Lent 5 homile

A preacher might want to say:-

This Lazarus story is not just about the past, but about you and me and all, here and now, today, in our lives. When and in so far as you and I live how God wants – how Jesus illustrated – then we are elevated to unity with God, living a risen life to that extent; and so it continues until our climax of this in death, however painful or sad this may seem (as the crucifixion seemed to many).   Our journey towards full union with God – in our ‘risen life’ (once called a state of grace) – is what we have to work at here and now. It is the process we live out now, so let us try to keep it up and even improve our risen life in union with (the will of ) God!

NB if you scroll down you can send a comment to me.

Lent 5 year A

The prophet Ezekiel is around at the time when most of the chosen people are in exile in Babylon and have been for a generation.  But the international scene is changing and a new leader, Cyrus, will displace the present ruler and he will have a policy of repatriation.  However, many of the exiles have settled into their new surroundings and have no guts for returning to what will be the broken city and dilapidated temple of Jerusalem.  Having no guts in this sense might well be what the prophet means when he says the bones must come to life again.  It is a passage, however, that can be interpreted as foreshadowing the belief that there is life after death and so suitable at this time in our Christian calendar.  But in the original it might be a message to us not to get settled in our way of life, but to enliven ourselves to live more Christian lives.

In this excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is contrasting flesh with spirit, which we might nowadays think of as the difference between selfishness and the concern of love for others.  There is in all of us I suppose, something of both flesh and spirit – but the spirit here is most challenging because it is not just living a lively life but it is the spirit of Christ – devoting oneself entirely to loving others as Jesus did and is now wanting to continue so doing through us.

The raising of Lazarus is the gospel reading.  We know that in John there is always going to be a deeper meaning under the stories that he tells.  And the main one here is about rising from death to living a risen life; and we know as Christians that this risen life is the life of Christ (see my jotting for more).  Notice some of the significant touches in the story.  The delay of two days before travelling to Martha and Mary.  The different attitudes of those two ladies.  The worry the disciples have of going into hostile territory.  There are all sorts of difficulties climaxing even in death, yet Jesus leads his disciples into these and shows they can be overcome.  These thoughts are appropriate as we draw near to Easter, to teach us something of the significance of death and resurrection in our present situations.

See Jeffs Jottings – You must read this!

22nd March Sunday thoughts

We people who attend St Mary’s Pathhead church have sometimes managed without a priest.  But just now, in the present situation we are not even to attend church.  So I thought, as I have occasionaly led a service of the Word, that I might in this situation add a thought about the readings, for which I blog background information every week (see below).

My thought is that we should try to see situations and people rather how God would.  Unsuitable happenings arise partly from the fact that creation is not complete but is in process – hence natural disasters and the like, but also ‘bad’ things occur from human misuse of freedom for which we are all to some extent responsible (so let us not blame others).  We must try to live seeing things how God might.  But there is also the danger when trying to do this that we think of ourselves as ‘good’ and righteous – and this leads to criticising others, as some seemed to be agianst the blind man who was cured in the gospel story (on the Sabbath!).

Lent 4 year A

The first reading is extracts from the remembered tales of the early history of the Israelites’ settling down as a nation. At first they were ruled by men called Judges (like military overlords), but then there was a general outcry to have a king like other nations. Samuel was the overall prophet at the time and he warned the people that kings can be troublesome – they raise taxes, commandeer troops, and generally ride roughshod over the people, like the absolute rulers they are; they lead the nation without consultation or consideration of others. But the people still asked Samuel for a king and through him, guided by God, a ruler was selected. He chose Saul who was a fine example of manhood (1 Sam 10:20ff). But, just as the prophet Samuel had predicted he turned out to be a bad leader as king. Today’s reading is about the prophet Samuel being sent by God to choose a better man. The point of the reading for us might well be that ‘better’ does not mean taller, more handsome or any outward appearance. The key message of the reading is that “not as man sees does God see” – God does not regard the outer externals but rather the inner being of the person, and that is how we should try to see. And David, the new king, went down in history as the ideal ruler, so that ever after the people hoped for a new king live David. The genealogies in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels trace Jesus back to this king David.

The letter to the Ephesians, is really an encyclical letter, i.e. one that was written to be distributed around the churches and which is not concerned with issues of any particular community of Christians. In the opening address “to the saints…” many of the early manuscripts do not add the phrase “in Ephesus” and an early Christian writer (Marcion, circa 150 AD) thought it was written to the Laodiceans ; in addition it seems that some other Christian letters were encyclical; for we read in Colossians: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Col 4:16). The grand style of Ephesians elaborates the wonderful impact of Jesus becoming one of us and the magnificent notion of the reconciliation of the whole world with God. In our short passage, the writer reminds readers that they are no longer symbolically in the dark, and encourages them to live in the light; it ends with what might be a quotation from an early Christian baptism service: Come up, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and God will shine upon you!

The gospel reading (John chapter 9) is superficially the story of a man cured of his blindness and the skeptical questioning of him by the Pharisees. The man’s blindness, thought by Jesus’ disciples to be because of some sin, is an opportunity for the glory of God to be exhibited – a living symbol. Throughout the story there is a depth of meaning beneath the account of cure, of legalism and of antagonism to Jesus’ work that foreshaddows the attitude of authorities to Jesus and His final death. Light and seeing are, all the world over, symbolic of inspiration and real understanding of what life is about, just as dark and blindness are of stubborn ignorance and refusal of truth. The detailed account of the cure is not unlike the ceremony of baptism, but thereafter the various dialogues expose human hesitancy, timidity and arrogance. The underlying narrative comes to the surface at the end of the passage when Jesus says: ” I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (This passage is omitted when the short gospel reading is used).

See Jeffs Jottings – The danger of seeing

corect Lent 3 year A

readings

The first reading is part of the story of the journey of the people away from Egypt after their escape from slavery there. Moses, under God’s guidance, had helped them across the water with his God-given rod, and now they were literally wandering in the desert to which they were not used. The reading is about the people’s quarrelling with Moses and complaining about God leading them to this place of draught and desert, called Massah and Meribah (respectively meaning “testing” and “quarrelling”). The place names become almost symbolic in the Bible of this kind of situation. We notice the simplicity of the relationship between God and Moses, and the wonder of God’s action in our world of difficulty and disappointment. This is expressed through the experience of being in an inhospitable place – the desert, and short of the basic necessity for life – water. This imagery is quite fitting for the second and the gospel readings that follow.

The reading from the letter to the Romans is from the same section we read on the first Sunday of Lent, namely, a key part of his exposition of how he sees and expresses what Christianity is essentially about. He uses what amounts to technical terms like, faith and grace, peace and hope, ungodliness and glory, which can loose their meaning either because of their strangeness or because of over familiarity with them. He is saying that God has entered humanity as one of us in the person of Jesus Christ; a Christian tries to accept this and to live with this enhanced humanity – favoured by the life of God; and this brings the hope of sharing in the wonder of God’s life. Paul stresses the basis of this hope, using the image of water, stating that the vitality of God is poured into the very centre of our being. This transformation is made clear, he says, by the selflessness of Jesus’ life here on earth among us, lived entirely for others, even to the point of death; and this for people who were quite ungodly. This is clear proof of God’s love for us, to die for those who don’t deserve it!

This delightful story from John’s Gospel which we hear today, has so many interesting and attractive touches! Jesus is alone, as John tells us, just as he seemed to be with the learned Jew Nicodemus in the middle of the night. Here at midday He is with a lady, a lady from a mixed race disliked my decent Jews. He wants something from her: “Give me a drink.” (later she will be asking him). The conversation begins about water, but Jesus has in mind the true Spirit of life. Her way of addressing him develops, from ‘sir’, through ‘prophet’ to, possibly, ‘Messiah.’ The discussion develops into the best place to worship because of differences between Samaritans and Jews; true worship will soon be a matter of Spirit and Truth Jesus says. She has been honest about her past (the five men in her life at different times) and Jesus refers to himself honestly too with the divine name “I am.” She leaves, leaving her jar, when the disciples return. They can’t grasp what is going on. But she returns with the villagers whom she has told of her experience, and they persuade him to stay two days and they all come to recognise him as the Saviour of the world – John means that to be the whole world, all people, of any or no faith, both good and bad. What a revelation, what a story! What good news for us

 

See Jeffs Jottings – Unity for all.

Lent 2 year A

The first reading is about the initial call of Abraham; it is used by the editors of the Book of Genesis as the launch of an extended saga of Abraham and his offspring. He is a semi-nomad who moves around with his large extended family from place to place; in this short account of his vocation, he is summoned by God to leave the past – his ancestors – behind and set off to a place that God will point out to him and will make his own. Responding to this, Abraham will not only be blest himself but will be a source of blessing to those who come across him – indeed to all people. But God is not understood quite the way we might envisage Him today, for he tells Abraham that He will curse those who curse him.

The letters to Timothy and Titus are called the Pastoral Epistles because they take the form of guidance written by Paul to these Church leaders about how to conduct themselves and how to lead the Christian communities under their care. Just as Paul suffered in his vocation of preaching and making converts, so these ‘overseers’ of Christian communities will have difficulties to face up to – that is the pattern of life for those who try to fulfil the tasks God has for them. The developed state of the organisation of the church depicted in places in these letters is one of the reasons that many think that they come from a time after Paul though perhaps using some of his material extant at that time. They are still part of the Bible and as such express something of the Word of God to us. In our short extract from the second letter to Timothy it reminds the church leader that he is not called because of his worthiness but in order to let the strength of God work through him for the fulfilment of God’s overall plan.

In Matthew’s gospel the Transfiguration comes after Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” In his account it seems that it is beginning to dawn on some of the disciples, that, despite the popular expectation of a Messiah as a political liberator, Jesus the confident but kindly person is the one sent from God as the Messiah. Matthew follows this event with Jesus’ first announcement of his forthcoming arrest, trial and death, followed by resurrection. That last phrase might seem difficult for the disciples, yet there were beliefs that Moses never quite died and that Elijah would return to earth again, before the Messiah comes. It is after these events in Matthew’s story of Jesus, that the inner three disciples are taken onto a mountain (in the bible a place of revelations) and there they had a vision (as Matthew calls it) of the glory of Jesus, in conversation with Moses and Elijah, and then comes a cloud of God’s presence, and they hear God’s voice (which often refers to thunder during a storm). An announcement comes, as made at Jesus’ baptism, proclaiming: “my beloved son” but adding “listen to him!” Hear what he has said, namely, that opposition, suffering and death will come and then new life. Matthew’s good news for you and me might be that life will not be easy all the time, but for those who can see it the deeper reality is there, and there will certainly come death, but just as surely, life after death, when we have fulfilled out vocation.

See Jeffs Jottings – Pass it on!

Quote

Lent 1 Year A

The first reading is chiefly the story of the temptation in the Garden of Eden often referred to as the Fall. It is a story that must have been told in various forms throughout the history of the descendants of Abraham. Other ancient cultures had similar stories, you may have heard of Pandora’s box, an ancient Greek story. These tales are about what it is to be human, about the pitfalls of human curiosity and about the cause of all the different evils in our world. They have all been told and retold time and again to different listeners and adapted appropriately, but all make much the same point. Our version in Genesis delightfully describes the human process of temptation; it starts, with what so often is the case, with a prohibition – “you mustn’t …” It proceeds with slightly changed interpretations of what is forbidden – “was it any of the trees in the garden?” and “You shall not eat nor even touch!” Then the victim of temptation just thinks the command is wrong and selfishly given – “the moment you eat it … you will be like gods!” We can all recognise this process and it should help us combat some of the temptations to selfishness that we have. Some Christians see this as an historical account and as the beginning of sin and death in our world which they call Original Sin. The story in Genesis goes on beyond what we hear today, with a glimmer of hope, saying:                                   So the Lord God said to the snake,
‘Because you have done this,  Cursed are you above all livestock
 and all wild animals!
 You will crawl on your  belly
  and you will eat dust
 all the days of your life.
                    And I will put enmity
  between you and the woman,
 between your offspring and hers;
   he will crush your head,
 and you will strike his heel.’
The enmity and crushing is like the hope found in Pandora’s box, but is interpreted by Christians as referring to Mary and Jesus her offspring.

The second reading is Paul’s letter to the Romans which is like an exposition of his understanding of what Christianity is. And in the section we hear today, we have the very central notion of the impact that Christ has on the whole of the human race. Amongst the Jews there was a sense of the corporate nature of the nation and of the tribe and the family. It is found also among some peoples and groups nowadays. It is apparent mostly in the way that retaliation was brought by one tribe against all of another tribe if one of its members had offended someone from the first tribe. It is this solidarity that Paul recognises under the name of Adam (a word he uses like the word ‘man’ in the sentence “man has landed on the moon.”) It implies a, at least potential, transformation of everyone. All have sinned in Adam is how he might express it, but then goes on to say that all are saved in Christ. His sentences are complicated because he is anxious to stress the difference as well as the similarity between Christ and Adam, in this sense; he writes “but the gift considerately outweighed the fall.” We take from it the reversal of what we heard in the first reading. Now humanity is redeemed.

In our gospel today we have Matthew’s version of the temptations of Jesus in the desert after his Baptism by John. This links with the first reading. Here we have typical temptations. Firstly to use what power and skills one has entirely for one’s own benefit and gratification; secondly to show off and boast about oneself, in contrast to others you wish to outdo and dominate; and thirdly to gain great success in this world by ‘worshipping’ wealth, pleasure and the things of this world as secular. We are all subject to these kind of temptations and need the help of God (through others) to overcome them. These are typical of human temptations and in Luke’s telling of them he realises Jesus was tempted at other times as well, writing: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13).

See Jeffs Jottings – Make me aware!