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  • Lent Reflections (38)

    Late posting today - been out with my Deacs for a half day reflection day... and it's been really good :-)

    Today's passages:

    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
    Jeremiah 33:10-16
    Mark 10:32-34, 46-52

    Of these three, the one I want to focus on is the Mark, or more specifically the gap...

    They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again." 

    James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."   And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?"  And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.  So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

    They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"   Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."  Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

    Mark 10:32-52

    Why, I ask myself, do the compilers of the lectionary omit the words I've changed to grey?  And why does the writer of Mark include them at that place?  In Matthew's account, the question is put in the mouth of the mother of the twin disciples; it is she who seeks status rather than they.  Otherwise, the two accounts are broadly similar, though not identical.  So why do the lectionary writers skip past this?  The short answer is that I don't know!  Perhaps it hints too strongly towards Maundy Thursday for thie purposes?  I am left puzzled and intrigued, if none the wiser.

    Tomorrow we begin the last stage of our journey as we mark Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday for RC churches), and as we do so we have these words ringing in our ears "... whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

    Perhaps, Lord, we don't want to read these words of the twin brothers

    Because in them we recognise something of ourselves

    Perhaps we are imagining our heavenly reward,

    The status you will afford us

    The resounding 'well done good and faithful servant'

    That assures us our lives have been well spent.

    Perhaps, Lord, we don't want to hear words about service or lowliness

    Because in them we recognise your voice speaking to us

    Perhaps we fear the toil of servant-discipleship

    The unrewarded, unrewarding labour of the lowly

    The lack of recognition of anything we do

    The lack of assurance that anything we do is worth a fig

    Lord, as we skip over troublesome words

    Dispel our blindness towards what you want to show us

    Our deafness to your voice

    And lead us onwards in your service

    Day by day


  • Lent Reflections (37)

    The readings today...

    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
    Jeremiah 33:1-9
    Philippians 2:12-18

    Again these are fairly well known passages.  Nothing terribly profound today - I'm in a bit of a hurry to fit this in before a whole host of important things.

    Way back when, the joke was that Jeremiah 33:3 was God's telephone number (cf Whitehall 123 etc) - 'call upon me and I will answer'.  I suppose it doesn't really work in this digital age or email, text, Twitter, blogs and Facebook, but even so, there is something encouraging about the promise it contains.  Beware simplistic readings though, sometimes, humanly speaking, it feels we get the engaged tone, or queuing message "your prayer is important to us, please wait will we try to connect you" followed by soon sort of angel-choir-muzak; or even, dare I suggest voicemail "sorry, there is no-one to hear your prayer right now, but if you leave a message we will get back to you".  it's not that God is slow to hear or slow to respond, just that sometimes we think we know the correct reply in advance and are miffed if we don't get it, and get it now.

    Perhaps it is the Philippians that is worth playing with though, especially this verse:

    Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose.

    Philippians 2:12b-13 GNB

    This verse is often overlooked because it disturbs any tidy model of soteriology that operates purely on a 'transaction' basis - pray the prayer and you're in, the end.  Yes, there has to be a point when we decide for or against this Jesus and his claims, but conversion and - according to this passage anyway - salvation are a process in which we participate actively.  Salvation is not just a golden ticket to heaven or a 'get out of jail free' card, it is a process of transformation in which we participate.  The old 'faith and works' dilemma, which has raged through history and is always at the back of my mind in its James 2 expression - 'faith without deeds is dead'.  Perhaps the deeper question is, how exactly do we 'complete our salvation' by working together, with God to be transformed...

    God of eternity, who answers when we call

    Who hears our 'yes' to Jesus

    And who draws us into a process of conversion

    More and more into your own likeness

    Help us to tune in to your voice

    And to be open to your Spirit's transformation

    Until, in your time, our salvation is complete




  • Apocrypha Commentary/Bible Sudy Anyone?

    Well I never did.  Today my lovely Bible Study group finished a series on 1 Peter, which has proved both challenging and very interesting.  They are very keen to pick up something after Easter and after we'd tossed around a few ideas they decided they'd be curious to look at some of the Apocrypha (the bit after the OT and before the NT that proddy non-conformists threw out somewhere along the line, but from which chunks appear on plaques in chapels up and down England of not the rest of the UK*).  The thought is to set some of the material alongside OT and or NT passages.

    I am excited by this but have no resources to help me here, and a quick google hasn't helped much - just threw up a few forty year old commentaries at high prices.  Anyone out there point me at anything they've used when working with this material?  Just to clarify, we'll be looking at those books which appear in Catholic or Orthodox Bibles not the other weird and wonderful that are generally excluded but found their way into the middle of the "NRSV anglicised edition with apocrypha"  so beloved of UK theological establishments.

    I'll leave the gnostic stuff for another time...!



    * By way of an example, Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15 (aka Sirach 44:1-15) in KJV, part of which adorned the wall at Dibley (the plaque that was located nearest the organ console, in case anyone from there is reading)

    Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
    The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.
    Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
    Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
    Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
    Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
    All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
    There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
    And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.
    But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.
    With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant.
    Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes.
    Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.
    Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.
    The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

  • Ineffable Mystery...

    During Lent, one of our members has led us in a series of Wednesday evening reflections on the way to the cross - a group ranging from 8-12 people has met at 9p.m. in an upstairs room to listen for God's voice and to pray.  It has been very special, very meaningful and, as is the way of these things, when God's Spirit is given reign, has connected with morning and evening Sunday services, without any manipulation or communication on the part of the people leading.

    Each Wednesday evening has closed with a sung version of these words from Albert Schweitzer:

    He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those who knew him not.

    He speaks to us the same word, "Follow thou me!"

    He sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil four our time.

    He commands, and to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in their toils, the conflicts they shall pass through in his fellowship.

    As an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their experience who He is.

    (From The Quest of the Historical Jesus (p403 (evidently)))

  • Lent Reflections (36)

    The final week of Lent - already!  Time has surely flown by.  And so today we are offered three very lovely passages to ponder

    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
    Deuteronomy 16:1-8
    Philippians 2:1-11

    I challenge you to read the verses from Psalm 118 without bursting into song - there will be a hymn, a chorus, a worship song that is familiar to you based on some of these words.  It is immediately clear why we are given this so close to Palm Sunday.

    The Deuteronomy is a simply reminder of the institution of both Passover and Pentecost; a timely reminder of the deeply interwoven nature of Christianity with its Jewish origins.

    And Philippians 2 - well that's precious as it was used at my Induction service at the Gathering Place.

    Three lovely passages, each positive in tone, each stirring memories of places and people, laughter and frowns, aspirations and achievements, failures and successes.  Well they do for me.

    A little pause then, on our journey to Calvary, a space to re-member, to put back together, if only in our minds, times and places that have been important in our own journey of faith.  I wonder what dates (literal or festival linked) feature in your personal calendar?  And why?  I wonder which verses of scripture inform your living?  And how?  I wonder how you feel as we pause, on the verge of Holy Week, with all it entails?  And what that will mean in practice?


    Festal God

    Who ordained the practices of the ancients

    To observe the Passover

    The feast of weeks


    Who chose to transform their significance

    In your own sacrifice

    Your own breathing of new life

    For all nations - and all creation


    As I pause

    As I recall my own calendar of feasts

    My own anniversaries of grief

    My own moments of new understanding


    Fill me afresh with wonder

    At who you are...