Reflection for Thursday 21st January 2021

Nigel

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Mark 3:7-12 (NRSV)

A Multitude at the Lakeside

Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Reflection

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Agnes.  It is also the fourth day in the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It is so sad that with 2,000 years to perfect ourselves, there are still arguments about denominations and even within denominations.  If ever there was a time for prayer for unity then it is now.  As a schoolboy, one of the books we studied for English Literature was ‘Lord of the Flies’. In 1963 a film was made of the story, very true to the book and last weekend I had a chance to watch it again. A group of young boys find themselves marooned on an island after a plane crash and quickly descend into savages, with rival factions fighting each other rather than all working together. The ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a pig’s head, sacrificed to an imagined ‘beast’ stalking the island.

Word has spread about the healings that Jesus had done and now wherever he goes a large crowd follows.  They recognised him as special and they clamoured to hear him or to be healed; he was their saviour.  Once again Jesus gives a very fierce command not to say anything, this time to the unclean spirits who have recognised him.  But again he is forced to flee the crowds, this time calling for a boat to escape them.

Left again to our own devices, over the course of 2,000 years, man (and it has mostly been the work of men), man has created different denominations of Christianity when the rules of others did not suit them.  Man has created priests and bishops and rituals and rules and regulations that so often come between us and God.  Man has created divisions and factions that fight against each other.  Is that why Jesus came to us?  Is that what being a follower of Jesus means?  Is that what it means to be a Christian?

Agnes was a young girl of 12 or 13 who lived around the 300s. She refused to consider marriage, instead devoting herself to God. But as persecution broke out she resisted and was martyred in Rome.

Agnes lived for just one thing.  In the Lord of the Flies it is symbolic that the boys, at the height of their frenzy, are rescued by Navy men, dressed all in white.  Who is coming to rescue us?  Will we be able to save us from ourselves? Could we show the strength and resolve that a thirteen-year-old girl clung to in ancient Rome?

So we pray:

Prayer for St Agnes

Almighty, eternal God, you choose the weak of the world to put the strong to shame. In your mercy grant that as we celebrate the birthday of your martyr Saint Agnes, we may also imitate her perseverance in faith. This we ask of you.  Amen.

Reflection for Tuesday 19th January 2021

Jon Ellis

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Reflection Hebrews 6: 10-end               Jan 19

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no-one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we, who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us, may be greatly encouraged.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Reflection

In the previous chapter, Paul was writing to some who ought to have been teachers, but who needed still to be taught the first principles of the gospel. They were such babes in grace that they needed the milk of the Word, — the very simplest elements of gospel truth, — and not the strong meat of solid doctrine. The apostle, however, desires that the Hebrew believers should understand the more inspiring doctrines of the gospel, and so be like adult men who can eat strong meat. In this chapter he exhorts them to seek to reach this standard.

Harsh as the apostle’s words may seem, they are not meant for you who are really believers in Christ, and in whom the Holy Spirit has brought a complete change of heart and life; Paul is not speaking of people like you.

If you have proved by your life that the grace of God is in you, God will not forget you; he will not leave you, he will not cast you away. You know the contrast in how people choose to live their lives. One will say, “If I am a child of God, I may live as I like.” That is not God’s way. Another will say, “If I am a child of God, I shall not want to live as I like, but as God likes, and I shall be led by the grace of God into the path of holiness, and through divine grace I shall persevere in that way of holiness right to the end.” That is the better way, and it is the true teaching of the Word of God.

The writer of Hebrews, traditionally believed to be Paul, tells us to live today the same way we did when we were baptized and joined the church: “Show the same conscientiousness unto the end.” When God is working in you, you have certain hope all through your life. If you are patient to endure life’s setbacks, God’s sure promises will never fail you.

It seems a great change in this chapter from the sad tone at the beginning to the joyful note at the end; but there is no contradiction between the two. Paul is but giving us two sides of the truth, — both equally true, — the one needing our warning, the other to console us. God will never leave you. He made a covenant to you, and he has promised that his covenant will stand. By Jesus’ death on the cross for our wayward ways, and his resurrection he promises that when we turn back to him, his promise is sure that he will never leave us, no matter what we have to endure. We, who “take hold of the hope offered to us, may be greatly encouraged”.

Sailors throw their anchors downwards; we throw ours upwards. Their anchor goes deep into the waters into the depths of the sea; ours goes into the heights of heaven, where Jesus, the eternal High Priest, sits at the right hand of God in all his glory. 

Collect
Eternal Lord,
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation
to your glory, hidden through past ages
and made known
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Reflection for Monday January 18th 2021

The Rev’d Penny Body

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Reflection 18th January 2021

The Gospel Mark chapter 2 verses 18 to 22

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Reflection

Jesus is talking about something new. Something that is different from what has been before. And when something new comes, it is likely to be a different shape, and may not fit well in the space that housed the old – hence the feasting instead of fasting, and the parables of the patched garment and new wine.

The image of the new wine in particular implies to me something that is still working – so new it’s not yet the finished article – something that’s going to continue to evolve and develop its flavours in the new wineskin. Its fermenting may continue for a while, producing tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide that need room to expand. The wineskin needs to be supple and flexible enough to change shape and expand with the new wine. An old skin would be brittle and may crack, spilling the wine otherwise.

The new wine Jesus is talking about is Himself – the very Word of God. I find it rather an exciting thought that having accepted and welcomed the Word into our lives, it will continue to effervesce and bubble, evolve and develop flavour within us. It puts me in mind of St Paul’s words in Colossians about letting the word of God dwell in us richly, and of Isaiah 55 where we read about the Word of God never returning to him without accomplishing its purpose first – and so many more – all showing us that the Word is God is alive and active and transforming within us. With the coming of the new wine, we are truly new creations – the old has gone and the new is here (from 2 Cor 5).

And to accept and welcome the new wine of Jesus – our minds too need to be elastic, flexible, ready to be expanded – like the new wineskin. Again, thinking of St Paul’s words this time to the Romans in Rom chapter 12 – when he urges them “not to be conformed to the pattern if this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your minds” so they may know God’s will – we too need new minds.

But as humans, we’re not always very good at welcoming the new. We’re not generally that keen on change. Even when we know something is a good change it can still cause us stress in moving from where we are to where the change will take us.

I’m preaching to myself for sure now! But perhaps keeping our minds flexible to accommodate the new wine, and the new things he has to teach us, is just like keeping the rest of our bodies supple and flexible. Perhaps some gentle stretches everyday – asking to be filled with his new wine, and to have the openness and flexibility to “taste and see”, to try out new ways of thinking, new ideas about Him and ourselves, and above all to allow the love of Jesus to excite us and effervesce within our bodies, minds and spirits. Amen

The Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Reflection for Friday 15th January 2021

The Rev’d Sandra Juniper

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READING Mark 2.1-12

Jesus forgives and heals the paralytic; this is after healing the man with leprosy and others

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 

“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 

But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 

He got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

REFLECTION

Today I find myself in the gospel of Mark – that writer of speed and directness. He tells us Jesus is back in Capernaum and at the home of Simon Peter’s mother.  I should like to say I have followed him all the way from one waterside town to another but that is not so.  I am catching up and it is not easy with the huge crowds as the wonderous healings Jesus has performed has been spread abroad.  

Eventually Mark draws me into the middle of the crowded room, close to Jesus where I can hear his teaching and see the motley congregation.  We are all pressed together, a bit like sardines, when pieces of rubble begin to fall down, lath and plaster to so speak, a large hole appears and low and behold a ‘stretcher’ is lowered by four friends, with a paralysed man upon it.  Jesus utters the words ‘son your sins are forgiven’. A dramatic happening to witness.  I am surprised to say the least – amazed again along with the bystanders.

Among this motley crowd, both inside and outside the house, are scribes and pharisees who deem these words to be blasphemy. Only God can forgive sins.  Mark is already signalling the charge the Jewish authorities will later seek the death penalty for Jesus. Jesus knows what’s in their hearts of course.  However, standing there I am unaware of the implications.

I wonder if they repair the roof?

As I am crushed by so many bodies, my mind works overtime.  Why did Jesus heal in that way? What causes paralysis. Am I paralysed on occasion – can’t move, can’t speak, can’t think because of ………what,  some deep-seated guilt or the dark side of life which tries to use or control me and others?  A confession not made or acknowledged.

Suddenly I know, I just know in that moment.  This story is really all about forgiveness…..we need to offer forgiveness and receive it…..Simples!!

 As Jesus has forgiven the crippled man, so he will forgive me.  In sacrament and prayer God comes nearer to us than ever when our sins are forgiven.  Maybe when we forgive each other we are closest in our lives to the heart of God. 

Faith opens a door to a living relationship with God in Jesus. Faith was the door opening to the forgiveness of sins, and then to the cure of the sick man. 

Our Lord looked up – four men look down in faith – that faith was honoured, and their friend healed and the five went on their way

My place in this happening has filled me with a need, a deep need, to be closer to Jesus and travel with the disciples following him wherever he will lead me.  Am I brave enough?  Will you come with me?

THE COLLECT (alternative)
Heavenly Father, at
the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children; 
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Reflection for Thursday 14th January 2021

Nigel

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Mark 1:40-end (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses a Leper
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Reflection

We have probably all heard of the person to whom you can say “don’t repeat this to anyone, will you” remaining confident that within a few minutes everyone in the neighbourhood will have heard it!  There is an old chestnut that says, if you want to keep a secret, post it on the church noticeboard!  But Jesus sends the leper away with a very fierce command not to say anything.  In the original Greek the word ‘sternly’ has an even stronger meaning.  So why would Jesus not want the world to know?  Is he playing mind games, to ensure the leper does spread the word?  I think not.  Subterfuge was not the sort of thing that Jesus did.  So why the warning?  The man was a leper – a very contagious disease – and we all know about contagion in present circumstances.  If he were to go about the town saying, ‘I’ve been cured’, the chances are that many would not believe him – they would try to steer a wide berth.  So Jesus very firmly tells him to follow the accepted procedure; go to a priest and follow the ritual for cleansing.  The man needed to be seen to have been healed because it was not like being cured of, say, blindness; it was not self-evident.

What Jesus was worried about, then, was appearing to be challenging the Temple authority. He did not want to remove the law but to reinforce it.  In the event the leper cannot help himself, I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ and he proclaims his cure immediately.  As a result Jesus finds that he can no longer go into towns openly and although the leper cannot restrain his joy at being cured, he has not helped the ministry of Jesus.

So we pray:

Additional Collect

Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen.

Reflection for Tuesday 12th January 2021

Jon Ellis

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Mark 1: 21-28 (Message version)

Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.

                Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!”

                Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out.

                Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!” News of this travelled fast and was soon all over Galilee.

Reflection

It says that as soon as Jesus arrived at Capernaum, he headed straight for the synagogue. He did not do as other Scribes did, who made a great parade of learning by quoting this Rabbi or the other. Instead, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He spoke as one who had authority to speak in his own name, and in the name of God his Father. This method of teaching astonished the Jews. We can imagine how exciting it was to listen to him talk.

It stirs up a reaction in one particular man in the synagogue who cries out “What do you want with us!” “Let us alone. Keep your own views to yourself, and let us alone?” How often that is still the cry of sinners. Their evil desires still say, “Let us alone.” But the gospel gets straight to the heart of the man’s evil spirits. They recognise Jesus and know they shouldn’t be there. Jesus speaks directly to them, and protesting as they go, they leave the writhing man. They know that Jesus will not tolerate evil in this man’s life.

The onlookers in the synagogue were first amazed at the teaching and now they were stunned at Jesus’ authority. Who was this amazing man! Thank the Lord that Jesus can still speak to the wrong thoughts and desires in our lives. When we say, “Leave me alone”, Jesus does not hesitate to set us back on the right track again. Praise the Lord!

Collect
Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen

Reflection for Monday 11th January 2021

The Rev’d Penny Body

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Reflection 11th January 2021

The Gospel Mark chapter 1 verses 14 to 20

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Reflection

In the verses immediately preceding our reading today, Jesus had been baptised by John in the Jordan and confirmed by the words of the Father and the descent of the Spirit upon Him. He had been sent out into the desert, tempted by Satan and attended by angels. He has been tested and has not been found wanting. He understands his mission, and he is prepared and ready to begin.

And so now, we read, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. The time had come.

The seriousness of his endeavour is underlined not only by his time in the desert but by the imprisonment of the one who was sent to prepare the way for Him – John.

The Good News must be worth everything for Jesus and John the Baptist, and countless others since, to offer their lives in its service and proclamation.

And indeed it is nothing less than the Good News of God’s love, of our salvation and our reconciliation with Him. It is the beginning of God’s reign of justice – of freedom for the oppressed, healing for the sick and broken-hearted – and of peace. It signals the move from living for ourselves to the joy of serving others.

Our God is good. He is full of mercy and compassion and desires the best for each one of His children, whatever their circumstances.

Some people ask – how can we believe in a God who is good when there is so much suffering in the world – and perhaps especially now as the number of Covid cases reach record levels in our country and around the world, and so many people are desperately ill, and dying.

There is never a glib and easy answer to this question – and it’s not an either/or one either.

We see in Mark’s gospel that John’s and Jesus’s proclamation of the Good News and the Kingdom was bound up with their suffering and sacrifice. Not through God’s desire for them to suffer, but because that’s what it took to make it known in the world, against the vested interests of the day. The good news now, is that once come, God’s Good News is with us in the midst of all our darkness and always will be.

It is personified by all those who are sacrificing so much to heal and care for the sick and all the people who are exemplifying the neighbourliness of the Good Samaritan.

It is made manifest by the miraculous efforts of our scientists in developing the vaccines and all those involved in the logistics of getting them to those who need them most.

The Good News is that we are not alone. God is with us always – in spirit and in truth – He is with us in the suffering – bringing strength, hope and healing to all who “believe in the Good News”.

The Good News may not always come easily and sometimes may even be borne out of suffering, sacrifice and testing times. But God’s love is enormous. Much bigger than even a global pandemic – in every dimension – and the Good News of joy, love – and all the fruit of the Spirit can be proclaimed even in the darkest place. Amen

The Collect for the Baptism of Christ – the First Sunday of Epiphany

Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.