Sunday 17th March 2019

Sermon for Lent 2

To continue on our Lenten theme, here is another story about questions.

Many years ago there was an old woman who would sit each day at the crossroads
just outside the village where she lived
she watched the world go by and often engaged passers-by in conversation.
Late one afternoon a traveller came by, weary after a long days walk.
He stopped, exchanged pleasantries with the old woman
and then asked about the village:  “What sort of village is this?” he asked,
“What are the people like? Are people friendly? Are strangers made welcome here?”
Ignoring his questions the old woman asked her own:
“Tell me about your village. What are people like where you come from?
Are people friendly there? Are strangers made welcome?”
“Don’t get me going on that one!” the traveller answered.
“Where I come from people are not very friendly or welcoming at all;
they are rude and stand offish, I personally don’t like them and tend to avoid them.”
“O dear” said the old woman sympathetically, “What a shame, I have bad news I’m afraid.
Sadly you will find people much the same in this village.”
“Here as well?” said the traveller,
“in that case, I think I will look elsewhere for lodging.”
He took another path and walked towards the next village.

Not long after, a second stranger came walking along the road.
He too stopped and chatted with the old woman,
and like the first traveller, he was looking for a place to stay.
“What sort of village is this?” he asked, “What are people like here?
“Are they friendly? Are strangers made welcome?”
Again the woman ignored his question and asked her own:
“Tell me about where you come from? Are people friendly there?
Are strangers made welcome?”
“I love my village” the stranger said with a smile.
“Yes, people on a whole are welcoming; they might be a bit reserved and shy at first,but once you get to know them they are a friendly crowd.”
“It sounds just like the people in this village” said the old woman,
“you should feel at home here.”

The woman at the crossroads knew there was not much point in describing her village,because the travellers would only see it through the eyes they brought with them.People tend to reflect on to others the traits that they carry inside.
If there is someone we find particularly difficult and annoying,
the chances are that we carry some of the traits that we find difficult in them.

We need to be aware of our human frailties and weaknesses,
because we regularly, without realising it, transfer them onto other people.
If for example we are a bit of a control freak – which I have to admit that I am – then we are more likely to have a problem with other people who like to be in control. Partly because they unconsciously remind us of our own frailties,
and partly because if we can see them as worse than us we can more easily justify the weakness in ourselves!
If we have a tendency to shoot from the lip and speak without thinking, we will be mortified if other people do that to us! That is no way to speak to anybody!
If we are one for bearing grudges against people who have wronged us, we may find that we have little sympathy with others who just can’t let things go.

We need to be willing to look within and face up to our darker traits,
and then we can begin to understand why certain people get under our skin.
It is not so much because of who they are, but who we are.
But it is not who we truly are, it is a false self we have acquired over the years. Our true self, underneath all the outer protection and packaging we have built up,is a reflection of the wonder and glory and beauty of God.

To begin to work through the outer layer that finds faults with others
we need to be willing to spend some time getting to know this true eternal self.
The Buddhist call it “our original face”.
It is not easy.
First of all we have to believe this deeper me is who I truly am.
And secondly we have to wake up and see it and experience it.
How do we go about doing that?

Spending time considering the questions that old woman in the story asked
is a good way to begin.
What are the people we live with like? The people we worship with?
The people we work with? The people we have daily contact with?
Are they friendly? Are they kind? Are they patient? Are they easy to get on with?
What we find in them we will probably find in ourselves.
The people we meet tend to mirror our own gifts and shortcomings,
our own strengths and vulnerabilities –
they reflect what God can help us work on.

Instead of criticising or judging what we find difficult in others,
let us use it as an opportunity to polish our own inner mirrors
and allow God’s transforming grace to help us grow into who we truly are.


Saturday 16th March 2019

Mark 5:30 Who touched me?

Jesus was on his way to the home of Jairus,
a synagogue official whose daughter was very ill.
On the way he felt his power flow from him and asked: Who touched me?
The woman who touched him had suffered for years from a haemorrhage
and felt if she could just touch him as he passed she would be made well.
She was, but she did not bargain for what happened next;
what she hoped would be a secret healing was suddenly out in the open.
Why did Jesus call her out of the crowd? Why not allow her secret?
I think this is another lesson in responsibility.
We cannot be a secret follower of Christ,
if we encounter God’s love
we have a responsibility to pass it onto others.
Our faith is not merely an individual faith, it is a community faith,
we cannot truly practice our faith in private,
we have a responsibility to others with whom we share our journey.
“You must love one another” he said, “as I have loved you.”

In the next village to where I lived as a child,
there was a large standing stone in the grounds of the church.
As children we heard many tales in regards to the stone,
one of which is that if you made a wish while touching the stone
it would come true.
Jesus had no wish to be a magical stone,
just to be touched anonymously and healing to flow from him.
A magical stone is impersonal, Jesus was about relationship.
He wanted to have a relationship with those he healed and loved and taught.
Sometimes in our prayers it is like we want God to be a magic stone,
a stone that grants wishes.
Our God is not about magic but about love.
True prayer is not about magic, but love.

Friday 15th March 2019

Luke 22:27
Who is the greater among you
the one who sits at table or the one who serves?

This question follows on from yesterday’s reflection on importance.
It seems that the vying for pecking order in Jesus gang
was an ongoing issue – has it ever been different?
Jesus reminded them that he had come as one who serves.
He reminded them that position did not give them extra greatness,
what it did do was give them greater responsibility to serve others.
He also reminded them that taking the role of a servant meant
regarding others as having at least equal importance and status to them.
It means that if we have prominent position or role of any kind in church,
we should not treat it as a status symbol but an opportunity to serve.
Clergy especially need to always keep this in mind! As do we all.

Pema Chodron
Don’t expect applause.
Don’t expect thanks.
Expect the unexpected.
Be curious and inquisitive
about what comes through the door.
Then we can begin to open our hearts to others
when we have no hope of getting anything back.
We just do it for its own sake.
We can thank others
but we should give up all hope
of getting thanked in return.
Simply keep the door open
without expectations.

Thursday 14th March 2019

Mark 9:33 What were you arguing about on the way?

They were travelling between villages and Jesus noticed that
there was animated discussion among the disciples as they walked.
He clearly knew what they were arguing about, so confronted them.
They were arguing about which of them was the most important,
which of them were the most privileged.
He placed a child before them; reminding them
that they should develop the humility and simplicity of a child
if they really wanted to understand what the kingdom of God was all about.
And before we condemn those disciples we should understand
that we play these sorts of games all the time, without realising it.
I am one of the more important people at church
because of the amount I do, the position I am in,
the length of time I have been coming, the amount I give etc.
Thankfully we have plenty of children that Jesus has placed before us
who remind us week after week that we are not as big as we like to think.

Khalil Gibran

Your children are not only your children
they are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts
for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them be like you;
for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows
from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Wednesday 13th March 2019

Matthew 9:5
Which is easier to say: Your sins are forgiven, or rise up and walk?

They loved it when Jesus said rise up and walk, and healed the sick.
They were not so enamoured when he said to them:
Your sins are forgiven.
The religious authorities called it blasphemy.
The rest just found it hard to believe.
Going back to yesterday’s reflection,
this is why we are so eager to find fault in others,
and try and fool ourselves about the faults and failures within ourselves.
It was easier for Jesus to say: Rise up and walk
because people could see and bear witness as folk did rise up and walk.
Forgiveness of sins has to be taken on trust.
We are forgiven and loved. Can we believe it?

If we can begin to truly believe that we are forgiven,
maybe we our tendency to criticise and judge others can soften.
If we can accept that God looks upon us only with love and kindness,
Maybe we can slowly begin to look upon others in the same way.
We are loved, forgiven and blessed – let’s keep reminding ourselves of that;
and remind ourselves that those we judge are also.

Sunday 10th – Tuesday 12th March 2019

Sermon for Lent 1
There was once an old Rabbi who was going through a crises of faith and vocation. He lived near Moscow at the beginning of the last century.
He wandered the streets of his city late one night pondering his life and calling.
Deep in thought and prayer he wandered into a military compound,
which was strictly a “no go area” for civilians.
The Rabbi was brought back from his thoughts by the shout of a Russian soldier:
“Stop! Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The Rabbi, confused, not knowing where he was, simply said: “Who? Me?”
“Yes, you,” the soldier shouted again. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The Rabbi, now beginning to realise where he was, regained his composure
and explained who he was and what had happened.
When the soldier relaxed the Rabbi asked him: “How much do you get paid?”
“What sort of question is that?” asked the soldier.
“Because”, said the Rabbi, “I would gladly pay it if you asked me those same questions every day.”

Who are you? What are you looking for?

The Lenten reflections this year are on questions that Jesus asked.
But right at the beginning of his ministry Jesus had to face some questions of his own. Who are you? What are you looking for?
These are the very questions Jesus had to face and ponder.
The Rabbi in the story wandered into a military compound beset with questions.
Jesus found himself wandering into the desert, the wilderness.

This scene in the wilderness, which we hear in the gospel this Sunday every year, is the moment when Jesus had to face his first big crises of faith.
Who am I? Why am here? What is my purpose in life?
What is my calling? How am I to fulfil that calling?
The Gospel story beautifully paints the picture of Jesus going face to face in with the devil. It is a vivid way of getting across to us the inner questioning Jesus had to face.

Jesus was questioning who he was, and what people were saying about him.
He was facing his fears, his ambitions, his doubts, his temptations, his ego.
Was he going to make himself popular by doing conjuring tricks?
Or was he willing to walk the path of love and suffering?
You see we tend to forget that Jesus was a human being, like you and me.
Yes, we believe him to be the Son of God, but he chose to let go of his glory in order to be one with us. To be like you and me.

There is a powerful poem by R.S Thomas
In which God is watching the world through a small globe he holds in his hands,
and the Son is watching with him.
They see humanities despair and suffering, and people watching a bare tree with crossed boughs,as if waiting for the coming of something, or someone, they could not understand.
The Son watches them with compassion and says: “Let me go there”.

Jesus came as one of us.
He lived with the same doubts, questions, pains, uncertainties and vulnerabilities.
Today’s gospel story brings that over to us.
And though it ends with the devil leaving and Jesus returning from his wilderness, it did not mean that his questioning was over.
It would recur again throughout his life, as our own questioning recurs.

In my sermon last week I spoke about living with questions rather than answers.
Sometimes there are no straight forward answers and all we can do is live with the questions.
But God uses the questions to draw us closer to love, open us to love,
and to help us grow in compassion.

The Rabbi in the story knew how important those questions the soldier asked were: Who are you? What are you doing here?
There was no simple answer to them;
but being willing to engage with them would feed his faith and vocation.

Jesus had to live with the questions he faced in the wilderness.
They would not go away. There were no simple answers.
But living with those questions guided him to his true path and vocation.
They guided and led him to love of the purest kind.

May God bless and guide us as we ponder the questions of Jesus,
and learn to live and engage with the major questions of life.
Who are you? What are you doing here?
Monday 11th March

John 8:10 Where are they who condemned you?

It was all a part of a plan to trap Jesus into saying something
they could condemn him with and turn people against him.
They brought a woman who was caught committing adultery,
and asked him if she should be stoned, as stated in the law of Moses.
Whatever Jesus answered would be used against him;
He either had to speak against their law or go against his own teaching.
But Jesus turned it around to reinforce his message of love.
Instead of answering their question he simply said:
“Whoever among you is without sin, cast the first stone.”
One by one they dropped their stones and left.
He then asked the woman: “Where are they who condemned you?”
He then reassured her that neither did he condemn her.
Something to think about the next time we are quick to judge another.

A rather unlikeable human trait is our tendency to judge people.
We all do it, a lot more than we realise.
Try observing your thoughts during the course of a day,
you may well be shocked just how many times
you judge, condemn and criticise those around you.
We may not express these judgements out loud
but they are certainly well and truly there in our thoughts.
“what a fool that person is”; “who do they think they are?”
“Why can’t they look where they are going instead of at a phone?”
“What’s that idiot driver doing trying to jump the queue?”
“School children have no manners these days”;
“Look at her dropping that litter?” He looks ridiculous.”
Recognise yourself? I certainly do.
Here’s a thought. Whenever we notice ourselves judging
why not use it as an opportunity to offer a blessing?
So when I criticise someone driving dangerously,
I can use it as cue to offer them a blessing.
Maybe a short prayer like: “Bless them, God.
Keep them safe and others safe from them.”
If someone bumps into me using a mobile phone,
when I find myself criticising I can smile and ask God to bless them.
It’s hard to stop ourselves being judgemental
but we can try and use it as an opportunity
to offer a short prayer and blessing.
And remember, keep the prayer positive, not as another excuse to criticise!

Tuesday 12th March

Matthew 7:3 Why do you look for the speck in your brothers eye?

Why do we? Why can we not stop ourselves?
Maybe the answer is in the next part of the question Jesus asked:
“When you do not see the log in your own eye?”
Is it not true that we cope with our own shortcomings
by highlighting the faults and imperfections we think we see in others?
It makes us feel better about ourselves when we convince ourselves
that although we may not be perfect we are not as bad as many others.
What a delusion!
As Jesus points out, we are in no position to even begin to see the speck
in the eye of our sister or brother, never mind our enemy,
until we have recognised, come to terms with, and brought into the light the plank that obscures our own vision and judgement.
What we are seeing in the eye of the person that we judge
is a reflection of what is in our own eye.
Maybe, instead of judging, we should thank them for helping us see it.
Following on from yesterday,
one reason why we should try to turn our criticism into a blessing,
is because we are in no position to judge.
I think that one reason why criticising is such a strong human trait,
is because we are all insecure about our own shortcomings.
Because of that insecurity we pick holes in others
because it makes us feel a little better if we think they are worse than us.
But we are just deluding ourselves.
Let’s do the same for ourselves as I suggested we do for others,
Be gentle and ask God to bless us.
When we find ourselves criticising, let’s smile, say “there I go again”
And ask God to bless us along with those we have criticised.

Saturday 9th March 2019

Luke 17:17     Where are the other nine?

Jesus had just healed ten people of leprosy,
a very isolating disease at the time that Jesus lived.
It forced people to live on the edge of society, to be treated with fear,
and to rely on the compassion and generosity of others for survival.
Jesus came across them on his travels and they begged him for healing.
Jesus sent them off to go and show themselves to the priests,
who would decide whether they were allowed back into the community.
On leaving they found themselves healed of their disease
and one returned to give thanks.
Jesus’s question is in regards to those who did not return.
I do not think for one minute that Jesus was miffed
because they had not come back to grovel and worship at his feet,
his concern was for them.
He knew that true healing in life comes through gratitude;
when we discover that all of life is a gift we live it on a whole new level.

Thomas Merton
To be grateful is to recognise the love of God
in everything He has given us
– and He has given us everything.
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love,
for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive,
is constantly awakening to new wonder and praise of the goodness of God.
For the grateful person knows that God is good,
not by hearsay but by experience.
And that is what makes all the difference.