Angelic Waiters

The Spirit immediately drove (Jesus) out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:12f.

I’ve always had a problem with Lent, or at least with the way I have been encouraged to keep it, or by the way I have interpreted that encouragement.

If I’m honest, I’ve always struggled to maintain my spiritual life throughout the whole year – to pray, to read my Bible and to live out my Christian life, loving family and neighbour. Then along comes Lent and we are encouraged to give something pleasurable up, and to do something extra – a book to read, another group to attend, to find more time to pray. It has often felt like “putting the last straw on the camel’s back”! Truth be told, I have always struggled to add more to what I am already struggling to do. And being a sucker for punishment, I’ve always tended to think that if these additional things are so good for me then surely I should be doing them the rest of the year. Does that ring any bells with you? Are you glad when Lent is over and normal service is resumed?

So what is Lent really for? The Spirit immediately drove (Jesus) out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts … With that and just a few other words Mark sums up the brief period between Jesus Baptism and the start of his public Ministry. But they can be taken as a summary of Jesus’ whole life. For a brief period, the Son of God, our Saviour, driven by the Spirit of God comes into this wilderness of a world, confronting Satan, the accuser, or under-miner of all that is good, and is surrounded by the wild beasts, those who cry out, “Crucify!” and nail him to a cross. Those words can also sum up the Christian’s life, living in what can seem a hostile environment to faith; facing the accuser who constantly tells you what a failure you are; and encountering countless other fears and challenges to faith, not least thinking that it was following what you thought was the leading of God’s Spirit that got you into the mess you now found yourself in.

5. Angels come to give praise and worship to God.However, I left out what maybe the most important phrase of Mark’s description of what we might call the first Lent: The Spirit immediately drove (Jesus) out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. I’ve come to realise that Lent above all is a time to stop struggling; a time to be still and to listen to and hear those angels, those messengers of God; a time to rest and be fed and sustained by those messengers who wait on you – the heavenly “waiters” for the word can mean “waiting on tables.

Many of us are missing pub lunches and restaurant meals – being waited upon and can hardly wait for them to return. Meanwhile, this Lent why not avail yourselves of God’s waiters? His angels – the word means messengers and they don’t usually come with wings and white robes; when the prophet needed feeding it was the ravens who brought him food – his angels will wait upon you whilst you (with a different meaning of the word) wait upon God.

Lent for me is a time to face up to my weaknesses and to accept yet again that I can’t “pull myself up by my own bootstraps”. Lent is a time to learn yet again that God is loving and compassionate and merciful. The Collect or special prayer for Lent emphasizes this nature of the season: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent …

The words of the prophet Jeremiah are set by the daily lectionary to be read during Lent – and he is a prophet who has many gloomy words to share, who struggles personally with his lot and even argues with God, but amidst all that there are these words that shine out: I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope … I will restore health to you and your wounds will I heal … I will put my law within (you) and I will write it on (your) hearts; and I will be (your) God and (you) shall be my people. (29:11; 30:17; 31:33).

For me Lent is a time not for added struggle, but a time to lay aside things and to allow the angels of God to wait upon us. It is a time to learn afresh that God does indeed love us; a time to learn to love ourselves, to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves. It is this alone that will give us the strength and resources to be led by the Spirit of God back into the world and to live out our Christian lives.

Let us be quiet for a few moments …

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.                                                 Isaiah 40:28-31

Almighty God,

whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,

and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:

give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;

and, as you know our weakness,

so may we know your power to save;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.                        Traditional Collect Lent 1

New Year 2021

Today, anticipating the Epiphany on 6th January, we remember the Wisemen bringing their gifts to the child Jesus. They were foreigners and Magi – the intellectual, scientific and religious experts of the day, but they obeyed the summons; admitted that for all their wisdom they needed guidance. They humbled themselves; and they were open to changing their plans. And they brought as gifts the most costly and precious things they had.

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Remembrance Sunday 2020

Psalm 46: A reading for Remembrance and Lockdown 2020

1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

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Simon the Pharisee, a woman, and St Luke

I expect that most of us have been to a meal or a party at a friend’s or a relative’s house. We would have been invited with a spoken or a written invitation. When we knocked at the door it would have been opened and we would have been welcomed and our coats taken. We would have been shown in and at some point told where the bathroom or toilet was. When the time came for the meal, if it wasn’t an informal buffet balancing food on our laps, we would have been invited to sit on chairs at a dining table with knives and forks set out before us. And if a neighbour turned up that had not been invited then they would not have been let in.

But if you were going to a meal at a friend’s house in Jesus’ time and country things would
happen somewhat differently. When you arrived you would be greeted with a kiss of welcome, some water would be provided to wash your dirty feet, along with some oil or scent for your head to freshen you up in the hot climate. When the time came for the meal – as it was warm – it would be outside in the courtyard in the shade. And you would not have chairs or cutlery. You would eat reclining, resting on your left arm and using bread in your right hand to scoop up your food. And if there was a famous person present, people who were not invited were perfectly at liberty to drop in to listen to the conversation. That courtyard would have been a bit like a medieval banqueting hall where the important and the plebs were all together.

Remember that background and you may understand our Gospel reading a little bit better – Luke 7:36-50.

At that meal and in that courtyard were two very different people …
[1] Simon the Pharisee was a respectable man and quite proud of himself … he prayed and
read his Bible regularly … he attended synagogue (church) and gave to it and to charities … he was well known and looked up to in the community … he and his family were an example to all.

[2] A Woman, whose name we never learn, appeared to be the exact opposite … she was a
sinner … no one respectable would be seen with her … possibly a prostitute … she was never to be seen at synagogue, though I doubt that she would have been made at all welcome. I wonder which one of these two would fit in easily amongst us? Which would feel welcome or be welcomed?

They were two very different people whose reactions to Jesus were very different …

[1] Simon invited Jesus, but gave him no kiss of welcome, no water to wash his feet. He was
holding back, testing Jesus out … seeing whether Jesus would measure up. And his hesitations about Jesus seemed to be well founded when he allowed that woman to touch him!

[2] The Woman, on the other hand, had seen and heard the love Jesus had for ordinary and
sinful people … not that he accepted their bad lives … he wanted change … but he loved them in spite of it and did not put himself above them. And so she braved the home of the Pharisee, where she knew she would not be welcome, and was overcome as she washed, dried, kissed and anointed Jesus’ feet. It was all very unseemly and embarrassing, but she was beyond caring about what others thought.

It is at this point in the story that we read what I find one of the most ironical verses in the Bible:

“when (Simon) the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man
were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’” Luke 7:39. What’s the irony? (Simon) the Pharisee … said to himself …(And) Jesus answered him … What Simon did not gamble on was that Jesus not only knew what kind of woman she was, but also what he was thinking.

Jesus said to Simon: “the one who has been forgiven little loves little”. Simon had not wasted his time being a good person … Jesus was happy about that … but Simon had begun to believe that he could be good enough on his own and he began to look down upon others … Simon was a sinner as well and needed God’s forgiveness just as much as that woman.

2000 years later we know his name. What we do not know is whether he found forgiveness and peace of mind. On the other hand, we do not know that woman’s name, but we do know what Jesus said to her: “Your sins are forgiven … Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

“If this man were a prophet, he would have known …” 2000 years later, here and now, Jesus knows and sees what is in each of our hearts … what we are proud of … what we are ashamed of or embarrassed by … but none of us need leave this morning without hearing those words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven … Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Words of Jesus’ love and healing which we carry like St Luke the Physician to share with others.

Almighty God, you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Holy Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give us your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.

Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them

Christchurch Brentor           Matthew 18:12-22            6th September 2020

Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.  v.20. That is a very well-known promise that we Christians like to claim as a great encouragement. Commentator William Barclay puts it like this: Jesus is just as much present in the little congregation as in the great mass meeting. He is just as much present at the Prayer Meeting or the Bible Study Group with their handful of people as in the crowded arena. He is not the slave of numbers. He is there wherever faithful hearts meet, however few they may be, for he gives all of himself to each individual person.

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Jesus, Julian of Norwich, St Teresa of Avila & Coronavirus

Feeding The 5000 from

Now when Jesus heard (how John the Baptist had been killed by Herod), he withdrew … in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them … Matthew 14:13f.

Jesus, human being like us, needed space to think and pray and be with his grief for his cousin John. A little later on from this episode and on many other occasions he succeeded in doing just this. But when his plans were thwarted and he was faced with human need he responded with compassion.

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