Tag Archives: God

Whom Shall I Fear?

Whom Shall I Fear – Psalm 27:1

It always seems strange that we should be told to ‘fear’ God, but there is a real difference between being afraid of and fearing something. This difference is explored in my sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity and can be heard here or read below. The reading is Matthew 10:24-39

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I wonder, what are the things that frighten you? Some people are afraid of the dark, others of creepy, crawly things, others of seemingly illogical inanimate objects, such as buttons or patterned carpets. Most of the time we can live with these fleeting moments of panic when we encounter these things, because our challenge is to put these ‘fears’ into perspective.

A few years ago, when I was sat 15,000 feet up in the air, with my legs dangling out of the door of a light aircraft, strapped to another human being whom I had only met about half an hour ago, relying on strips of canvas and silk panels to prevent me from plummeting to earth at speeds of up to 300 miles an hour, I was filled with a sense of fear for a brief moment, but logic told me I was in safe hands – this wasn’t my tandem partner’s first jump, everything had been checked and they knew what they were doing. Also, God knew what I was doing

There is a great difference between being afraid of something and fearing something. The former keeps us alert and aware of actual or perceived dangers, the latter works on our mind and conscience to allow us to make choices to mitigate what we might be fearful of. This morning’s gospel, therefore, continues Jesus’ message to his disciples of the challenges they will face in the coming days, weeks and years and reminds us of those same challenges that we face as disciples of Christ.

The passage starts though with a reminder that we don’t always have all the answers out of our own intelligence but need to emulate those considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding. I’m guessing though that the word that hits slap bang into our consciousness when we read the first verse is the word ‘slave’. We need to appreciate why Jesus should be so casual using this as an example. Here we have Jesus talking about slavery, which in this current time can be a divisive point of contention, and whilst not dismissing or condoning the abhorrent practice, we have to accept that slavery was just one circumstance of everyday life in Jesus’ time. Historically we have to acknowledge that this did happen and at the time was conventional, which is why Jesus is using it to highlight a disparity of power.

What Jesus appears to be saying is that until we gain knowledge there will always be those who have a position of power over us, but the good teacher passes on their learning in a way that empowers the student, the good employer seeks to build up their staff do the work to the best of their ability and both will inspire others to grow and even overtake them in knowledge and understanding

However, the ‘head’ of a household in which there is abuse, deceit and sometimes evil will simply wish to subjugate those under their control and deny them a chance to find freedom from fear which stifles their growth. If they choose to condone and uphold this way of thinking that is their choice; and shamefully, we have to acknowledge that it is very difficult for those who do break out of these situations without becoming unjustly tainted with the broad brush of prejudice. Fear is often the thing that holds them in thrall

‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered,
and nothing secret that will not become known.
What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light;
and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. 

To understand who ‘them’ refers to, we have to go back to last week’s gospel, when Jesus was warning his disciples about the coming persecutions they were to face, when they would handed over to the authorities, flogged and denigrated, betrayed by those they loved, brother betraying brother. They were to endure all of these things in order to achieve salvation, but it would be a fearful, uncompromising, itinerant life, but one which would eventually reveal the truth.

Nearly all of the original disciples would pay the ultimate price of having their lives cut short as they died at the hands of those who misunderstood the message they shared, who felt their authority was being threatened, who did not have respect for the value of a human life. However, it was their faith and their fear, not of humans but of God, that enabled them to bear this. That leads us though to question why we should ‘fear’ God, who after all is the essence of love.

The Jews, were certainly aware of this need to fear God, but knowing this did not mean that they forgot about love or that it was the greatest thing, but that they were sure that in relation to God there was both fear and love. Listen to what the psalmist says,

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him’. Psalm 103:11-13

But we do not have to fear God in the way that we fear a tyrant or dictator, but it is a fear of awe and reverence and therefore provides us with the security that our souls and bodies will not be destroyed.

Neither the Jews nor Jesus ever attempted to sentimentalise the love of God; God is love, but God is also holiness. This reverent fear also brings reassurance for those who are willing to be disciples. From Proverbs (14:26-27), ‘Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death‘. God’s omnipotent power over life and death is tempered with the amazing revelation of our worth to him. The knowledge that God doesn’t let a sparrow fall without his knowing; who knows every hair on our head, and counts us as of more value than some birds that are sold in the marketplace two a penny, reassures us that God knows the temptations and dangers that we face in our life when we choose to acknowledge and follow God’s call to take his message into the world.

Just like Jesus was warning his disciples that they faced opposition and persecution, when we ‘preach’ the gospel either in our words or lives, we shouldn’t be surprised that our reception is not always met with enthusiasm. After all why should we expect a better reception than Jesus himself received? But fear of opposition should not be a reason to give up. We can feel afraid when we hear of fellow Christians suffering in many parts of the world, who are being persecuted for sharing their faith, but we can also uphold them in prayer. We can feel tension when we hear of divisions in families caused by firm stands on religious principles, but we can also pray for better understanding and a respectful peace.

Our fear of God should actually be an encouragement; to those that are faithful there is the ultimate divine reality of life. To those that deny it, there will be retribution. The fact is that our relationship and duty to Christ has to have priority over every other relationship, which sometimes means having to embrace a way of hardship, even of death

As we proclaim in the words from Deuteronomy (10:12) ‘What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’, being a disciple of Jesus is a challenge, but the weight of your personal cross will never be too heavy for you to bear, even if sometimes it can seem so. With God, our fear should be based on the consequences should we fail to follow the teaching and guidance that he has given us through Jesus, and fail to trust that he has our back when we faced with dilemmas and situations that sometimes seem beyond our control

For what are we to be afraid of? The darkness; when we can’t see a way forward? The unknown, when we don’t understand what’s happening? The loss of love, when we feel rejected? Within our darkness there is light, within our confusion, there is clarity, within our desolation there is comfort. And in all of these we have one thing that we can hold onto with certainty, the love of God.

God is the ultimate person to be revered, God is the ultimate person to hold in awe, God is the ultimate person to trust with our lives. All others will fall short. When we choose to pick up the cross of Jesus, yes, we will be afraid from time to time, but ultimately it will be our fear of God that will secure the final victory over everything else.

Amen

Fear God’s Holiness In Awe And Wonder

Spiritual Tagline

The Promise of the Spirit

There are plenty of taglines going about at the moment, so maybe it might be appropriate to have one for the Church. This and other thoughts are explored in this sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020

Reading: John 14:15-21

A recording can be accessed here or the transcript follows below

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

I suspect all of us have at one point or another walked past a sign on a building or an object that said ‘Wet Paint. Do not touch’? I wonder, were you able to walk straight past it, or were you tempted to touch it a little bit – just to see if…? ‘No harm to try’, we might think, but if your fingertips or your hands came away covered in sticky paint, you would have to live with the consequences for some time and possibly be embarrassed and annoyed with yourself.

For logical reasons, most of us are happy to follow the instruction. We know that paint is a liquid that takes varying degrees of time to dry, we know that paint is very viscous and sticks to anything it comes into contact with, we know how hard it is to remove paint from our hands, our hair, our clothes, so we weigh up the risks and decide it’s better to obey the rules.

So what’s the difference between a rule and a commandment? Everyday life is filled with rules and commandments, none more so than at the moment as we look to find ways to control and eradicate the Coronavirus. The phrase, ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ sounded very much like a commandment (only couched in ‘government guidance only’ speak) and it was fairly easy to understand and obey, with the majority of people complying with the request). Now, as we attempt to restart our economy and everyday lives, we are given a different kind of edict. ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’.

Yes, there are still rules, but how those rules are applied it very much up to our own interpretation and common sense. Now that this is no longer sounding like a commandment, we are given the choice as to how we obey, and some people are finding this hard. Ways are being sought to ‘bend’ or interpret the rules in a way that gives personal advantage. People are asking, ‘Why can’t we just go back to doing exactly what we want to do’? ‘Why are other countries allowed to do certain things that we can’t’? Starting a shift away from the ‘we’ to the ‘me’.

Of course, not all rules make logical sense. We’re still not allowed to meet up with our families from other households, yet we could now be employed by them as cleaners – as long as the vacuum is switched on at all times and the tins of Pledge are weighed before and after visits to check sufficient sprayage has been achieved!

But all of this misses the point. If we are to continue to love and care for our families and friends, for the vulnerable and disadvantaged within the wider community then we need to follow the rules, to obey the commandments.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

There are 281 instances of the word ‘commandment’ in the bible. From the blessing of Abraham in Genesis, ‘Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’ through the ‘big ten’ commandments given to Moses (twice) in Exodus, the many commandments of what was required of the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness to the promised land given in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, to the rebellious disregard of God’s commandments in Chronicles and Kings.

Finally to Jesus’ reiteration of the value of God’s commandments, before his declaration that there were really just two commandments that mattered and which encompassed all of the others, ‘Love God with everything you’ve got and likewise, love your neighbour as yourself.’ In doing just this we shouldn’t find it that hard to follow the ‘rules’. If Jesus did it, then we should do it; if Jesus said it, then we should say it; if Jesus showed love, then we should show it.

Yet Jesus knew that following these commandments and the rules of everyday living was not going to be easy; but if the disciples and in turn, ourselves were prepared to show that our love for him meant that we were willing to do so, then we would not have to face the inevitable struggles alone. As he prepared to return to be with his Father in heaven, he would send someone in his place. Someone who would be a helper, a comforter, an advocate. This person would be with them forever after and he would reveal the truth about Jesus, and about God to everyone who loves them and wants to know them.

The Spirit of truth, a sounding board when we are trying to work out what we should do or say, a conscience tester when we are indecisive about what the right thing to do is and who acts as a mediator when we find that we have made the wrong decisions and want to ask for forgiveness.; and a confidante when we were are struggling with our faith.

God know what each of us is dealing with in our lives. Whenever we feel confused or alone, we simply have to remember that we have been left the wise and comforting Holy Spirit, the third person of the indivisible Trinity… so clearly illustrated by this passage when Jesus declares, ‘I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you’.

The Spirit that abides with us and in us just as the Father and the Son do, ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. The Spirit that empowers us to respond rightly. As Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Holocaust survivor puts it, ‘Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

Whether they are rules or commandments, I believe that those rules are there to help us to be the best people we can be and that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom so that we can stay on the path that God has for us. Maybe by following those rules we will find peace and contentment. But even greater than this, it will be love that will bring us closer to God. It should be our love for him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that reveals to both us and the world around us the love that he has for all people who are willing to see him and know him. So, let’s all be patient for a little while longer.

Stay true

Reveal God’s Love

Save Lives

Amen

Simeon’s Farewell

This evening, the 5th Sunday of Easter, as part of our worship outside of church during the Coronavirus, Evening Prayer is offered in the style of Iona. Taking the Gospel reading for Evening Prayer, Luke 2:25-32 we can imagine that this moment was Simeon’s farewell. The whole service can be seen here, but a transcript of the mediation is below

Simeon’s Farewell

I am a firm believer that God accomplishes all things according to his will. Yet the one thing that we desire the most to be accomplished is that the Messiah will come to us. For surely when he comes this long-standing era of the law and the prophets will be complete and will pass away as a new era is ushered in, and we will rejoice!

Even so, my days are numbered, age wearies me, and my eyes are growing dim, so perhaps it is not to be in my lifetime. So many times, within these sacred walls have I felt the Spirit of the Lord surround me, like the swirls of incense burning on the altars, whispering promises in my ear that he is coming… he is coming. Still, like the smoke ascending to the heavens, it’s hard to grasp hold of the truth in that.

 Nonetheless, there is a frisson of expectation in the air. It’s not my usual day to visit the temple, but I felt compelled to come this morning. As usual the crowds are jostling and pushing through the gateway, some voices loud and demanding, others chattering excitedly, unsure where they should be going. It is then that I spot them. The young couple standing still in amongst all of this bustle and hubbub. The woman holding a young baby in her arms, close to her body as if this disturbance would wrestle her precious child away from her; surely their first-born.

 Before I could move, I realise that they have spotted me and are making their way deliberately in my direction. I stand still and wait. Without them saying a word the child is proffered to me and as I take this small bundle of humanity into my own arms I am struck by the firm unwavering gaze that connects us, young and old, wise and innocent, master and servant.

 

Then I feel something welling up inside of me and I hear my own voice bursting forth out of my mouth; people nearby stop at this unexpected exclamation,

 ‘Lord, today you have kept your promise to me that I would not die before the revelation of your chosen one, whom we have waited for with such longing. This child, born among us, comes unannounced to your temple, but his presence here shouts of salvation for us all, for Jew, for gentile, for the whole of humankind. Oh, that I have been blessed to know that through him you will bring glory to your chosen people, which leaves my heart and mind at ease so that there is nothing more needed in this your humble servant’s life but to wait for your calling me to the future eternal kingdom.’

 This verbal outpouring suddenly leaves me feeling exhausted and I am conscious of the full weight of the child, who still lays in my arms; a heaviness of soul within the lightness of his frame. This glimpse of sorrow would be nothing compared to what I perceive he will achieve and so I pass him back to his mother. Let our salvation begin today!

Stillness

Stillness in the Garden

As part of our offerings during the Coronavirus Pandemic the Ministry Team at St James’ Church, West End are each offering a Thought for the Week. Here is mine taking the theme of stillness and the need for a ‘me’ space

You can either watch the video or a transcript is below:

I wonder if you’ve managed to find your ‘me’ space yet?

At this time when we are all practising social distancing; being separated from our wider families and having to stay at home, it can be difficult to find a space in our homes in which we can just simply be still. A space in which you need do nothing but sit, not to feel the need to pray or to read or to do anything that involves taxing your brain. Perhaps you’ve found your ‘me’ space in a spare room, or a comfy corner or in a shed at the bottom of the garden. For me, it is a bench in front of my fishpond. It is a sunny spot, but also a peaceful one, with the sound of running water as background music and the graceful goldfish to watch gliding through the water. For me it is a perfect spot in which to be still.

For many of us that very element of stillness is one which has been conspicuously lacking in our lives up until now. We have been taught that we should be busy and productive, and we have all but lost the art of being still. Now it’s about listening; about compassion, and about faith; but mainly about stillness, because, so many of us have been forced to be still because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The places where we worship are closed, the places where we work are shut and we are being asked to socially distance ourselves, to stay away from people and places other than our homes.

As we face this epidemic, the most important thing required of us is stillness. We have needed to stop going places–to church, to school, to work, to anywhere. We have needed to stop congregating. And that means that we have all had to slow down; because if we don’t, people will die. The logic of compassion and human connections demands that we do this one thing, and that one thing is nothing. And it is really hard.

What we can find though is that in this stillness comes faith and in faith comes stillness. Psalm 46 (v10) has that well-known verse calling us to do just that, ‘Be still, and know that I am God!‘ These lines connect stillness to faith, and this is what gives stillness its power. The Psalmist does not simply mean belief in God, or even a sure knowledge of God’s existence…faith in this context means trust – the knowledge that God is competent. Of course, it is very easy to be glib when giving advice like this – ‘Just let go and trust God’.

Nobody is telling us not to worry about Coronavirus. We should all worry about it because it threatens some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We should worry about it, and that worry should lead us to… stillness. Because being still is the best way to protect our loved ones–and to protect millions of people we do not know. So, we do the only thing we are required to do and that is to be still and listen.

The author Annie Dillard, has a wonderful quote from her book, ‘Teaching A Stone To Talk’ – ‘Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song, and dance…’ and it is these voices that we never hear except when everything is silent, they only reach us as a moment of revelation in the stillness. They are the voice of the Holy Spirit, who is never far away from any one of us, their voice as Psalm 19 tells us about the heavens, is that ‘they have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ These ‘words’ that will come and go unnoticed unless we learn the grace of being still.

Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice,
God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song, and dance…’

And we shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about taking this time out. It’s so easy to be made to feel guilty that everyone else seems to be constantly involved in ‘good’ works. There is undoubtedly a great need for us all to look for ways of helping our friends and neighbours at every opportunity, but we can’t let that altruism overwhelm us. We only have to look to Jesus as an example of someone who gave all that he could to others, and yet frequently took time out to recharge his batteries – from Luke (5:16), ‘the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’

Of course your ‘me’ space will get interrupted from time to time, the telephone rings, someone suddenly needs you to do something or the children start arguing, but those few precious moments of stillness should be enough to set you up with the strength to face whatever comes.

So, I hope you manage to find your ‘me’ space, whether indoors or outdoors. And if it rains… well there’s still the opportunity to stand looking out of the window and watch the rain fall, refreshing the earth.

So let us pray a prayer of St Benedict:

O Gracious and Holy Father,
Give us wisdom to perceive you,
Diligence to seek you,
Patience to wait for you,
Eyes to behold you,
A heart to mediate upon you,
And a life to proclaim you;
Through the power of the Holy Spirit Of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

So go well and God bless

Pooh’s Thotful Spot is interrupted

 

 

Faith – By Sight? By Touch?

The Eagle Lectern at St James’ Church, West End

A recording made of an informal talk for a Service of the Word for St James’ Church, West End during the present Coronavirus Pandemic whilst our church door are locked. A transcript of the talk is printed below as well.

based on the following readings:

Psalm 16 – The Golden Secret, A precious song engraved in gold by King David
from The Psalms – Poetry on Fire (Passion Translation© tPt

1 Keep me safe, O mighty God
I run for dear life to you, my Safe Place.

2 So I said to the Lord God,
‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master.
Any good thing you find in me has come from you’

3 And he said to me, ‘My holy ones are wonderful,
my majestic ones, my glorious ones,
fulfilling all my desires’

4 Yet, there are those who yield to their weakness,
and they will have troubles and sorrows unending.
I never gather with such ones,
nor give them honour in any way.

5 Lord, I have chosen you alone as my inheritance,
You are my prize, my pleasure, and my portion.
I leave my destiny and its timing in your hands’

6 Your pleasant path leads me to pleasant places,
I’m overwhelmed by the privileges
that come with following you,
for you have given me the best!

7 The way you counsel and correct me makes me praise you more,
for your whispers in the night give me wisdom,
showing me what to do next.

8 Because you are close to me and always available,
my confidence will never be shaken,
for I experience your wrap around presence every moment.

9 My heart and soul explode with joy – full of glory!
Even my body will rest confident and secure.

10 For you will not abandon me to the realm of death
nor will you allow your Holy One to experience corruption.

11 For you bring me a continual revelation of resurrection life,
the path to the bliss that bring me face-to-face with you.

and Acts 2:14a, 22-32 and John 20:19-31  

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Can we simply believe what we see? I would say yes, most of the time. Even so, sight can deceive the brain because after all isn’t that what we call magic? We only have to think of magicians who have claimed to have made whole buildings disappear, such as David Copperfield and the Statue of Liberty, and the people there as witnesses at the time would have sworn on their lives that it really did happen – they saw it with their own eyes.

No don’t get me wrong, there is no suggestion of magic taking place in any part of our gospel this morning, or indeed in any part of the Easter story, but sight and witnessing are at the heart of it – except there was one who despite all of this wasn’t convinced – he doubted.

A few weeks ago, I spoke about worrying and how it wasn’t helpful, in that it can produce fear; may be a bit like the fear some of us might be feeling at the moment because of the necessary self-isolation and social distancing; and what fear does to your mind is that it leaves you doubting, it paralyses your thoughts. This sort of doubt is definitely not helpful. It’s the thing that stops us from doing the things that God is calling us to do. As the psalmist said, ‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master. Any good thing you find in me has come from you’

‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master.
Any good thing you find in me has come from you’
Psalm 16:2

Doubt, therefore, can stop us realising our true potential when we think, ‘I doubt God would want to know someone like me’ – yet we forget that we are exactly as God created us to be in all our diverse and different personalities, blessed with a variety of gifts and talents

On the other hand, doubt can be a useful, self-check tools – giving us a moment to pause and to consider. Perhaps Thomas was right to say, ‘hold on a minute, I not only need to see this for myself, but I need to have physical evidence as well’, because surely the physical always trumps the visual? So, when Jesus appears a second time he offers this opportunity for Thomas to confirm his physical presence – that he was not just some holographic projection. Yet in both of his appearances it doesn’t record that any of them reached out and actually touched Jesus. On the contrary, Thomas immediately answered Jesus’ offer with a firm declaration, ‘My Lord and my God’.

This was pure faith, the same faith that enabled Peter to later step forward and point out to the crowd that King David was undoubtedly dead and it was his faith that led him to boldly and unflinchingly declare ‘we all are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead’.

We all are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead
Acts 2:32

Oh, that we would be so bold, the ones that have not seen and yet have come to believe. How though are we to convince people about the truth of the resurrection? If we go back to that first encounter that the disciples had with Jesus, we can actually see that his main concern is not to provide proof of this. The first thing he offers is reassurance that its really him and the disciples rejoice – but Jesus moves swiftly on – his purpose isn’t to linger on the miraculous fact that he’s risen from the dead, but rather to enable the disciples and us, through the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and to be able to discern when it is called for. He is inviting them and us to extend the same Peace he spoke to them in that locked room, to begin to share that in faith with others, to start others on that journey of discovering the truth for themselves.

Yet how can we do this when our own faith journeys can often be full of ups and downs. There are times when our faith runs deep and there are times when doubt threatens to take over. The fact remains that we simply cannot force anyone else to believe – indeed we can not even force ourselves to believe. Faith comes only and always as a precious gift – but it is helped by being surrounded with others who carry and hold that gift of faith as lovingly as we do.

Whether our faith runs deep or shallow we can still live as one who believes, bearing witness in our words and actions to the truth that Jesus lives because God brings us ‘a continual revelation of resurrection life’. Sight may be fallible, the physical may be convincing, but as John declares in his purpose for writing these things down, it is the written word that is something tangible, to provoke thought and reflection, to come back to time and again, to give us better understanding through our experiences to show something in a new light.

Fear can be overcome; doubt can be set aside, and faith and belief are the keys to life in all its fullness through the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen

 

 

Don’t Worry… Be Happy?

Sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34 and Romans 8:18-25

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I was listening to a radio interview the other day in which it was mentioned that one of the most played songs recorded as background music in shops and pubs and shopping centres was a certain record by Bobby McFerrin. It becomes a kind of earworm and I’m sure you know it, and as we’ve warmed ourselves up with a couple of hymns, so I’ll sing the first couple of lines and you see if you can sing the two lines that come next…. okay, don’t leave me hanging! Also you need to imagine me singing with a slight Jamaican accent!

Here’s a little song I wrote…. you might want to sing it note for note… don’t worry…. be happy! [If you wouldn’t have known the song then here is a version of it on YouTube]

Well done, and that’s one less thing for me to worry about, as to whether any actual notes would come out of my mouth or whether you’d even recognise the song. Because it’s a fact that we worry constantly about so many things.

As children we worry about friendships in the playground and at birthday parties whether there will be enough chocolate fingers to go round. As teenagers our worries increase about how our bodies are changing and the likelihood of passing our exams. Onto young adulthood as to whether we will ever be attractive enough to attract a partner or attract society’s criticism if we choose to stay single.

And the worries don’t stop there, add in mortgages, career advancement, starting a family, financial insecurities and it’s a wonder that any of us make it to our advanced years, when the worries return about our health, bereavement and loneliness.

This morning’s gospel passage is upfront with a command from Jesus to not worry about our lives, our physical and outward appearances and our reliance on ourselves. It comes towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and is part of a series of four passages that are all to do with earthly treasure, about not storing it up, about the need for generosity, looking to serve God instead of mammon and with not being anxious about material needs’

Matthew is talking about the focus of the heart, especially around service – but in doing so this naturally brings a sense of human insecurity; lots of buts and what ifs. We may have to work to earn money, but we don’t have to worry. How many of us today had to worry whether there was food in the cupboard for breakfast or didn’t have a choice of what they were going to wear. The frantic pursuit of food and drink and clothes is a sign of insecurity. It’s a lifestyle chosen by people who don’t really know God or who even want to.

For those who do want to know him better, Jesus says that we must learn to trust God and we are reminded that those who undertake the hard demands of the gospel have a Father in heaven who gives good gifts to his children. What really counts is God’s kingdom – if we put God and the kingdom first then everything will follow – and find its proper priority and place

As Paul recognises in his letter to the Romans, ‘that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay’, read self-destruction, ‘and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ concluding with ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’ – patience bringing contentment – contentment bringing happiness.

So, the answers simple, right… stop worrying and we’ll all be happy; but as my mother would often remind me, that’s easier said than done. Perhaps then, its more about changing our attitude to worrying that will bring about a change in our state of mind, in which we are more able to understand better how to deal with those worries. Or perhaps true happiness lies in seeing those worries for what they are.

The primary cause of worry or anxiety is fear, whether it is real or perceived. Apparently, Winston Churchill once said, ‘I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he’d had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.’ Therefore, we should be asking ourselves, are they worries or are they concerns? Because it’s okay to be concerned about your work, to buy insurance or to save for a rainy day, as long as you make time to enjoy simply being alive. It’s okay to be concerned about your cholesterol or blood pressure because you can do something about it such as watching your diet and exercising. It’s okay to be concerned about your child who is misbehaving because you can then take prudent action and administer discipline as necessary. There is a big difference between concern and worry… Concern focuses on probable events and takes action, whereas worry focuses on improbable events and doesn’t do anything productive.

In fact, it can be quite destructive.

Firstly, because worry cancels out faith and the message of the gospel. When we are obsessed with our worries, we are telling God that we don’t trust him. Instead, when we only trust ourselves, our hearts will turn away from God and we won’t see the good when it happens. Our choices will cause our hope to dry up; nothing will grow in our lives. The word worry itself comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word that means to choke or strangle, we only have to think about the parable of the sower when Jesus tells us about the seed that fell among the thorns which choked the plants to death. Having faith and trusting in God inevitably produces a positive attitude, when we have confidence in God we become firmly planted, thriving in life.

Secondly, worry itself causes health problems. It’s the kind of worry that makes you ill – physically and emotionally. It can paralyze us. It can cause an intense amount of fear and anxiety. It causes us to be less effective – more hesitant. It can be described as worrying about things we cannot change, about things we are not responsible for, things we are unable to control, things that frighten and torment us and keep us awake when we should be asleep, things that drain the joy out of our lives.

So often, we anticipate the negative so much that it destroys our peace and minimizes our effectiveness in the present. As someone once said, ‘If you’re tempted to worry, remember that a raisin was once a happy grape’… in the same way worry tends to shrivel us up and make us ineffective. Having faith instead gives us a positive outlook, a positive attitude that fills us with hope and allays our fears because it asks how are we to be defeated if we have God in our lives?

The final reason as to why we shouldn’t worry is because it accomplishes nothing. We can’t change a thing by worrying. In fact, Jesus says that it is a waste of our time, ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?‘ He says that worry is futile; it’s pointless, it’s fruitless.

Accordingly, it’s all down to changing our attitude and outlook. Jesus tells us that the reason that we obsessively worry is because we are worldly-minded. We’re more concerned about the things of this world than we are with the things of God. When we change our perspective, the things of this world don’t seem so overwhelming. Why get so entangled and worked up with the things of this earth when they’re not going to last?

He also says that instead of struggling with obsessive worry we are to live one day at a time, ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, ‘When you follow me, everything will suddenly be wonderful’. It’s a fact that we live in a fallen world. Our actions as humans effect the environment around us. There will still be natural disasters, there will still be diseases like cancer. We may still face financial hardships and people will disappoint you and even be disrespectful to you – even your children. But worrying about tomorrow only takes away from the energy that you need to live today.

We serve a God who spoke the universe into existence, who showed his love for us on the cross at Calvary, who proved his power over sin and death when he rose from the grave. So, I’m pretty certain that he can handle our worries and in doing so help us find the ultimate state of happiness.

Amen

Sermon on the Mount by Jorge Cocco Santangelo

Standing Together

Sermon preached  on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day based on Psalm 27:1-8, Matthew 4:12-23 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and using resources provided by CCJ (Council of Christians and Jews) for their 2020 theme of ‘Standing Together’.

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tomorrow, the 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day and its theme this year is ‘Standing Together’ in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust, and the liberation of prisoners from Auschwitz some 75 years ago. We are called quite simply to stand alongside the Jewish Community and with those of all faiths and none, in commemorating the Holocaust, which implies action, commitment, and solidarity. Challenging concepts in a world where an agreement about unity is hard to discover in so many ways.

But try we must… I wonder, if like me, you like to read the words of the Psalm as the choir are singing them? The psalms themselves were written as songs, but they contain a great deal of poignant and resounding poetry with many situations in life. Take verse six for example:

Now my head is lifted up
   above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
   sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord

Urban legend has it that the great Jewish violinist, Itzhak Perlman, was once performing to a packed theatre on Broadway, when one of his strings unexpectedly snapped with an audible twang. The audience held its breath, expecting the end of the performance or, at the very least, a break whilst a new instrument would be found. But, Perlman didn’t bat an eyelid. He proceeded to do the impossible – to play the rest of the concerto almost flawlessly on three strings. In explaining the extraordinary feat after the performance, he is said to have remarked: ‘sometimes in life, you have to make music with what is left.’

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, picked up this idea of making music with what is left in an address to the CCJ – the Council of Christians and Jews, when he pointed out that “None among us can begin to imagine how survivors must have felt as the Nazi regime eventually crumbled and they finally found their freedom. The sense of hopelessness and betrayal must have been overwhelming. There was not (and could never be) any rule book or prescribed structure for how people should rebuild their lives, having had every element of their humanity savaged.

If one Holocaust survivor had somehow summoned the strength to overcome his or her ordeal and live a happy life, it would have been extraordinary. That so many survivors made it their mission to use their experiences to positively impact the world around them, is nothing short of a miracle. You have to make music with what is left”.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch – Cellist in the Women’s Orchestra at Auschwitz

The fact that there was a remnant left was also down to the inspirational courage of other individuals, who, despite being faced with multiple political, social, cultural and physical deterrents, found ways in which to offer a lifeline to some of those caught up in the Holocaust. Pushing their differences aside and standing together against tyranny and evil.

In what is also a week of Prayer for Christian Unity, our readings this morning, although not directly, but unsurprisingly, speak to just these issues. In our gospel reading this morning Jesus has returned from the wilderness, with news that John has been taken prisoner, and realising that before he has even uttered a word of the message he was to preach and teach that his persecution had begun, enough that he felt it expedient to leave his home town and go further north, away from the authorities in Jerusalem to live in the north Galilean town of Capernaum.

Matthew also manages to tell us that this will fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy about the ancient land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, both named after sons of Jacob, the Patriarch and founding namesake of Israel, and their mention is particularly poignant because at the time that the gospel was written, these two tribes had been lost to history for more than 750 years. Originally annexed to the Assyrian empire they had been subjugated by Babylon, Persia, the Seleucid empire and finally Rome, but the people of Naphtali and Zebulun were not forgotten.

Likewise, today, by standing together in Jesus’ name, we must be committed to remember other people beloved to God who were lost to history, but who are not forgotten. Remembering 750 years on, not just these 75… action, commitment and solidarity

The urgency of the need to stand together, is also expressed in Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. A matter so important that there was no time to for internal decision-making or hesitation in their response, the point was to rise and follow at once. We too, must turn from indifference and apathy and rise, follow and act, because if we wait for other’s braver than ourselves to speak out then we permit grave injustices to occur.

The image of the first disciples leaving their nets is still appropriate. Imagine if Jesus were looking to put together a group of people today whom he knew would eventually take over his work and deliver his message for people to turn back to God. You can bet that on top of twelve men there would be at least as many women and children, people with disabilities, homosexuals, trans people, Muslims, Jews and those of other faiths. Just as Jesus called his first followers, so today Jesus calls ordinary people – you and me – in faith, to set aside our tasks and rise to ‘stand together’ in action, commitment and solidarity.

Because faith begins when a group of people come together when they all believe something about a divine being. Last week in Church Alive we tried to come up with five statements that could hold true for all of us whoever we are. Apart from the fact that we were all alive and breathing, there were three other statements that felt right, the first that, ‘God is love’, the second that ‘God loves us’ and the third that ‘we are all children of God’. Whatever faith or none you might confess, we believed these to be true, something everyone could agree on.

Even so, our reading from Corinthians, paints a different picture of what was happening in the early church, where divisions were already appearing, so much so that Paul was appealing to them in Jesus’ name that they ‘should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose’.

I personally struggle when Christians exclude people because of their gender or sexual identity. I struggle when they espouse theologies that broke no argument and lead to exclusion of those they disagree with. I struggle when people regard people of other faiths as being represented by a small section who advocate violence and hatred. I struggle with these things. Maybe you disagree with me, but I personally don’t think this is what is means to be a Christian.

Disunity among the leaders and nations of the world, stifles a crying need for the kind of outrage demanded against acts of genocide and other injustices, and disunity within the people of God produces dismay among the hopeful, and allows poverty and human distress to take the place of the joy of restoration. Holocaust Memorial Day is a special opportunity to quietly reflect on the dispossession of God’s human family so totally, and there is a challenge to pray that the present dangers we all see in our personal, social and political life may be prevented, so that the evils that have been experienced within our time will not be repeated.

Following Jesus, rightly remembering the Holocaust, overcoming Christian anti-Judaism: these are not one-off actions. The work to which Jesus calls the Church is a long road that demands daily tasks of healing, justice, and hope. In Matthew’s gospel, that work is carried out under the wider promise of God’s ongoing commitment. As Jesus’ disciples did, there will be times when we falter and stumble. But, standing together, we are strong enough for this journey, for action, commitment and solidarity

Returning to the words of the Chief Rabbi, “We live in challenging times. Hate speech and hate crime are on the rise. Respect for difference appears to be declining. Our society is becoming increasingly polarised. So, what should our reaction be? To fight fire with fire? To match the hateful rhetoric with invective of our own? I believe that we should look to the heroes of the Holocaust: both the survivors and the righteous saviours. We should not be intimidated or cowed. If they were able to make music with what was left, surely we can as well.”

The music of Holocaust victims deserves to be heard loudly and clearly and we need to pick up the strain and add our own voices because if we don’t the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem will echo in the silence:

First they came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

The Holocaust is now 75 years – a lifetime away, and the time when there will be no more survivors left to share their experiences draws ever closer. So today and every day, let us resolve to remember the past, commit to the present and dare to look to the future with hope as we stand together. Amen

 

 

Reaping the Harvest

This weekend had all the elements of a traditional Harvest Festival at church. The autumnal colours of the flowers; an altar groaning under the weight of tins and fresh produce brought as gifts for the local foodbank; children singing upbeat harvest songs with prayers and blessings for the abundance of God’s grace within his creation. Our sung Evensong lectionary, however, reminded us of a different harvest to come.

Based on the following readings: Revelation 14:14-20 and Philippians 4:4-9

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Our passage from Revelation this evening, at first glance or first listening, fits beautifully with the theme of our Harvest Festival today, an almost idyllic image of the harvest being gathered in for all is ripe and ready, at its peak of maturity. But the passage itself is actually plucked from a whole series of chapters and verses describing the Battle of Armageddon… So this is not some John Constable ‘hay wain’ moment but an eschatological vision given to John on the island of Patmos

Here we have two distinct and opposite images; a reaping of the grain and a gathering of the grapes. The first is a positive one of Jesus as the Son of Man, as he foretold his disciples when they asked him in Matthew’s gospel about the signs of the end of the age, sitting on a cloud, surrounded by angels, coming to gather the elect. Those humans who through God’s grace, have been chosen because of their faithfulness, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a gathering of all who responded on earth to the Messianic message.

The second one a negative image of the judgement of the unrepentant nations and people. These grapes were not to become a wine of celebration, but to be gathered and then thrown into God’s winepress of wrath, a pressing that will produce rivers of blood ‘as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of about 200 miles’, which was roughly the length of Palestine from north to south.

Here is Jesus in all his power and glory, revealing absolute dominion over all of the nations, represented by his golden crown, who with one swing of his sickle, a single action, ‘reaps the earth’ and gathers the people of God instantly into the Kingdom. This is an action that suggests there is no judgement involved. The people who are part of this special harvest are those who have lived in the light of God’s grace…For all the others, as I mentioned in the second image, there is the gathering and then the pressing – a time of judgment and divine retribution.

Thus the response to the proclamations of the angels is left open to two final possibilities; salvation or judgement.

Better then to hope to be in the elect than in those who have ‘the mark of the beast on their foreheads’ (Rev 13:16). The verses before this reading, vv1-5, speak of the Lamb and the 144,000, who will be saved. However, we don’t need to take this number literally otherwise we’re going to be very few in number, but numerology in the bible was important, and this number is based on twelves. The twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles of Christ, now multiplied together a 1,000 times, symbolising the complete gathering of the faithful, from Israel and the Church, the ‘redeemed’.

Everyone, whom Christ has rescued from the power of sin and death by giving his life on the cross and who have committed themselves totally to him, living lives marked by self-control, honesty and a clear conscience.

For Paul, writing to the Christians in Philippi, a church he founded himself and who have always given him loving and generous support, he urges them to be united in their faith and to see Christ as the supreme goal of their life and mission. He writes this letter from prison, but his heart is free and full of joy, and this joy now breaks out.

He urges the Philippians (and indirectly all of us) to rejoice in the Lord, a joy that doesn’t depend on life always being good or feelings of happiness, but a much deeper satisfaction that comes from belonging to Christ and being united in his love and purpose. It is more fitting to be gentle, yet confident and prayerful as we await his coming. Anxiety must be turned into prayer; prayers of thanksgiving that God will return to us in the form of an amazing peace that comes when the love of Christ conquers and embraces all.

We are to fill our minds with good and beautiful ideals, that purify our imaginations and inspire our actions, so that we can live out the gospel in practical ways.

Paul speaks without arrogance, but as a true teacher – he practices what he preaches. If we then, follow his example, and have a perfect trust in God we can be assured that we too will find ourselves, not through our actions but through God’s grace, safely gathered, as part of the harvest, in heaven’s great garner store. Amen

Harvest Loaf

Replacing Law With Grace

from-law-to-grace

Replacing Law with Grace

There are times when the Law is important and there are times when it needs to be replaced with Grace; whether it is to make a point or whether it is part of the way we need to live.

Readings: Isaiah 58:9-14 & Luke 13:10-17

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Amen

Let me start by asking you three questions, and please don’t think you have to confess anything out loud. Have you ever broken the law? If so what were the circumstances? Do you feel you were justified in breaking the law?

No doubt a great many of us can probably answer yes, I admit that I probably do it quite frequently when I exceed the speed limit, and a recent survey in the Telegraph newspaper found that ‘millions of people who declare themselves innocent law abiding citizens actually commit around seven crimes a week’, with the most common offences being speeding, texting or talking while driving, dropping litter, riding bicycles on the pavement, parking on pavements or not cleaning up their dog’s poo!

It seems that people are not at all bothered about committing what they consider ‘minor’ crimes, because so many people are breaking these laws that they have almost become legal. Even so, it still depends on what sort of law you may have broken. Was it a law established to protect people and uphold society, one that carried a defined punishment in breaking it? Or was it a rule created for a particular group for a particular time? And how is that law being upheld?

In Isaiah we hear about the exiles’ complaint about God’s perceived lack of response to their prayers. However, the basis of their worship is that of self-interest – what they can get out of it, rather than opening their lives to God’s presence with them and the promise of God’s grace to transform them.

The covenants and the Laws that had been handed down to them were not wrong or unnecessary, but were part of the journey that God was taking humankind on towards complete reconciliation. The Old covenants would be superseded by the New Covenant that was Jesus. They were not separate goals for each group of people to aim for, but one goal. The difference being between the journey and destination; between the interim and the ultimate.

God’s meeting with Moses on Mount Sinai was the supreme revelation of himself in the Old Testament. The laws, the rules, the regulations that were handed down were relevant to what was happening to people at the time – the food laws, the hygiene laws, the clothing laws,  the laws of possession, the laws of laws – all made perfect sense for an itinerant band of travellers to provide protection, both physical and spiritual. However, the physical can never contain the reality of God.

The perceived wrathful, vengeful, inaccessible character of God would go on to be revealed anew in the gloriously accessible person of Jesus. Condemnation would be swallowed up in love and forgiveness.

In this morning’s gospel our focus it not centred on God’s power to heal –the fact that the women was restored to full health was almost a given; just one of many examples we have of Jesus’ power to heal throughout the New Testament. Nor is it concerned with the importance or value of the Law – Jesus himself declares in Matthew’s gospel, that he has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it; adding that ‘truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass form the law until all is accomplished.’

 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets;
I have come not to abolish but to fulfil’
Matthew 5:17

The Law of Moses may seem irrelevant to twenty first century Christians, laws such as don’t shave your face, don’t eat shellfish, don’t do any work on the Sabbath, and we consciously choose to disregard them. Even so, the law still remains, and, it is the same God as then as is now that we follow. In many cases the laws remain right, but it is how they are being used that is the nub. Is the law being used as an instrument of condemnation or as an instrument of grace

In this particular narrative, those who use it to condemn are ‘hypocrites’, masquerading as agents of a gracious God while being nothing of the sort. Jesus’ action demonstrates grace, his power to heal and all the while bears the fruit of God being praised in the response of the woman. The action has led to the Sabbath being honoured.

Jesus was rebuked because he dared to heal on the Sabbath or Holy Day – an action that was considered ‘work’. If he’d waited till the next day he’d have been fine, but he insisted that no one’s suffering should be prolonged just for the sake of the law. If good can be done today then it shouldn’t be postponed until tomorrow.

The synagogue official was putting the system of law above the individual, but in Christianity the individual comes before the system and it is fair to say that democracy itself would not exist without Christianity. Civilisation has developed based on the relationship of the individual to the system. But all too often the social system takes on a life of its own and swallows up the individual. As the theologian William Barclay says, ‘Should those Christian values start to disappear from political and economic life then we can only look forward to a totalitarian state where people exist not for their own sake but simply for the sake of the system’.

This, therefore, is the big wide world in which we all have to live in, but what about the world within the church. How do we react to those whose only concern is that of Church governance, that consider the method more important than worship of God or service to others. Even more worrying is those who seek only to condemn because of a narrow-minded and blinkered interpretation of what God wants us to do rather than applying the grace that God offers to everyone.

The law doesn’t bind us to what we should  or shouldn’t do on the Sabbath or any other day. In fact the law shouldn’t be a bind at all. Laws are created  and upheld to protect us, to guide us and to enable us to make the right choices. And we do have a choice. We can ask ourselves is this something that is immutable or does my love and knowledge of God allow me to break or remove it all together.

Does our respect for the present position of the church on matters such as marriage, divorce, disability, homosexuality preclude us from recognising God’s grace for these situations and the individuals they affect.

When the law changes around us how do we react as Christians? Think of some of the things that have happened within many of our lifetimes. From the apparently mundane decision to allow shops to open and trade on a Sunday, to the well-considered remarriage of divorcees in church, the full inclusion of those considered disabled in some way, to the current impasse over the pain and suffering that has been and continues to be inflicted on members of the LBGTI community by certain Christian theologies and biblical interpretations. Where has the love and compassion that flows from God’s grace been in all of this?

If we honour God with our rituals so must we also honour God in our lives. So rather than break the law let us always instead replace it with the law of grace.  Amen

creation and grace

Sabbath Rest

Sabbath Rest

It’s really hard when you want to write about something that you know is a good thing to do but you are not so good at actually doing it yourself. A someone commented yesterday when I delivered this sermon, ‘Physician, heal thyself’! Still, as I said, it acts as a good reminder to me as well as everyone else

Bible Reference: Luke 10:38-42

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to say this morning, because I am sure that some people could so obviously accuse me of hypocrisy, quite possibly a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do!’ But I believe there is an important message that needs to be explored and undoubtedly, I need to hear it as much as others might.

But first let me ask a question for you to ponder… when was the last time that you actually spent time doing nothing? Not doing something that you wouldn’t consider work, nor doing something that involves you organising your leisure time, not even setting time aside for prayer or to read a book… but just simply doing nothing but resting.

I guess that this simple kind of resting could go one of two ways. You either fall asleep or you allow yourself to simply bring yourself for those few precious moments into God’s presence. I call them precious moments because so many people nowadays have lives that do not involve seeking any time of rest or relaxation. We are conditioned to wake up and immediately our brains are focussed on what we must achieve that day or over the coming week. We have to plan and organise every single minute of our time, whether that is doing work, or filling our leisure time with activities or for parents of young children making sure that they are involved in stimulating pursuits, because, heaven help us, that they should be bored or have nothing to do!

But what’s wrong with a bit of boredom every now and again? Yes, it can be a state of mind caused by a lack of stimulation that leaves us craving relief, but it’s also acknowledged that without boredom we couldn’t achieve our creative feats. It often gives us time to think, to explore and to rest awhile.

It’s the difference between being a Martha or a Mary… not that I’m suggesting that Mary was bored, having nothing to do… but the two women in our gospel are demonstrating the need to set aside time to simply be with God. It’s also not the case that we need to choose between being a Mary or a Martha, whether we should only be one or the other. Rather that it’s essential to be both. Like Martha we think that the important thing is doing, but Jesus teaches us through Mary’s example that we need to sit, to listen, to learn, to love.

For Mary and Martha, their friendship with Jesus meant that they would have been proud to have this popular man as a guest in their house, together with all of his entourage and followers, and Martha, as the principal hostess would have wanted to make sure that he was comfortable and that his needs were catered for. So she welcomed him into her home and went into the kitchen to prepare a meal for him.

However, her sister Mary did NOT go into the kitchen but instead ‘sat at Jesus feet’, and fair enough when you have guests you do not generally abandon them straight away and all disappear to do other things. But for Martha, it wasn’t okay that her presumably younger sister got to do nothing, while she had to organise and cater for so many.

Luke tells us that Martha ‘was distracted by her many tasks’ and I’m sure we all know how that feels, don’t we! The times when we’ve experience being ‘in over our heads’, when we’ve needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. The times perhaps when we’ve pitched up to help with something and end up doing everything, while others sit around chatting. So Martha’s anger at being abandoned in the kitchen was understandable, and the stress and anxiety spills over into calling out Mary in front of everyone. There was no subtle sidling up to Mary and saying, ‘Mary, I need some help’. instead she rebukes Jesus, her principle guest, whom she had acknowledged as ‘Lord’ and basically orders him to ‘Tell my lazy sister to get into the kitchen to give me a hand’ or words to that effect and meaning.

‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?
Tell her then to help me.’
Luke 10:40

Now everyone is aware of the tension in the room, but we can still feel sympathy for Martha, and in some ways we want Jesus to appreciate and commend Martha for her hard work and suggest that they both go in there and give her a hand. However, Mary’s focus on her relationship with Jesus was also right and whereas Martha’s anger was disruptive, and Jesus acknowledges that she is ‘anxious and troubled about many things, he points out that Mary has chosen to the one thing that is needed

She had set aside time, in the busiest of situations to spend time with God. What we might call Sabbath rest, when we very deliberately take time to do nothing but make ourselves more aware of God with us. And don’t get confused, this is not just setting aside one day a week to abstain from work, because even that is no longer a day when we rest our minds and our bodies, instead filling it up with alternative tasks; but times, whether it’s a few hours or minutes that we switch off from the everyday normal.

This idea of taking time to step aside, is nothing new. From the very beginning we are given this example of Sabbath rest. After creating the heavens and earth, in whatever way or timescale you believe, God rested. It didn’t mean that God was tired and needed a rest, unlike most of us, because being omnipotent he never tires, but he simply stopped what he was doing, he ceased from his work. It was a message and example that he called the Israelites to follow when he handed down his commandments. They were to remember the Sabbath day and ‘keep it holy’. They were to lay down their work in order to spend time in worship and prayer.

For Jesus himself, there were times that he must have experienced the stress and anxiety caused by overwork. As more and more people came to seek him and listen to his teachings, so the time that he had to take that rest became more and more elusive. Still he recognised the importance of stepping aside if only for a short time. In Mark’s gospel we hear that ‘because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Who hasn’t skipped a meal because of the workload we’re experiencing, but after resting, it’s so much easier to exit that secret place, go back into the world, and feel re-energized, focused, encouraged and strengthened to continue doing what we’re called to do.

So many mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression can be caused as the saying goes, by ‘too much work and not enough play. And not taking time out may make any existing mental health issues worse. And what’s even more alarming is that even primary school children are showing signs of mental health problems – including anxiety, panic attacks and depression –caused mainly by family problems, pressures of exams and social media, which lead to problems such as self-harming, eating disorders and OCD.

So, when we find ourselves in stressful situations such as a difficult phone call, a crowded train journey home or a looming deadline, we need to give ourselves time to pause and calm down. Imagine what Martha could have done. Instead of stomping into the living room and having a go at Jesus and Mary, she could have gone into her bedroom and closed the door. Martha could have prayed ‘God, I’m so angry. It would be so tempting to take out this anger on Jesus and Mary – but I know that would be wrong. Please drain this anger out of my heart. Help me to feel love for Jesus, my guest, and Mary, my sister.

 Better still, Martha could have gone and joined her sister Mary at Jesus’ feet and listened to him speak and be in his presence for a while. Who would have worried that the meal was late when was it was Jesus that was with them

We are such busy people, and we live in such a busy world. It’s easy to miss the important things. The story of Martha and Mary tells us that there is value in sitting – in listening – in learning – in loving. Whether at home or work or school, take a moment to look around and find the blessings in your life. Take a moment to thank God for giving you another day to discover more. Sit at God’s feet for just a moment. Be quiet. Listen. Treasure the moment.

We all live in a Martha world, but take time to be Mary for just a bit. Jesus says that that’s the one thing that’s needed. He says that’s the good part that won’t be taken from us. Give it a try. You will find a blessing! You will find that Jesus was right.

Amen

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Luke 10:41-42

Mary and Martha - Vermeer

Mary and Martha by Vermeer