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Showing posts from March, 2011

Truth and Freedom

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Just a quotation to ponder today

 about what it means to be a true disciple of Jesuswhat it means to know the truthand how that makes for freedom.
This comes from John's account of Jesus' teaching in the temple at Jerusalem, during the last days before his crucifixion.
"Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' " John 8: 31-32

Image Credit: Freedom is all you need: Flickr. CC Licence

This post in the 23rd in a series of daily Lenten reflections based on a Bible reading form the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on John 8: 31-47

Light and Darkness

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This is a particularly bleak photo by Salvadhor of ice people walking in the dark night of time. They seem to be following in single file towards an even darker place. It reminds me of some lines from 'East Coker', the 2nd of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets:

"O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark,The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees, Industrial lords and petty contractors, they all go into the dark..."
That poem (published March 1940) is not entirely bleak. It is a reflection on the cycle of life, death, decay and regeneration. Eliot struggles with the limitations of words to express meaning in poetry and to convey religious truth. By the time he wrote this he had become a Christian and East Coker has clear allusions to Good Friday and the meaning of the death of Christ.

In t…

Forgive how often?

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Peter thought that forgiving his brother seven times was really generous. Rabbis usually taught that three times was enough. But Jesus said, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven". I calculate this to be 490 times. But the whole point of being prepared to forgive 70 X 7 is about not keeping score of what I'm owed. In the Lord's Prayer, we pray "forgive our sins (debts) as we forgive those who sin against us (our debtors)". Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant shows what this means. You can read it in Matthew 18: 21-end.
Forgiveness isn't easy, because it involves absorbing the cost of the debt. This is what God, in his love and mercy does for us. But it is impossible to receive forgiveness without being open to at least trying to forgive those we need to forgive. It doesn't mean forgetting, or denying the reality of the damage done. Forgiveness is a process, a way of life, a choice.
This post is the 21st in a series of daily …

Longing

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For every believer there are times when God seems absent or remote.
Psalm 42 expresses the distress felt by the psalmist who is grief-stricken, depressed, surrounded by people who keep taunting him with the question, "Where is your God?"
He longs to experience the reassurance of God's presence he once enjoyed. He compares his deep longing for God with the thirst for water felt by a deer during a time of drought.
"As a deer longs for flowing streams,so my soul longs for you, O God.My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.When shall I come and behold the face of God?Psalm 42: 1-2
If you have 6 minutes, here's Mendelsohn's setting of Psalm 42, sung in German (with English sub-titles).



This post is the 20th in a series of daily Lenten reflections based on one of the Bible readings or Psalms from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. this one is based on Psalm 42: 1-2; 43: 1-4.



Thirsty

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There's nothing more refreshing than clean water when you're thirsty and tired. There's nothing more life-giving when dehydrated. There's nothing more cleansing when dirty. Without water we stay thirsty, tired and dirty. Without water we die.


I'm used to easy access to safe water on tap at home. I try to imagine how hard it must be for the 20% of the world's population who don't have easy access to safe water. How tiring it must be to have to carry water daily from a distant source, a task usually done by women and children.


Water is essential to life, but there's another sort of thirst - thirst for meaning, for respect, to know and be known in relationship, for love, for God. Later today I expect to preach a sermon on John 4: 5-42, the story of Jesus' meeting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Earlier in Lent I posted a reflection on this story here.


I rather like this modern day monologue in the video below of what the woman might have said …

Lost and Found

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This image shows a detail of a bronze statue of 'the Return of the Prodigal Son' by Karen Schmidt, inspired by a painting by Rembrandt (shown below).


Rembrandt's painting was based on the parable of the prodigal son, one of 3 'lost and found' stories that Jesus told. The other 2 are the lost sheep and the lost coin.


All 3 were told in respone to religious people grumbling that Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them". All 3 are parables of grace. The shepherd seeks his lost sheep until he finds it. The woman sweeps the house searching for her lost coin until she finds it. The father runs to meet and embrace his lost son. The shepherd, the woman and the father celebrate their joy with friends, neighbours and family. Neither the sheep, the coin, nor the returning son had done anything to deserve being found. The emphasis in all 3 stories is on the one who seeks what is lost and oveflows with joy at the finding. The seeking shepherd, woman and father show u…

Pondering an Announcement

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Rather than post my own thoughts for the 'Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord', I'm sharing a poem by the British-born American poet Denise Levertov (1923-1997). It is is her reflection on the story of the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary in Nazareth to tell her she would bear a son, to be called Jesus.


Annunciation

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc


We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
___________________________
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending…

In trouble and in joy

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Psalm 34 is a song of praise for deliverance from trouble, attributed to David at the time when he was on the run from King Saul and feared for his life. David (later King David) spoke from experience when he said,


"The Lord is near to the broken hearted,and saves the crushed in spirit." Psalm 34: 18
But when someone is feeling broken hearted and crushed, it can be a very lonely experience, which is why I chose this photo. It can feel that no-one cares, least of all God. It takes an act of faith in the midst of trouble to say with the psalmist,


"I will bless the Lord at all times;his praise shall continually be in my mouth."
Psalm 34.1


When my husband and I were married, one of the hymns we chose for our wedding was a metrical version of Psalm 34. The hymn begins,
"Through all the changing scenes of life in trouble and in joy the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ."
This expressed our joint Christian commitment and the recognition that our ma…

Weeping

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Why do I avoid the book of Jeremiah the prophet? Too gloomy? Too pessimistic? Well you wouldn't be jumping for joy if you'd been treated like Jeremiah. Perhaps you have. I haven't. Or if you'd been given the message of coming judgement that pressed so heavily on Jeremiah's heart. Or you felt the grief he felt for his people. Here's some of how he expressed it:

"O that my head were a spring of water,and my eyes a fountain of tears,so that I might weep day and nightfor the slain of my poor people!"Jeremiah 9.1

If you read more of that section, it becomes clear that this deep grief belongs to God. It's not only Jeremiah who suffered when, as he prophesied, he saw the destruction coming on his people, as a result of their unfaithfulness. It is God. Where is God when his warnings are ignored? Sitting at the bottom of the well grieving with Jeremiah. Does that mean God is impotent to save? Or that God's power is shown in the coming alongside as one o…

Praising

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An offering of a free heart will I give you
and praise your name, O Lord,
for it is gracious.


Psalm 54: 6





O living God,
reach through the violence of the proud
and the despair of the weak
to create in Jesus Christ
a people free to praise your holy name,
now and for ever.

response to Psalm 54 From Common Worship Daily Prayer

This post is the 14th of a series of daily Lenten reflections or prayers, based on one of the Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England.

Judging

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It happened 455 years ago. On 21 March 1556 Thomas Cranmer, once Archbishop of Canterbury, was burnt at the stake outside Balliol College, Oxford. The reason? He was judged to be 'a heretic' and 'traitor'. He is commemorated by the Church of England today as a Reformation Martyr. 


If you want to read a sermon on this theme, try this one by the current Archbishop of Canterbury.


The gospel reading for a weekday Eucharist today seems particularly fitting. In Cranmer's honour, here it is in 16th century English:


"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged;
condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned;
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven;
give, and it shall be given unto you;
good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,
shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that ye met withal,
it shall be measured to you again." (Luke 6: 36-38)

This post is the 13th in a Lenten series based on 1 or…

Wind

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"Do not be astonished that I said to you. 'You must be born from above'. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
John 1: 7 - 8 NRSV

That's what Jesus told Nicodemus, who came with questions by night.


Father, give me the courage of Nicodemus:when I ask, 'how can this be?'May I trust your answer and grasp your truthand open myself to the risk of change,through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Prayer by Judith Dimond from 'Gazing on the Gospels Year A')

This post is the 12th in a daily Lenten series based on 1 of the Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on John 1: 1-17.

Chip off the old block?

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We knew him as the carpenter's son.The carpenter was Joseph, son of Jacob.
You could trust him.
He was a good man, was Joseph.


We expected young Jesus to be a 'chip off the old block'.We thought he would go on working with his father
- at the bench
- or out on a building site somewhere.
Then take over the business when Joseph died.


But Jesus went off for a while - don't know where.We heard he wasn't working as a journeyman carpenter.
He was healing and preaching.
What him? the carpenter's son?


When he came home, we were intrigued.We crowded into our synagogue in Nazareth to hear him.
It was astounding what he said.
How did he learn that at the carpenter's bench?
Who is putting these ideas in his head?


Yes, we did take offence.If you take what Jesus says seriously, who knows where it will end?
You could trust Joseph, but Jesus?


Not a chip off the old block after all.Joseph could build a table fit for a banquet.
We trusted him.
Jesus seems ready to turn all our tables upside d…

Overwhelming Water

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Andrew's Story

It had been a long day, tiring but exciting. All the same it was a relief to set out for home that evening. Capernaum was only a short boat ride away.

Our rabbi had taken himself up the mountain. We were used to him going off on his own. He seemed to need it and the crowds had got rather threatening. We left him to it.

All was calm when we set sail. As darkness descended and the wind got up, the sea became really rough. So we hauled in the sails and rowed. We knew what we were doing. We're used to storms, but we didn't feel safe that night in such a small boat, thrown about by the great waves.


But it wasn't the waves that terrified us. What really scared us out of our wits was what we saw that night. You're not going to believe this, but 3 or 4 miles out from shore we saw Jesus walking on the sea, coming near our boat. It was as if he were riding the waves that threatened to overwhelm us. It sounds silly to say, but it was as if even the wind and waves w…

Loaves and fish

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I wish I could help, but I can’t. The problem’s too big. I've only got 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Earthquakes and tsunamis, hunger and homelessness, thirst and fear, destruction and oppression, corruption and greed, poverty and sickness. What’s the use of the little I've got?
I wish I could help, but I can't. The problem's too big. I've only got 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. It would take a miracle to feed all these people. I can't do miracles. I've only got 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. What's the use of them among so many? These are all I've got for me today, with maybe a little to sell. It would take a miracle for me to give them away. I've only got 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Not much of a feast are they?

This post is the 9th in a series of Lenten reflections based on daily Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on the story of Jesus feeding 5000 from John 6: 1-15

Pleading

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Reading Psalm 6 at Morning Prayer today, I think this beautiful video, with a recording from the Genevan Psalter says all that I want to say.



This post is the 8th in a series of Lenten daily reflections based on Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on Psalm 6.

How to Pray

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Even when I want to pray, I often feel I don't know how. Faced with disasters on a grand scale, or the smaller but just as deeply painful griefs we all encounter at some time, there just don't seem to be the right words. That doesn't matter. Prayer is about the focus of the heart, not the babbling of the mouth. Jesus taught that when we pray we shouldn't keep on babbling in the hope that God will hear because of the repetition of many words. Instead, he said - pray like this - then gave a framework or pattern for prayer which Christians call 'The Lord's Prayer'. 
There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer in the gospels, one in Matthew and one in Luke. Here's the Matthew version, from the New Revised Standard Version: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the…

Dare to hope

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Someone deeply distressed, wonders why God doesn't help in times of trouble.

Does it mean God doesn't care? 

God knows what's happening but stands aloof?
"Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1 NIV) Psalm 10 speaks about a powerful ruler who says to himself 
"Nothing will shake me: I will always be happy and never have trouble"while he murders the innocent and oppresses the weak. According to the Psalmist this man has no respect for God and says to himself 
"God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees."Reading this psalm, I found myself thinking about the current situation in places like Libya. The Psalm ends with an affirmation that God does see and cares about people's trouble and grief:
"You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry". When I read this, my thoughts were of the catastrophic disaster caused by the earthquakes a…

Temptation

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I won't be able to listen to today's gospel reading (Matthew 4: 1 - 11) without thinking of the taste of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

On a Holy Land Pilgrimage, in a place near Jericho, I took this photo of the Monastery of the Temptation. I didn't climb up to the monastery. I drank refreshing pomegranate juice, bought from a Palestinian stall-holder. It was delicious. Then I got back into an air-conditioned coach, feeling more tourist than pilgrim. EASY. VERY EASY.

On this first Sunday of Lent the gospel reading tells how after his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, Jesus "was led by the Spirit into the desert" where he faced a 3-fold temptation. DIFFICULT. REALLY DIFFICULT.

Read Matthew's account here.

Lord our God, trembling, we dare to ask that you call us into the desert where we may once more hear you whisper our name with love. Prayer by Sheila Cassidy


This is the 5th of a series of daily Lent reflections based on Bible readings from the Comm…

Calling

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Tax collectors aren't popular, except when they're giving out an unexpected rebate. There was once a tax collector called Levi. He sat at his desk in the customs and excise office, when Jesus turned up and said, 'follow me'.

Levi wasn't someone you'd expect a rabbi like Jesus to choose. Although Levi (aka Matthew) was a Jew he would assume he was disqualified from following a religious teacher. Tax collectors were despised by other Jews, hated as traitors, collaborators with the occupying power. They were shunned as ceremonially unclean, banned from public worship and (like women) viewed as unreliable witnesses in court. In a corrupt system tax collectors charged commission on top of due rates. They were known to be unscrupulous extortioners.

When Jesus saw Levi, he saw all this. Did he see something more? Levi's longing to find more meaning to life than building up a fat personal pension? His hunger for God? When Jesus said to Levi  'follow me' it …

Search Me

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I used to ski, with varying degrees of enjoyment and fear. I still think of Psalm 139 as the skiers' psalm. No, it doesn't mention ski-ing, but the second verse in the King James Version is a prayer that fits amateur skiers so well.
"Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising..."This photo by kelsey is called 'Transparent Heart'. It imaginatively illustrates the psalm's opening verse,
"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me." (NIV).The whole psalm is a contemplative prayer in awe of God's greatness. It wrestles with the idea that God really knows me and is intimately involved with my life. There's nowhere to hide from God's Spirit and presence. The Psalm ends with a words that take courage to pray. They ask God to uncover what I might hide from, to turn a spotlight on anything that may be wrong and lead me in God's way. A good prayer for Lent I think:

"Seach me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious tho…

Living Water

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Reflection on John 4: 1-26
The hostility between Judeans and Samaritans was several centuries old when Jesus, a Jew, met a Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well. It was mid-day – not a good time for water-carrying. Women went to the well together, in early morning or evening. Did this woman go at noon to avoid the unkindness of other women who despised her lifestyle?

How did she feel when the Jewish man sitting at the well spoke to her?  A good male Jew might speak alone with a close female relative in public, but to do so with a female stranger, it might be assumed he was making a sexual proposition. When Jesus said “give me a drink.” he was inviting the woman to take the risk he was taking, of crossing religious, political and cultural boundaries and taboos.

He was thirsty. She had a bucket. Jesus didn’t comment on her need, only his need for water. By reaching out to her from his need, Jesus gave her dignity. She could do something for him. And so her real thirst was revealed, one that …

Ash Wednesday

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What matters most to you? When faced with terminal illness, the fatalities of a disaster, or attend a funeral, we're reminded of human frailty, the brevity of life. Sometimes that creates a determination to make the most of life or make things better for others.

Today Lent begins, a time to re-focus on what matters most, a time for honest appraisal of who we are and what God calls us to be. If you take part today in an Ash Wednesday service which includes the imposition of ashes, you will be invited to receive a stark reminder of who you are with words like these,
"remember that you are dust,and to dust you shall return."The sign drawn with ash on the forehead is more than a sign of penitence and a symbol of mortality, it's a sign of hope. The ash (mixed with oil) is drawn in the shape of a cross, the sign of Christ, a badge of discipleship and reminder of his death for the sins of the whole world. Words like these are also said over each person receiving the ashing, &…