Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas Day: The Birth of Jesus: Gill Roberts

Luke 2.1-14

 2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”


* A census – following the rules - filling in the forms
* A pregnant woman – baby expected anytime
* Shepherds shepherding
* A starlit sky

* Joseph and Mary turn up in Bethlehem of all places (And thou Bethlehem……)
* The Baby is laid in a manger (just as the angels said!)
* Angel and a heavenly host appear around shepherds
* A single star announces a special birth
  “Star and angels sing
   Yet the earth sleeps in shadow.
   Can this tiny child set the world on fire?”

(Like a candle flame – Graham Kendrick)
Memories are made of this!

The normal – the abnormal

The ordinary – the extraordinary

This is perhaps the best remembered passage of Christmas scripture because we’ve sung it almost word-for-word in “While Shepherds watched their flocks by night…” year after year. But not only that for me.

Picture a shy young girl of 10 attempting to recite the 23rd Psalm publicly for the first time - and failing miserably. Picture the same girl, twelve months later, reciting this very passage, coming first out of a large group of children, and (as a reward!) doing it again in the huge Queens Road Baptist Church in Coventry – and doing it well!! It’s in the memory bank, believe me! As is the huge hug and words, “Well done Gillian!” by the minister. When I was given this passage to blog on – the memory came flooding back. The impact on a shy young girl was enormous – although I didn’t realise it at the time. God rested His favour on me and slowly, gradually changed that fearful heart and gave it peace, using the encouragement of others and His own, “Fear not!”

A few verses later on in this Luke passage and we read that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

When the memories come flooding back – as they do with age – we are able to take them and ponder them and discover what God has done with events and thank Him for those He used in our lives – even the difficult ones.

So it happens that in amongst the ordinary, regular, even dutiful, happenings of life, come spectacular sights and experiences.

In the mundane sheep-watching, stars and angels SING!

A baby is born – but He fulfils an ancient prophecy.

Words heard from out of the night-sky prove to be a fact – He IS there in a manger.

Glory is given to God Peace fills a mother’s troubled heart.

And so it is that out of uncomfortable circumstances, hurtful experiences and dark times we see His light shine and know His strength for ‘today’.

Can we believe it?

Peace WILL come in our own lives - and throughout the world.

Keep the faith!

Give glory to God!


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Advent 4: Can you spot her? Pauline West

Luke 1.26-38

Can you spot her: Mary, amongst the Christmas shoppers gathering to wait for Santa to come by on his sleigh?

Strip away all the adornments, beauty and adoration that the church has put on Mary and what do you have? A young girl pledge to marry an older man tradition says. One assumes it is an arranged marriage satisfactory for all the parties involved: a job well done. Those involved and those looking on would be pleased with the arrangement and looking forward to a wedding.
Then God intervenes.

Into her life comes the angel Gabriel carrying out yet another mission for God as part of his great project to live with his people and restore them into a perfect relationship with him. In modern terms God requires a surrogate mother. If he is truly to immerse himself in the life of his human creation he must start at the beginning; he must start at conception. He chooses Mary and sends Gabriel to tell her.

Mary is to conceive and bear a son and call him Jesus. Gabriel waxes lyrical at the honours to be heaped on this child. Mary simply asks him “How?” A curious question seeing she is to be married and will expect to have children including hopefully sons. It is as if Mary senses that there is more to this announcement than meets the eye and of course there is. Gabriel goes on with more astonishing news. This conception will occur now by a visitation of the Holy Spirit so the child to be born will be holy and called Son of God. Gabriel realises that a confused and shell-shocked Mary needs something concrete to hang onto so he tells her about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy. Mary has human support to corroborate what she is hearing from God’s messenger.

There is a pause and then Mary agrees. I don’t think she read the small print so to speak until many days, weeks or months later. It was what God asked of her and so she said yes.

Why do I ask you to look for Mary amongst the shoppers? Like them she was not exceptional or famous; she was an ordinary girl, part of an ordinary family in a village tucked away in Galilee. It was God who saw she was exceptional and could do the job he wanted. He knew the focus of her heart was on him that she enjoyed the worship, enjoyed learning about him, not in any legalistic or ritualistic way but simply enjoyed being his daughter. When I think of Mary, I think of the words her son said “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God”.

If we are to see, hear and be aware of God, somewhere at the centre of our ordinary, imperfect lives has to be a longing to know and love and serve God more and more. That is the gem of purity that Mary had, that is the gem the Spirit would grow in all of us.

Look for Mary in the picture and while you are doing so look for Gabriel and God as well. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Advent 3:‘Now this was John’s testimony when [they asked] him who he was.’: Tim Mountain

John 1:6-8; 19-28

Over the past few years I’ve often found myself saying that one of the more important questions to ask of oneself is: ‘who am I?’ Perhaps it’s a sign of advancing age! When David Runcorn ponders this question in one of his books he notes that “the answer to the question ‘who am I?’ is a complex one. The problem is not where to start but where to stop!” The answer is an unfolding journey of discovery; it is perhaps more a matter of ‘who am I becoming?’ rather than trying to nail down our identity once and for all. For disciples of Jesus, an essential element to discovering and shaping our identity is the work of the Holy Spirit in and with us, transforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ; and John writes that “what we will be has not yet been made known ... but we shall be like him”(1 John 3:2).

John the Baptist’s identity and his answers to his interrogators are at first couched in negative terms – who he is not. He is not the light of the world; he is not a prophet of old re-emergent for such a time as this; he is not the Christ, the anticipated deliverer of Israel.
But positively, John has come to a realisation of, at least in part, who he is and what he is called to do. He is a witness to the light. He is a herald, the Voice – not of the TV talent show but that imaged in Isaiah, drawing attention to the coming Lord. He is a baptiser.
And John is becoming too. He knows that he will decrease in terms of importance and prominence as Another assumes centre stage.

I wonder how you would answer the question ‘who am I?’ Perhaps you might start with who you are not. This in itself can be a source of assurance and contentment – for example, your ministry is not my ministry so we are not in competition with one another. Perhaps you might think in terms of your self-understanding thus far – prayerfully, you might try to finish the sentence, ‘I am …’ – and not just in terms of job or vocation, but in relation to your emotions and desires too. And perhaps you might want to think about what you are becoming – for example, as you move through different phases in life what might you have to let go, what you might have to take on?

‘Who are you?’ Perhaps we might let God’s Spirit help us to dwell prayerfully with this question for a while during Advent. And as we uncover something of an answer, may it lead us into service for the greater glory of God.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent 2: Prepare ye the way of the Lord: Christine Hutt

Mark 1 v 1-8
Ever since I first read this passage I have had the words from ‘Godspell’ – ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ ringing in my ears.   Prepare for the Lord’s coming, not just at Christmas, but at the Second Coming, at the end of time.  This is the message of Advent.  But is this the same as ‘getting ready for Christmas’, a Christmas we often want to avoid with all its hustle and bustle and commercialisation?

John the Baptist was a charismatic figure who lived in the wilderness where there was no distraction to hearing the voice of God. He drew people out of the towns and cities because his message had authority.  He stood out from the crowd, not only because of his message but because of his austere lifestyle.  He ‘lived simply’ eating locusts and wild honey, food from the local area, and wore clothes of camel hair that came from locally sourced materials.  Does our lifestyle match our message? Do we consider our ‘carbon footprint’ in the choices we make?

The words he preached were not ‘comfortable words’ for his hearers, for he preached for action. He felt that people needed to get ready for the coming of the Messiah, a coming that had been foretold in Scripture, and that in order for them to do this, they needed to change their lives, their lifestyle.  They needed to change, to repent and to be baptised in order to demonstrate that change.

I found these words from a poem called ‘Prepare’ by Jan Richardson:
 Prepare, prepare.

It may feel like
the word is leveling you
emptying you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite
and hardly tame
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness

like honey
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
was there.

Like John we need to have time out, with no distractions, to spend alone with God. Perhaps especially in Advent we need to have a Quiet Day to re-order our spiritual lives and find that we are changed by the encounter.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Advent 1: The Son of Man coming in glory: Heather Andrews

Mark 13: 24-37

I am writing this reflection in a three-funeral week, two to ‘do’, one to go to - the funeral of a friend’s husband, bookmarked between two very different experiences of leading a service.  The first a funeral of a lady who had not been in church since her marriage nearly 60 years ago but ‘was Baptist and needed a Baptist funeral’ and the third a Thanksgiving for the life of a stalwart of the little chapel I lead, life and soul of our congregation, long-time deeply committed Christian man.

The first was a brief essay in defying the darkness of despair in a Crematorium filled with an unfamiliar hostility; the death had been very sudden, an unmitigated shock.  The centre one, a four-handed, many-candled appreciation of a dearly loved Anglican priest whose death after long illness had been well prepared for; faith and integrity shone out.  The third, a celebration of a dearly loved husband, father, grandfather and friend, deep grief plaited with longing and joy, as his favourite hymn ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee’ is sung as our ‘last words’.

How does this relate to the Second Coming of the Son of Man in power at the last days…?  In my heart this week seems to resonate with that particular reading, which I had hesitated over having to ‘blog’ about.

In the case of the first funeral, the elderly gentleman, suddenly bereaved, had to be virtually carried from the Crematorium, between his two daughters, themselves unsupported.   There was no eye contact as they left that place.  No response to words of peace. Who knows how God will work in that situation?

The middle funeral was a glorious Anglican remembrance of my friend’s husband’s stellar work and ministry in so many places, his great yet humble commitment to the Ministry of Healing, the sense of loss etched into my friend’s face, her own brave words speaking of their last years making new friendships in different contexts, where Christ’s love was shown in a new way, in that later-blossoming ministry.

My church member’s death was sudden and unexpected, a stroke which stole him away after he delivered a cup of tea to his beloved wife, first thing one morning.  One taken, the other left, bereft, shocked, yet gently able to rejoice in the lifetime of shared years; gratitude that there was no long suffering; a strong and supportive family witnessing to their own grief, yet couched in Christian hope, of faith in the resurrection life to come;  a lifetime of service in the little village chapel which will so miss him. 

We do not know when the owner will come to claim his own…
Watch, and pray…Be on guard!  Be alert!

In one case, a weight of grief crushing, unleavened by the raising agent of faith;  In the second, a lifetime’s experience of trusting in the face of long adversity, offering courage and stability.  In the third, in a chapel shiny with polish and glowing with flowers there is gentle trust, family attentiveness as grandchildren keep grandma company in these early days of the new aloneness.

In each case we have not known the day or the hour.  In the middle case, preparation was made as the signs of the times were read with insight and love.  ‘When you see these things happening, you will know that it is near…’  In the first and last cases, no warning at all, ‘you do not know when the owner of the house will come…’.

I haven’t got a work of art to offer, only a family photo of a sun red with glory, illuminating this beautiful world. Instead, I would commend while reading the scripture passage, listening to Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553) Parce mihi, Domine – Choir and Saxophone, on You-tube.  The Latin words begin ‘Spare me, Lord, for my days are nothing…. Why should you set your heart upon us…you visit us at dawn and put us to the test at any moment.’

Listening to words I can’t understand (my latin not being up to much) carries me deeper into the mystery of Christ… we read, look, listen, in the Light of the Risen Christ, who came, who comes, who is to come.  Advent begins.  God bless us on our journey.

‘Lo He comes, with clouds descending…Hallelujah, everlasting God come down.’

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Jesus Crucifixion: Tim Mountain

Matthew 27:27-54

My God, my God why have you forsaken me?
Words from the opening of Psalm 22, usually interpreted as a cry of desolation from the dying Jesus. No matter the people round about, the curious and condemning, the sorrowful and sympathetic. No matter the two either side. Where was God?

I wonder what you were thinking, Lord…
“First Peter and the others. It’s understandable. Frightened, worried for their own futures. Better to run than be arrested. Then rejected by my one-time supporters, now baying for blood. Turned over by the religious establishment. Discounted by an indifferent and uncaring government. To be expected.
But you…? Why have you forsaken me?
What have I done that you should treat me like this?
Haven’t I served you faithfully?
Haven’t I taught and preached and cared and challenged and prayed and loved?
Didn’t I hear you say, “Here is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased?”
Haven’t I acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly?
But now, at my hour of need, you seem to have gone walkabout.
Deus absconditus. Hidden God.
The others melted away as predicted. Or turned against me as anticipated.
But why you?”

Yes, I know; it’s simply speculation about what Jesus might have thought and felt. Did ‘God forsake God’? And if so, in what sense? Some Christians find it difficult to countenance. But if we deny the reality of at least the feeling of abandonment implied by Jesus’ words, do we not also deny something of the humanity of Jesus? Can we hold together both feelings of forsakenness and, despite those real and deep emotions, belief that God is somewhere, somehow, still within reach, still “my God”? 

Jesus has good company. I think of two people. One has been canonised by the Catholic Church. In her early years Teresa of Kolkata enjoyed mystical experiences, felt an intensity of relationship with God. But she said that in her later life she didn’t feel her Lord’s presence too much. Nonetheless, she continued her compassionate, loving outreach to those whom others ignored. The God she had experienced intimately in her younger days is the God she continued to trust latterly.  

The other is also a saint, although his repute is largely familial and local. John (as I’ll call him) loved Jesus and faithfully served God over his long life, overseas and at home. Racked by cancer in his last couple of years, he and I would have conversations in which he expressed doubts and questions. Yet he believed. He prayed. Despite his feelings, his relationship with God, forged over many years, persisted.

Jesus cried out to the God he had known and knew. He might have felt forsaken, but the psalm that he draws on in his hour of darkness goes on to speak of good things. Despite the desolation, in the words of the preacher, “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’. The day will dawn when Jesus bursts from the tomb to declare that death is dead.

But right now it is Friday and the clouds have gathered.
We should be careful not to hurry to Sunday without acknowledging the darkness that many people feel in their lives at times, notwithstanding belief in God and God’s goodness. Christians imprisoned for their faith, debilitated with illness, long-term unemployed, living alone. The skies aren’t always clear. The sun doesn’t always shine. It’s partly a matter of being honest and authentic about the Christian life as family and friends look on.

Perhaps we might consider Jesus on a cross on Golgotha on a Friday 2000 years ago and in his words of desolation hear our own cry. Jesus understands when times are bleak and lonely, when we suffer loss or betrayal, broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.  He’s been there.
And he’s here now.
Talk to him….

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Jesus' Trial: Ian Green

'Surrendered' by Sieger Koder
Matthew 26.57-75

Three characters from the Trials of Holy Week are in this painting by the German priest/artist Sieger Koder: Pilate, Caiaphas and Jesus.

I think we communicate a great deal with our hands; I noticed in Venice recently that Italians appear almost unable to speak without moving them!

In Koder’s painting Pilate is washing his hands and Caiaphas, the High Priest, is hugging the Torah.  They are busy – possibly busy doing the wrong things.

Pilate’s handwashing is surely his way of clinging onto power because in getting rid of Jesus he keeps his job.

Caiaphas’ handwashing is probably a way of clinging on to tradition because in ignoring Jesus he keeps his holy book free of any different interpretation from his own.

What they both share, in being busy with their hands, is that neither of them seems to be actually SEEING who is before them.

They look above and through Jesus, virtually ignoring his presence.

For his part Jesus seems resigned to their indifference and maybe this is why Sieger Koder entitled this painting ‘Surrendered’.

Are we, I wonder, so busy with our hands that we too fail to see who or what is really before us and merits our attention?

Today’s painting calls us to notice the Jesus, the friend, the family member or the stranger who is before us and to stop what we are doing with our hands and give attention to both God and one another.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Lent Five: Gethsemane: Pauline West

Matthew 26:36 – 56

They went as usual to the Mount of Olives, a working plantation of olive trees; an ordinary place providing a livelihood for the people who tended it. They had gone there every evening that week after a day of teaching and confrontation in the Temple. This night they stopped in a grove called Gethsemane, an ordinary place, a place that gathered them in and gave them rest.
This night they needed that rest more than ever. The mood of the group had changed. The disciples were tired, very tired, not just physically but emotionally. They were drained, confused, fearful, struggling to cope and there were only 11 of them, one was missing. They were too exhausted to wonder where he was.

Jesus was different as well. He was agitated; preoccupied; struggling with something the disciples did not know or understand. Leaving the group to rest under the trees he took Peter, James and John and moved away a little. He wanted the support of close friends. Telling them to stay awake with him, for his sake, he went a little further and prayed, wrestling with God; struggling to face death, the physical suffering of crucifixion and the spiritual battle the power of which he had first experienced in the wilderness. He came back to be with the three and found them asleep. The disappointment added to his burden, but he saw their vulnerability and urged Peter, at least, to stay awake; stick with me for your sake. The denial was a real possibility that had the potential to destroy Peter. They could not manage it; the body demanded sleep. Jesus was alone.

Or was he? The Father; the Spirit; the Scriptures; the twelve legions of angels all were there to give support, but Jesus alone had to make that final decision to complete his mission through the cross. He prayed; he wrestled; he wept; he went through agony to reach the final peace of his decision. The peace that told him this was the way; the peace that filled the familiar sacred place of rest.

The disciples were rudely awakened by the arrival of the missing Judas with a crowd armed with swords and clubs, a disproportionate response to the arrest of one man; an arrest that makes my blood run cold and my eyes fill with tears each time I read about it. Galvanised into action the loyal disciples started a trail of violence, but Jesus stopped them. A very different Jesus: a Jesus in command of the situation; a Jesus accepting the kiss of betrayal from one he calls friend, a Jesus allowing the arrest; a Jesus who had made the decision that was sealed with the peace that passes all understanding. A peace found in an ordinary working olive grove called Gethsemane.

We all need a Gethsemane; an ordinary familiar resting place where we can be with God struggling, laughing, crying or even sleeping. A place that will refresh; give us healing; clarify; give us strength; help us to face what disturbs; what hurts; what makes us fearful. A place maybe to hear the call we do not want, but God says it is OK trust me.

The picture is of one such place for me, yes there can be more than one; it is part of my garden. The acer is producing its autumn colours; the astilbes have finished flowering leaving the stalks to sway in the breeze; the berries of the cotoneaster are turning red giving food in the winter months; the rocks of the wall glint in the sunshine. Living and dying, light and dark, jumble and clarity, hard and soft are there side by side as they were in Gethsemane and in it all there is God. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Lent 4: The Last Supper: Gill Roberts

Matthew 26.17-29

What started as a traditional Passover meal with His disciples – a quietly joyful celebration of the nation’s rescue out of slavery – suddenly became a strange and questionable showstopper.  “One of you will betray me”, Jesus says.  Not exactly what you expect to hear as you recline around the dinner table.  Nothing more guaranteed to grab everyone’s attention and change the atmosphere from any sense of celebration to horror, disbelief and sadness.   The comment, “They were very sad…” must be something of an understatement! Their chins must have hit the table!  Sometimes the Bible account leaves a lot to the imagination.

As we examine this picture by Fr Sieger Kὄder the moment is captured. 

Look at their faces.    

No-one knows where to look. 

Who could it possibly be? 

It’s not me!

We see Jesus’ face reflected in the goblet of wine.
Is it John who can’t bear to look up at Him? …..

Peter whose expression says, “You’ve got to be mistaken!”

Others around the table look at Him in bewilderment.

One looks down, trying to work out who it could be or wondering whether he’s mis-heard.

And there, in the far distant shadow stands one about to leave the room.  It was night.

What was going on in their minds at that moment?  Every one different.  Each with his own thought, opinion, idea……  I bet it’s him.  I never thought you could trust him.…… Has Jesus made a mistake?  Could someone have told Him a lie - said something to cause trouble?

And the atmosphere has changed from trust and family togethernesst?  A group centred around the Master has become a flock scattered. 

But Jesus draws them back to the point of it all.  You see this bread and this wine.  They represent my body and blood – my very life – given for you.  But why?  What is it all about?
They eat and drink – as they are bidden – but still have no real idea of what this ‘covenant’ is all about.

How do WE spend those few moments around the Lord’s Table?  Are we able to hold ourselves in His presence and see ourselves in His eyes – looking up at us from out of the wine?  Do we come able to see each other as those for whom Christ died – or do we struggle – wondering who should or shouldn’t be there?  Can we keep our focus?

For many years – and still occasionally now – I recited the old hymn in the quietness at the table -

Thy life was given for me
Thy blood, O Lord, was shed
That I might ransomed be
And quickened from the dead.
Thy life was given for me.
What have I given for Thee?

And the final verse,

O let my life be given,
My years for Thee be spent
World fetters all be riven
And joy with suffering blent.
You gave yourself for me
I give myself to Thee.

I’m sure the old English of this hymn would have some of my current church friends in fits!  (Even as we sit around the table, we can ruin moments like these for each other)  But the challenge still remains.  It’s still a serious moment.  Jesus gave His all for me.  He should have nothing less than my all – especially my love for others around me.

And there is that promise that one day – when we shall be able to focus fully on Him with no distractions - we shall drink with Him in “My Father’s Kingdom”!                                                

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Lent 3: An unamed woman anoints Jesus: Christine Hutt

Matthew 26 v 6-13

This is an extraordinary story of a woman who enters a male-only gathering and touches Jesus.  It was the custom to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when they arrived at a house or sat down to a meal, but this use of ointment seems extravagant.  What the woman is doing by anointing Jesus is taking on the position of a religious leader, for in the Old Testament only a priest or prophet would do anointing. We are reminded of Psalm 23 ‘you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows’.

The disciples don’t mention the anointing but are critical of the waste and expense, and feel that the money could have been used for the poor.  Jesus, however, accepts this gift from this unnamed woman and says to the disciples ‘why must you make this woman feel uncomfortable’.  She must already be feeling uncomfortable in this all male environment, and by not knowing what Jesus’ reaction would be to her impulsive act of devotion.  Jesus affirms the woman:  ‘she has done a beautiful thing for me’. 

Why are we not told her name? We have names for many of the people in the gospel stories, the name of a blind man healed by Jesus, the names of people who asked questions of Jesus, the name of the man who carried Jesus’ cross, but the women are unimportant; they are not allowed to be in positions of leadership.  However, her act of devotion is included in the scriptures and ‘what she has done will be told, in memory of her’.

           Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘The anointing at Bethany’ reminds us that ‘the whole room richly fills to feast the senses’, and how smells can bring back memories from the past in a vivid way.  But what strikes me most about this story is how true love is uncalculating, and how love ‘isn’t love till you give it away’.  This is put very well by Maya Angelou in her poem ‘Touched by an angel’

               …We are weaned from our timidity
               in the flush of love’s light
               we dare be brave
               and suddenly we see
               that love costs all we are
               and will ever be
               yet it is only love
               which sets us free.

Jesus said ‘when she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for
burial’. As we go through Lent let us remember this story of Christian devotion for our Lord,
shown in a simple costly act of love, as we follow the one who loved the world so much that
he ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’, and may it
empower and inspire us to become instruments of that love. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Lent 2: Jesus in The Temple: Heather Andrews

Matthew 21, 1-13  

What strange contrasts in this reading… a tumultuous day…

The peace-loving Lord who approaches Jerusalem not on a war-horse but in a different way, Jesus making a point about the kind of Kingship he represents.. ‘…humble and riding on a donkey’.  The crowds greet him with cheerful shouts, yet within a short space of time the Good News Bible says ‘When Jesus entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar.  Who is he, the people asked?

Who is he indeed?
Who is he for you?
Who is he for me?

He contravenes the expectations of the people, he often comes to us in a way that unsettles and totally surprises us…
He comes with peace, he comes with challenge, he comes indeed as ‘God of surprises’.

From v. 12, we read of Jesus going into the Temple, and driving out all who were buying and selling there.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and pigeon-sellers.

When we visited Oberammergau for the passion play, the noise and clatter of this scene came as a great shock after the gentle cheering and praising of the people who had led Jesus into Jerusalem.

Coins tumbled all over the place, people fell over, there was shouting and swearing in response!   Jesus stormed into centre-stage and furniture flew.  To see Jesus raging was a huge shock.

As the daughter of a shop-keeper (I didn’t mean that to sound like Maggie Thatcher) I have always been anxious about this bit of the bible!   The temple traders will have been well established, part of the noisy and busy scenery of the Temple business.  Yet suddenly, with a shout, and legend has it, with a whip in his hand, Jesus overwhelms the story with the physicality of his presence.  With arms flailing, throws the furniture about, scattering money, causing shouts of protest, upsetting peoples’ calculations, damaging their livelihood, disrupting the usual system of preparation for worship.  I imagine animals and birds flustering about as they make their bid for freedom, rather than being sacrificed…

The sheer power of Jesus bursts into our vision.  He is challenging business ethics.   He is challenging priorities… he is willing to call it as he sees it, naming the traders as thieves, presumably as they make profit from the poorest at their point of deep need.

He is making a point about not needing animal sacrifice… his own loving self-giving is about to be the once-for-all sacrifice necessary for salvation.

All these things are challenges to our own lifestyles as we enter into Lent…

Fairtrade fortnight also challenges us as to our buying habits, our concern for the two-thirds world.  Our personal shopping, and our church provision…
Our motivations come under scrutiny.

Lent is an opportunity to look at the power and the wisdom of God, as we see it in Jesus.

The power to challenge and change, the physical action as righteous anger makes a very visible protest, the wisdom to pick a moment and make it count.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Lent 1: Christ in the Desert: Ian Green

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi 
Matthew 4.1-11

As Lent begins we travel once more with Jesus into the Wilderness and that’s what this painting by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi depicts.

Kramskoi was self-taught and went to the Crimea to feel what it might be like living in a deserted mountainous region.  His painting now hangs in Moscow.

Originally he painted it without the background.  It shows Jesus marooned in the Judean Desert immediately after his baptism.  This was a Spirit led moment as Jesus contemplates the future and makes choices about the present.  It was painted in 1872 but it shows a timeless dilemma – how do we use our power, our choices and our lives for God and for neighbour?  How do we live the values of The Kingdom of God in our everyday routines?

Often when battling with these issues it feels as if they stubbornly remain unresolved. That’s why I’m glad that Kramskoi eventually changed his mind and added the background.

That’s because the light is breaking on the far horizon.  Against the desolation of the hard rock plateau that was the Judean Wilderness there is a gentle hint of dawn, of warmth, of the sun piercing the night and bringing the fresh prospect of a new day.

Faith is about believing, living and longing for God’s light to pierce our darkness.

Perhaps, for me at least, that feels like a fresh thought this Lent.

I’m so used to thinking of light as a theme for Advent and Christmas – yet Kramskoi’s painting and Isaiah’s words remind me at the start of our long Lent journey this year that the choices we make in the desert, in the darkness, are then to be lived through in the light of God’s love once we have come down from that wilderness plateau.

Of course Kramskoi’s painting isn’t bathed in brilliant sunshine – there is just a hint of dawn and maybe light in Lent is essentially to be viewed in terms of longing.

On Good Friday there was darkness in the middle of the day for three hours.  Whether that’s a poetic or actual description the point is we all know the reality of the dark night of the soul. Yet we long for the dawn of Easter Day.

In fact, we learn again and again as we go through life that dawn follows night and light pierces gloom.

Yet often we are called to wait – to linger in the night even as we long for this dawn.  And to make that journey not with despair but with patience and hope – believing in the light, even when it is dark.

Can we hang on to the thrilling conviction that we are not moving towards the darkness but travelling towards the light? That, I think, for me is a goal for this Lent.

So Kramskoi paints a Jesus alone in the desert yet dawn about to break in the background.

The hymn writer puts it like this - Longing for light, we wait in darkness. 

Ian Green

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Lent Reflections

During lent this year we will be posting a series of weekly reflections offered by members of the Baptist Union Retreat Group Committee.

Watch this space for the first post on Ash Wednesday!