Friday, 24 December 2010

present time....

              ...a gift in itself

One thing is needful -
to be completely present,
giving attention to the moment
and the people before us.

(taken from a card we received that for us sums it all up)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

RCL Reading Sunday 12 December 2010
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
James 5:7-1-
Matthew 11:2-11

Just as there is a rising sense of ‘Christmas is coming’ in our communities so there is within the readings for this coming Sunday an increased sense that God’s coming radically transforms the whole of human life and society.

The set Psalm (146) sets God’s whole agenda in ten verses! Opening with praise and the commitment to a life of praise (vv1-2) the psalm moves on to the ground of our trust and hope being placed in God – the God of all creation who is faithful and trustworthy (vv3-5). Make this the starting point of your prayer this week. The verse that follow set out clearly the priorities of God: justice for the oppressed; food for the hungry; freedom for the imprisoned; sight for the blind; strength for the overburdened; care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Why do these themes so consistently appear in what I write as I comment upon the scriptures week by week? The simple answer is because they are there right through the scriptures, they are at the heart of the heart of God and they need to be at the heart of our life and commitment. Identify specific people & situations which fall under these headings to pray for and consider in the light of your prayer what action you will take. How does our/your nation and national life look in comparison with the priorities of God as revealed in this Psalm?

The task may seem beyond us and we may feel crushed by it. Read Isaiah 35:1-10 where the same themes are addressed set in the image of a wilderness/desert. Yes it can seem dry and barren but God’s coming causes a blossoming (v2) and streams to flow (v6). Where are the dry places within your life, within our community, within the wider world? What are the signs of God’s coming? How are you and I ‘preparing a way’ for God’s coming? Pray for a greater vision of what God desires to do and a sense of God’s calling/summoning us to be part of it.

The Gospel reading (Matthew 11:2-11) is one of those so human moments that it brings hope and courage to me. John the Baptist, whose confidence and strength we saw in last Sunday’s reading (3:1-12), is now in prison and the doubts have crept in. Was he right? Was Jesus the Messiah? In the life of faith, for many, there do come those moments of nagging, even haunting, doubt. How does Jesus respond? Not by castigating John for his doubts but pointing him to the sings of the Kingdom breaking in – signs he knew John would recognise and know their significance (vv4-5). Jesus goes on to praise and affirm John’s ministry (vv.7-11). So take heart even if/when the doubts come. Notice and point others to the signs of God at work.

All of this needs to be lived out in the practical aspects of our daily lives (James 5:7-10): patience; endurance; no grumbling against one another. You can’t get more direct than that! It is the bigger perspective painted by the three other readings that will enable us to have patience, endurance and not to grumble – pray for a glimpse of God’s bigger perspective and be patient, endure and don’t grumble.

Monday, 29 November 2010

RCL Readings Sunday 5 December 2010
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

This coming Sunday's readings have an ‘other worldly’ feel while touching on the deep longings of the human spirit and the call for a radical practical working out of another way of living. The longing for that new ‘other’ world is often thwarted by an unwillingness to live differently in the present and our readings therefore challenge us to pray and act radically.

Isaiah 11:1-10 holds before us the vision of a peaceful kingdom emerging from the present “stump”, or cut down and defeated reality. The future hope, while linked to the past (v.1), is the work of God’s spirit (v.2) and will be marked by righteousness, justice, and equity (v.3-4). These marks of the kingdom are easy to give only lip service to yet our New Testament readings remind us that concrete action is called for (see below). For our prayers I suggest firstly we read the passage to remind us of the vision of God’s kingdom. Secondly, that we pray for the Church and its leadership (nationally & locally) for God’s spirit to grant “wisdom and understanding … counsel and might … knowledge and fear of the LORD” (v2).

Psalm 72 is probably a coronation anthem sung at the enthronement of the monarch and as such is a prayer for the king. Subsequently these enthronement psalms were also applied to the kingship of Christ. Again themes of righteousness, justice and equity come to the fore as the people pray. Verses 1 to 7 provide a framework for prayer for national and world rulers and the powers of government and governance. Prayer also involves participation – what can we do and which agencies can we support to promote righteousness, justice, prosperity for all, deliverance from oppression, and peace?

The reading from Romans 15:4-13 shapes our prayers for the inner life of the church and its outer life of mission. Verses 5-6 & 13 is a prayer for us: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” – make that your prayer each day! How this happens is spelt out in verse 7 – it is in welcome and hospitality, make that your way of behaving each day. This becomes the springboard for mission that embraces all people (depicted in Paul’s background as the Gentiles) – pray for the mission and outreach of the Church and for your part within it.

The example and message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12) is a stark challenge to all of us. There is a call to repentance which applies equally to each one of us as it does to others, indeed the sharpness of John’s tongue is directed at those who thought themselves religious. Repentance leads to a new direction – it is always more than saying ‘sorry’, saying ‘sorry’ leads to a change of attitude and behaviour. What are we/you called to repent of and what does the consequent change of attitude and behaviour look like?

Monday, 22 November 2010

RCL Readings Sunday 28 November 2010
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Sunday 28 November marks the beginning of Advent, a time of expectance and waiting for the new, a time of hope and anticipation. Central to Advent is the anticipation of God’s kingdom coming in justice, peace and well-being. We are called to live and pray in the light of this. It is easy to allow the business of the run up to Christmas to dull our praying for and living in the light of God’s kingdom.

Our reading from Isaiah 2:1-5 focuses on Judah and Jerusalem as they will be, as they are meant to be, yet the prophecy is at a time when Jerusalem is far from this expectation and ideal. The prophecy sets out the vision of the purpose of Jerusalem: a place of pilgrimage, a place to meet with God, a place to learn God’s ways so as to walk in God’s paths (v.3). That, I would contend, is the purpose God has for the Church – both as a people and as a place of gathering. Pray that the Church where you are involved will be a place to which people will come, will meet with God, will learn God’s ways and will then walk in God’s paths. Pray that this may be so this Advent and into the coming year.

God’s ways according to the prophecy are ways of justice, peace and well-being (v.4). These are things that are needed in the geographical Jerusalem as well as throughout our world. Pray for justice, peace and the well-being of all people and consider what you can do in your daily life to enable these things. Say to one another “come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (v.5). Psalm 122 addresses exactly the same themes and invites us to participate in their coming about (Ps 122:6-9) ending with the commitment: “I will seek your good”.

There is a note of urgency about all of this in the New Testament readings. Romans 13:11-14 begins with the stark reminder that “now is the moment for you to wake from sleep”. Consider what the sleep is that we are to awaken from. Is it indifference to the key themes of the Kingdom of God? Is it apathy? Is it preoccupation with the wrong things? Our wakefulness leads to behaviour that reflects now the ways and values of the kingdom that is coming (v.13). We are encouraged to “put on the armour of light” (v.12) and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.14) – think of yourself doing this symbolically each day as you get dressed, think of yourself as you go out wearing the armour of light and being clothed in Christ. How does that affect the way you live the day and relate to people?

Matthew 24:36-44 is a graphic warning of the need to be awake and ready – note the delightful sense of humour as you read it. There is a story, whether true or not makes no difference, of a novice asking a very senior and Godly monk “When must I get ready for the Lord’s coming?” To which the reply was given “Oh, not until the last minute”. The novice was silent for a moment and then said “When will that be?” The old monk replied “I haven’t got a clue, so you’d better do it now!” We are called to live today as though it were our last, for indeed it might be. We are called to live now joyfully in the light of God’s kingdom coming in all its fullness – go on, do it!

Monday, 15 November 2010

RCL Readings Sunday 21 November 2010
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

The Colossians reading (Col 1:11-20) provides a wealth of material to shape our praying this week. Begin periods of prayer by slowly reading verses 15-20 and let these verses shape your understanding of who Christ is. Allow this reflection to lead you into prayers of adoration as you sense the wonder of who Christ is: “the image of the invisible God”, “before all things”, the source of all creation, holding all creation together, head of the Church, the one in whom “the fullness of God was please to dwell”, the agent of reconciliation. A sense of awe and wonder grows as the nature of Christ is laid out in these verses.

The first part of the Colossians reading (vv 11-14) is a reminder of what we receive from Christ and form a framework for our prayers for one another. Pray that you and others may be “strengthened” by Christ’s glorious power and enabled to “endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father”. Realise what God has done for you through Christ, verses 13-14, and live as those who have been “transferred” into Christ’s kingdom and forgiven. While verses 15-20 focused on the nature of Christ and lead to adoration, verses 11-14 focus on what Christ has done and lead to praise and thanksgiving.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 is a profoundly challenging and in some ways disturbing reading for Church leaders – those called to be shepherds among God’s people. The reading prompts a searching question “what is it that ‘destroys and scatters’ God’s people?” or turning the question around “what is it that builds up and unites God’s people?” As we honestly answer the first question we should be led to confession and as we consider the second we should be moved to action. Consider what it is that you can do this week that will build up God’s people. Pray too for those who are ‘shepherds’ within the Church.

Psalm 46 is a reminder of the nature of God – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present (well proved) help in trouble.” This is the psalmist’s experience and as a result, in the midst of change and tumult, the psalmist doesn’t fear. God “in the midst” (v.5) is central to this faith and so whatever may be happening the exultation is: “Be still, and know that I am God!” It is not always easy to be still and we tend to like to be in control (god like?). An awareness of who Christ is and what Christ has done (the Colossians reading) and the nature of God reflected in this Psalm are the grounds for this stillness.

It will seem strange to many to focus, as the gospel reading does (Luke 23:33-43), on the crucifixion as we approach Advent and the celebration of the coming of Christ. The reading was selected by those who devised the lectionary as this Sunday is “Christ the King” and the reading portrays a very different model of what it means to be a king! But for our prayers I suggest we meditate upon the words spoken by one of the others crucified that day “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v.42) and the response “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise”. I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be “re-membered” – put back together, made whole, healed – for that was the purpose of Christ’s coming, “to reconcile to himself (God) all things” (Col. 1:20). This is possible “today”.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

RCL Readings Sunday 14 November 2010
Isaiah 65:17-25
Isaiah 12:1-6
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

For me, like last week, I have to work and live with these readings in the context of Armistice Day (11 Nov) and Remembrance Sunday (14 Nov). Our readings contain that tension between a glorious vision and the harsh realities and as such can provoke us into pray and action that are marked by hope and vision on the one hand and the difficult realities of parts of our world today on the other hand.

There is a marked contrast between the two readings from Isaiah (65:17-25 & 12:1-6) and the two New Testament readings (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 & Luke 21:5-19). Isaiah 12:1-6 is in place of a Psalm and it reads very much like a psalm. Use this reading to prompt prayers of adoration and as a reminder of the source of your salvation, trust and strength – you might like to begin each time of prayer with a slow reading of these verses. Verse 3 reads: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – consider what it means to be refreshed in your faith, what and where are the opportunities to “draw water from the wells of salvation”? Use them and delight in them!

The reading from Isaiah 65 is a vision of God’s glorious new creation and must have seemed hard to believe to both those who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon and those who remained in Babylon. Although nearly 50 years had passed since the first folk had returned Jerusalem was still in a sorry state and the new Temple shabby in comparison to the splendour of Solomon’s Temple and the city walls were still to be rebuilt. The “new heaven and new earth”, the “new Jerusalem” transcends the physical world of bricks and mortar, they are about a new way of living and being, a new vision of humanity and creation in harmony. Read these verses in Isaiah 65 and prayerfully sense the vision – in the midst of our world as it is today we need a vision of a different kind.

The reality though is far from the vision, like the physical Temple the reality is shabby and the city walls are in ruins. How do we prevent reality destroying the vision? The opening two verses of chapter 66 provide the answer, concluding “But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who tremble at my word”. Humility before God – back to Isaiah 12 and the realisation of the source of salvation etc. Contrite spirit – confession of our neglect of “drawing from the wells of salvation” and our over dependence upon ourselves. The taking of God’s word, God’s ways, with utmost seriousness.

The Thessalonians reading is a complex one. Superficially it is easy to get the wrong end of the stick. Note the words are addressed only to “believers”. The English word idle or lazy does not capture the Greek – one significant commentator writes “the word primarily describes behaviour that is insubordinate or irresponsible; perhaps these are individuals who rebel against the community (of faith) itself, chafing at the constraints imposed by the needs and wishes of others”. In our prayer for one another let us seek the wellbeing of the community of faith in all its diversity and in our actions let us seek to affirm one another.

The Gospel (Luke 21:5-19) too is a complex reading. A world in melt down graphically portrayed in apocalyptic language. When? We do not know (v.8). How? Again we do not know – the language is graphic to convey its cataclysmic nature (v.9-11). Where is our strength? Read again Isaiah 12 for a reminder of the nature and source of salvation – God alone. Finally “endurance” (v.19) is called for – hold on to the faith, hold onto God. Pray for those who today find their world in melt down – nations, communities, individuals and those known to you, but also keep in mind the vision of Isaiah 65 and work and pray for that too.

Monday, 1 November 2010

RCL Readings Sunday 7 November 2010
Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

This coming Sunday (7 Nov) precedes Armistice Day, a setting that cannot and should not be ignored. It was at 11 am on the 11th November 1918 that the guns finally fell silent on the Western Front, the day the Armistice was signed to mark the end of the 1st World War. It is therefore with that fact in mind that I reflect upon today’s readings which will inevitably give a certain slant to my comments.

The situation Haggai addresses (1:15b-2:9) is where the people look at the partial rebuild of the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians and all they can remember is the glory of the first Temple. The people understandably feel despondent for it is in their “sight as nothing” (2:3) but God’s word to them is “take courage, all you people of the land … work, for I am with you” (2:4). We know only too well that reconstruction, building the peace and creating a new future is far from easy – it requires courage and hard work. Today we need to pray for courage and be prepared for hard work if we are to see reconstruction, peace and a hopeful future. Also remember in your prayers: those who have lost their lives in war, service personnel and citizens; those displaced as a consequence; and the long term bitterness and enmity which feeds ongoing conflict.

Peace and reconstruction is costly and in Haggai the image is used of God “shaking” the cosmos and the nations “so that the treasure of all nations shall come” (v.7) – I wonder whether we recognise God’s shaking and are prepared for the wealth of the nation(s) to be used for the building of peace? Does Zacchaeus’ example from last week offer a further uncomfortable challenge?!

The Thessalonians are deeply troubled, “shaken in mind” (2 Thes. 2:2). The source of this trouble may seem strange to us – the Parousia (second coming) of Jesus, which some are saying has already happened, and their own state. The language indicates that this isn’t simply worrying them but actually causing enormous distress and anxiety. Things don’t seem to be happening as they expected and perhaps in this sense we can have some point of empathy with them. What our reading (2 Thes.2:1-5,13-17) does is it offers a response to acute distress, anxiety and fear: take seriously and name the problem (2:1-2); recall teaching on the issue (2:3-5); remember God’s act(s) of salvation (2:13-14); stand firm (2:15); pray for the comfort and hope that comes from God’s love and grace (2:16-17). In our prayers and actions this week let us take seriously the deep distress and anxiety that some people (and we) feel and as we pray and respond do so out of an awareness of God’s salvation, love and grace.

The argument and logic of the gospel reading (Luke 20:27-38) is strange to our ears. It raises an interesting question – the place of questioning. Jesus encountered questioning motivated by allsorts of things: to trip him up; to cause opposition; to justify self; or a genuine desire to know. The questioning in this chapter of Luke certainly isn’t out of a desire to know and understand! It strikes me that the politics of war and peace would be greatly helped if questioning were out of a genuine desire to know and understand – that I think is something we desperately need to pray for.

The gospel does raise an issue that causes anxiety for many – namely the fate of those who die. I write this on All Saints Day so an appropriate day to reflect on death and the afterlife. Death and the after life is still a taboo subject for many. Paul’s five staged approach outlined above to the Thessalonians’ anxiety seems to me a helpful way forward.