This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
Before Christ – BC:AD – Anno Domini (the year of the Lord) or before and after as U.A. Fanthorpe puts it in her poem. And her before and after focuses on that infinitesimal nanosecond between the two ‘when nothing happened’ and the Romans had nothing better to do than count heads, and yet is the point at which Jesus was born and everything happened to the point that the reckoning of time in the then known world changed. What an amazing moment when God came to earth and was born as a helpless baby and yet for most people at the time it was just another moment when nothing happened.
Much is being discussed on the media of whether Christmas can be celebrated this year but most people today only celebrate the social trappings that have become associated with the festival and have become traditional in a relatively short space of time: the exact opposite of Fanthorpe’s description of Jesus’ birth. What a contrast of the non-celebration of the most amazing nanosecond in history and the obscenely extravagant celebrations of nothing in most people’s lives. With the benefit of hind-sight we can celebrate that amazing moment in history, not with an overspend on excesses of food and drink and unwanted gifts, but with real rejoicing in our hearts, with joy in our voices in well-known carols as our minds remember again God’s gift of Hope, Jesus, come to save us. Let us share it with everyone we come into contact with, as and when we can!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9: 1-2
It is so easy to read or sing these words, as it is so many of the scriptures, but really thinking about them and whether I can really say them truthfully is hard.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart: but do I? Have I really given my whole heart or are there little corners I’ve hidden away? Even when I’m reading or singing, there are times when I know there are things I’ve not given to God, or I’m wondering about what to have for lunch, or whether that person wearing that purple jumper knows it really isn’t their colour.
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds: Sometimes I tell of quite a few of them, but all of them? Do I know my bible well enough to know all that are in there, and what about what God has done in my life? And do I sometimes shy away from telling of God’s wonderful deeds, a little worried – even ashamed – to talk about them for fear of being laughed at?
God is the Most High and we should sing, be glad and exult in Him, giving those last corners of our heart to Him, reading His word so we know of all His wonderful deeds in scripture as well as those in our own lives which we can tell to others who need to hear about Him, or to share with others who also have deeds to tell about His work in their lives.
Praise you, Lord God, O Most High, that you know my whole heart, even when I don’t give thanks to you with all of it. Help me to flush out those little corners, to put Peter’s docking band on them and see them fall away. I will then have more wonderful deeds to tell of as you help me to victory over my sins. I will be glad and exult in you and I will sing praise to your name. Amen.
Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Not a verse today but something which Walt Whitman wrote and an Irish Blessing. Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist by profession, and a Humanist in his belief, and his words are, in a way, just a statement of fact: if you always face the sun (or the light) the shadows will always fall behind you. The Irish Blessing also has the sun falling on our face, in which case we must be facing the sun and any shadows, although not mentioned in the blessing, be behind us.
If we always look towards God, the trials and tribulations of daily life will be in the shadows behind us and not get blown out of perspective. As we look towards God we will be less likely to be tempted into doing, saying, or thinking the wrong thing as we concentrate on God and the good things in the light in front of us.
Father God, thank you that you are light and in you there is no darkness. Thank you that we can look to you and see your goodness and the good things you have for us – those already given, those for today, and those yet to come. Help us to keep the shadows behind us and guide us in your paths of righteousness. Amen.
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Although our scripture today is a parable Jesus told to those who considered themselves righteous and regarded others with contempt, we can learn a number of other things from it. It contains Jesus’ simplest guide to prayer ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Many liturgies have a prayer of confession after the initial call to worship, saying sorry and admitting our shortcomings to God and we would do well to follow this pattern. The tax-collector in the parable didn’t even move on from this admission of sin and request for mercy to ask for anything else for himself or to intercede for others.
The parable also tells us not to make assumptions about other people. How did the Pharisee know that the tax-collector didn’t also do as he did and fast twice a week and give a tenth of all his income – he didn’t! He assumed that because he was a tax-collector he wouldn’t do such things.
Father God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for making assumptions about other people and judging them when I am just as much a sinner as they are. God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for the times I fail to ask for your forgiveness and try to live while still carrying burdens I should have brought to Jesus’ cross and left there. God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me and bless me in all you would have me do and be and achieve for you today. May I bring glory to your name. Amen.
John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, verses 34-38
In this passage of scripture Jesus tells us that the sower and the reaper are not always the same person, as some of us thought about in our Harvest service a few weeks ago. We may sow and not see the results, or we may reap the harvest of another sower. Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well and the disciples were surprised at her – and many other Samaritans’ – belief following this encounter. This was a double surprise – Jesus bothering to talk to a Samaritan and a woman – but to Jesus she was just another human being who needed to hear his message; race and gender had no relevance to her need to be saved, unless it be that her need was greater since to others she did not count. As we meet people who need to hear about Jesus we do not know what they might have already heard about him and must guard against preconceptions of who ‘it might be worth witnessing to’; everyone needs to hear the good news! The main thing is to be ready to witness to everyone and be happy to sow or reap as the relationship develops in God’s planning.
Father God, help us to see everyone with your eyes and love them with your heart. Make us blind to the unconscious bias in our own eyes and hearts as we witness to those around us who need to hear about you. Give us your grace and your words to talk to them, your hands to help them as far as we are able at this time of social distancing. Amen.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
Pruning can be an enjoyable task in the garden, usually in the spring or autumn, as trees and shrubs need their annual prune after fruiting, or just a little tidy up, both straight forward jobs. Some plants actually need to be cut down to the root each year – buddleia or raspberries for example; it encourages new, vigorous growth and the following year they will produce lots of purple flowers for the bees and butterflies, or lovely juicy fruit to eat fresh or make jam, as appropriate.
But sometimes it is not such an enjoyable task if the plant has disease or has not been producing the fruit it should have. Bigger decisions have to be made and it is a much more complex job. Sometimes just one branch needs to be removed, or a few sections cut out, but sometimes it is much more serious and more has to be done, even cutting down to the root stock. For those plants which don’t appreciate such drastic action they have two chances, as my gardening neighbour says, recover and flourish or die.
Are we ready for God to take the secateurs to us, be that a gentle prune or a severe root job?
Father God, thank you that you are the vine-grower and lovingly tend your plants. Thank you that you know the best for me and know what needs to be pruned out of my life. Give me the grace to recognise your pruning and respond to it positively. Amen.
John 12: 24-26
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
On Sunday morning we looked at these verses from John as we thought about Harvest. In verse 24 the idea is that a single grain of wheat dies in the ground in order to grow and become many grains, but what struck me is that what grows is not just dependent on the right conditions of good soil, heat from the sun, and water from rain, but what pollinated the flower of the plant from which the seed came. If the wheat was pollinated from the same type of wheat, then more of the same wheat will grow from the grain, but if it was cross-pollinated from a different type of wheat or grass, it will not be a true strain of the wheat.
If our lives are pollinated by God, we will grow and flourish and bring glory to Him; but if they are pollinated by things of the world, we will struggle to grow in our faith and will not be good witnesses for God.
Father God, thank you that you are the master gardener and know what is best for each one of us. Thank you that as we put our trust in you more and more you will help us grow in your likeness and bring glory to your name. Guard us against the temptations of this world so that we may be true to you in all we do and not bring dishonour on your name. Amen.
Psalm 62:1-2; 5-6
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
Silence can be hard to come by in our culture today. We have the radio or the television on to catch the latest news; we put a CD on or the MP3 player for some calming/uplifting/ relaxing/spiritual music; the children are playing in the next room; the traffic and pedestrians outside are a constant hum in the background. Silence can be hard to come by, and sometimes we avoid it as we find it uncomfortable, but silence be found in an attitude of mind as we focus on God and cut out all the extraneous noises around us as we wait to hear from him. Like the Psalmist we know he is our salvation and our hope, which is why we need to wait to hear from him. As we wait in silence we will know the reassurance of his salvation and hope, and we shall not be shaken.
Father God, my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I praise you for your constancy, your saving power and your strength. I thank you that you are the solid foundation on which I stand, upheld by your grace and mercy, secure in your love. Amen.
Genesis 12:1. Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’
Life is a risky business. It always has been, but it is even more so at the moment. We live with risk every day. Do I get up? Will I slip on the bathroom floor? Will I scald myself while making a cup of tea? Do I go out? Will I unknowingly be in close contact with someone with Covid-19 and get a message through Test and Trace to self-isolate for 14 days? I have just completed a risk profile form for a financial adviser as I begin to think about semi-retirement in 2021 which has made me think again about risk and my attitude to it – at least with regard to my pension. Am I a reckless or cautious person? I suspect I am on the cautious side of the scale which made me think about my attitude to God and faith. Am I cautious in my walk with God? If God told me to go from my country, my kindred and my father’s house would I do it? Perhaps it wasn’t such a risky business for Abram, who lived in a nomadic society and was used to being on the move, but to leave family and friends and move to a completely different land at a time when there was no means of keeping in touch and little possibility of going back was still a big risk.
I need to challenge myself and my willingness to take risks for God, to step out in faith when He asks me to, as Abram did.
Father God, thank you that you are with us every step of our lives. With you beside us, your Spirit inside us, there is no risk. Give us your peace, strength and confidence to follow your plan for our lives, turning our fear of risk into a willingness to step out in faith. Amen.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus gave this commandment to his disciples during his last supper with them, before going out to the Garden of Gethsemane to be betrayed and taken to his death. He had spent three years teaching them how to live together, loving and caring for one another and those around them. Up until March we were able to meet together, support each other and be seen to be doing it, so that those in the world around us would see Jesus’ love as we loved each other and those in the community. How do we show love in lockdown? I know love is happening between us – more frequent phone calls and e-mails, cards and gifts sent to each other, shopping done and delivered, but how can it be seen by others?
Some of us find it hard to talk about our faith but we can talk about our Christian family and how we love one another to those to whom we are witnessing, whether that is face to face, on the telephone or on Zoom or Facetime. And we need to ask God how, in this new way of living, we can show it to the wider community. I don’t know the answers but I know God does!
Father God, thank you for your love to us, that we can show to one another through so many different ways. Help us to be creative and innovative, open to your lead as to how that might be shown to others in the community around us. Amen.