Sunday, 28 May 2017

Good enough

Sunday Gospel  - Matthew 28:16-20 

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

It's Matthew so it must be the (now) Eleven. It doesn't mean that only they were there, any more than only they were there at the Last Supper. But imagery is important; the infant church will begin by following in the footsteps of Jacob's sons. 

And like Jacob's sons, they remain a motley crew of eager yet nervous, unsure yet faithful followers. And if there is no other reason for reading scripture it is this one; to realise that God's people have always been a doubting, meddling, anxious, cowardly, hesitant, wrangling lot. Which is why they are God's people - knowing they wouldn't get very far on their own.

And that God wouldn't have it any other way.

It's Matthew, so there must be a mountain - a ancient meeting place of the Divine and humanity. This time there is no bright lights, no unearthly voice, no ancestral fathers, no time to make a tent. There is - only Jesus. 

And Jesus tells the disciples that that he is enough. That they can keep all their faults, their feelings and their failings because he is enough.

How subversive is that? That you are good enough to do God's work - just as you are? 

You can barely scroll through a few internet pages without getting '7 steps to success' or '5 ways of winning'  or 'Tips to the top' - all intended to create a desire for a life, lifestyle, relationships or career that is all about the better us.  

And it is a sad truth that we have churches filled -or rather not filled -  with exclusions and exceptions. That we judge others and continue to judge ourselves. And that now churches are developing marketing strategies and training people to be the 'new' face of evangelism. 

Surely, it's more important to be the 'true' face of evangelism? That it's only our hearts that matter. That it is our flaws, our vulnerability and our compassion that deny us the opportunity to look the other way. It is our love for others that offers others hope. It is only by our example of who we are that we can bring others to where they want to be. 

The actions of the Manchester heroes show the true face of discipleship. The people who lifted themselves out of the everyday, who tore down their usual safety nets to reach out and do the 'work'. Whether they were of any faith or no faith, the teaching of Jesus - to love as we love our ourselves - has embedded itself into the psyche of the world and continues to be expressed by people who only ever describe themselves as ordinary. 

I am often confused by people who anticipate the  second coming when we are already blessed with 'now here'. This Gospel reminds us that Jesus is 'present tense'. We turn to him and he is already here.  


Sunday, 7 May 2017

Don't be a stranger

Gospel John 10:1-10 
Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’

Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

Christianity is about discipleship; which strangely translates as being a sheep...and whilst I'm not very keen on being compared to a sheep  maybe that's my lesson in humility. 

Jesus used the culture of his time to teach about discipleship. We laugh at the thought of being sheep but we all know that the devotion of animals to their masters can't be overstated. And, at the time, it was sheep that portrayed this. Sheep are devoted to their shepherd and to each other; they know each others fears and sees the flock, the community, as the most important thing in the world. The shepherd knows that keeping them close - from birth, through first steps and brave leaps; by words and whistle and songs and midnight stories under starry skies - that those sheep become his; bleating hearts and shaggy souls. When they are lost - it is the end of the world - the bleating of a lost sheep would drive you mad. 

After the weeks of fearful discipleship, the Church takes us back in time with a reminder of why we are not meant to be fearful. When I was little this week was called Good Shepherd Sunday and we would pray for vocations for the Missions fearing for the souls of those who had not heard the Good News. These days we simply pray for vocations. 

At a recent Chrism Mass, Pope Francis made this statement;

“The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

 In Francis' book, 'The Church of Mercy', he directs this same idea with more fervour to those who are our 'teachers, priests and shepherds'.
So it isn't just vocation - it is the dedication and stamina to see the vocation through. Francis talks about the need to 'stay put' with the flock, to walk with it, before and behind it. 

Those who have taken on the promises of Peter may have every reason to avoid the long road. Jesus knew what he was doing when he chose the shepherd for a symbol - there is very little to be envious of. 

As the seasons pass, liturgical and natural, there is a real sense of the eternal, circling, renewal - tasks of shearing, birthing, feeding and watering, healing, letting go of the sick, seeking the lost - there is no 'once and for all'.  

It's not one parish family, but many, that will pass through from cradle to grave. And among the many undoubted joys; all those issues that get dealt with only to arise elsewhere; conflicts brought to reconciliation in one place and bubbling beneath the surface somewhere else; having to decide whose priority is the priority. 

Going to bed with other people's problems doesn't allow for a quiet night. 

And it's not only the ordained priests, surely any one of us, involved in the slightest of ministries, could imagine the role of shepherd with a 'flock' of our own? And sometime, get weary of what the role asks of us.

The strange thing is, we may think we are shepherds, but we are, at best, responsible sheep. 

There is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus, and we are all listening out for his  voice and watching out for his footprints. 

Within the flock, we may have better ears or eyes, a better gift for sensing danger, a nose for the best pasture, a head for heights, a natural maternal instinct, an enthusiastic gang leader. 

Nevertheless, we are all sheep. 

And sheep are healthy, happy and secure when they not alone.

This way, Francis' advice makes far more sense. 

To be satisfied with what you do - be part of who you are. 


Saturday, 22 April 2017

How happy?

of John 20:19-31 

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
― C.S. Lewis

I wonder if Thomas was an identical twin and if so, had he and his brother had ever played tricks on people about which of them was which? Or maybe not tricks - just the general confusion that happens when people find twins difficult to tell apart. At least until you really get to know them. 

Maybe with Thomas, it was more the fact that he was a twin than a doubter; that he knew you cannot just go by appearances. Jesus had already played the role of the gardener and the wandering teacher without being recognised. If Thomas was going to believe then he wanted to recognise Jesus' heart - he wanted to touch it. 

Many people, myself including, have a desire to experience the Risen Christ; isn't this just what Easter is meant to be about? To experience the supernatural; the paradox of knowing that Eternity has been changed; that the gates of Heaven have been opened and the Kingdom of God is here.

Is that why many people, myself included, end up with a sense of  anti-climax; wondering if it was worth it. After all that Lenten denial and journeying; after all the rituals and liturgies of Holy Week; after the candles, splashing, incensing, singing, solemnity and promises of last Saturday and Sunday - to be surrounded by the deep sighs and hrumph's of life 'getting back to normal' and wondering 'what was that all about?'

Thomas must have wondered; after the judgement and the death; even after the claims of the resurrection - whilst his brothers and sisters are sitting behind closed doors and windows and he is trying to gather supplies and wangle a way to get them back to Galilee - or whatever it was he was doing - 'what was that all about?'

Poor Thomas even missed it this time; the beginning of this passage when Jesus reminds the fearful followers what it is all about. And it is a reminder - they have heard in in sermons and parables; they have seen in healings and accusations; Simon Peter even had a heart to heart with Jesus about it.

It is the Spirit of Forgiveness; forgiveness that we struggle so much with; forgiveness of the most Grace-ful, unreasonable and undeserved kind. To be able to forgive the friend and the stranger; the valued and unworthy; the confused and the guilty; those that will not say sorry and those that cannot; and especially to forgive those who cannot forgive themselves.

And, if we do not forgive, then to bear all that that means on ourselves.

Thomas asked for the opportunity to get inside Jesus - instead Jesus got inside him  - as he gets inside each of us.

We breathe with Jesus' breath; with the Father's breath; we have the same ministry that Jesus was given; to speak with his Spirit that gives people hope, dignity and joy - that's about 'not normal' and as supernatural as you are ever going to experience. 

If you accept it...if you say...

My Lord and my God.


“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
― Mother Teresa

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Beyond Belief

Matthew 28:1-7

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God's angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white.

The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn't move. The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.
"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.' That's the message."

So, if you were looking for a bit of cataclysmic action, Matthew's version of events is a little more like it. The earth reeled and a shining angel appeared; lightning blazing from him - that must have been a sight to behold. And the guards, more afraid than the women; showed how little regard Matthew had for the Romans. But the bolts are from Heaven, the angel is from the Father and Jesus is still not around.

There seems to be very little the Gospel writers can do to make the account of the Resurrection action-packed. And, perhaps, out of all the requests for evidence, for proof - this is it. That it is beyond exaggeration, beyond story-telling, it happened, no-one is ever going to tell you how, and it is up to you to believe it, or not.

If you believe it, even if you believe with all your heart and mind and soul, the truth is that you will never convince another - the Resurrection is not an event that translates - they will have to make their own journey through a dark night and a dawn-lit garden to the empty tomb and decide for themselves.

wordinthehand 2017

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The price of peace

Palm Sunday 

Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

In previous years, I have speculated on the need to have the Passion readings repeated over two weeks. Why put us in the place we are going to when, all through Lent, we have been trying to avoid the deja-vu experience of hindsight?

The experience of Palm Sunday doesn't offer hindsight but peripheral vision. Next week all eyes must be on Jesus, whether they be the eyes of the crowd, the believers, the Temple or the Roman guards. This week, we get to try out what that feels like before we find ourselves standing in their place. Imagining ourselves in the melee of Matthew's Jerusalem, we are invited to observe the misdirection and misunderstandings of this tragic week. 

Jesus rarely seems to make a fuss about his travelling. We imagine him the itinerant wanderer, distracted by pleas for help and offers of hospitality. Here, Jesus is quite explicit; he enters Jerusalem as David sent Solomon, as Zechariah promises the Messiah will come to his people-

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.Zech 9:9

a symbolism not lost on the exploited people of Israel; on the fervent enthusiasm of the pilgrims; on the impatient desires of the zealots. 

The shouts of 'Hosanna' meaning 'Save, now' and the thrown cloaks are recognition of prophecy being fulfilled. The palm branches signalling covert loyalty to a nation bowed by Roman rule.  The Messiah is here.

Who could not be swept up in the excitement of 'I was there'. 

But surely the Messiah would be on the side of the religious leaders - and he is not. Surely the Messiah would be speaking against the Roman occupiers - and he is not. And surely the Messiah would not be sitting with the poor, the lame and the children-  yet he is. 

The cloaks and palm leaves lie gathering dust, trodden into shreds of disarray - the mornings after... Perhaps this Messiah played his last trick with Lazarus; perhaps there is nothing worthwhile from Nazareth; perhaps the 'stage' is too big and Jesus has taken fright. Good for nothing except interfering with the business of the Temple then running for the hills. Another festival of disappointment.

How many of the crowd remember the continuing verse from Zechariah? 

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea

The week will be full of confusion, sleight of hand and betrayal; so many questions. The covenant with his Father signed with tears; the procession continues into tragedy.

Did the 30 pieces of silver compensate in any way for the anointing with nard?

What is the price of peace?

In the reading of the Passion, one person caught my attention who I had not thought of before. 

Watching from a distance, no doubt holding on to each other in grief; the women. With the Mary's, another woman - the mother of Zebedee's sons. The mother of James and John, the favoured friends.  

The mother who, in Matthew's gospel, just before the entry in Jerusalem - asks for a gift. Asks that her sons will sit at the left and right hand of Jesus in his Kingdom. The Kingdom that she had, no doubt, shouted in with 'Hosanna's' of her own. In her imagining, seeing her sons as golden, victorious princes once the battle had been won.  

Does her heart sink as she looks into the faces of the two criminals; these strange thrones of suffering and the kingdom that they overshadow. What if this had been the fate of her fine boys? Would she have ever asked, knowing what she wished for?

Shockwaves of horror after horror have tormented this Lenten period, at home and globally. Surely we must be closer to realising that there is no act of retribution that will end the violence? There is no golden armoured prince who will change the world because he has a bigger sword? Jesus offers another way and it overwhelms him. He offers it anyway, he offers it still. The sword must fall, only peace will bring peace.

For those of us who have made it through Lent, one way or another, the road is not much clearer. Our involvement in the proceedings is still a choice to be made. 

The Methodist Covenant Prayer is one I find difficult to pray without crossing my fingers just a little. It echoes the prayer of Gethsemane.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, 
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, 
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, 
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, 
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly 
yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,Father, 
Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, 
let it be ratified in heaven.

Let me have the strength to be at your side, Lord. 
Let me know the price of peace.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

A good Lament

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. – It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
  Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’

 Jesus replied:
‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’
He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

  On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:
‘I am the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
  When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
  Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

  Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Martha's Lament

Lord, my brother sickens.
Abandoned by hope,
Pearls of desolation
Fall silently
Into empty hands.
In faith, I know
Your touch, Lord,
Your hand will save him.

Master, you have not come.
You have not watched
As life pours from him.
As he fades into
An obsidian maze of despair.
Raging against heaven
In torment at your absence.
One word, Lord; your Word.

Can it be, Lord?
His life, as naught to him
As it seemed to you,
Ebbed away leaving our
Hearts scalded by grief.
Were our lives no more
Than a storyteller’s plaything?
Was there a better story to tell?

How is it, Lord,
You did not come?
To a brother in love
To a friend in faith?
How is it he journeys alone
Into the Stygian depths?
Yet, speak Lord,
Your servant will still hear.

When I wrote this poem it was after the death of a friend. To be honest, it was a peaceful death of someone who knew they were going home. And the grief and suffering belonged, not to her, but to those who were left behind. Martha is often remembered as the 'too-good' housewife but I sympathised with her then as the woman who would stop at nothing to help those she loved. I admit that I put these words into her mouth - but maybe I am not as trusting as she is.

I have a great respect for Martha - she seems to be one of those women who can speak her mind and still keep her friends. Certainly the friendship with Jesus seems to have grown into a recognised relationship of affection and trust and extended to all the members of the family. I'm sure anyone would have expected Jesus to put these friends above almost anyone else -  and he didn't. 

Dealing with the 'why's' of suffering and grief  is never easy. No matter where your faith is. No matter that you are absolutely sure that, when the time comes, Heaven's gates will open; no matter if you believe that this world is somewhere we pass through as part of our soul's eternal journey; no matter - because the suffering and grief is not about what happens next - it's about what is happening now. And Martha is wise enough to know it and brave enough to say it. 

Why does Jesus wait? Is it really his intention to cause this tragedy?  Or does he believe that the Father will give him the time he needs to do what he has to do and still care for his friend?

I don't  believe in a God who treats us as puppets so I have to accept that Lazarus' illness and death were part of his life- not unusual in those times to sicken and die quickly and at a young age. When Jesus reaches their home, I believe that his grief is equally genuine  - as human an emotion as any he has felt before. 

But knowing - knowing - that nothing is impossible to God; even three days in a tomb - he can at least ask; he prays with all the faith that is within him; it is not he who brings Lazarus back but his Father who returns him to life, in the answering of a prayer. 

Out of the greatest of hopelessness' Jesus has drawn hope. As a human being, Jesus has given everything he has.  There are no more miracles left. Stones are being weighed in the hands of those who have judged him already.  Perhaps, in its own way, the raising of Lazarus has not only been a challenge to those who do not believe but a reassurance to those who do. Perhaps, a reassurance to Jesus himself.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Accept the gift

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied 

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
  At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
  Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’

This week in school we offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation as part of a Service of reflection. Through the examen and with Pope Francis' 'Fasting for Lent' list we were able to write down those things that we are carrying unwillingly. I wish I could say that the parish priest was overwhelmed with the resulting queue however it seems that their ritual action of leaving their concerns to be burned away was enough for the vast majority. And maybe it was, they are only children after all. 

But watching the lines of children, papers scrunched in their hands ready to be flung into the 'jar of letting go', I was saddened by their unwillingness to take that extra step.  Here was our priest, in Jesus' name, offering a channel for the living water that is God's grace and forgiveness of all our regrets. Sitting, waiting for them to seek out this gift; freely given to anyone who asks. Jesus is sitting, waiting too;  his friends off feeding the body rather that the spirit - other priorities; other places to be. 

It is a pity that the Sacrament of Reconciliation has such a bad press. That it is regarded as a duty on a par with visiting dentists; yet it is pure gift; pure grace. 

 I had never really connected the Samaritan woman with the Sacrament (after all, if there is sin it is implied and if assumed then not 'forgiven' and Jesus always forgives) 

It is this woman who comes to the well. Maybe not a sinner (though aren't we all?) but not right.  There is something not right about a woman who has grieved for five husbands and whatever the circumstance of the present relationship. There is something not right about a woman coming to the well alone; without women friends; without a child on her back or running around her feet.

This woman is no outcast; she is able to return to her village not imagining that she won't be heard; she can hold her own in conversation with a stranger (too clever for her own good?).  She knows herself;  her longings; she wants to feel right. She is prepared to do the work; to enter into dialogue with the 'enemy'; to enter into relationship with this man who knows her in spite of  the bravado and the stigma of who she is or is not. This man has what she needs and she has the confidence and humility to ask for it.  Not out of shame or even guilt; but with with the optimism that God's grace is the answer; will fill her with light; will make her new. 

And because it does she has the generosity of spirit to bring others to that same well, whilst Jesus' disciples are still wondering what he has been up to. 

What a wonderful way this would be to approach the Sacrament and especially in this time of Lent -when we are seeking our way through desert paths - what an opportunity to find an oasis in which to sit with a friend; to rest; to be unburdened; to be made new.

Pope Francis' Fasting List for Lent 

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Sunday, 12 March 2017


GospelMatthew 17:1-9 

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
  As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

With all the challenge and denial I wonder how often did Jesus ask himself  - how can my Father be pleased with this? How often did Jesus return to the lonely places asking his Father for loving consolation?

Probably not an image of Jesus anyone would want to consider; yet the conversation in Gethsemene tells us that Jesus is not in control of the Mission; sometimes Jesus does seem to learn as he goes; the woman who asks for  healing as scraps from the table for instance. Some would say Jesus uses the situation to teach a lesson.  I wonder if Jesus himself sometimes needed the lesson - after all he believed he had come to gather Israel first - maybe the woman was his teacher this day - a lesson learned from experience - and many others along the way.

Now, three years later, the final pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the one that will end with his death. In the past few days he has talked with the disciples about the sacifice that is to come and they still don't get it. I imagine Jesus sitting at the fire during the morning de-camp; watching the hustle-bustle as preparations are made for the day; the talk of anticipation for the Passover. I see his eyes reaching towards heaven and in his fearful heart a simple cry - 'Father'. 

And his Father says 'Come to me and bring your friends'. 

The mountain is not an escape. It is a refuge. The going up will mean coming down again but surely worth it? It isn't always about moving on; moving forward; sometimes its about reaching a point where there is nowhere else to go and staying with that.

At the top of the mountain the air is thin; they feel lightheaded; catching their breath at the landscape rolling out below them. For the fishermen this is as far from the sea as you could be; as far from their early life as they could imagine. Maybe as they watch Jesus pray they whisper together about the adventures they have had; the lives that have been changed because of this man, this friend, this brother.

And then they see this man, this brother, as the Father sees him; shining and wonderful beyond all recognition; washed clean again from the doubts and prejudices of human perception. Resting in the company of the fathers of faith; wrapped in the light of his Father's eyes. 

 Why would Peter even suggest tents? Why seek to confine this experience; to enclose it within manageable 'space'? Because they could not cope with the wonder of what they were seeing? 

And then the voice of the Father; speaking to them - ordinary men out on a mountain - the Father witnessing to them 'This is my Son; I love him; listen to him.'

As they come down the mountain the doubts and misunderstandings are already beginning to set in. Keep this to yourself - Jesus tells them - you don't understand now, talking about it won't help. But the experience will come back to you when it is needed. 

What does Transfiguration mean to us? That we are fearfully and wondrously made. That even in our fears and mistakes we are blessed, Yet how often do we believe that? How often does life not let us believe that? 

Surely there are times when we can imagine no greater gift than being on a mountaintop and letting God hold us; seeing ourselves reflected in God's eyes; letting God tell us we are Beloved; that we have a message worth listening to? 

As disciples we follow Jesus. Jesus knows his need of the Father, he makes the time, he takes the journey. Jesus finds rest in his Father. Enough to face death and more than death. As disciples we have accepted the cross of desolation; we may also accept God's embrace of consolation. We are Beloved.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lead us not into temptation

Gospel - Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:
Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:
He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.

It is difficult to imagine how Jesus must have felt after his baptism. There are many thoughts about how aware of his divinity Jesus was during his early life. My own thoughts are that it would have been difficult for him to be good at being human if he spent his time making clay sparrows come to life and healing his friends scuffed knees with a rub.

Certainly the Baptism must have been a pivotal point - a place of Trinity where God became present to celebrate Jesus' humanity and divinity - the Word becoming flesh. But not too much of a celebration - whilst the crowds on the riverbank chatter amongst themselves about what they have seen - the Spirit gathers him up and leads him out into the desert.

We are reminded every year of these forty days in our time of Lent - you would wonder how any human could last 40 days of fasting but, no matter, the number 40 represents a journey - a movement from one place to another. From where to where?

Jesus must enter the desert feeling pretty full of himself; an experience of God is never something to be taken lightly; ask any of the saints. To realise that you are the Beloved Son of God; after years of poverty; striving; suffering; of making the most of what you have; must have been extraordinary. Did the scales fall from his eyes? Was he overwhelmed with the possibilities that lay before him. Did it all seem so clear?

After all, being human had not been a joyride; Jesus had lived the life of an outcast, a refugee, a peasant. He had broken nails on his hands and hard skin on his feet. Being God meant it was in his power to change all that -to heal, to bring balance, to build the Kingdom with a thought and a wave of his hand. What would you do if you were God? The power to create a personal paradise  is a strong desire -ask any candidate  - even Miss World wants to cure all ills and end all wars.

After the thousands of years we had had free will - here was a God who could have taken it from us; with the best of intentions; with the benefit of human experience; with the desire to do good. It would be something his friends would ask of him; his enemies would expect. The Messiah with the flaming sword.

But that is not the Father's plan and it is the Spirit who is the symbol of tough love;  sheltering him in her wings, whispering to him the need for sacrifice, for submission, for the world to make its own mind up even if it means.....  Reassuring Jesus that he is full of  the Father's grace and that that grace will move through him for others; for others encountered in relationship; in friendship; in need; in love. Telling him there will be people who say no; who forget to say thank-you; who will demand; who will run away; who will betray and that that is their right.

It is only at the end of the forty days that the devil speaks; dehydrated and starving,Jesus must have looked an easy target - his humanity failing - and now there is the  the opportunity to make it all better. 

The devil is daring; telling God how to be God and then challenging him to act. Not realising that in his weakness and powerlessness Jesus now understands his freedom.  In admitting that you cannot do it by yourself. In needing relationships and intimacy; in needing his Father;  because God is not over us but within us.  God is not Power  but Love. As St Paul reminds us: 'if I  do not have love, I am nothing.' And God knows, we are more than that.