Meanderings From The Manse
Reflection for Wednesday 14th April
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.11For God shows no partiality.
Over the years we have all met a wide variety of people from differing backgrounds and involved in a variety of occupations, interests and more beside. Some of these people can look at and think, “I could not do that.” There could be a whole variety of reasons for that response. Perhaps feeling that you did not have the intellect for such a role, a lack of talent or fear could be some of the reasons.
A number of years ago I was able to sit in the Judges Chambers for a judge in the Family Court whilst she met with families. She was required to respond to, or pass judgement on, their particular situations. I was amazed at the way some people responded to the situations they were in and how this judge had to work out the best way forward.
Passing judgement on another is something, at times, we do so easily and we do not even have all the information before us. We talk about people and pass our thoughts on to another person and can influence how they see a situation or a person.
Paul wrote “for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the same things.” We may seek to argue we are not as bad as another for we grade sin like crimes in a justice system. In the world of sin, sin is sin, however “small” we may see our sin; sin separates us from the love of God. It is through faith in the risen Christ alone that sin is forgiven and restoration of a relationship with God is reformed.
It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, his kindness brings us to that point in life when we realise that we have been going in the wrong direction and need to “turn around”.
I will never be a judge in a judicial system, a top class sportsperson, a strong labourer on a building site or some many other type of people. That is fine because that is not the type of person I was created to be.
I am called to be myself and not judge others and not show partiality. There are some ways I am called to be like God and others I am not. I am not called to judge a person for their eternal state, but I am called to be impartial in how I treat others in this physical realm – that is not easy either.
Reflection for Sunday 11th April
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
My reflection this weekend starts with the gospel passage for this Sunday and with the news from Friday of the death of HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”
The Television Screen on Friday afternoon and evening were full of reports of the death of the Duke and reflections upon his life. Some of that life was lived in public view much more was lived with a certain amount of privacy. In the coming days more news will be shared by people who encountered him during his life, but many of course are not around to share their memories for they have gone on before. Some will no doubt seek to write a biography, or extend one already written.
I have not got an accurate record of the number of funeral services I have conducted during the last 30 years or so but it must be approaching a 1,000 or so.
On almost every occasion I have met with family, and or friends, to hear something of the persons life in advance of the service. So many lives I have had the privilege of reflecting on with a person’s family and friends. On most occasions there has been some laughter shared in the conversation alongside the tears for tears and laughter are so closely linked. In those conversations I hear part of a story.
There is no full record of a person’s life, each life is unique, and each life intertwines with other unique life-stories. I believe at the end of each life there should be something of the story told, and listened to. On many an occasion have I heard people say afterwards, “I didn’t know that……”
In the Gospels we have a record of some parts of the life of Jesus. The Gospels are not biographical, they are not an historical record, and they do not seek to tell every part of the life of Jesus. They are a record of moments in the life of Jesus, reflected upon and seen as being of significance and importance that people such as you and I, “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah”.
As many will listen to the story of the life of Prince Philip we will be listening to part of the story, selected instances, to show a particular part of the man. Some will seek to show the negative images where he opened his mouth and words were heard coming forth that may not have been appropriate or politically correct; but then who has not done so themselves. Some will portray the supportive Consort, that he most definitely was; some the family man; some the thinking man, the man of faith; the person of environmental concern ahead of many others.
Each person is complex, 3 dimensional (at least), and we only know part of a story. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, knows the whole story. He knows your story and mine and he loves us because of it, or despite it.
Next Saturday there will be a family in grief and mourning for a much-loved member of their family; may we listen to the part of his story that is told with respect for each of those who grieve.
Reflection for Wednesday 7th April
Matthew 28:16-20 The Commissioning of the Disciples
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
How many times have I, and you, read those words? What phrase, or phrases, jump out to you or have stuck in your mind?
Read is again and see what jumps at you this time.
The problem can be that when one particular phrase has jumped out in the past it can be difficult to read a passage without that phrase dominating the mind once more.
For me the words, “but some doubted” have been a key phrase in this passage. Some of them doubted but all were given the commission to “go and make disciples”.
It is not the strength of our faith that is of importance as much as our having a relationship with Jesus. We will never all have the same depth of faith and understanding of all issues to the same degree as one another yet we all have the same commission to “go and make disciples,” followers and learners of Jesus.
Today though the phrase is “I am with you always”. On Palm Sunday the words, “he went on ahead’ (Luke 19:28) struck a chord with me. Jesus is ahead of us preparing, and being aware of, that which is ahead of us. Yet he is with us. Jesus in two places at the same time - and that is just for me let alone everybody else.
There is great comfort to be had from an awareness of Christ ahead of us and Christ with us and Christ behind us clearing up the mess we make. I put here two prayers linked to St Patrick for you to use and to reflect on this day.
“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
Reflection for Wednesday 31st March 2021
44Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”
As we are on the eve of the climax of the Holy Week events that hold our attention, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection we find Jesus speaking very clearly about who he is, his role in history and the results of his message.
The light came into the darkness and here the light declares that through belief in him there is a way out of darkness; through belief in his words there is a route through judgement.
The words of Christ will be the judge at the last day; how we respond to them matters; how we respond has an effect on life in the now and on into eternity.
There is no great examination to pass, no dissertation to write, no continuous assessment just a simple check “have you believed in Jesus as the Saviour of the world?” “Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.”
This is the message that John has been declaring from the beginning of his Gospel. The message is about Light and Darkness, life and death and then not as alternatives, grace and truth.
Jesus is asked by Pilate “What is truth?” a simple question, but one that is hard for us to answer. Jesus had spoken about his coming into the world to testify to the truth; God is truth, ultimate truth and ultimate love. Jesus has spent his ministry declaring the truth about God and demonstrating it through words and acts of love and grace.
In the coming few days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday we will have in our minds the events of Easter Sunday but for those about whom we read in our Bible passages the truth of Easter Sunday was not in their minds. They heard words, saw actions, reacted and responded in the moment in which they lived, pre-Easter Sunday. As once more we hear and read the accounts of these few days put yourself where they were and ask yourself “How would I have responded?” How would you have responded with police and soldiers threatening you? Many of us would have denied like Peter and run away like others (Mat. 26:56b). We may feel that Peter failed because he betrayed, yet he was one who had at least followed Jesus to be in the courtyard of the High Priest.
It is easy to condemn or criticise another for their reaction but in their shoes how would we truly respond?
Lord Jesus, you are truth, you are grace, you are light. As we once more follow the account of your passion and death may we be drawn closer to you, may we be more aware of ourselves and become more gracious to others.
Reflection for Wednesday 10th March 2021
the Lord said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty
than false Judah. Go, and proclaim these words towards the north, and say:
Return, faithless Israel,
says the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
says the Lord;
I will not be angry for ever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
and scattered your favours among strangers under every green tree,
and have not obeyed my voice,
says the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
says the Lord,
for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
and I will bring you to Zion.
I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.
Jeremiah was prophesying to Judah, from 626-585BC. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, had fallen 100 years prior. The message of Jeremiah was about judgement upon the people if they failed to return to the way of their true God, yet it also had a message of hope if the people repented with sincerity such judgement could be postponed but not stopped forever. Jeremiah had a very high view of God; he saw God as the Supreme Being, Creator of all, all-powerful, ever-present. He saw him not only as Lord of Judah but over all nations. Jeremiah had an understanding of God similar to that of many today but different from the understanding of many who were before him.
The message was of delayed judgement not its ending. The nation would be taken into exile but there would be restoration. The unfaithfulness of the people under the long and evil kingship of Manasseh, only superficially affected by the reign of Josiah, deserved the indictment that Jeremiah was called to announce.
The judgement of God, though terrible, on his people was not to be his last work, the final work of God in history. Mercy and covenant faithfulness would triumph over wrath. After judgement would come restoration and renewal, Israel as a nation would be restored. The nations that crushed her would in turn be crushed. The old covenant with David and the Levites would be honoured and God would make a new covenant with his people, written upon their hearts (Ch. 31:31-34) consecrating his people once more to his service.
Jeremiah had a tough message to declare but it contained hope for after the 70 years of exile restoration would come about and the merciful acts of God, forgiveness and cleansing would be experienced once more. A new day was to come when the covenant promises would be fulfilled in a manner transcending all God merciful acts in the past.
For those of Christian faith the fulfilment of this is in Jesus when a new covenant was introduced and a new hope could be experienced in close relationship with God; our sins and wrongdoings forgiven through faith in Jesus as Saviour and redeemer. We must acknowledge our guilt, but we can trust in the mercy of our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus. Beyond all tough times is hope of a good tomorrow; Good Friday has to be before Easter Sunday Resurrection.
Reflection for Sunday 7th March 2021
John 2: 13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me. ’The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
What makes you angry? Is your anger justified? What was happening in the Temple Courts was not pleasing to Jesus. The Temple Courts was a place where Gentiles could gather for worship yet this space had been turned into a market place; a place of noise and activity, a place of trade and profiteering.
I remember in 2001 I was in China for a charity walk. After our days of trekking a number of us had paid to stay on for a few extra days to explore more of the country. Whilst in Beijing we decided we would make our way to the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. On the way into the mausoleum there was a stall selling flowers; if you bought flowers you placed them on a rack in the entranceway before proceeding further into the building. Every so often the doors were closed and the flowers removed no doubt to find their way back to the stall for reselling. As you left the building there were people selling trinkets such as cigarette lighters with the image of Chairman Mao upon them.
The “profiteering” around the place where the body of the founder of Communism in China lay seemed somewhat strange. Yet people have always been willing to try anything to make a few extra pounds.
In the Temple Courtyards what was being sold were items that were to be used in the Temple for sacrifices. It would not have been easy to walk the many miles to Jerusalem from some distant area with a sheep or dove for sacrifice; surely the traders were being of service to the worshippers? So they may have been but what was of importance to them was their profit not the teaching of the prophets.
We have just come to the end of FairTrade Fortnight when campaigners have been encouraging people and communities to look carefully at what they buy and the difference it makes to people around the world. This year there has been a focus upon Climate Change for the poorest of the world who produce the least carbon emissions are those hit hardest as a result of Climate Change. Those who live with the least healthcare provisions are those who will be last in the queue for a vaccine?
Does this make us angry? What do we do about it? I do not suggest making whips and going round supermarkets but going around supermarkets and looking for the Fairtrade logo may be a place to start.
Whenever we spend money, or do not spend it, we have an impact upon the lives of others in our world. The choices we make make a difference to the lives of many others. Does my spending help the poor eat or the wealthy have more luxury? The poor get thinner or the wealthy get fatter?
Reflection for Wednesday 3rd March 2021
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
6Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest,7and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth. 8The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have laboured; 9but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts.
10Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. 11The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 12They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord”; and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”
It is not always clear in some passages within the Bible as to who the speaker is. In these verses from Is. 62 the first 7 verses could be God speaking directly, the Prophet on behalf of God, or a person challenging God’s inactivity and silence.
Regardless of who the speaker is there is a promise that Salvation is on its way and the people of God will be seen as vindicated by God through faithful living.
There are many occasions in the Old Testament when God’s people felt let down. We only have to read the stories of the time 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to realise this. The Psalmist regularly declares a feeling of unhappiness with how things are going. God’s people felt that being chosen gave them privilege rather than responsibility; comfort rather than times of hardship.
Despite the Scriptures we read and the stories we have of Paul and the early disciples enduring hardship suffering and even martyrdom we can expect an easy life too.
When things are not going well for us as individuals, congregation or church we can feel let down by God and begin to tell God what we think of him. There is no reason why we should not do so for God knows our heart and mind and a bit of honesty can be a good thing as we air our frustration and then listen to what God says in return. God is big enough to take our shouting and stamping our feet; what parent does not expect that behaviour at sometime from their offspring?
In recent months we may have felt like screaming and shouting and expressing frustration – well let us do it. When we do it God listens and we then need to listen to what God says in return. The shouting and the stamping of feet may not change the situation but we may feel better for having done it and having got it out of our system.
Another dimension from this passage can be a challenge to pray for a fresh empowering of the Holy Spirit that the glory of God shall be seen in and through his people. Much of the book of Isaiah is a reminder that God desires a people who are fully devoted to him; we cannot feign devotion to God for God knows our heart, he knows if we speak and live with integrity. If we are to be such a people we need to be a people of worship where worship is about whole life commitment to the ways of God. Where such life is found the blessing of God will follow and be found. To be such people we need the presence and the power of the Spirit with us we cannot do it on our own.