Reflection on the Lectionary

18th February 2024

Bible Reading Mark 1:9-15

Dear Friends,

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a journey we share with Christ as he approaches the end of his earthly life and the cross looms near. It is also a time of individual journeys when we consider our Christian faith and commitment and that of our church communities.

The reading is from Mark’s gospel. Jesus is baptised by John in the river Jordan and God, as a voice from heaven, affirms Jesus: ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.’ Immediately after this pronouncement Jesus journeyed into the desert to be alone and where he encountered tough temptations. God’s assurance and presence guided him through this torrid time. When Jesus left the wilderness, he was sure of who he was, God’s much-loved Son. He then began his ministry.

We too are loved by God and knowing this will help us cope with the difficult and uncertainties we all encounter from time to time; a time we might consider our desert time. As we age, we may not travel as freely as we would wish to meet with friends and families but worshipping together if we are able, as a group of Christians, enables us to journey together in faith and friendship. The weekly sheet gives us opportunity to be connected to folk we cannot meet. The thoughts expressed may enhance our belief or challenge our thinking but if we remember Jesus was challenged in the desert and made personal decisions so too, we can reflect and make choices.

As people loved by God, we can pray to him giving thanks for the good things such as friendships and families, we can pray for those we are un-able to meet with and maybe lonely, depressed or ill, pray for our church and neighbours.

As Lent continues its journey perhaps join with those meeting at church on a Wednesday afternoon sharing a Lent study booklet. All are welcome.

To hear another voice and have conversation especially for singles and those without close family is a godsend. God loves us and those we contact and those who contact us. Jesus was alone in the desert and trusted his Father; God is always alongside us. We put our trust in him.

Jesus faced a difficult and harrowing journey to Jerusalem. We journey with him in thought and prayer. Our journey may not be easy but we can still journey in hope.

God bless us on our journey through Lent and beyond, wherever that journey may lead us.

God you love us,

This coming week whatever we experience, wherever we find ourselves, help us to know as Jesus knew, that you are always with us.

Amen

Vivienne Lear

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday News Sheet 11th February 2024 (Ordinary 3)

Psalm 50 : 1 – 6; 2 Kings 2 : 1 – 12; 2 Corinthians 4 : 3 – 6; Mark 9 : 2 – 9

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, David Bainbridge (Horfield).

Affirmation is I believe at the very heart of this episode in the life of Jesus. It was a validation of his ministry and would give him the courage and the confidence to continue. It was also a reinforcing experience for those three disciples. Whatever doubts they may have had from time to time about this man they’d become so attached to, this man who’d fired their imagination and whose ministry was causing such a stir, those doubts at least for the time being were being allayed. Furthermore, long after the event they would look back and draw strength from what they had shared that day on the mountain.

About a week earlier at Caesarea Philippi, Peter had made his great affirmation of faith when He said, “You are the Messiah.” It was there that Jesus had told his disciples that he would suffer. He was all too aware of the dangers and pain that lay before him on the journey he had to make to Jerusalem. We know it was his practice to take time out, when he’d find a quiet place and spend time in prayer. More than ever now he needed to have communion with his father and this time he needed to take his closest companions with him. There on the mountain, the disciples saw a change in his appearance, his face was shining. Then they saw Moses and Elijah talking with him. Moses the lawgiver, Moses who was the mediator of the old covenant, and Elijah one of the greatest of the prophets who helped to persuade people to return to the old covenant; two great figures of salvation history. What better endorsement could he have for his mission, but there was more. As Peter tried to prolong the experience a cloud came down and they heard a voice say, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.” What was affirmed at his Baptism was now being reaffirmed. And what powerful words of affirmation they were.

Affirmation is not a word we use a lot these days. Maybe it’s because we don’t engage in a lot of affirming action. We find it easier to criticise than to praise and that is probably made worse because we live in a blame culture. We are often quick off the mark to tell someone if we think they’ve done something wrong but tend to drag our feet when it comes to saying well done. We all need those positive strokes as it draws out the best in us and can give us the confidence to face life’s more difficult challenges.

There on the mountain, Jesus heard those words of affirmation from his father. What a thing to know before embarking on the most difficult journey of his life. A journey which he made to demonstrate God’s love for all humankind. Through him and all that he accomplished; we hear God saying to us my daughter my son whom I love and, as we in turn affirm each other may it give us the strength we need for the hard parts of our journey.

If we could bear your brightness here and stay forever in your light, then we would conquer grief and fear, and scorn the terrors of the night.

Alan Gaunt

Reflection on the Lectionary

Psalm 40 :1- 11; Isaiah 49 : 1 – 7; 1 Corinthians 1 : 1 – 9; John 1 : 29 – 42

by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone (Zion).

Here is a clear thread in our readings this week about individual call, Isaiah echoes words from the more familiar Psalm 139 about the Lord calling us into the plan he has for our lives, ‘before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he spoke my name.’

The Psalmist speaks of the desire to do God’s will, respond to his call and to live life, recognizing the new purpose and direction that responding to God’s call offers, like having a new song to sing. He is realistic about the enormity of the task, ‘were I to speak and tell of all your deeds, they would be too many to declare.’ (verse 5)

Throughout my time in the Circuit, one of the questions I consistently get asked, is ‘are you a Minister or are you ordained?’ So, I tend to offer a clear answer by explaining my role and specifically which part of that role puts me in contact with the people asking me ‘who are you?’ John the Baptist had a similar experience. In the verses that lead into our Gospel reading, there is a conversation about John’s identity, about his exact calling and purpose (John 1 : 19 – 28). Priests sent by the Jewish leaders want to challenge John’s right to offer Baptism, a right linked to identity. Following his confession, ‘I am not the Messiah!’ they question John further to discover who he really is, discovering he is neither Elijah nor the Prophet.

‘Why then do you baptize?’ they ask him. This makes way for John to be clear with them, stressing again that he has come to prepare the way for the one who will come after him, whose identity they do not yet know.

In the reading this week, John then takes the opportunity to point Jesus out to them, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ It is the Lamb of God who makes John’s words and actions necessary, the one he came to prepare a way for and baptize with water, so that the Holy Spirit may be prompted to descend in the form of a dove and God’s voice declare, ‘this is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ John’s Gospel doesn’t include the Baptism story but it is recounted as part of John distinguishing between himself and the Messiah and making his calling and purpose clear, so explaining his presence among them. John testifies Jesus is God’s chosen one because of what he has been called to do and in living up to that calling his testimony becomes clear.

The following day John testifies again in a similar way, prompting his own disciples to follow Jesus and commit to the life of discipleship.

At this time of year, we, like Methodists of every generation, renew our Covenant, ‘I am no longer my own but yours ’ and commit to ‘willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.’ The words can be very easy to say because we read them from a page or screen, hopefully each year they prompt us afresh to think about the focus of our calling as individuals and the gathered body of Christ. Which areas of mission, witness and service, within and beyond the church, are we called to focus on this year? 

Reflection on the Lectionary

by Local Preacher, AdamBiddlestone (Zion).

Most committed, Church going Christians can identify with Jesus’ words in the gospel,  ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ As Jesus sends out the seventy-two, how we wish that we had seventy-two within our churches to send out into the community   and bring in the harvest.

Biblical numbers and their multiples are always taken with some caution and often fit a pattern,  7 for the days of creation, 12 for the tribes of Israel, 40 for the days and nights of the flood and Jesus being in the wilderness. Some manuscripts of this story refer to the seventy, possibly linking with the seventy of Israel’s elders, summoned by Moses (Numbers 11 : 16 – 17) to ‘share the burden of the people.’ Seventy – two is also significant, Genesis refers to their being seventy – two nations on earth.

Jesus divides the seventy – two into pairs and sends them ahead of him to all the places he is preparing to go. They are told to travel light, not taking a purse, bag or sandals nor are they to greet people on the road. They are to find hospitality by visiting households where they can stay and receiving hospitality, they should stay in that household until their task is complete. This is to be the equivalent of their wages. Maybe Jesus thinks that as they are travelling without purse, bag or sandals people will take pity on them, the offer of hospitality may come easier.
There is work to be done in the communities where they are staying, ‘heal those who are ill and tell them, the Kingdom of God is near.’

 I wonder what the effect of their work was, we are told later that, ‘the seventy – two returned with joy!!’ because ‘even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Each pair appear to have had a positive experience. Their joy, Jesus warns them is misplaced, their real joy should be that, ‘your names are written in heaven.’
How light should we travel as we go out in Jesus’ name? Within the Church, there are monastic communities made up of members who are prepared to renounce worldly possessions to live lives of prayer, fasting and poverty. Volunteer gap year roles are commonplace in Christian retreat centres and charitable organisations, where accommodation and a basic allowance are the reward for time given in Christian service. Clergy give their time to serve churches, rewarded with a house to live in, a stipend and expenses.
As we go out into the communities surrounding our churches, what do we need to take?
How will be greeted and rewarded? What are we preparing the places we go for? If we restrict the purpose of going out to bring people into the church building for the main event of the week, then maybe our task will not reap the rewards we hope for.

 Within our Circuit, the ARK sets an example and pattern of being out with its few workers, in places like the Galleries, the South Glos Show and other places. Walking around the streets surrounding our churches, in places like Alveston, Easter Compton and Speedwell has become part of their trademark. What can we learn from them and their courage to go out? We may never know the fruit of being present, outside our buildings. This is as much the work of the Kingdom as maintaining a pattern of weekly Sunday worship.
Hymns in the Mission and Evangelism section of Singing the Faith remind us of this commitment, especially 402 ‘Go to the world! Go into all the world.’

Prayer
Lord, give us the courage and confidence to go out in your name,
to proclaim the gospel,
to share our story and listen to the stories of those we meet on the way. Amen.

Note:  Again, no reflection was available, so this is repeated from July 2022 .

Reflection on the Lectionary

Psalm 30; 2 Kings 5 : 1 – 14; Galatians 6 : 7 – 16; Luke 10 : 1 – 11, 16 – 20
  by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone (Zion).

Most committed, Church going Christians can identify with Jesus’ words in the gospel reading, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ As Jesus sends out the seventy-two, how we wish that we had seventy-two within our churches to send out into the community   and bring in the harvest.
Biblical numbers and their multiples are always taken with some caution and often fit a pattern,  7 for the days of creation, 12 for the tribes of Israel, 40 for the days and nights of the flood and Jesus being in the wilderness. Some manuscripts of this story refer to the seventy, possibly linking with the seventy of Israel’s elders, summoned by Moses (Numbers 11 : 16 – 17) to ‘share the burden of the people.’ Seventy – two is also significant, Genesis refers to their being seventy – two nations on earth.
Jesus divides the seventy – two into pairs and sends them ahead of him to all the places he is preparing to go. They are told to travel light, not taking a purse, bag or sandals nor are they to greet people on the road. They are to find hospitality by visiting households where they can stay and receiving hospitality, they should stay in that household until their task is complete. This is to be the equivalent of their wages. Maybe Jesus thinks that as they are travelling without purse, bag or sandals people will take pity on them, the offer of hospitality may come easier.
There is work to be done in the communities where they are staying, ‘heal those who are ill and tell them, the Kingdom of God is near.’

 I wonder what the effect of their work was, we are told later that, ‘the seventy – two returned with joy!!’ because ‘even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Each pair appear to have had a positive experience. Their joy, Jesus warns them is misplaced, their real joy should be that, ‘your names are written in heaven.’
How light should we travel as we go out in Jesus’ name? Within the Church, there are monastic communities made up of members who are prepared to renounce worldly possessions to live lives of prayer, fasting and poverty. Volunteer gap year roles are commonplace in Christian retreat centres and charitable organisations, where accommodation and a basic allowance are the reward for time given in Christian service. Clergy give their time to serve churches, rewarded with a house to live in, a stipend and expenses.
As we go out into the communities surrounding our churches, what do we need to take?
How will be greeted and rewarded? What are we preparing the places we go for? If we restrict the purpose of going out to bring people into the church building for the main event of the week, then maybe our task will not reap the rewards we hope for.

 Within our Circuit, the ARK sets an example and pattern of being out with its few workers, in places like the Galleries, the South Glos Show and other places. Walking around the streets surrounding our churches, in places like Alveston, Easter Compton and Speedwell has become part of their trademark. What can we learn from them and their courage to go out? We may never know the fruit of being present, outside our buildings. This is as much the work of the Kingdom as maintaining a pattern of weekly Sunday worship.
Hymns in the Mission and Evangelism section of Singing the Faith remind us of this commitment, especially 402 ‘Go to the world! Go into all the world.’
Prayer
Lord, give us the courage and confidence to go out in your name,
to proclaim the gospel, to share our story and listen to the stories of those we meet on the way. Amen.

Because no reflection was available for this week, I am repeating one from July 2022. Pat H

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 7th January (Ordinary 1)

Psalm 29; Genesis 1: 1 – 5; Acts 19 : 1 – 7; Mark 1:4 – 11

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone.

As we begin another new year, the stories of Christmas are behind us and the ministry of the adult Jesus lies ahead. With a very early Easter this year, we will soon be into the stories that lead us to the cross and beyond to the joy of his resurrection. This year we journey with Mark through his gospel account.

Mark, unlike the two other Synoptic Gospels, begins not with birth stories but by announcing, ‘the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah.’ It is John the Baptist

Mark introduces us to first, the one Isaiah foretells will be the messenger preparing a way for the Lord and through John’s call Jesus appears and Mark draws us into his gospel.

This Sunday is also the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time, the 1st of 33 Sundays marked as Ordinary. God interrupts our ordinary lives through his transforming love and calling. On the day of our gospel story those who heard John’s call had their ordinary day interrupted, through their own baptisms and by witnessing the dramatic events surrounding Jesus’ baptism, as the heavens are torn open, a dove descends and a voice proclaims, ‘you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (1 : 11) Paul, arriving and preaching in Ephesus, challenged some disciples about their belief and baptism. ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ (Acts 19 : 2) They admitted to not understanding what the Holy Spirit is. Their baptism was by John and by water. Paul reminds them of the call they would have heard from John, ‘I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1 : 8) Their response is to be baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus, to receive the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues and prophesy. Not quite the ordinary day they were expecting. Paul’s word interrupts their ordinary day, so their response and commitment transforms their lives.

What about you, how has God interrupted your ordinary life? Are you prepared to allow him to interrupt and transform your life? Our Covenant commitment is, ‘I am no longer my own but yours, put me to what you will…’

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for the message of John the Baptist,

calling us to prepare a way for the Lord.

As we start a new year, help us to prepare a way in our own hearts and lives for Christ to dwell among us and once prepared ourselves, to call others into the story of his birth.

Amen.

Reflection

What will the New Year bring for me?

Spring, Spring, Spring,

Opening bud and waving tree

Birds that sweetly sing,

Summer green and Autumn gold,

Winter with its frost and cold.

Ring bells ring

Sing children sing

And thank our God

For the glad new year and everything.

From memory these are the words sung happily when a child in Sunday School. In retrospect the words gave confidence and assurance that the world would continue in its sequence of seasons, growth and joy. There was no indication that things may not proceed in an orderly positive routine. However, as adults, we know that life is not always straight forward and easy, the experiences of the pandemic and international hostilities have proved this to us.  But with trust in God and awareness of his support through good and not so good we can still look ahead with confidence to the future.

We look to the future yes, but not forgetting the past. We remember the past capitalising on what has been good and avoiding the bad. We then look forward with insight on our achievements and build on them. This is essential with our personal lives, our Christian faith and our developing church lives. January the first is known as the Feast of the naming of Jesus. What can be done in the name of Jesus in our personal and local situations. When we have faith in God the Father, Jesus the Son and the enduring power of the Holy Spirit with us we can move forward positively whatever our age, capabilities, physical capacities. We move forward with Jesus besides us guiding, encouraging, supporting us on our journeys. We can go into 2024 in faith knowing that God is with us at all times and will be with us whatever life throws at us.

So,

What will the new Year bring for us?

Hope, joy, pain?

Friendships strong, supportive true,

Love that God has given,

Happy times, sad ones too,

World without its hostile threats,

Pray friends pray,

Trust God always

And believe in God

For this coming year and evermore.

God bless you and grant you health and His peace in 2024.

Vivienne Lear

Reflection -Christmas

The Gift from God

God so loved the world

That he gave – gave his Son,

Gave the Christ child

Born in a stable,

In Bethlehem, long, long, ago.

Jesus, Gift of God

Inspiration for living,

Preached words of love,

Joy, freedom, peace.

Cared for the sick and outcasts,

Men, women, children.

Jesus, enter our hearts not only

At Christmas

But for ever and always

Remembering the horrors of Good Friday

And celebrating the joy of Easter.

In our worship, Bible reading and prayers,

May we come to know

And appreciate God’s good gift to us,

A unique and special gift

A gift of sacrificial love for all.

Thanks be to God

For his gift to the world. V.C.L

Wishing you a Happy Christmas from Badminton Road Methodist Church.

Reflection

Child of Peace

Long ago as promised by the prophets

A child was born.

Child of peace

Given as a gift by God

To a world

Needing guidance, peace, love, hope.

God’s Son

Born to a young woman

In humble solitude,

Deprived at birth

Of cradle and home.

For the Prince of Peace

No royal palace.

He came a holy gift

For an imperfect world,

His nativity unique.

Child of peace

Born in Bethlehem stable,

Surrounded by animal smells,

Straw and hay.

Born into poverty,

Beset by improbable circumstances

Unsettled times.

Child of peace

Born in a garrison town

Surrounded by officialdom

Army units,

Census takers.

But cocooned

By love of earthly parents

Upheld by heavenly Father,

God.

Child of peace

whose humble birth

Seemed inconsequential, unimportant.

Nonetheless

Brought promise and realisation

Of spiritual blessing.

Innocent child

Birthing absence of strife

In troubled times.

Child of peace

Your task to accomplish

Peace between God and humanity,

Bringing to fruition

Peace …….

Inner concord, harmony,

Moral guidance

Selfless spirituality,

Love of neighbour as of self.

Child of peace

Central character of Christmas tableau

Be the centre of yearning for peace

Within our souls.

Child of peace

As the world replicates circumstances

Similar to those of your birth;

Faces unsettled times,

Warfare, hopelessness, anguish, poverty

Enter and pervade hearts and minds to seek

Tranquillity, harmony, reconciliation.

Child of peace

Come

Refresh our lives,

Enter our hearts this Christmas,

Renaissance of

God’s gift who brought

Peace on earth,

Love,

Good will to all.

Child of peace, Welcome  

 V.C. Lear

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 10th December (Advent 2)

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13 ; Isaiah 40 : 1- 11; 2 Peter 3 : 8 – 15a; Mark 1 : 1 – 8
The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone.

Over ten years ago, before moving to Bristol, I was asked to go and assess the service of a Local Preacher ‘on trial.’ He arrived and took the service dressed in jeans and a casual shirt. As part of the process, the assessor asks members of the congregation for their thoughts on the service. On this occasion, it was difficult to get people to talk about the content of the service, they were too focussed on how he was dressed, not in the way they expected a Preacher to dress.

I wonder what that congregation would have said about how John the Baptist dressed? The gospel account tells us, ‘he wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a belt around his waist.’ His appearance gave the crowd gathered at the River Jordan confidence because John, preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness and calling people to confess their sins and be baptized, was dressed like a Prophet, like Elijah (2 Kings 1 : 8).

Their confidence is strengthened as they recognise how John fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of coming in the wilderness, calling people to prepare a way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3 –5).

That confidence is demonstrated by the numbers who respond to his message, ‘the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.’ Whole communities responded to his message, individuals made themselves vulnerable, confessed their sins and were baptized as a sign of their repentance. More than this, it demonstrated their confidence in both John as the messenger, in God whose message he came to bring and in the one who will come, not to baptize you with water but with the Holy Spirit.

If we read on in chapter 1 of Mark, Jesus himself stands with them and he too is baptized. Advent is a season in itself, a time of preparation for Christmas. There are Advent carols to be sung, candles to be lit, liturgies to be shared, daily reading and prayers to be used in our personal devotions. So, let us not rush ahead in our worship to Christmas for there is the richness of Advent to be celebrated and enjoyed. How are you preparing for Christ’s birth, individually and as churches?

Lord, we thank you for the message of John the Baptist, calling us to prepare a way for the Lord.

Help us to prepare a way in our own heart _and lives for Christ to dwell among us and once prepared ourselves, to call others into the story of his birth. Amen.

Reflection

The Gift from God

God so loved the world

That he gave – gave his Son,

Gave the Christ child

Born in a stable,

In Bethlehem, long, long, ago.

Jesus, Gift of God

Inspiration for living,

Preached words of love,

Joy, freedom, peace.

Cared for the sick and outcasts,

Men, women, children.

Jesus, enter our hearts not only

At Christmas

But for ever and always

Remembering the horrors of Good Friday

And celebrating the joy of Easter.

In our worship, Bible reading and prayers,

May we come to know

And appreciate God’s good gift to us,

A unique and special gift

A gift of sacrificial love for all.

Thanks be to God

For his gift to the world. V.C.L

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 26th November

Psalm 100 ; Ezekiel 34 : 11 – 16, 20 – 24; Ephesians 1 : 15 – 23; Matthew 25 : 31 – 46

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Tim Lansdown (Hanham).

Within the two millennia of Christianity the celebration of “Christ the King” Sunday is but a recent addition to our worship. It was only in 1925 that it was instituted by Pope Pius X1 as a response to increasing secularisation across Europe and even doubts within the Christian Church about the person of Jesus. Originally it was celebrated on October 31st but then in 1969 Pope Paul V1 moved it to the Sunday before Advent, so that the final Sunday in the liturgical year should conclude on a note of certainty and triumph.

There are many references in the New Testament to Christ as King. Pilate in the judgement hall asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews (Matthew : 27:11) and in 1 Timothy 1 : 17 there is reference to Christ as the King of the ages. In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats it is the king who sits in judgement over his people. History is littered with examples of monarchs who exercised power, Henry VIII perhaps the prime example in our native history. King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta to restrict his powers. In the game of chess, the king is the only piece that can’t be removed from the board.

The parable sets the scene in a grand court of law with the king, the Son of Man, surrounded by angels, seated in glory. But when the king addresses, first the sheep and then the goats the mood changes. The statement states, “when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was naked.’’ So, the image of the king lording it over his people is overturned. Jesus is identifying himself with the poor, the stranger, the unloved. Here is what Paul describes as the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor 1 : 18 ff) which turns the values of the world upside down and lays down a challenge to the followers of the king as to how they live their lives. Notice also, the surprise of both the sheep and the goats to the statement of the king. “When did we see you hungry, thirsty …?” they ask. And the answer from the king resounds in the minds of us all with the challenge, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my people you did it to me.” which suggests that the whole Kingdom of God is built on the way we treat each other particularly those at the bottom of the pecking order. This might seem to fly in the face the face of Paul’s mantra that works without faith is dead. But the fact that the sheep were surprised but what they had done suggests that the actions were driven not by duty but by love, not by works but by a spirit filled desire to live out the gospel. Likewise, for the goats it was through a lack of love that they failed to see the need of others. We could compare the love demonstrated by St Francis who embraced the leper, and as he did so the face of the leper changed to the face of Jesus. May we see Jesus in those of us who are in need of love.

God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray, melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain; come change our love from a spark to a flame.

STF 693 – Graham Kendrick © Make Way Music, 1993

Reflection on the Lectionary

Psalm 90 : 1- 8; Zephaniah 1 : 7, 12 – 18;  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25 :14-30  

by Local Preacher, Naomi Sharp.

“Time flies when you’re having fun!” But time can crawl by when we feel lonely or bored, and yet again somehow vanish when we are busy, bringing a deadline (for homework, sermon preparation or a grant application) precariously close.  Our perception of time depends very much on our circumstances and how we are feeling.

Today’s set readings from the Bible all seem to relate to time in some way or other.  Psalm 90 reminds us that as human beings limited by time, we experience things very differently to God of whom the Psalmist writes:  A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90.4 NRSV).  Other passages in Scripture relate God’s eternal viewpoint to His patience and mercy, allowing people opportunity to seek God and respond to God’s love.  But today’s other readings take a different angle, reminding us that the “Day of the Lord” will come (Zephaniah, 1 Thessalonians) and that “accounts” will be settled (Matthew).

In Matthew’s gospel particularly (but also in the other passages) the writer seems to be prompting readers not to waste time looking into the future, but to consider their lives in the present.  In the story in Matthew 25 : 14-30, three servants are called to account for their work while their master has been absent. They have been given different “talents,” some larger, some smaller, and their master wants to hear what they have done with what they were given.  Two of the servants have made use of the opportunities presented to them.  Those opportunities were not the same (one was greater, one was smaller) but they are rewarded equally because they both did what they could (see the identically worded verses 21 and 23).  The third servant has not made use of the opportunities given and for this they are judged. 

This parable is challenging, and we can be put off by what seems like harsh treatment of a timid individual. The danger for us with this, and the other readings, is that we focus our attention on wondering about the nature of the “Day of the Lord” and of how God’s future “calling to account” may take place.  I think the heart of the parable, and the other readings, is to focus our thoughts onto how we live now, and how we use the gifts and opportunities God has given to us.  The invitation is for us to live to God’s best advantage, using whatever God has put into our hands to use.  Not to “bury” those good things and let them be wasted.

I wonder what that might look like for each of us today?

Prayer

We bless you, Lord God, for the personalities, preferences, skills and spiritual gifts which you have given to us.  May we find joy in serving you today with all that we have and all that we are. For the sake of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

                                                    

Remembrance

Two Bible verses used at this time of Remembrance remind us that God is always with us and Jesus promises his peace.

‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ Psalm 46:1

‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’  John 14:27

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.’ Perhaps we recall reciting this verse as children near to Bonfire Night and the excitement of fireworks and refreshments. A fun night for children to remember; but what about us as we grew older and the following words of remembrance came into focus.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

We will remember, not with celebration, fireworks, food, but remember with poignancy, reflection, personal loss, wars and conflicts of the last and present century.

This year we cannot fail to be aware of the conflicts in the Ukraine, Israel and Gaza where many lives and homes are being destroyed.

About 10 years ago I travelled on a cruise that visited The White Sea. We had a sensitive service on deck to remember those who had been involved the Arctic Convoys of World War 2 and a wreath was dropped into the ocean in remembrance. It was cold and windy in Summer so what the sailors must have experienced in the freezing winters and ships covered in ice it was hard to imagine. During visits to Murmansk and Archangel we were able to visit British War Graves. The Russian police halted traffic so our coaches could visit and park at these cemeteries. What chance now of such events taking place. 

Remember, remember young men and women uprooted from their homes and families to experience the horrors of war, fighting for a cause but seeking peace instead of aggression and oppression; so many memories for those who experienced these events and for their families. We also remember the hostilities where innocent lives were lost in Korea, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, The Falklands War, The Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan. We remember survivors of conflicts suffering mental and physical injury and their difficulties continuing in the forces or accommodating into civilian life. Remember.

Yes, we remember, not to glorify war nor to appoint blame for the strife but to hope and pray for peace. Peace of heart, mind and soul, of forgiveness. We pray for tangible peace between peoples, nations, faiths. We wear poppies in remembrance of the poppies that grew in profusion in the destructive horrors of Flanders fields in World War One. A poppy made by former service personnel needing support. We remember those who endured all conflicts and we pray for Peace, for Others, for Pardon, for Positivity, for Youth facing their futures. The POPPY a symbol of remembrance and of hope.

Remembrance Sunday: a focus to remember but hope and pray for a peaceful future.

Peace be with you.

Vivienne Lear

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 5th November (Ordinary 31)

Psalm 43; Micah 3 : 5 – 12; 1 Thessalonians 2 : 9 – 13; Matthew 23 : 1 – 12 by Local Preacher, Alison Smith (St. Andrew’s).

In all our readings today, we hear about people not putting into practice the things they were telling others to do. Often, we try to do this ourselves, especially with our children. We are in the habit perhaps of interrupting others when they’re speaking. We soon give our children what for if they interrupt us, especially if we’re trying to tell them off for something.

How good are we at following our own advice? How often is it a case of ‘do as I say and not as the Lord told Micah to chastise the religious men who were supposed to be guiding and leading the people in the way of the law. They were telling them one thing and doing another; proclaiming peace but if they weren’t peaceful, they’d wage war against them.

One day God would not be there for them, He wouldn’t answer their call and so they’d be disgraced, ashamed and in darkness. Micah then goes on to say, he was filled with the Spirit of God and had the right to call the prophets to account on God’s behalf. He said the leaders and rulers despised justice and distorted everything.

He then went on to outline everything they had done wrong, corrupted and destroyed by taking bribes, charging for their teaching and worst of all, charging the people for telling fortunes! Treating God like a circus side stall act.

He said that because of them, ‘Zion would be ploughed like a field and Jerusalem would become a heap of rubble, with the temple mound being covered and overgrown with weeds, creepers and bushes.’ (Micah 3 : 12)

What does this say to us today? We should be careful when we take on the responsibility of teaching others. Know what the basis of the subject is, and what it’s telling us. For Christians, its know your Bible. Know the Word of God and that His underlying word for all of us is – love.

If we love, then everything comes from that, we’ll want to do the best for God, and for each other. We will treat everyone fairly and justly, preferring peace over war and understanding over revenge.

What is God’s greatest commandment? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22 : 38 – 39).

I do. The Lord told Micah to chastise the religious men who were supposed to be guiding and leading the people in the way of the law. They were telling them one thing and doing another; proclaiming peace but if they weren’t peaceful, they’d wage war against them. One day God would not be there for them, He wouldn’t answer their call and so they’d be disgraced, ashamed and in darkness. Micah then goes on to say, he was filled with the Spirit of God and had the right to call the prophets to account on God’s behalf. He said the leaders and rulers despised justice and distorted everything.

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 29th October (Ordinary 30), by Local
Preacher Jenny Clark, (Yate)

Psalm 90:1–6, 13-17; Deuteronomy 34:1–12; 1 Thessalonians 2 : 1 – 8; Matthew 22 : 34 – 46

I don’t know how many of you enjoy quizzes but TV is full of them and the testing of knowledge is no longer reserved for a school examination, it is a leisure activity! We are told that using our memory is a great way to keep it active so when we look at today’s lesson, like the many examples already presented   gospel, we have the kind of question that was carefully fashioned not to just test Jesu’s knowledge but to catch Him out!

Jesus is able to give very solid answers to the Pharisees and Sadducees because he is a scholar but the actions that support these words are the real challenge which Jesus takes forward with the parables and the teaching He gives. It is active and practical, not weak or placatory! Jesus then poses His question to the Pharisees about the lineage of David and while the answer they give is accurate, it is not adequate! Jesus opens up the wisdom of love in kindness and in suffering.

My mother-in-law was lovely but she often asked difficult questions like, “what do you keep in the back room as the door is always closed?” or “Shall I help you put those things away in the cupboard?” I am sure she knew that I threw things in a vacant room to appear tidy and all my cupboards were full of things I needed to discard! Unfortunately keeping things out of regular sight means that they clog up the smooth running of important things and I am now still working through countless items I should have processed.

We are confronted by a world where politics and ideologies are tearing humanity apart. Jesus came to bring the understanding that love is hard and needs to be diverse and encompassing, but we do have a solution to bring peace and harmony. As I write this reflection, Israel and Gaza are in conflict fuelled by a group who has a very different agenda. There is still a huge need to confront the most difficult issues and questions in a way that will bring lasting solutions. Jesus knew that solutions were possible and not built on power and fear but on love and forgiveness, one person at a time. War zones abound with sacrifice, care and love, so should a world at peace.

The hard questions Jesus asked the Pharisees were about the roots of their faith. David was a warrior but he knew the demands of a loving God and certainly fell short on occasions. Salvation shows that it is within the capabilities of us all. How many of us like to hide our troublesome thoughts and anxieties, our wobbles of faith, our complacency or our lack of focus and ability? No one asked any more questions after Jesus challenged the Pharisees as they knew the power of God demands absolute obedience. Jesus showed impossibilities could become possibilities with absolute faith through miracle and resurrection.  Do we still look in the right place for our strength and understanding?

Prayer:

Lord, help us not to turn away from the uncomfortable truths of life but recognise that there is direction and comfort in bringing ourselves to you in prayer, where all of our  unasked questions will be answered and challenges issued! Amen

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 22nd October (Ordinary 29) by Local Preacher, David Carter
Psalm 99; Exodus 33 : 12–23; 1 Thessalonians 1 :1- 10; Matthew 22 : 15 – 22

The four passages for reflection this week are all interesting, but I intend to concentrate on the two New Testament passages.
Matthew 22 : 15 – 22 gives an account of a trick question, designed to trap Jesus. It is followed by a sequel, which strangely does not feature in the lectionary.

The Pharisees hope to trick Jesus into saying something which will either discredit him with his fellow Jews or will bring him the notice of the ruthless Romans as a potential revolutionary. If he says paying tax to the Emperor is lawful, it will discredit him with his own people, who pay the hated foreign taxes because they have to bow to superior force and will see Jesus as betraying any hopes that he might be a liberator. If by contrast he denies the lawfulness of paying tax to the emperor, then it will not be difficult to make him a marked man in Roman eyes.


Jesus cleverly gets round the question, leaving people to puzzle out his answer and posing a question that we need to answer in the very changed conditions of today. Jews and all other subject races had no alternative but to pay the hated conquerors or face consequences far more serious that a modern tax letter from the Inland Revenue. We live in a country where we have to pay tax but through the democratic process, we can have a say on what the Government should ask us to pay and on what it is spent. This gives us a responsibility to speak up and to allow for what the Bible quite clearly teaches about the responsibility of those in power to see that the power they exercise and the revenue they extract from us are used for purposes of which God can approve as well as the community. We know that God’s will is justice for those who lose out in this life. It is his preference for the poor and that should determine Christian attitudes to all aspects of taxation and expenditure by the powers that be. We are in a more favourable, but also more responsibly demanding situation, than were the Jews within the Roman Empire.


At the beginning of 1 Thessalonians : 1–10 Paul is writing to one of the first churches he founded and his tone is more benign than it was in some of his other letters. By and large, he is very encouraging and tells the Thessalonians that they are respected for their welcome to Paul’s mission and their progress in growing in faith and Christian witness since. It represents Paul doing something all Christian ministers should do, encouraging their people in everything good that they are able to do in Christ’s name.

Prayer
Father, as we seek to live the Christian life in our churches and local communities give us grace to see what you will is for us in each situation.

May your Holy Spirit lead us into all the truth that you wish us to receive in guidance. Amen.

Reflection on the Lectionary  

by Local Preacher Hennie Gray (Yate)

Psalm 23; Isaiah 25 : 1 – 9; Philippians 4 : 1 – 9; Matthew 22 : 1 – 1  

                        

*Please note the Psalm and Old Testament reading are from the Related readings in the Lectionary and not the Continuous readings.                       

The main theme of today’s lectionary readings is rejoicing; the kind born of relief and victory. Maybe you can remember the kind of joy when peace was declared after the 2nd World War?

Isaiah’s reading accentuates security and safety in the midst of unrest and chaos, worded as “shelter from the storm” and “shade from the heat.” Psalm 23 echoes this sense of all being well in God’s company, even if we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and in both these readings the banquet is prepared by God for his loved ones as a feast of celebration in plain view of those who mean harm, accentuating their powerlessness and God’s complete victory over evil.                                                

In Philippians, Paul speaks about rejoicing in the same breath as suffering. Paul knew, with relief and joy, that God does not let us down. Paul suggests that worrying  anxiously about  what lies ahead of each of us is a waste of our precious time and it is more helpful if we can contemplate the wonderful things which lift our spirits and make us rejoice. This is spelt this out in a list: whatever is noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy – think on these things. What a lot we miss out on, by failing to rejoice, whatever happens in life.

Rejoicing is a fruit of trusting our God’s promise, to be our shelter in the storm and knowing deep inside that ultimately, we have nothing to fear.                            

The parable Jesus tells us about the wedding feast once again features the rejoicing and celebration with God which happens even in the face of violence, opposition and rejection.  

 All of us can count ourselves among the guests who’ve accepted the invitation once it has been thrown open to those walking in any direction and with a good or difficult past life. It’s a celebration that’s stretched all over time and space, heaven and earth.

At that time, it was cultural that wedding garments would have been provided for guests free of charge, so notice the deliberate insult by the guest who has decided not to wear his, and just turns up in his old clothes – the filthy rags of his old life. Jesus wanted those  listening to him (and also Matthew and his readers) to be clear in their thinking that accepting the honour of a place at the banquet obliges  them to accept also the grace of renewal and transformation. If we continue to live with former outlooks, attitudes and behaviours it places us alongside those who have chosen to reject the invitation.

The good news is that we are all invited to God’s wedding banquet – in accepting we allow the rags and tatters of our old lives to be exchanged for the freely given robes of holiness and right living. Jesus died for this free exchange – the offer is still on the table.

Prayer

O God, our shepherd king: we thank you, for being  present and providing for us, or guarding and guiding us.  For bringing us good days and bringing us through dark days, we thank you. For your invitation to your heavenly banquet, we thank you.

Go into the week ahead and wherever you find yourself, celebrating or sharing a sadness or anything in between, may you rejoice in God’s grace.

See each moment as an invitation to meet with God, each meeting as an opportunity to invite others, until we meet again. Amen.

                 

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 17th September (Ordinary 24)

Psalm 103 : 8-13; Exodus 14 : 19–31; Romans 14 : 1 – 12; Matthew 18 : 21 – 35

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Naomi Sharp.

Memorisation has gone out of fashion a bit, since we’ve had access to a vast cyber-scape of information at the tips of our fingers, hasn’t it? Did you grow up memorising poems, or dates at school? And what about Scripture? Perhaps someone in your family had a “Promise Box” – a small box with scores of tiny tubes of rolled up paper with Bible verses printed on them, reminders of God’s goodness and an aid to memory. Or perhaps like me, you were incentivised to learn memory verses at Sunday school by the reward of colourful stickers.

A friend of mine was promised by his father, that when he could recite the whole of Psalm 103 (today’s lectionary Psalm) he would be given his very own Bible. (He did it!) It is a great choice of Psalm to commit to memory because it draws such clear picture of the character of God, and of his forgiving, compassionate nature.

The book Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney, featuring a nutbrown hare, has become something of a modern phenomenon. But its conclusion, I love you right up to the moon and back, sounds very ancient to me. Consider the description of God’s love in Psalm 103.11: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him. Both the book and the Psalm measure love by height, but the Psalm also gives a comparative measurement using horizontal distance. As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. (verse 12). God’s forgiveness is as wide as God’s love is high. Wow…

The Psalm makes much of God’s forgiveness and mercy, based on God’s understanding of human weakness and frailty. Unlike love, however, forgiveness is not a popular theme today. (I can’t think of any children’s books along the lines of this verse). Perhaps this is because forgiveness seems so much harder, or maybe because there is a fear of letting someone “get away with it?” I’m not sure. Jesus certainly challenges Peter. Should he forgive someone seven times? (a big number). “No,” Jesus replies, “I tell you, seventy-seven times” (a number so big you’d lose track).

Psalm 103 describes how love and forgiveness are bound together in God’s character. Maybe we could think about how we might reflect that character, both aspects of it. ‘The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,’ (Psalm 103.8) Alleluia!

Merciful and gracious God,

God who doesn’t treat us as we really deserve,

but so much better,

we adore you.

May we grow more like you in our willingness to love,

in our desire to forgive,

and our ability to do them both.

Through Jesus, our loving, forgiving Saviour, Amen.

Reflection on the Lectionary 10th September 2023

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone.

All our human relationships should be built on the foundation of love. ‘Loving one another’ or ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ is a concept that can be of huge benefit to us all. If we do this, then we will behave decently towards each other (Romans 13 : 13) and hopefully avoid having to deal with issues of sin and division that Jesus offers advice on in our Gospel reading this week.

If only, we are all human and human relationships are complex and complicated. We have very fixed ideas on how things should be done, we can be stubborn and self-centred, often seeing our views and desires as the most important. All churches can testify to difficulties arising out of our individual characters, personalities and opinions and how this can lead to tensions and conflicts between members, often over the most trivial of matters. When left unresolved, difficulties grow, relationships break down and the whole church community can suffer as a result. Jesus’ words offer advice about the stages we should go through to resolves issues that exist in the church, where one member feels another has sinned against them. If the two people meeting to discuss the issues fails, then bring in one or two others to mediate, if this fails then it becomes a matter for the whole church to address and resolve. And if that doesn’t work then, ‘treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’ (18 : 17). This is the advice, maybe our protocols of conflict resolution and complaints are built on these stages.

Jesus’ closing words are, ‘for where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.’

(Matthew 18 : 20). So, whenever we are in the company of another person Jesus is present with us. Often when we meet as Christians we begin and end our time together in  prayer, acknowledging His presence with us and seeking his guidance. This is especially important where the issues to be discussed are contentious or those gathered have differing views or difficult decisions are to be made. Christian love should always be at the heart of our conversations and relationships, the willingness to listen to and value each other is important.

There are times when relationships do break down, between colleagues in the workplace, neighbours in the street, members in a family, worshippers in a church, partners in a marriage and much time and effort has been given trying to resolve issues and tensions. Situations like these can be painful and draining, whether we are directly involved or they involve people and contexts we care about. Sometimes ending the relationship by resigning, moving to another church, separating can be the only solution that can enable individuals to move on, for healing and transformation to happen. Out of the pain can come new healthy, loving relationships which lead to a greater sense of happiness and peace where a new love can flourish and a new purpose be found. Paul reminds us in Romans that the day is near, ‘our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.’ (13 : 11 – 12). None of us know the time when our earthly lives will end, each encounter with another person could be the last. We may never have an opportunity to put right words or actions we regret. Life is short, too short to live in relationships that are painful and broken. Sometimes, the loving thing to do for ourselves and others is to end relationships, to move on, to create an ending leading to new beginnings.

Prayer

Lord, we pray for those involved in difficult and painful relationships, where pain is felt and conflict is real. Bring healing to the people and places involved, enable a fresh sense of direction and purpose to be found in resolving issues.

Bring peace to the brokenness and transformation to the lives of those involved.

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 3rd September (Ordinary 22)

Psalm 105 : 1 – 6, 23 – 26; Exodus 3 :1 – 15;  Romans 12 :9-21; Matthew 16 : 21 – 28

 by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone.

In the space of just a few verses Peter has, according to Jesus, gone from being ‘the rock on which I will build my church,’ (16 : 18) to ‘a stumbling block to me.’ (16 : 23) Jesus described Peter as the rock because of his declaration, ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (16 : 16). The depth of understanding in Peter’s answer was at the time impressive and insightful but did he really understand what he was saying? Or was he just trying to impress Jesus or show off in front of the others?  

His reaction to Jesus’ prediction in today’s reading is very different. As Jesus goes on to talk about his suffering and death at the hands of the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law and his rising from the dead on the third day, Peter challenged him, ‘Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’  (16: 22) Had Peter forgotten his previous declaration or did he not understand the meaning of his words? Peter loved Jesus and it was therefore easy to give him the status of ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ However, to accept that for this prediction to come true, his loving friend needs to suffer and endure a cruel and painful death by crucifixion is hard. Peter’s response is about his human concerns and relationship and not about God’s plan and purpose. As Jesus now begins to talk openly about his sufferings and death, to have one of his closest companions challenging his predictions is a stumbling block which will lead to confusion and doubt to those who are listening.

Jesus ends his response to Peter but going even further ahead in God’s plan, ‘for the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels and then will reward each person according to what they have done.’ (16 : 27) According to whether they have been a rock or a stumbling block? According to whether their words and actions have truly declared Jesus as, the Messiah, Son of the Living God?’

Hopefully, we all have some awareness of God’s plan and purpose for our lives, it is always evolving, sometimes in ways which are deeply challenging and surprising. Such was the experience of Moses the shepherd. On an ordinary day, tending his father-in-law’s sheep, suddenly from inside a burning bush, God calls his name (Exodus : 3 : 4) and reveals himself (3 : 6). The purpose of the Lord’s appearance is to express concern about the misery and suffering of his people at the hands of the Egyptians and to inform Moses that he has been elected to, ‘go to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ (3 : 10) How does Moses respond, as a rock or as a stumbling block? Moses expresses his concerns about God’s plan, his inadequacy for the task, how does he identify himself and introduce God. God reassures him, promises to be with him and gives him the right words. So, after some initial stumbling blocks, Moses goes and leads God’s people to freedom and becomes a rock on which God continues to fulfil his plans.

What about us as individuals and our church communities? How could our words, our priorities, our actions, our lives be described – are we stumbling blocks to people meeting with God and building a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God’ or are we rocks on which the church is enabled to continue to grow and evolve as people meet with God and build a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God?’ What about us as individuals and our church communities? How could our words, our priorities, our actions, our lives be described – are we stumbling blocks to people meeting with God and building a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God’ or are we rocks on which the church is enabled to continue to grow and evolve as people meet with God and build a relationship with the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God?                                                                  

Prayer: Lord, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, help us always to be like a rock on which others can meet with you and build a relationship with you.

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday

Sunday 27th August (Ordinary 21)

Psalm 124; Exodus 1 : 8 – 2 : 10;  Romans 12 : 1 – 8; Matthew 16 : 13 – 20 

by Local Preacher, David Bainbridge (Horfield).

Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say the son of man is?’’ The response was, ‘’some people think you are John the Baptist, some think you are Elijah, others think you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’’ If people believed him to be a prophet, then at least they had understood something important about him. He would certainly challenge them as a prophet but also lead them in new and unexpected ways. But then came the all-important question, “who do you say that I am?’’ It’s not surprising that Peter was the one to answer, and although he often got it wrong this time, he was right. “You are the Christ son of the living God.” It was the right answer, but it had the wrong idea behind it as his later behaviour would show. He still expected Jesus to behave in a certain way, more in keeping with the expectations most Jews had for their Messiah. More the conquering hero than the man who would suffer and die for his people. Yet Peter’s affirmation demanded commitment and brought responsibility. He was given the keys of the Kingdom. These keys were a powerful symbol of authority and responsibility. The keys to bind and loose were part of Jewish culture and a key was presented to those who had completed their courses of study in law.

I recall in my youth listening to some preachers who were strong on judgment but short on grace, which left me wondering whether Peter would ever let me through those gates. Coming from a farming background we would only do what was deemed to be essential work on a Sunday – feeding animals. Harvesting hay was not permissible despite the vagaries of weather on the northern Pennines.  It didn’t matter if you risked a ruined crop because you failed to take advantage of a fine Sunday during a wet summer.  I’ve seen this happen with the crop, exposed to the weather ruined and animals having to be fed with hay that was dusty and most unpalatable with no protein value at all. The poor cattle had to suffer, and, in my view, it was an example of too much binding.

Jesus, of course, didn’t hesitate to challenge behaviour that violated God’s law, but it was done in a spirit of love. He didn’t wait for people to repent before showing that he really cared for them. He didn’t wait for them to change their behaviour before having dinner with them or touching them and healing them. and by his example, he was showing his disciples how to use the keys that were entrusted to them, that their real purpose was not to punish or exact revenge but to open the door to the kingdom of God. We are called to speak out on issues that we feel are against God’s will and challenge behaviour that is harmful but if we hold to the example of Jesus then we do it in love. Our prime motivation being to liberate, to use the keys we have been given to open the door to the Kingdom of God and the last word should always be that of Jesus on the cross, one of forgiveness.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we seek your wisdom guidance courage and strength to speak out in love against all that is against your will and to affirm and encourage all that accords with the values of your Kingdom.

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 20th August (Ordinary 20)

Psalm 133; Genesis 45 :1–15; Romans 11 : 1– 2, 29 – 32; Matthew 15 : 21 – 28

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, David Carter (Watley’s End).

Our gospel reading, about the healing of the daughter of a Psyro-Phoenician woman, reminds us of something that we easily overlook, that in his human life, Jesus was subject to the limitations of understanding that affect of all of us. Luke reminds us that he had to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52), the author of Hebrews that he had to learn obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:5). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus saw it as being for the benefit solely of his own people, a point reflected in our reading where Jesus states clearly that he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’.

Overall, the gospels relate three incidents that helped change his understanding of what God required on him. One was this confrontation with a Psyro-Phoenician woman, the other two were the discovery of the great faith of a Roman centurion, who wanted his servant healed and his encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well.

All three were people that Jesus, as a well brought up Jewish man, would normally have avoided. Our story tells us that the disciples just wanted Jesus to brush the woman off, she was after all an alien, not one of the special people of God.

Jesus, however, was overwhelmed by the woman’s faith and to her daringly sharp answer to his statement that the children’s food should not be given to dogs. The woman had faith that somehow this Jewish teacher and healer (as much an alien to her as she was to him) somehow had resources from which she could benefit. Jesus, in turn, was amazed by her faith and healed her daughter.

I’m sure this was a key moment in the development of our Lord’s ministry, one that helped him to realise that he was ultimately called to a ministry much wider than purely to his own people. It was an understanding on which the disciples may well have reflected after the resurrection when the complex question arose of whether Gentiles should be allowed to join the Church without first having to keep all the Jewish laws. Peter’s testimony about the Spirit being given to the Gentile convert, Cornelius, ultimately settled the issue but the development was foreshadowed in this key incident in Our Lord’s ministry.

Prayer:

‘Father, we thank you that, in Christ, you have made available for all people without discrimination, sufficient, sovereign saving grace’.

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 13th August (Ordinary 19)

Psalm 105:1 – 6, 16 – 22; Genesis 37:1 – 4, 12 – 28; Romans 10:5 – 15; Matthew 14 : 22 – 33

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Christine Jones (Longwell Green).

After Matthew’s account of the MarvellousPicnic, Jesus sends the disciples back to the other side of the lake while he dismisses the crowd. We join the disciples, now at a considerable distance from land, being buffeted by waves because the wind is against them. Only Matthew includes the story of Peter getting out of the boat.

The Christian community for whom Matthew wrote his gospel were feeling rather like the disciples. They no longer had the physical presence of Jesus. They believed he was alive and they had the Holy Spirit, but it wasn’t same as having him with them, having him ‘in the boat,’ as it were. He had promised that he would come again, but time had passed, decades.  Would he ever return? How long could they manage without him? Like the disciples in the boat they were struggling in the dark, buffeted by waves of doubt and temptation; not actually facing persecution, but fearing it could come. The confidence with which they had started out after Pentecost had ebbed away. After the initial wave of conversions there had been opposition and apathy; under-currents and tensions, pulling them this way and that.

This is the situation for which Matthew includes this story of Peter; Peter the rock, Peter the great Christian leader, Peter the faithful martyr. Matthew deliberately tells this story to encourage his Christian community to exercise their faith amid the chaotic situations around them; to fix their attention on Jesus; to be brave enough to get out of their boat and keep walking towards him; to focus on what he’s doing and where he’s leading; to accept that there will be trouble, opposition and threats around them; there will be distractions, doubts and temptations within them. There will also be the hand of Jesus reaching out to catch them, because truly he is the Son of God. Does any of this sound familiar? Do we ever feel that it has been a long wait for Jesus to return? Not just decades, centuries, millennia. We believe he is risen and we have the Holy Spirit, but it is not the same as having his physical presence, having him ‘in our boat.’ Will he ever return? How long can we manage without him? Do we sometimes, or maybe often, feel we are struggling in the dark, straining at the oars, working our socks off for the church, and getting nowhere? Nothing seems secure anymore. There are forces for change both inside the church and in the wider world. Is the boat sinking under us?Are we brave enough to get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus, or are we so fascinate  by the powers of destruction that we have lost sight of him? If we keep our eyes on him we will stay afloat. If we keep our eyes on other things we will go under. He says to each of us ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. Come’. So, when we do get out of our boat he reaches out his hand to catch us, for truly he is the Son of God.

Lord Jesus, since it is you, though I am afraid, I will take heart, I will come to you, for truly you are the Son of God, and even my little faith is enough for you to use. Amen.

Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 6th August (Ordinary 18)

Psalm 17 : 1 – 7, 15; Genesis 32 : 22 – 31; Romans 9 : 1 – 5; Matthew 14 : 13 – 21
The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone (Zion).

The news that Jesus had just heard was the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. The compilers of the Lectionary have left this event out of our readings (14 : 1 – 12), so you may not be aware that this has happened. In response, ‘he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.’
In the Romans passage, Paul speaks of ‘the great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my (his) heart.’ Paul’s sorrow and anguish is over his kinsmen, the people of Israel, who unlike him are unsaved because they are cut off from Christ, they don’t, as Paul now does, have a relationship with the Saviour of the world. His people have many privileges, everything is in place, all they have to do is to accept and follow the Messiah, God over all.

I wonder if Jesus would have explained his emotions as being of ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish.’ Afterall, John was his cousin with whom he had grown up, the one who prepared the way for him and baptized him. The circumstances of his death were that he was beheaded on the request of Herod’s niece, Herodias. There was a certain tragedy and untimely nature to his death.

I wonder if the crowds and disciples were aware of the news Jesus had just received? The crowds still followed Jesus and at a time when he needed their compassion, yet it was Jesus who, ‘had compassion on them.’ He continued to heal those who were ill. There would have been many healings performed, time slipped away and before they knew it evening was upon them.   

The disciples had compassion too, they recognised the hunger the crowds would have felt, the place was remote, resources few, so they suggested to Jesus that he sent them into the villages to buy food. This presented Jesus with an opportunity to be alone again, but he chose not to send the crowds away but to feed them from what they had available.


This turned out to be just ‘five loaves of bread and two fish.’ The crowds were sat down and before their very eyes Jesus took the loaves and fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks broke the loaves before the disciples, distributed the food and all five thousand men plus women and children were fed. A miracle indeed! Apart from what was eaten twelve basketfuls of scraps were also collected.

This takes us back to Paul and his kinsmen, with the twelve baskets seen as representing the twelve tribes of Israel. As Paul identifies, the privileges they have received are many, covenants, laws, temple worship, promises, a shared ancestry with the Messiah himself.
Maybe in the crowds among the committed followers, there are those whose interest in Jesus and his message are growing. And now there is another privilege being laid out in front of them, an earthly banquet and feast, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and feast to come.


Prayer:

Lord, we thank you for the privileges of a life and faith in you. Help us as we journey through this earthly life to see glimpses of the life to come. Amen.

Reflection

Bible Month: Week Three

The story of Bartimaeus will not be used in our service but it is a story of Jesus and his compassion enabling the blind Bartimaeus to see, and how Bartimaeus responds to Jesus. Read Mark 10:46-52; then this meditation of the event from Rev. Nick Fawcett; then consider when/how you might see Jesus in your lives.

(Vivienne Lear)

He made me see!

For the first time in my life,

after all those years of darkness,

all those years of listening

and wondering what the world would be like,

I was able to look and see for myself!

I saw clouds scudding through the sky,

grass waving in the breeze,

flowers blooming in the meadow,

waves breaking on the seashore.

I saw birds nesting in trees,

and animals wandering in the mountains,

the moon and stars glowing in the night sky,

the beauty of sunrise and sunset,

bathing the world in a golden glow.

I saw children playing,

the faces of loved ones,

the bustle of towns and city,

the pomp of priest and temple.

I saw fields of corn and ripening fruit,

bubbling streams and tranquil pools,

 a world of colour, form and contrast,

more lovely than my wildest dreams.

All this I can see!

Yet there is more,

much more, that I owe him,

for it is not just my eyes he has opened,

but my mind,

my heart,

my soul.

I looked at him

and I did not see just a man;

I glimpsed the hand of God,

smiling through his welcome,

I glimpsed the hand of God,

reaching through his touch;

I glimpsed the love of God,

accepting me through his call.

He made me see Jesus,

not just with my eyes,

though I can’t thank him enough for that,

but with my soul –

the things that really matter,

that really count,

that meets my deepest need.

And now I know that even when it’s dark,

even when life is at its blackest,

even when I cannot see the way ahead,

I am walking in the light.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see you more clearly and  love your more dearly.

Amen

Reflection on the Lectionary

Psalm 30; 2 Kings 5 : 1 – 14; Galatians 6 : 7 – 16; Luke 10 : 1 – 11, 16 – 20
  by Local Preacher, Adam Biddlestone (Zion).

This reflection is from last July (I’m using this because no reflection is available this week Pat H)

Most committed, Church going Christians can identify with Jesus’ words in the gospel reading, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ As Jesus sends out the seventy-two, how we wish that we had seventy-two within our churches to send out into the community   and bring in the harvest.
Biblical numbers and their multiples are always taken with some caution and often fit a pattern,  7 for the days of creation, 12 for the tribes of Israel, 40 for the days and nights of the flood and Jesus being in the wilderness. Some manuscripts of this story refer to the seventy, possibly linking with the seventy of Israel’s elders, summoned by Moses (Numbers 11 : 16 – 17) to ‘share the burden of the people.’ Seventy – two is also significant, Genesis refers to their being seventy – two nations on earth.
Jesus divides the seventy – two into pairs and sends them ahead of him to all the places he is preparing to go. They are told to travel light, not taking a purse, bag or sandals nor are they to greet people on the road. They are to find hospitality by visiting households where they can stay and receiving hospitality, they should stay in that household until their task is complete. This is to be the equivalent of their wages. Maybe Jesus thinks that as they are travelling without purse, bag or sandals people will take pity on them, the offer of hospitality may come easier.
There is work to be done in the communities where they are staying, ‘heal those who are ill and tell them, the Kingdom of God is near.’

 I wonder what the effect of their work was, we are told later that, ‘the seventy – two returned with joy!!’ because ‘even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Each pair appear to have had a positive experience. Their joy, Jesus warns them is misplaced, their real joy should be that, ‘your names are written in heaven.’
How light should we travel as we go out in Jesus’ name? Within the Church, there are monastic communities made up of members who are prepared to renounce worldly possessions to live lives of prayer, fasting and poverty. Volunteer gap year roles are commonplace in Christian retreat centres and charitable organisations, where accommodation and a basic allowance are the reward for time given in Christian service. Clergy give their time to serve churches, rewarded with a house to live in, a stipend and expenses.
As we go out into the communities surrounding our churches, what do we need to take?
How will be greeted and rewarded? What are we preparing the places we go for? If we restrict the purpose of going out to bring people into the church building for the main event of the week, then maybe our task will not reap the rewards we hope for.

 Within our Circuit, the ARK sets an example and pattern of being out with its few workers, in places like the Galleries, the South Glos Show and other places. Walking around the streets surrounding our churches, in places like Alveston, Easter Compton and Speedwell has become part of their trademark. What can we learn from them and their courage to go out? We may never know the fruit of being present, outside our buildings. This is as much the work of the Kingdom as maintaining a pattern of weekly Sunday worship.
Hymns in the Mission and Evangelism section of Singing the Faith remind us of this commitment, especially 402 ‘Go to the world! Go into all the world.’
Prayer
Lord, give us the courage and confidence to go out in your name, to proclaim the gospel, to share our story and listen to the stories of those we meet on the way. Amen.

Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 16th July (Ordinary 15) by Local Preacher, Jenny Clark

Psalm 119:105-112; Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8: 1–11; Matthew 13 : 1 – 9, 18 – 23

The lesson today is a very familiar parable and this part of Mathews Gospel shows Jesus as the teacher. Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. The seed sown falls into four categories and that which is fruitful also provides different levels of success. Jesus instructs those who have ears to listen, indicating there is a deeper meaning to the story He has told.

Thankfully, Jesus takes His disciples to a place where He can add an explanation to this Parable. The seed is the Word of God and listening carefully gives the essence of what happens to the Word when it is shared with others. The disciples seem to be given the challenge of being sowers of the Word as they are being given insights and instructions that will explain how the Word of the Kingdom will be received.

The seed that fell on the ground is carried away by birds and we are told the evil one has this opportunity to steal away the truth so that no one can start to understand or be exposed to the Kingdom.

The seed that ends up withering and choked by weeds indicate that the Word is shared but understanding is not enough to avoid the distractions that challenge what the Kingdom can offer to believers. The seed that is sown in good soil is successful but in different measure showing that there are different positive outcomes with a response to the Kingdom.

Following through with the detail of this Parable, the soil must be in good condition and the sower competent for success but that success is also dependant on the unseen work below the surface of the soil. That is the Word of the Kingdom working to bring a successful harvest. The disciples needed to understand that without understanding, the Word, good soil and the sower, then there is no harvest!

Working in Education, duties involving supervising young people at playtime, was part of my job. A colleague who was a great teacher had been a Police Officer for several years and he was an expert at finding sheltered spots to avoid the wind, sun and rain  in the playground. He observed and managed any crisis but the young people never really got to know him as he didn’t interact with them. Many other staff walked and chatted with individuals and knew what  problems were building. Positive interactions seemed to build trust and community in very informal ways.

Introducing seeds of the Kingdom takes time, for growth and help to overcome challenges. Quick results aren’t very often the best and helping others to see the distractions and challenge them before they are overcome, is part of our Christian fellowship. If the disciples were called to sow the seed then we are too, and there is an ongoing responsibility to maintain and nurture the soil of growth for God’s abundance to develop.

Prayer

Loving Lord, there are many times when we feel unable to take on new responsibilities and feel inadequate for many reasons, yet we know that you have called us into your service as we are.

Help us to recognize that the Spirit continues to work through us as Sowers of your living word. Refresh us and sustain us as we journey together. Amen.