Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hearing but not hearing–seeing but not seeing

Cheddington Midweek Communion

Gospel Matthew 13.16-17

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

Jesus said, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

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


Another short gospel reading Unlike last week, cannot be taken out of context. Part of parable of sower. One of only two parables with explanation – most have many, according to listener.

Before Jesus explained parable disciples asked “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Good question. Why not be clear? Why not make meaning plain. Improve communication. Even Sower explained only to select few.

Jesus replied “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables”

Secrets of the Kingdom Does that mean message of salvation deliberately withheld from some and not others? No, it means the gospel cannot be studied and understood academically. Not like reading a text book and understanding. The Word himself has to be accepted. You have to engage with Jesus – and live out the Christian life. Only that way will the message be received and understood in abundance. Others can only try to partially understand, but what little understanding they have will be lost to them.

It’s not that Jesus wants it to be this way – he quotes the prophecy of Isaiah:
You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

Why is this? – because people’s eyes and ears are closed – their hearts have become calloused – so they hear with their ears and see with their eyes but their hearts and minds are unaffected by what they hear.

But blessed are your eyes, ears and hearts – says Christ. Because many clever people heard but did not hear – saw but did not see – but your eyes are blest because they have seen and your ears are blest because they hear. And the result is that they, and we, receive healing. Amen

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A prophet in his Home Town

5th Sunday after Trinity

Gospel Mark 6.1-13

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.

Jesus went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him.

Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

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


We all know it too well. Life has its ups and downs. One minute everything is going well. We are on a high. Then suddenly several things go wrong, and we can be cast into disappointment and despair.

In the early chapters of Mark, Jesus’ ministry was a great success. In the synagogue at Capernaum, the people were amazed at his authority. His teaching through parables was not at all like the Scribes.
‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’ 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1)

He healed many people. He forgave them sins by his very words. Those who heard his teaching had faith in him. Only his family, thinking he was possessed, came to get him and save both him and themselves from disgrace.

By chapter 4, Jesus was teaching in parables – the Sower, the lamp stand, growing seeds. He demonstrated his power over the elements by calming the storm and saving his disciples (including seasoned fishermen) from drowning. ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (4:41)

In chapter 5, Jesus brings back to life a dead girl, and restores a man said to be possessed by demons. It was all going so well, until he returned to Nazareth, where he was well known. At first, they too were impressed. After all, how could the young man who had fixed their houses suddenly speak with such wisdom and perform healing miracles? Then even they agreed he must be possessed by the very powers he had himself cast out.

If the hometown folk were amazed at him, Jesus was amazed at them. Amazed at their lack of faith. How come they were so hostile – even insulting him by referring to Jesus as ‘Son of Mary.’

His own explanation that a prophet is not without honour save in his own home town sounds like a rationalisation. But in saying this, Jesus is claiming to be a prophet. Prophets in antiquity were automatically given honour, and he certainly was not being treated as a prophet with any honour in Nazareth. As a result, Mark says Jesus could do no any miracles there.

If this was because of their lack of faith in him, does this give us any clues when we ourselves reflect on the ups and downs of our own lives? Would we, in his position, blame ourselves for what happened? Would we consider what we had ourselves done wrong? Would we seek a rational explanation? Or would we attribute our failure to our own lack of faith and trust in God, or maybe that of others?

What happens next is equally instructive. In our case, we might become discouraged. Decide not to repeat what had gone badly. Do something different next time. But far from showing any lack of conviction, Jesus sends his disciples out on their mission to the world.

The disciples have seen Jesus’ liberating acts, his healing, his parables and his teaching, his mastery over nature and life itself. Crucially, the disciples have learned from how he responds to failure. Not changing strategy, but amazement that people did not listen to him and believe.

The other lesson for us is that God may not be able to help us if we ourselves don’t have faith. To put our trust in him. Not just walk away from problems, but seek guidance through prayer. Ultimately that means leaving them in God’s hands.

In the end, we know we are God’s hands and feet. We must listen to the voice that signals the sound of sheer silence. To be tuned into the signals, and not allow them to be drowned out by the noise and interference of our daily existence.

How much better is that than allowing the downs of our lives to get the better of us? To disable us, and emasculate us? Turn us inward, and through a lack of faith cause even our saviour to be amazed and powerless to help?

It’s a 2-way street. Without faith, God may not be able to help us. But in order for God’s power for good to be revealed in the world, it may only be through ourselves, our hands, our feet, our minds, and our speech that his grace is poured out to us and to others. This is how the downs of life can be smoothed into more of the ups. When we find our way, in humble childlike trust, and do God’s will. Welcoming him into our dwelling, where he can stay and use us according to his good pleasure. Amen

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Help my Unbelief

5 July Midweek Communion at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 9.1-8

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.

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

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

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

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


Jesus comes home. Crosses the sea of Galilee. Other side gentile territory. On way across, stilled storm – then healed 2 demon possessed men. “Gadarene demoniac” (KJV). Presence of pigs (swine) marks the place out as non Jewish land. Demons begged Jesus to be allowed to enter pigs, which then rushed down steep slope into lake and all drowned. Not surprisingly, local populace asked him to leave.

So comes back to Nazareth, when people bring him a paralysed man for healing. To be told his sins forgiven not what paralytic wanted to hear.

Sometimes Jesus acts in a way people don’t expect. They want one thing, and get another. The sick man was focussed on his illness, as were his friends. Jesus identifies his greatest need as different from what he expected.

Perhaps also he had another purpose. To demonstrate to those who heard him pronounce forgiveness of sins his power over evil itself. To provoke his hearers and critics into a charge of blasphemy. Note that the teachers of the law were not bold enough to make their accusation public. They kept it to themselves. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, brought them out into the open.

Jesus went on to demonstrate his power over physical infirmity (visible to all) and thereby show his power over sin (hidden in our hearts – not visible to all). For those who accused him, his reply was that performing a healing miracle was easier than forgiving our sins. Throughout the middle east there were miracle healers doing the same as he did. But they could not perform the harder task of addressing our deeper needs. Only he could do that.

Not without our cooperation. The man who came to him on his bed had to have faith in Jesus’ power to make him whole again. So it is with us. In another gospel account, the teacher in his home town could do nothing. Could perform no miracles. Why? Because of their lack of faith. They thought of him as a small builder, whose family they knew, who grew up in their midst. This was a bar to their faith, and Jesus was amazed he could perform no miracles in that place.

So our faith is needed, if we are to be saved. All we can do is rely on God’s grace, as we pray for an increase in our faith. As the father of the sick boy said in Mark 9:24

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”