with her son. As the mums chatted, I retreated to a safe distance to retrieve something prickly from inside my trousers, around the pocket area. It felt like one of those things that stick to your socks. A prickly ball.

So, hand down side of trousers, I got my fingers round the offending uncomfortable article and pulled it out. The mums were alerted to the bee that managed to sting me twice by a shout of surprise and pain. I shook my hand involuntarily, and the bee fell to the ground. Dead but twitching.

Having a doctor in the midst is a great comfort. Especially a doctor of the sympathetic kind. Kind and sympathetic.

Mind you, had anyone entered the church at the point I was sitting on a pew, trousers loose, looking at the red mark on my left thigh and ouching at my middle finger, they might have wondered what sort of service the Singalong for Toddlers was.

Some advice is welcome. Doctor G went in search of bicarbonate of soda. None found in the church kitchen. Equally impressive was the first aid kit that was pulled out of a double baby buggy, complete. Germolene. Very soothing.

Then Doctor G emerged from the kitchen, and issued the stern command “Pee on your finger.”

I thought, well I suppose I could, but how to pee on my thigh? I declined.

Dr G opined “The English are such wimps.” As if Germans and French were much more ready to pee on themselves than the British. I do know the French are more prepared to use suppositories – I was given one in Normandy on a school exchange at the age of 12, and not having a clue what to do with it, I flushed it down the toilet.

But I digress.

Wimp I might be, but songs, prayers, coffee and home made biscuits do wonders for healing.

“Just think,” said Dr G as she said farewell, “you might have gone into Anaphylactic shock – and I have no adrenaline on me, so you might have died before the paramedics made it to Cheddington.”

She smiled that way all doctors smile, when they cheer you up by telling you all the awful things that could have happened but didn’t. I remember a surgeon called Mr Christmas who did the same. Cheery soul.

“Oh, and maybe you have a bee’s nest in your bedroom” she added breezily as she set off down the church path. “How else could a bee have got down there?”


“Of course it could have been worse” was her final statement. “Just think how close it came to sting you on…”

Oh the joys of a vicar’s life in the country.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Mission of the Twelve

Gospel Matthew 10

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil [a] spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

9 "Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for workers are worth their keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at that person's house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.


Putting gospel reading into context – end of chapter 9 The Harvest is Great and the Labourers Few. Jesus tells us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.

This followed by call of 12 apostles – they are named by Matthew: Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James and his brother John (sons of Zebedee), Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cannanean, and Judas.

Mission of the Twelve
Jesus told apostles not to go to Gentiles. Not to enter any Samaritan town. This was mission to lost tribes of Israel. At parish weekend, we talked about development of Christ’s ministry, and his growing awareness as fully human of what God required of him. This was not neglect of non-Jews but probably a development of how Jesus saw himself and what his mission on earth was to be like.

Nature of mission of 12 was partly to proclaim good news – The Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Not – the Kingdom has come, or will be coming – but something between the two.

The Mission was a very practical one. Cure the sick, raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons. Clearly Jesus thought you cannot speak to a person’s soul without first meeting their human bodily needs. Salvation Army takes the same approach.

Note that the apostles were to rely solely on God. They were to make no provision at all for their own needs, but God would supply them. Not directly – things do not work that way – but through the generosity of others. The same is the case in any charitable or church work – we can pray for God’s provision, but we are God’s hands and feet here on earth and his help will only come through our own sacrificial giving and inspiration.

For those who did not support the mission, the apostles were to shake off the dust from their feet and not offer them the traditional greeting of Peace be upon this house. But if those who opposed the Mission were likened to Sodom and Gomorrah – so also life would be tough for the apostles themselves. They would be like sheep in the midst of a band of wolves.

Even so, they were not to be afraid. Discipleship comes with a cost, but Jesus says later in the same chapter:

32 "Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Bible in only 750 words

Remember that group who started performing at the Edinburgh Festival? They claimed to present the entire works of Shakespeare in 45 minutes, and very funny they were too.

Now, more seriously, Grove Books has published the result of a competition to summarise the Bible in only 750 words.

The three finalists can be found by clicking here

The winning entry reads:

FIRST PLACE - Robin Stockitt

At the centre of creation lies a heart beat: tick...tick...tick...tick. At times the beat quickens, during moments of high anticipation, but then it returns to its steady rhythm, without pause, without hesitation, day after day, year after year, unending. It is the pulsing life blood of love flowing from the heart of God towards all that he has made. One day this God will visit his creation in person. He himself will go and participate in the life of humanity. He will laugh and cry,   encourage and admonish, educate and confuse,   suffer and die, and rise again to the surprise, delight and dismay of the people with whom he lived. But this is to rush ahead to the end of the story.

At the heart of the Bible is a struggle. It is the story of a great drama in which humanity tries to keep in step with the heartbeat of love.   Occasionally God and his people walk in harmony, shoulder to shoulder in sweet communion in the cool of the day. It was like this at the beginning for Adam and his wife given paradise to enjoy and guard. And there were holy moments of great intimacy too for Abram, Moses, Elijah, David, Isaiah,   John and Peter. These were ordinary humans who felt the   pull and tug of the heart beat of love upon their souls and responded to it. And yet the struggle to hear and to heed God's voice was often lost by those very same people who, last week, had followed God's insistent call so carefully.

At times the struggle was lost by a whole nation, God's chosen nation, Israel, despite the pleas and warnings of the prophets, God's spokespeople, who bravely stood up in his name. “These people, whom I love to bless”, announced God one day, “will be a vehicle for blessing to spread to the whole world. They are blessed, not because they are more loved, but simply so that others might, through them, discern and enjoy me too”. God took these people, a rag-tag collection of unknown tribes, and through an extraordinary tale of enslavement in Egypt, rescue and deliverance across a harsh and   forbidding desert, shaped them into a people that belonged to him. But alas, all too often, the blessing was kept to themselves and thereby it began to decay.   The prophets came to call them out of their stupor and stubborn rebelliousness. ‘Trust' called out Jeremiah   in the heat of political turmoil. To no avail.   ‘Be merciful' declared Micah when the temptation was to be harsh and unyielding. But no-one heard.

And so it continued year after year, king after king, prophet after prophet until one day all God's chosen people were taken away to a distant land -   the land of Babylon - where they remained for 70 years, in order that they might learn that mercy is better than sacrifice and love, for God and neighbour, is more important than anything else in the whole world. Those who heard the heart beat and remembered from whence it came wrote down their struggles and heartaches, as well as their joys and times of jubilant thanksgiving. Their prayers and poems were collected together in the Psalms and became a treasured library.

And so God's time drew near. It was the time for his appearing, for his coming to his own people. He called himself Emmanuel, God with us or Jesus, God the Saviour made flesh. He chose to come in disguise, as an infant in an unknown village to a simple peasant girl. He came to those who had lost their way, who had become deaf to the pulsing beat of love, who were blind to the yearning of God for them. This Jesus, God's own Son, would enter their darkness to find them. He would even enter death for them, in order that they might know, that in God's great drama, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a new beginning were available for all. When Jesus   rose again after three days, everything became new. God's people were no longer those who simply named themselves, ‘Israel'. Jesus had flung the doors of kingdom of heaven open wide for all to enter. The community that gladly walked through those doors of welcome, called themselves the ‘called out ones' or the ‘ekklesia' or ‘the church' made up entirely of people.   The remainder of the Bible concerns the struggle of this new community to understand itself, its relationship to Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth who had come to reveal God to them and to tell them all   about the heartbeat that never stops. It is an unfinished story


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Scandal in Cheddington

5 July


Ezekiel 2.1-5

The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. When I saw this, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking. 1He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.


Mark 6.1-13

1Jesus came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


My sermons about whole passages.

Usually also context – before and after

Today I am concentrating on just one word: “They took offence at him.”

Context still important: gospel reading preceded by Nature Miracles

Stilling of storm

Gerasene demoniac

Haemorrhaging woman

Healing of Jairus’s daughter

Against this background of miracles, including raising of the dead: talitha cum in Aram.

Jesus arrives back in home town

Would have thought great welcome

Celebrating notoriety of local man

But quite opposite

Leaves home as young craftsman - tekton

Arrives back as Rabbi surrounded by disciples

One minute – fixing broken farm implements

Next – speaking with authority in synagogue

They recognised great things were being done through him

Astounded at his teaching

Recognised his wisdom but where did he get it?

Recognised his deeds of power being done through his hands but how was this possible?

Why did they name him as ‘son of Mary?’ No Jewish man would be called son of his mother.

Why did they take offence, and not welcome their famous son home or ask him to perform miracles in their sight?

Taking offence quite a strong term.

Greek: skandalon – that at which one stumbles or takes offence – they were scandalised at him.

Originally skandalon part of a trap to which bait is attached – a snare

Same word – skandalon – appears in Matt 16 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

So there is severity in skandalon – stumbling block, cause of sin, offence.

They were worried his words and deeds would snare them, cause them to sin, trip them up, hinder them.

Did not want to be challenged: shaken out of comfort zone.

What about this reaction? Expected? Strange?

Which caused me to wonder – is Jesus so familiar to us, he ceases to challenge, to trip us up, or scandalise?

This prophet had no honour in his own country

Expected him to behave as a joiner. To them he would always be a working man.

He worked in Nazareth as a tekton for many years

Did not start ministry until age 30

He was dead only 3 years later

Are we not ourselves so often guilty of judging others by their




BNP chief branded Archbishop of York as an ambitious African and anti-British. Extreme? Yes. But do we all not judge people by their outward appearance?

Should we not be more scandalised by the teaching of Christ?

Find it more extreme and challenging?

Find the Way narrower and harder than we do?

Paul thought so. In Galatians 5:11 he challenges those who want to restrict the Christian message to a branch of Judaism. Those were the preachers who required the early Christians to be circumcised.

To them, he refers to the cross as an offence – skandalon. To preach that one should follow the law rather than obey the truth is to make the cross of Christ a stumbling block or an offence. Something that leads others into error, rather than being the means of salvation.

The people of Nazareth who rejected Christ’s teaching did so through sheer familiarity

What they were seeing and hearing could not possibly be true – so it must be an offence to all right thinking people

Rejection had a much more devastating effect

Power of Christ was limited

He could do no mighty works in Nazareth.

The atmosphere was wrong.

Why? There was no faith.

For us, the opposite is the case

Sheer familiarity and ease of our faith is the stumbling block

Christ in our lives does not jolt us awake

We are not scandalised by what he asks of us

Perhaps we are travelling the wide path – for few find the narrow way that leads to salvation

So our faith is not challenged, and our lack of faith limits God’s ability to work his power in our lives.

Just after Christ’s rejection in his own country comes a contrasting situation

Disciples sent out on a mission

Took no money, no change of clothing, no suitcase, no credit cards, no mobile phone, nothing to support themselves on their journey

Yet their faith worked miracles

The lack of any support was no stumbling block to them – because they put their faith in God rather than in themselves

As we heard in the OT reading – Ezekiel encountered God and fell on his face. But God told him to have faith and put his trust in the Lord:
1He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thursday 2 July

Gospel Matthew 9: 1 – 8

Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man

1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"

4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the paralyzed man, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.


Marcion – 2C – two Gods – OT and NT. Heresy goes against fundamental teaching – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Deut 6.

Reading this account of Abraham – heresy understandable – abhorrence of thought that God might require human sacrifice of first born and only son. Fact that Abraham was able to pull back does not lessen horror of this command.

On other hand, Christ himself suffered and died – and some Christians believe his sacrifice was necessary for our redemption. Did God require the death of his only son, without which we could not be saved? Or was his death the result of human sin which then became a self-sacrifice which reveals to us a suffering God and opens to us the way of salvation?

Behind the story of Isaac may be human sacrifice – practised by Canaanites but abhorred by Israel after invasion of Palestine.

Story may simply be a test of obedience – if so, a pretty sick one. Brilliantly told narrative – subject of much interpretation, theories, and works of art down the ages.

If it was a test, rather than a horrible misinterpretation on the part of Abraham, then there cannot have been a more dramatic one. Abraham forced to choose between obedience to incomprehensible and abhorrent command, and love for his child, for whom he had waited so long, and in whom rested the entire future of his people.

Clearly if that is the explanation, he passed with flying colours. As for us, we pray every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer not to be brought to the time of trial – and our God is loving, full of grace, and forgiving.

So we can believe Abraham was sadly misled in his understanding of what this God required of him, and that Isaac’s life was saved at the very last minute, which leaves this story as a model of obedience and grace rather than a more sinister test almost beyond the understanding and endurance of anyone, regardless of their faith.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Village Newsletter

View from the Vicarage

“What did the Romans do for us?” was the question posed by John Cleese (Reg) in The Life of Brian. After a silence, the veiled audience came up with a long list, starting with the aqueduct, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine, health and so on. “Oh yes, and the wine” observed an ‘activist at the front’ “That’s something we’d really miss, Reg” was the response from Omnes.

The church does a lot for us too, but we have to stop and think what we would miss if it weren’t there. We preserve and cherish the oldest building in the village, and much of our village heritage with it. There are priceless treasures in the church, such as the poor box from 1615, the Jacobean finely carved pulpit and altar, and the bells dating back to the 16th century. We need help conserving these for future generations: a recent concert raised almost £1,000 towards the £11,000 needed to replace corroded wrought iron pins threatening to crack the bells, and more is quickly needed to prevent irreparable damage. Can you help?

The church also provides and maintains the churchyard, in which many of our forebears are buried. It is almost full, and an extension is needed. We have the land, but is it right for the cost of clearing the space and making it suitable for future generations to fall on relatively few people? Would you like to help in some way?

On a lighter note, did you know that the church really does welcome marriage enquiries? Until last October, there were only two possible connections with the parish which would legally qualify you to be married at St Giles. Now there are 10 – and many more couples can have their wedding in church. We love to say yes – and that includes many cases where one person has been married before.

We love baptisms too. There are a number arranged over the next few months. They take place at our main Sunday service when the candidate can be welcomed by all the people. St Giles is a family-friendly church. We have a Sunday Club, and children are now able to take communion from the age of 8 and above. Our Singalong with Prayers for carers and toddlers is at 9.15am every Friday.

The local people cherish their church, and the church also supports local people and their activities. A big village without an active church can feel like a place without a heart. Our faith is at our heart, but we are also a place to meet, a place of encounter, a social place, a place of quiet and prayer, a place for remembrance, a place of education and many other things.

The church is a natural place for times and seasons. The next will be Harvest Festival on Sunday September 20th at 10.00am.

All our Sunday services are now at the regular time of 10.00am. You can follow events on the blog: click on to read sermon notes and news about your church.

“What did the church do for us?” After a pause for thought, quite a lot it seems – “oh yes, that’s something we would really miss.”

Robert Wright
01296 661358