Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Is the Power of the People stronger than the People in Power?

View from the Vicarage April 2011 Village Newsletter

Sometime in the future, we may look back on 2011 as a ‘Year of Revolutions.” We may say this was a time when the power of the people has become stronger than the people in power. The jury’s still out on that, but it’s true some well entrenched dictators who oppressed their people for many years have succumbed to peaceful, determined and sustained resistance.

Are we just onlookers, or are we ourselves part of the process? I believe as a nation we have been badly burned by events as they have unfolded, and we must accept a share of the blame for keeping some regimes in power. We did this in the belief we were maintaining political stability and looking after our own best interests. Often this meant compromising our principles. We sacrificed liberty and democracy for others – the very principles we hold dear at home. We have done business with tyrants and despots, selling them arms which can be turned against their own people, all in the name of preserving jobs at home.

Politicians have dismissed those who advocated an ethical foreign policy as hopelessly naïve and unrealistic. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Now foreign powers are pondering shooting down planes that once rolled off their own production lines at the risk of being shot down by guns they themselves sold.

Can we shrug off all responsibility, living quietly in rural Buckinghamshire? I think not. Our faith informs our worldview, and our votes directly influence government policy, at home and abroad. Social networks and the immediacy of Net based applications mean we can stretch out our virtual hands without ever writing to our MP or waiting for the next election.

It’s not only North Africa we should ponder. That’s where voices have been raised and weapons fired, but there are other regimes we have supported, and other governments to whom we have sold arms. Previously we were happy to do business and not upset anyone with too many questions about human rights. Do we even now condemn repression only when it proves insufficient to keep the lid on the box containing those who have been repressed? It’s a hypocrisy and an embarrassment.

Is there any doubt about the teaching of Scripture? Even the Old Testament prophets longed for the time when

God will judge between many peoples  and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2; Micah 4

The teaching of Christ is so well-known there’s no need to say much more. Have a look at Matthew 5 if you want any reminder. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evil person. To which we can add give help to those who need it and stop selling arms to those who oppress them.

As always, good can come out of evil. Let’s hope the shock on the faces of politicians can be replaced with a suspicion that something has been awry in our foreign policy for decades. Perhaps the doves will be heard instead of the screeching hawks? Maybe the voice of Christ can be heeded, instead of being dismissed as impractical, outmoded and dangerously naive? Integrity could well finally have its day.

Robert Wright

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Samaritan Woman at the Well

Walking the Sinai – St Giles Cheddington Lent 3

First Reading Exodus 17.1-7

1From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’

Gospel John 4.5-42

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.

All Glory to you, O Lord.

5Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

39Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


In 2006, Vicky and I walked across Sinai for 10 days with a small group of pilgrims from Southwark cathedral. Sinai is not flat nor particularly sandy. Looking back at photos – mountains made of red rock, large boulders to climb, miles of hot arid terrain.

Most river beds are dry – there are flash floods in winter – dying palm trees and forgotten dams reveal where there had very recently been water now dried up owing to climate change.

You need to carry 2 litres water per person, and fill up regularly to avoid dehydration, which can be very serious. Night time temperatures can drop well below freezing especially at altitude, yet soar to 40C or more during the day.

Water is life itself. Israelites remembered the events of Massah and Meribah when Moses struck the rock for centuries afterwards in their oral tradition. Massah means ‘to test’ and Meribah is the word for ‘to quarrel.’

If you thought the Children of Israel were a fractious and petulant lot, complaining about being brought out of the lush Nile delta into the wilderness of Sinai where there was no water, you’d have more sympathy with them having once experienced the conditions for yourself.

Wells are precious facilities. Remember the scene in Lawrence of Arabia when Serif Ali played by a young Omar Sharif shoots dead a rival Bedouin tribesman who drank without permission from a Harith well.

It was just such a well that our group came across as we climbed down to a plain over huge rocks. A young woman dressed all in black was about to water her goats, when she spotted our group in the far distance. She froze in fear at our presence, and did not move a muscle for the 20 minutes or so we sat catching our breath and drinking our water under the shade of a tree.

Wells were covered and probably locked. Jesus was probably sitting on the well cover when the Samaritan woman approached. As a woman, she would not speak to a man. A Jew would recoil in horror at the thought of any contact with Samaritans. Usually they took a long route to avoid Samaritan territory altogether.

The woman would have expected to wait at a distance for the man to move on. Imagine her surprise when Jesus, a Jew looking like a rabbi asks a woman and a Samaritan for a drink.

The scene plays itself out in three acts.

Jesus is thirsty and alone. He asks the woman for a drink. She is wary, and asks him what container he can use, as a Jew would not drink from a Samaritan’s cup.

Jesus quickly moves the conversation on to what he calls ‘living water’ – the kind of water that flows to eternal life – the kind that is so refreshing that the drinker need never thirst again.

It’s a play on words. The Greek phrase refers to flowing water that is fresh and not stagnant. But it also means ‘living’ linking it to the gift of eternal life, gushing up in the believer who receives the gift Jesus offers.

With some irony, the woman asks for this water, like a mains supply in her house that would mean she never had to walk down to the well in the heat ever again.

The woman’s private life
Jesus moves the conversation on to the woman’s private life. What he knows about the woman sets him apart as a seer or some kind of prophet. How otherwise could this stranger have so intimate a knowledge of the woman’s affairs?

Worshipping God
Now we move to the third act. The woman asks Jesus a serious question about worship. Can God be worshipped from a mountain in Samaria, or must God be worshipped only in Jerusalem? Are the Samaritans therefore barred from worshipping God?

Jesus answers with the radical notion that it doesn’t matter where God is worshipped. It’s the Spirit that is important. Worship is about relationship with God’s Spirit and not location. Now, of course, the Samaritan woman has entered into a form of relationship with Jesus, the Son of God incarnate.

The woman suddenly suggests Jesus might be the coming Messiah, whom the Samaritans were awaiting as much as the Jews. For the first and only time in John’s gospel, Jesus admits that he is the Messiah.

Although as the woman admits, Jesus knows everything about her life, there is no hint of condemnation. No telling her to go and not sin again. There is acceptance that, for one reason or another, the woman may have had little choice but to live as she does. Every woman needed a male protector, and this woman may have been unlucky rather than promiscuous.

The encounter with Jesus is life-changing. God seeks true worshippers, regardless of race, and the Samaritan woman is clearly one of them. She has heard and believed. Now in a piece of realism she dumps her water jar without filling it, and hurries back to the village to tell everyone about who she thinks she has encountered.

She has truly received the gift of living water offered by Jesus, and like a conduit it flows now in the woman and she goes to pass it on to her friends and neighbours. Having entered this special relationship with the Messiah, she sets out on a mission to tell others about him.

The disciples know better than to question Jesus about why he has been talking to a Samaritan and a woman, and whether he has been given food and water by anyone whilst they had gone in search of sustenance, no doubt not in a Samaritan village.

The woman has gone on a mission, and Jesus explains his food is the will of God. His harvest is the harvest of souls. Jesus has sowed the word, and the woman has gone to spread it. Most of the Samaritans believe her. Now it is the turn of the disciples to reap where they have not sown, to gather where they did not labour.

Like a little message, at the very end, there are words that are aimed fairly at us. Why did the Samaritans believe the woman? They told her.

It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

Which means that no words of mine or yours will suffice. Unless we have that relationship with the Spirit, words are not enough. We must hear for ourselves the Holy Spirit, and develop that personal relationship with God in order to know, like the Samaritans, that this is the Saviour of the World. Amen

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dives and Lazarus

Holy Communion at St Giles – Thursday 24 March 2011

Gospel Luke 16

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

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.’”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Danger in reading a passage and interpreting it as a freestanding story. “What is the context?” – anyone asked the meaning of a reading would do well to look up the context in which the passage appears.

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is about riches, but in a particular way. Chapter 16 starts with Parable of Dishonest Steward.

This parable itself is hard to interpret. A rich man sacks his steward. Gives him no chance to explain discrepancies in his accounts. Summary dismissal.

Steward, to ingratiate himself with other potential employers, does deal with each man who owes money to his boss. Reduces the debt dramatically in return for immediate payment. Since the steward still has his master’s authority to act, the deals stand.

Far from throwing him in jail for swindling his boss or accusing him of exceeding his authority, the rich man praises him for being shrewd.

Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much. All very strange. Reaction of Pharisees to the story may help our understanding. They ridicule the teaching. Probably because see it as applying to themselves.

Jesus tells them: “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”

The Pharisees were stewards of the law, yet abused the trust they had been given. Having been dishonest with what they had been given, who would now entrust them with the true wealth of the Kingdom of God? Their love of money was too great, and no one can serve both God and Money.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus illustrates how roles are reversed. The Pharisees in this world have power and wealth, yet ignore the poor sick and dying under their very noses.

The Pharisees’ love of material things has blinded them to the warnings. Firstly by the Prophets whose words they profess to study, and by the Law they keep to the letter (but not the spirit). Secondly, they now have Jesus but reject him as the Messiah who has come to save.

The picture is of the Pharisees pleading after their death that the warning signs were not sufficiently clear and persuasive. They ask for an authoritative witness to be sent back to earth to warn their brothers in unequivocal terms. But that person is Christ himself, who is telling the story. If they didn’t heed the likes of Abraham, Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen to anyone, even one sent back from the dead.

For us though, there’s still time. And what better time than the season of Lent to reflect on all this?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Ask and ye shall Receive

Holy Communion at St Giles Thursday 17 March 2011

Gospel Matthew 7

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Judging Others

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

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.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Sermon on Mount.
Jesus turns from one issue – God and Mammon – to another. How to treat one’s neighbour. Do not judge or condemn.

This is not just prohibition. Not a rule to follow. Rather, it is a way of calling for mercy on our part. We should be tolerant and show humility. If we are this way, the result inevitably is we would not judge and would not condemn others.

Also, in condemning others we often fail to condemn ourselves and are hypocritical. Hence, remove the log from your own eye before pointing out the speck in your neighbour’s eye.

Verses about pearls and swine are hard to explain in this context. But there follows a passage on prayer. Children, and many adults find this teaching hard. Why if Jesus exhorts us to ask, and ye shall receive do we so often not get those things we pray earnestly for?

Do we in our sin ask for the wrong things? Are we selfish in praying for our loved ones and ourselves? Do we talk too much in our prayers, and not listen enough? Surely silence and waiting upon the Lord should be the bulk of our time of prayer.

The clue may be in what is promised. In Matthew God promises to give us good things in answer to prayer. Who can judge what is good for us but God alone? In the equivalent passage in Luke 11, the promise is slightly different.

13 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This then is our prayer, especially during Lent. To wait upon the Lord. To ask for those good things he has promised us. And to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide, counsel and be with us, both now and for evermore.


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Temptation, Seduction, Infidelity.

Warning: scenes of nudity…

Lent 1 – St Giles Church – Sunday 13 March 2011

First Reading Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7

15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Gospel Matthew 4: 1 - 11

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Lent readings – this year – narrative of big events in Israel’s history.
1. The Fall in Genesis 2-3
2. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12
3. Israel in Wilderness – Exodus 17
4. Election of David as king in I Samuel
5. Exile, and promise of restoration in Ezekiel 37
6. Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50 on Palm Sunday

Strong relationship between OT and NT readings.

1. Theme - Temptation.
Genesis – creation of animal kingdom, creation of woman, temptation by serpent, and Fall.
Matthew – temptation of Jesus during 40-day fast in wilderness.

Creation stories – early man’s attempt to explain why things are the way they are. Long ago, in school or church, when taught, we were offered simple explanation about the symbolic meaning of The Fall. Here’s a few wrongheaded assumptions:

· God created a perfect world – God calls creation ‘good’ but there are still dark forces pushed back by the Spirit of God. Can rush back (Noah) if not held in check by God. Waters of chaos.
Incomplete. Problem of loneliness – ‘it is not good that the man should be alone’ – so God created animal kingdom, and also a companion for the man.

· Humans lived in paradise with no responsibilities – Man had to till garden and maintain it. Regular work and rest gave meaning to human life. Boundaries. First – edge of garden. Second – behaviour – Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – so here again the mention of evil in Eden. You shall surely die – serious consequence of disobedience.

· Snake represents Satan – no, wily animal created by God. Something in the humans already posed questions about God and his boundaries. Snake merely fuelled them.

· Woman was to blame for the Fall – nice try – written by men – but careful reading shows both Man and Woman present throughout. Both heard the serpent. Man failed to speak out. Both were tempted, and both rebelled and were disobedient against God.
May cause argument – but maybe Paul responsible for incorrect interpretation of Genesis in I Timothy 2 when blames woman for being deceived and becoming first sinner. Paul gives this as reason why women should be fully submissive and to find their salvation through child bearing.

· Aim was to explain origin of Sin in the world – no, objective was to describe reality of what it is to be human – mystery of sin – our doubts about God – our desire to be like God, or take over control of the world, or even deny existence of a creator. When humans are faced with boundaries, their immediate temptation is to break them – we don’t need a serpent to put the idea in our heads, only nag and feed what is already there.

Maybe if we advertised today’s service as Temptation, seduction, betrayal with scenes of nudity?

Importance of creation story is we are still subject to just same types of temptation, and with ‘dominion’ over creation we continue to misuse and abuse it. Temptations of Jesus were of a different order altogether, but reveal his nature as fully man as well as fully God. Real temptation, not be a serpent, but by the force of evil itself, questioning his very identity and nature.

Three temptations – each invite Jesus to turn away from trust in God. Each starts with a challenge: If you are the Son of God...?’

Each temptation invited Jesus to turn away from trust in God and rely on his own abilities alone.

· Stones into bread – here Jesus is tempted to abandon faith in God and prove to himself incontrovertibly his divine Sonship by commanding stones to become bread. He is hungry after a long fast, but stones never become bread. Wheat, water, and yeast become bread. The temptation is to subvert natural order of things. Also denies faith by conclusively proving God’s existence – something not available to us as human beings – nor to Jesus as fully man.

· Throw yourself to certain death – this is to tempt God. If Jesus is truly divine, he will not be able to commit suicide. God would have to intervene and save him. A legion of angels would protect and save him from injury. Temptation challenges God’s fidelity. Negates the coming sacrifice of Jesus, by showing conclusively he would be parachuted out of danger when faced with the cross.

· Lure of earthly power – harder to comprehend – perhaps the temptation is to exchange hope (and perhaps strong doubt) about God’s power to save for the certainty of earthly dominion. Maybe the suggestion is his task of salvation and redemption can be achieved more easily, the crucifixion avoided, and the people of Israel turned back to God as the prophets of old had tried to do but largely failed.

These 3 temptations all strike at root of Jesus’ trust in God, and God’s fidelity and promises. There are obvious parallels with the wandering tribes of Israel. 40 years in Sinai being tempted and rebelling becomes for Jesus 40 days fasting and triumphing over trials.

Just as the Israelites emerged into Promised Land chastened and sanctified, ready to inherit the old covenant, so Jesus emerged confirmed in his identity, strengthened in his absolute trust in the Father, and ready for the start of his mission on earth. For each, it was the start of a new era.

So it was for Adam and Eve. They did not die, but were reprieved. They failed, in that their trust in God was shattered by their disobedience. But in eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life they became more like God, and started on the path of salvation by the second Adam, Jesus himself.

At the heart of all these temptations to this day is a longing. A feeling we are not complete in ourselves. A hole in our very beings we are desperate to fill. Unanswered questions. Doubts. Uncertainty about our origins, future after death, and our very identity.

Adam and Eve thought the hole in their hearts was fruit-shaped. Absolute knowledge. Knowledge of God. That was the fruit they craved. But after eating that fruit, their emptiness not only remained, but became infinitely worse.

Jesus, on the other hand, remained convinced the hole was God-shaped. Only by absolute trust in God would the hole be filled. Only that was would be eventually be confirmed in his identity, his Sonship, and fulfil the mission which he had been set.

Surely, by now, we must be aware the hole we all have will not be filled by human means, whether love, possessions, security, knowledge and learning or what have you.

Some say that to be a Christian means you don’t any longer have that hole. That the longing is satisfied by our relationship with God and with each other. When we realise that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and we have no need of anything else, provided we put our trust in him.

Maybe, but we still have our lives to lead, which in my experience are full of doubts and fears. But to know in our hearts of hearts what is the answer is a comfort surely. And to know, when we are assailed by doubt, that Jesus himself was tempted shows this is the natural order of things. Why should we not be tempted too?

Unlike Adam and Eve, or the children of Israel, we are not cast into the wilderness of sin and doubt, because for us, all has been fulfilled in Christ. His example shows where we must put our trust, if we are to overcome. Through his own mortality, he knows our struggles at first hand. So with confidence he invites us to find both hope and courage as God’s children. To walk the narrow path towards salvation, when we will finally know who and whose we are. Amen

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Mountain Top Experiences

Sunday 6 March 2001 – Next before Lent at St Giles

First Reading Exodus 24.12-18

12The LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’

15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Gospel Matthew 17.1-9

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Ordination training – Revd. Michael Fuller. Enjoyed his name in readings. E.g.
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers’ soap: Malachi 3

Every year – same joke on Transfiguration Day:
And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. Mark 3

Church Mice – song “My God is so Big” – songs sung to Jesus can make our God seem too small, too intimate, too close. Theophanies – manifestations of God in majesty, splendour, fear – hard to understand but essential in reminding us of the stature and awe of God.

Don’t use word ‘transfiguration’ in everyday language. Do refer to ‘mountain-top experiences.’ Beauty in these descriptions of mountains covered in cloud. Mount Fuji – never book in advance – only visible 80 days.

This cloud covered, shrouded, encircles, and hid presence of God. Nowhere in Scripture does anyone see God face to face. Theophanies come closest.

Our pilgrimage across Sinai. Lots of rocks to climb. Heat. Lack of water. Contrast with Mount Katherine and Sinai. Cold. Height. Hypothermia risk over night.

Ancient peoples associated height as closer to God. Babel. Mountain sites places of worship (high places) and divine revelation. Japan. Greece. Tibet. We don’t have same feeling – rolling hills – but church towers still reach upwards to God.

Sinai particularly associated with God for people of Israel – 40 years wandering in desert wilderness.

As a child – I used to think of volcano. If so, must have been elsewhere. No evidence of volcanic activity in Sinai peninsula. Anyway, why try and explain away manifestation of God’s glory?

This glory not revealed to all. Only chosen ones. Moses (who covered face). Peter, James, John at Transfiguration. In Exodus, people warned not to come near to holiness of God on peril of death. They trembled and were afraid at thunder, lightning and noise. Not comfortable experience.

Purpose of encounter on Sinai was different. Covenant making. 2 sides to any contract. Fulfil the law – 10 Commandments, conduct of worship – chosen people, favoured by God – God promises to be with them if obedient.

Covenant establishes relationship between God and Israel. Laws handed down. Holiness of people to be paramount, emulating holiness of God. Instructions about tabernacle sacrifices and means of worship. But God is remote. There is an ‘otherness’ to God. Cannot be approached. Must be feared. Exhibits wrath against sin and wrongdoing.

NT – God still invites us into relationship. Now his presence more manifest. This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. These words are then followed by Listen to him. Not Listen to Me but listen to him.

In OT God’s promise exhilarating. Accept his promise. Be his chosen people. Be with him, and receive his favour. NT – Transfiguration is about light illuminating our fallen world; about revelation. More exhilarating, as the relationship into which we are invited not a people but as individuals. This is my Son. Listen to him.

This Sunday – next before Lent. Christmas and Epiphany are behind us. Two more days until Ash Wednesday. Mood changes. Penitential. Watching and waiting.

It’s as if we received tightly wrapped present at Christmas. Taken us until now to unwrap all its layers. First layer was Baptism of Christ. In Matthew 3 we read:
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Last layer of present is Transfiguration. Notice how similar are the words used by God. All that is added: Listen to Him. What does he say?

He touches Peter, James and John. Does not just speak to them. He raises them up (Gk word). Tells them not to reveal what they have witnessed to anyone until after resurrection. Why? Because Transfiguration cannot be understood until after events of Easter itself.

In Transfiguration, God’s glory is revealed through Jesus Christ. But God’s glory cannot be fulfilled in its completeness until the victory of the resurrection of Jesus over sin and death. So, this gift. Given at Christmas. Unwrapped each successive week. Revealed on Transfiguration Sunday. Leads us through Lent to Easter. Sits waiting its full meaning until Easter Day.

And Jesus, having climbed a mountain with his closest friends, and experienced the dazzling light of God’s presence and affirmation, has to descend into darkness once again. Darkness of sin that takes us through Lent until the completion of Easter itself.

Here’s a quotation from one theologian I read when preparing what I was going to say today. I think it forms an appropriate ending:

Jesus, the one whose clothes and face shone like the sun, the one equal to Moses and Elijah, the one whom the very heavens proclaim as God's own beloved Son, will not leave them.
When all else fades -- and indeed, soon enough all will become dark indeed -- yet Jesus remains, reaching out in help and healing. At the very close of Matthew's account, he will gather with these and all of his disciples on another mountain, and promise that he will be with them even to the close of the age.
Most of us have had mountain top experiences and can testify to their importance to our lives. But all of us have also had to return to the valley. At both places, and all those in between, Jesus is there, reaching out to raise us to life again.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Mid-week Holy Communion at St Giles Thursday 3 March 2011

Gospel Mark 10

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

   So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

   The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Discipleship – one of main themes of John’s gospel. Others are suffering – Jesus fulfils destiny by suffering and dying; and person of Jesus – who and what is he?

Today’s reading about blind man Bartimaeus comes at end of big chunk of teaching on discipleship. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus, Son of God? (8:34 – 10:52).

Means following Jesus in way of the Cross – sharing his suffering and perhaps death too.

Account of healing of a blind man starts and ends block of teaching on Discipleship. Bar-timaeus comes at end. Acted out parable – not just an event when a man was cured of his affliction.

This means a message about discipleship. Bartimaeus is given back his sight. This symbolised the true insight required of all who want to be disciples of Christ.

How do we know this? Because of the way the healing is presented to us.

· Jesus is called Son of David – a rare name representing the Messiah, who is the one who comes to save.

· Second, Jesus asks What do you want me to do for you? It’s obvious. The question, if it’s only an enquiry, sounds almost callous. Bartimaeus cannot just me made a disciple. He must ask. He must want it. So he replies Let me see again. That means the insight of a disciple.

· Third, Jesus makes it clear his faith has made him well. It’s not just a miracle. It’s not just the action of the Messiah that has restored his sight. It required faith on the part of the blind man.

· Lastly, unlike other similar healings when men are sent away, told to show themselves to the priests, or sworn to silence, Bartimaeus after regaining his sight follows Jesus on the way. He becomes a full disciple and follows Jesus.

None of this takes anything away from the miracle. Clearly Jesus healed many people. That’s evident from his mission as portrayed in all the gospels. But we have to read the gospels at many levels. Some stories are harder to interpret, and theologians differ as to the interpretation. This one is clear, and calls us to discipleship as we read about the miraculous healing. Jesus might as well have said Follow me which is what he says to us today. Amen

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Don’t worry, be happy

St Mary, Mentmore – Sunday 27 February 2011 – 2 before Lent

Gospel Matthew 6.24-34

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Telling people not to worry isn’t easy. Like ‘pull yourself together.’ You have to give them a reason not to worry. Reassurance. Someone else to deal with their concerns.

Jesus does this often. “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not little flock...” So it’s only a comfort to read his words here if we are offered the reassurance we need not to worry. Some of us a born worriers – we worry if we have nothing to worry about.

So let’s examine the passage – does Jesus reassure us? Give us confidence not to need to worry about our livelihoods? In verse 24 he gives us a choice. God or Mammon? Spiritual capital or financial capital?

Problem is one of possessions. Desire for them. Comfort of owning them. Reassurance of being surrounded by them. Against all that, Jesus challenges us to take a position on Wealth. Wealth competes for our hearts. Money and possessions in themselves are not wrong. It’s what they do to us, and where we put out faith and trust?

That’s the first theme – TREASURE. What are your treasures? What in your life means most to you? What takes most of your time? What takes front seat in your heart?

20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ... 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Other themes are these:

1. Needs

2. Faith

3. Motivation

4. Energy

Not that Jesus is saying our daily needs are unimportant. Nor can he be saying God will always provide: there are starving people in the world.

But if God does not always provide, why not? Surely as God has created the world with an abundance of resources, it’s because some of us take more than our rightful share of what the world has to offer?

The question we need to ask: ‘Who do we trust to provide for us?’ Self-reliance, confidence, self-motivation – all things we admire in others and value in ourselves.

Is it not the case that God does provide, only he does so through us? We are the hands and feet and agents of God, and we have the responsibility to trade fairly, not throw away food we have flown half-way round the world, and not to treat creation and the planet with the careless abandon that denies our future and keeps the majority of our fellow human beings in poverty and need.

When the first disciples sent out on mission, they took no spare clothes, no money, no possessions. Did God provide for their needs? Yes – but that provision came through others. People they met. Villagers who offered them hospitality. We’re not talking miracles here – we are the hands, feet and heart of God. His provision is abundant, but we are the ones who have to distribute it aright.

Where do we put our faith? Jesus several times brands the disciples as ‘you of little faith.’ Oligopistoi – people with weak faith.

It wasn’t that they didn’t have faith they could themselves act as their Master did. He who stilled the storm. Walked on water. Multiplied the loaves. Created wine out of water. No – it wasn’t that. The criticism was that, having observed these things, they put too much faith in themselves, and too little in him.

Worrying too much, being over-anxious, caring too much for our own needs – aren’t these just other ways of saying we lack faith?

So what is your motivation? Where do you attach most importance in your life? On security, comfort, saving? Or on things eternal? On developing your spirituality?

If God calls, do you follow – or turn back and bury your father first? Jesus is clear with the man who asks: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and follow me.” 19:21.

That’s the ultimate in trust. It might not be for everyone, especially in a modern economy. But remember the words of Mother Teresa. She said ‘If you cannot feed 100 people, why not start with just one?’

So, finally, where do you put your energy? What achievements in life are you most proud of? Where is your priority? What has most importance for you? What gives your life real meaning? All these are questions to ponder, because they reveal a lot about our treasure.

This reminds me of the story told later in Matthew about the wicked servant. Peter asks how often we have to forgive someone who wrongs us?

The parable is about forgiveness. A servant owes a huge debt to his master. It’s so big, he could only pay the money back in several lifetimes. The servant pleads for mercy, and his debt is forgiven.

Later on, that same man comes across a fellow servant who owes him a trifling sum but cannot pay him back. He near throttles him and has him thrown into gaol. The moral of the tale is obvious.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we receive forgiveness of our debt to God, again and again. But the prayer says:

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Debt relief is conditional. The need is clear. We have the choice of receiving God’s blessing, and then ignoring the needs of others. Of putting our faith in ourselves, or letting go of what has been important to us and acting as God’s hands and feet in the world. Of examining our own motivation and ensuring we act towards others as God has shown his grace towards us. Of using our energy as Christian people, and not regarding our faith as some sort of upgrade, bolt-on or extension to a life which is to all extents and purposes just the same as anyone else’s.

That’s the challenge of today’s gospel:
20 ... store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ... 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.