Sunday, 30 August 2009

Combined Service with Methodist Church

Cheddington 12th Sunday after Trinity 30 August 2009

Gospel Mark 7.1-8,14-15,21-23

1When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”’

14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’


Jesus’ disciples criticised for eating food with unclean hands and not following the tradition of the elders

Criticism is disciples eat with unwashed hands

  • Word actually means common hands or defiled hands
  • Not about washing with soap and water
    • Pharisees had developed complex set of laws about ritual purity
    • Did not apply anyway to common people, only Pharisees
    • This is what is meant by tradition of the elders
      • Jesus was a rabbi, so his disciples ought to follow ritual purity laws

Jesus quotes Isaiah 29

  • Calls the Pharisees hypocrites
  • Teachings are but rules taught by men
  • Give lip service to God, but their hearts are far from me

Seems like an over reaction

  • But this is not about basic hygiene
  • It’s about the Pharisees laws of purity and ritual cleanliness
  • Hands washed with the fist and a cupful of water to make clean

What Jesus was reacting against was power of distinction between clean and unclean

  • Not a trivial matter
    • People with skin condition unclean
    • Disabled or those whose bodies not intact
    • Women unclean for substantial portion of their lives
    • So were young men
    • Even people who had been sacked from their jobs may be unclean
  • Nothing wrong with purity
    • Word to wash here is baptismos – to make holy as well as clean
    • But ritual practices set group boundaries
      • They discriminate
      • They determine who is in and who is out
    • Even ordinary people who work in fields have common hands and are not acceptable therefore to God

Hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another

  • We can read this gospel passage as an interesting reflection on ancient food laws
  • Or we can examine our own attitudes and see whether or not what we do today would be equally condemned by Jesus
    • Do not our churches have unwritten rules about what is required
      • How we behave during services
      • Where we sit
      • How we receive communion
      • What we wear
    • We all have tacit rules. It is assumed everyone knows and follows them.
      • We hear the welcome of the gospel of Christ to all people regardless of their condition
      • But sometimes we need to ask ourselves difficult questions about whether or not we live out the message or just say the words.
      • Whether or not we walk the talk as they say

The problem Jesus is addressing is the pretence of the Pharisees’ actions

  • Proper washing rituals, honouring God with the lips, proper ways of worship – all are pretend actions
    • They are not evidence of those who have their hearts close to God
  • We should not conclude that Jesus is criticising tradition – or suggesting we either abandon or keep it
    • Crossing oneself, genuflecting, adopting a certain posture at communion, using certain words
      • there is no good or bad
      • we should do whatever builds our faith and does not hinder others, especially seekers of the truth
      • but these things do not make us more or less a Christian
  • What Jesus is saying is that you can do all these things and still have a heart that is far from God
    • Every time there are rules, or right and wrong ways of doing things, we ought to ask ourselves whether they are helping or hindering the spread of the gospel

So what is Jesus saying we should do instead?

  • Clue is in what Jesus accuses Pharisees of doing
    • They have let go of the commands of God
    • They have held onto the traditions of men
  • Surely what Jesus is saying is that they got it the wrong way round.
    • We should let go of the traditions of men – word means separate ourselves from
    • We should hold onto the commands of God – word means hold dear
  • It’s like the rich young man in chapter 10:
    • He followed the law – held onto traditions of men
    • He could not let go of his wealth – he could not separate himself from his possessions, and trade them in for treasure in heaven

There is a difference between Religion and Faith

  • Religion is following certain traditions and rules
  • Faith is following the heart, led by the gospel of Christ
    • The gospel of Christ is not Religion – it is in fact an announcement of the end of Religion. Religion is an attempt at control
    • Faith is the announcement that, in his death and resurrection, whatever Religion tried to do and failed Jesus has accomplished once and for all

Where does our treasure lie?

  • Following our hearts means two things
    • One is letting go of whatever stands in the way of Faith
    • The other is to ask what is of ultimate value to us? What is our treasure?
  • We cannot go in a new direction, unless we first abandon the old one
    • And we cannot seek new treasure unless we first let go of what was of ultimate value to us up to now
  • Washing part of us, or obeying a number of rules, will not put us right before God.
    • As Charles Wesley said: Sanctification is an utter consecration of the whole person to God. Holiness means Wholeness.
  • Or as Jesus put it, in the Sermon on the Mount In Matthew 6

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6

Friday, 28 August 2009

Thursday 27 August 2009

Gospel Matthew 24: 42 – end

The Day and Hour Unknown

42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

45"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' 49and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Early followers of Christ expected end of world at any time. Some early churches acted as if it did not matter how they behaved in family and business life. Did not write any accounts of life of Christ until 40 years after crucifixion.

Majority opinion is Matthew written last qr of 1st century.

This passage in chapter 24 intended to warn against spiritual lethargy. Jesus says end of time will come like thief in the night. He illustrates this with 3 parables:

Faithful and wise servant
Wise and foolish virgins
Parable of talents

All 3 talk of the delay to the end of time: we should be prepared, for at the end comes the great assize. Parousia compared to familiar everyday situations: dishonest and lazy servants; weddings; saving and wasting money, eating and drinking etc.

Note contrast to other events described elsewhere: wars, famines, earthquakes, signs in the firmament etc. Jesus mentions no terrors to feed imagination: just everyday familiar events.

2,000 years is a tiny moment in earth time, let alone God’s time. Humans have existed for only a few seconds if you measure world time on a 24 hour clock. There are signs of the end of this world: fuel running low; changes in our climate; nuclear proliferation and so on.

But the point is not that we should speculate as to when the parousia might occur. We should not focus our minds on a particular event, but act as though it is just round the corner. It’s an attitude of mind; vigilance; preparedness.

The more your knowledge and responsibility as a leader, the more is expected of you. The owner of the house must be extra vigilant. So must the head servant.

Matthew advocates moral preparation. Jesus wants us to avoid spiritual lethargy.

Remember Parable of Rich Fool. He feathered his own nest, and gave no thought to spiritual matters.

20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

21 "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Church Notice Board

peter_jay_notice_boardWe are grateful to Peter Jay for his craftmanship and care in refurbishing the church notice board to such a high standard.

The board will be rededicated on Sunday next.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

God’s presence in unexpected ways

Mentmore Sunday 9th August

Reading 1 Kings 19.4-8

4Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Gospel John 6.35,41-51

35Jesus said to the crowd, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ 42They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ 43Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’


You may have been puzzled at the reading from I Kings. We are given no inkling of the plot. What is going on? The main character is Elijah. Elijah we know is the greatest of the prophets. We are told that he takes a journey into the wilderness and sits down under a broom tree. He’s had enough. He wants to die. Then he lays down and falls asleep, hoping no doubt never to wake.

But an angel taps him on the shoulder. Get up and eat. Elijah looks around blearily. He rubs his eyes, and smells the wonderful aroma of a fresh stone baked loaf. And a life saver in the Sinai – a jug of water.

Elijah eats and drinks, then he falls asleep. There is another tap on his shoulder. Get up and eat. Same angel. More food and water. The angel tells Elijah he needs the strength for a long journey. 40 days and 40 nights – a long fast.

Elijah arrives at Mount Horeb – the mountain where Moses was given the Ten Commandments. Why did he go there?

He was escaping King Ahab – or more properly his wife Jezebel. Ahab was king of Israel in Samaria. He married Jezebel who was a worshipper of the local god Ba’al.

Elijah the prophet condemned the king for worshipping foreign gods and probably engaging in child sacrifice. He predicted a long drought. Everything dried up. There was no water in any of the wadis. Elijah himself was miraculously fed by a widow whose stock of oil and flour never ran out.

Elijah then organised a test of strength. Who would win? The 450 priests of Ba’al or the prophet of the one true God? It was trial by fire. Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice. They were laid on a pile of wood, but the fire was not lit. The priests of Ba’al invoked their gods. They danced in a frenzy and cut themselves with knives, but failed to set the fire alight.

Elijah prepared his sacrifice, doused it with 4 buckets of water, and prayed for fire. The bulls were consumed, and the failed priests of Ba’al Elijah massacred. The rain then came, ending the drought.

It’s a strange and rather gruesome story for a Sunday morning in Buckinghamshire. There are a couple of aspects that interest me. After Elijah’s victory over the priests of Ba’al, Jezebel is out to get him. She sends him a threatening note. By this time tomorrow she says you will be put to the sword just like the priests of Ba’al.

Despite the demonstration of God’s power, Elijah is afraid and escapes a day’s journey into the wilderness. Eventually when he reaches Mount Horeb, the word of the Lord comes to him again. What are you doing here? God says.

Elijah replies that he has put himself in danger over and over again. He has been very zealous for God. Yet all the other prophets have been put to the sword, and Elijah is the only one left alive. Now Jezebel is after him to kill Elijah too.

The first aspect of the story that struck me is that when he was in trouble and wanted to end it all, Elijah was not provided with counselling, encouragement, or more signs of God’s power. Instead, when at his lowest ebb, Ejijah was given stone baked bread and a jar of water. He was given strength to go on. Not strength of the mind or spirit, but bodily strength.

Then when he encounters God in a cave on Mount Horeb where Elijah goes into hiding, and when he asks for a demonstration of God’s power to give him encouragement to go on, God does not appear in a mighty wind, or break rocks in an earthquake, or even appear in a pillar of fire. No, God’s presence is signalled in an equally unexpected way.

God appears to Elijah after the earthquake the wind and the fire have all died down. He appears in a sound of sheer silence as the NRSV puts it. Better, I think, than the still small voice from the King James version.

How often, when we feel down and unable to go on, do we look for God to come to us in whizz bangs and in mighty power? We look for a sign, and it’s got to be an obvious one to get through the weight of discouragement. More often than not, we see the way forward in doors that open and close. Opportunities that present themselves or are taken away.

And the spirits are lifted not by a religious experience or by a dramatic sign of God’s presence with us, but by the metaphorical stone baked loaf. A listening ear from a kind friend. A smile from a caring neighbour. A cup of tea and a chat with someone who can put things in perspective.

God is in the stone baked loaf and the sound of sheer silence. It’s just that we have to listen more carefully to the sound of silence than 104 decibels of noise. And we have to look more carefully for him in a cup of coffee and a cake than in what we think are the more obvious places.

The stone baked loaf and the sound of sheer silence. The presence of God in totally unexpected places.


Saturday, 1 August 2009

A busy weekend

The marriage of Simon Shorten and Katie Leigh on Saturday afternoon at 2.00pm.

On Sunday at St Giles the churches of Wing, Wingrave and Mentmore join us for a combined service at which Hollie Scott is baptized and welcomed into the community of faith.

The preacher is the Revd. Mary Hawes, Children’s Advisor of the Church of England.