Reflection on Mark 1:9-11

Greetings,

As we enter Bible Month looking at the book of Mark I thought I would write about something I have been reflecting on, on and off for the better part of a decade. The passage that I am looking at in this is Mark 1:9-11, the baptism of Jesus. The reason why I am writing about this now and exploring the thoughts I had many years ago is because when doing some reading in preparation for this month I had an answer to a question which was the central part of my reflecting. However, before we get to that let’s take a look at the passage of scripture

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

I do not hide my love of all things sci-fi as I’m sure many of you already know by now, but, what you might not know is that I am also very interested in history, it was my favorite subject in school and I still really enjoy reading articles about the past and watching documentaries. So with this new information about me it should not surprise you that I very much enjoy books and shows about time travel, whether it’s H.G Wells, The Time Machine, or Doctor Who. Star Trek also has some very good time travel episodes in it as well. So what does time travel have to do with the baptism of Jesus? I’m sure this is a question some of if not all of you must be thinking. It’s either that or your wondering if has Chris finally lost his grip on reality and is just putting my geeky ramblings to paper? To be honest the answer to the second question is probably, yes I have at least a little bit, and yes I am.

The answer to the first question however, requires going on a journey back about eight years or so when I first started thinking about this passage. What captivated my attention and my reflecting back then and has pretty much kept me fixed on this passage comes in verse ten. “Just as Jesus was coming out of the water he saw heaven being torn and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” What fascinated and fascinates me is the way the language is used. You have the almost violent imagery of the heavens being torn or ripped apart being followed by the Spirit descending in the form of a dove. Here we have the violence of the heavens tearing juxtaposed with the dove a symbol of peace coming down. This peace is then followed by a blessing and anointing in verse eleven. In these few verses I see a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus which brings peace between man and God.

At the start I said that a question that was a key part of my original reflecting on this passage had been answered. The question I had was, is the Greek word that was translated as the heavens being torn in Mark 1:10 used in the scriptures for the passion narrative? Like I said at the start the answer to this question was yes it was. The Greek word is, eschisthē. In every gospel this word is used to describe the curtain in the temple being torn in two. For the Gospel of Mark this is Mark 15:38, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The curtain is what covered the Holy of Holies the inner sanctum of the temple where God’s presence dwelt. Only the chief priest was allowed to enter and even then they could only do that once a year on the day of atonement, the day where Israel would come to God in repentance and ask forgiveness for their sins. As I’m sure you know the curtain was torn when Jesus died. On the day of atonement, the chief priest would make a sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of the peoples sins. When Jesus died He became the final sacrifice taking every sin on Himself and in doing so the barrier between man and God was removed. With the actual barrier removed the symbolic barrier is no longer necessary. In my imaginings I like to envisage the Spirit of God bursting out of the sanctuary in a giant explosion causing an earthquake and tearing the curtain on His way out. God is no longer confined to a part of a temple only accessible by one man on one day of the year. God’s presence is everywhere for everyone.

So here is where time travel comes in, God is not linear. By that I mean God stands outside of time. So when we come to faith in God spiritually we are transported back in time to the cross and everything that stopped us from having faith and entering into a relationship with Him dies with Jesus. Then we share in the resurrection of Jesus and are raised to new life, living in a relationship with God as one of His children. However, the time travel does not stop there. I also believe that through faith in our own baptism, as adopted children of God we share in the baptism of Jesus. God tore the heavens to speak words of blessing and anointing on His Son. This is how much God loves us, Jesus was torn with nails and thorns so that we could share in His blessing and anointing. As a child of God hear His words of blessing and anointing spoken over you today.

“You are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection John 15:9-17

Greetings,

I hope you are all keeping safe and well. This week I am reflecting on John 15:9-17,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

When I was very young maybe five or six years old my parents would take my brothers and sisters and myself to church. I don’t remember doing this but according to my mum one time after the service I climbed into the pulpit while the microphone was still on and said. “Excuse me everyone, I just wanted you to know Jesus loves you.” On the face of it this could easily just be a cute story of an adorable child, (now a not so adorable adult) repeating what his parents had brought him up to understand and believe. However, this belief is the core message of the gospel we proclaim.

Jesus’s love for us is the central theme of this passage however, it comes with a challenge, “Now remain in my love.” This is followed by verse 10 Jesus says, “If you keep my commands you will remain in my love…” What does this mean? If we don’t follow God’s commands does he no longer love us? Of course this is not the case especially bearing in mind what Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39,

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So if there is nothing we can do to separate us from God’s love what does Jesus mean when he says, “remain in my love”? What I believe Jesus is saying to us here is that we should our lives as an expression of the love that God has for us. Jesus sets out how we achieve this in verse 12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Here Jesus sets himself as the example for us to follow.

 In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus reveals just how vital love is when he responds to the question; what is the greatest commandment?  His response to this is,

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

All of Jesus’s life and teaching was an expression of what it means to live this teaching. While his teaching pointed people to God, His actions of healing and caring for people showed how to love others. The fullness of this is encapsulated in Jesus’s death and resurrection through which we have been called into His love.  The challenge for us then is to share this love with each other and others.

The question for us now is, how do we emulate this love Jesus has shown us? We do this through living in the community and sharing fellowship as Christ’s Church. We show love to one another when we listen to each other and pray with and for each other.  When we care for and support each other, and through acts of kindness. Just as Jesus always met people where they were, like he meets us where we are and loves us and accepts us. We share that love by meeting others where they are, physically spiritually and emotionally, and accepting them as they are. We not only apply these principles to the community of the church we are part of but are called to share it with those outside of it. Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.” Holding this in mind, let us reflect as a church and individually, listening to God, through His Word and the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in prayer, whilst also listening to the communities we are part of, locally, nationally, and globally. May we prayerfully consider the ways in which God is calling us to express His love and how can we reveal this love to others?

Reflection John 10:11-18

As I read the passage from John, I find that I am reminded of walks and drives through the countryside I used to take with friends when I was at Cliff College, particularly during lambing season. I remember my friends would be cooing over the little lambs hopping about and I walking a few steps behind as I was somewhat cynical and I would be naming them, “Chops, Mint Sauce, Rosemary, Goes Well with Peas.” At some point my friends stopped inviting me out for walks, I cannot possibly think why. When we were out on these walks there was one thing I noticed, and you could argue one thing I did not. What I noticed was how skittish and nervous the animals would get as we approached, what I did not notice was any differences between the animals. If you have seen one sheep, you have basically seen them all they are short, woolly, and go “Baa.”

However, if you ever spend any time around farmers and shepherds or watch an episode or two of Countryfile you will soon learn that they do know each of the animals in their flocks, not only that but the animals also recognise the farmers. Over the last year to eighteen months can you think of a time where you have heard God speaking or seen God at work?

For me personally, I believe that over the last 12 months I have heard God speak to me and call me into preaching, it was not a big booming voice from the sky or some miraculous sign. It happened over months of conversations and with people’s responses to some of the reflections I wrote. I believe I have also seen God working in the life of the church, there have been stories and articles about how many more people have sought to engage with faith, with some of the online resources that churches have produced like online services or podcasts. I have also heard testimony in meetings about how some churches are more able to engage with their communities and are now more valued by the communities they are in than they perhaps were before the pandemic. Like a shepherd, God has been guiding the church during this year of pandemic and lockdowns.  As restrictions ease and we start meeting in our churches again, He is guiding us out.

In a podcast I did with Rev Rach Ward about a month ago, we talked about what new things God is leading us into as a church and Rach talked about how we are entering into a time of spring. Liker her I believe that we are in a springtime, not just physically but spiritually, Spring is a time of new life and rejuvenation. This is the heart of what we believe, Jesus has called us into new life. As we emerge from the lockdown and restrictions, the church is being called into new life and Jesus needs to be the cornerstone on which we build. As Peter says in the passage in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.”

So as we begin to start up again with in person worship and fellowship I wonder, are we just wanting to get back to the way things were or are we looking to what new pastures God is leading us into. Perhaps as we start to have conversations about restarting we should be asking these questions. Can we see where God is moving, can we hear what he is calling his church to be and do, and in all we are seeking to do, are we putting Jesus at the center?

Liturgy: Prayer of Adoration and Confession based on Psalm 23

Lord you are our Good Shepherd,

You provide us with living water and lead us to safe pastures to rest.

When we are down in the dark valley of despair and grief,

You walk beside us and guide us home.

When we face trials and danger,

With Your rod and staff, you protect us.

You anoint us and honour us as Your blessed and beloved children,

Your goodness and love overflows around us and upon us as we dwell in your presence all the days of our lives.

Lord it must feel at times like you are herding cats,

For we too readily wonder off and do our own thing

For the times where we go astray and seek out our own desires and gratification at the expense of others.

Lord forgive us.

For the times where we fail to hear or respond to Your call and prompting.

Lord forgive us.

Father God, we thank you for your love and grace which forgives and brings us back into you flock.

Amen.

Circuit Podcast – John 12:20-33

Rather than a written reflection this week I am sharing the Leeds South and West Methodist Podcast which I worked on with Rev Rach Ward. Many thanks to Rach for bringing it all together.

God the Planter and Gardener Prayers

God the planter and gardener, You, have planted us in your garden, you have given us good soil in which to grow and put down roots. Your grace and love provide the foundation for us to grow in faith.

God the planter and gardener, you tend and fertilize the soil and provide living water which nourishes and sustains us. Your word is our nourishment it gives us strength to grow without fear of wilting and fading.

God the planter and gardener, as a gardener checks their plants for signs of defection or deterioration you tend to us, clear out everything that is harmful to us, physically, spiritually and emotionally, all that impedes our growth and development bring healing and strengthen our faith.

God the planter and gardener, all plants at times need pruning to increase their yield and bring forth flower and fruits. Reveal to us the areas of our lives that need cutting back and guide us in new areas of growth so that we can produce more, and greater works and fruits infused with your spirit.

God the planter and gardener, in your Word it says, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” All flowers have their season, but their seeds are carried on the wind and spread through nature. May our lives spread seeds that are planted in other people’s lives. May those seeds of faith also take root in your love, and grow under Your care.  

God the planter and the gardener, may we entrust ourselves to you today, even as we wait with confidence for the seeds of your kingdom to grow in us and through us.

Amen.

Reflection on John 2:13-22

Greetings,

I hope you are all keeping safe and well.

This week I have been reflecting on how we experience and express what we would normally view as negative emotions such as anger and frustration. One thing I have come across quite a lot with friends of mine who are not Christians is a belief they have that Christians do not get angry or upset. In fact, the picture they tend to paint is of people who are docile in the face of situations that would normally cause upset or pain. Sadly, in some churches I have been to I have found a similar expectation of how people feel they should be. Rather than allowing themselves to feel anger or upset, they put on a smile and try to pretend everything is ok as they as they have this misnomer that it is wrong to be angry especially in church or that doing so is sinful.  As I have been thinking about this the passage that I am reflecting on this week is John 2:13-22,

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

In this passage we see how Jesus experiences and expresses the anger he feels. The temple is where God is supposed to dwell. It is a place for people to go and pray and worship and encounter God.  So, when Jesus enters the temple and sees all the merchants and money changers it is understandable as to why this would frustrate and upset him. The markets would have been in the outer courts of the temple which is the only area which gentiles would have been able to go to worship. However, the gentiles were not the only ones to be inconvenienced by this as the noise and the smell would have spread into all the other areas of the temple. The other offense was that the selling of cattle and changing of coins was taking place in the temple, it had previously taken place outside of the temple in the Kidron Valley, yet, for some reason it was now taking place within the temple. The fact that the markets existed was not the issue as they were necessary. Under the Jewish law all animals that were sacrificed to God had to be unblemished and the long journeys people would have had to take to the temple would have risked damaging their own animals thus making them unacceptable as a sacrifice. The money changers were also required as people would have been travelling from other nations and only certain coins were acceptable to use in the temple so people would have had to exchange currency in order to purchase animals for sacrifice or make monetary donations to the temple. So, while there is nothing inherently wrong with what they are doing the fact that they are doing it in the temple is what is distressing to Jesus which is why in verse 16 He criticises them by saying, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market”. In Luke’s account of this he uses the phrase den of thieves instead of market so there is also a suggestion particularly with the money changers that quite probably there was an unfairness in the way they were exchanging the money so as to increase their own wealth. All of this is what led to Jesus’s anger.

When Jesus gets angry, he does not hold it in or smile and pretend everything is ok. He also does not remain placid in the face of the anger He is feeling. Instead, he allows himself to really feel his emotions and express them through his actions. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating chasing people with whips or turning over tables. Although, I do occasionally feel like that myself, Jesus’s response to the way he felt was specific to the situation he was in. What we learn from Jesus is that being angry is not sinful. Indeed, it is a natural reaction to events and circumstances that cause us pain. He also shows us that it is important for us to allow ourselves to experience and express our emotions.

In this passage Jesus’s words and actions in clearing the temple shows us who he is and that He is the one we can turn to for help and comfort as we encounter situations that cause us pain and anger.  When Jesus is chasing the market sellers out of the temple in verse 16, he uses the phrase my fathers, house. When he is says this, He is identifying Himself as the Son of God. His use of the phrase in verse 16 and his act of clearing the temple along with the disciples act of remembrance in verse 17 also link Jesus to Zechariahs prophecy of the Day of the Lord in Zechariah 14:20-21, which is brought about by the coming of the Messiah. Finally, in verses 18 and 19 we have the challenge as to what authority Jesus has to do the things he has done and His response. When challenged as to his authority Jesus says in verse 19, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Jesus here is referring to his death and resurrection, however, what is of interest is the word Jesus uses that is translated to temple is Noan, this refers to the sanctuary where God’s spirit dwells and where people come to meet with God. It is the same Jesus who through His resurrection and death on the cross has brought our salvation, who is the sanctuary we can come to and bring our hurt and pain before God. As I finish, I want to share as story my mum has told on several occasions,

Chris was 19 and had been in the Intensive Care Unit at the Brompton Hospital in London for several weeks, he was recovering from heart surgery but there had been many complications which had required further invasive treatments. He had many lines of medications, monitors and more surrounding his bed. He was also being ventilated.

One day the surgical team approached me to tell me they wanted to perform a tracheostomy, the reason was to begin to wean Chris off the ventilation support and would also coincide with reducing the medication that was keeping him sedated. That had begun, and Chris was coming round, but the news that they were going to make an incision into his throat hit home hard.

After weeks of sitting by his bedside praying this seemed like the last straw. I needed to get off the ward, and so taking my Bible I ran down the stairs to the entrance, when I got there, I literally threw my Bible across the forecourt and shouted at the heavens something like “now what”. I was not cross so much as frustrated, it certainly made the ambulance crews jump, and I had to sheepishly make my way across the forecourt to retrieve my Bible.

Looking back, it was a prayer of desperation, and a prayer that was answered, I returned to the ward, and allowed the surgical team to explain to me more calmly their plan for the days and weeks ahead. Chris began to recover more quickly from that point, so much so that we were told off for listening to Monty Python, he was laughing so much they feared his breastbone which was beginning to knit together might be affected!

Prayer is not always calm and measured!

It is the same love and grace that meets us at the cross of Christ, meets us in our anger, frustration, and pain. Jesus is the sanctuary we can go to in prayer, He holds us in love and gives us a safe space to experience and express all our emotions. In doing this as He did with my mum, he can comfort and guide us in how we respond to the negative emotions we all feel at times.

May the grace of God go with you this week.

God bless

Chris Coleman

Prayers of Intercession: Transformation Theme.

These are some prayers I have written for the service this Sunday. The lectionary passage is Mark 9:2-9 which is the transfiguration and the theme for the service is transformation. I have taken this theme and applied it to the prayers of intercession.

God who transformed darkness into light and turned waters into a world.

Who took a barren couple and made them into a nation.

Who Sent His only son, Jesus Christ to his creation, who touched and transformed lives through his life of miracles and teachings.

Who on the mountain top with His closest disciples was transformed to reveal His true glory. Through his death and resurrection transformed the finality and hopelessness of death into a promise of new life and relationship with God.

Transform our lives that through the ordinary day to day things we may hear Your voice speaking that hope to us. May this hope grow in us and strengthen us for the trials we face, and through us give hope to others.

For people who are isolated and lonely, transform their loneliness into a new and deeper relationship with You. Inspire us to find ways to reach out to them and ease the feeling of isolation.

For people who are fatigued and worn down, we think particularly of those who have been working to serve their communities during the pandemic. May they find strength and endurance in you, and their weariness be transformed into revitalisation.

We pray for a sense of loss that is being felt by many people. Loss of planned celebrations and activities, loss of purpose, loss of time with friends and family. As they seek to fill the void, they feel may they encounter You, and in this encounter have their sorrows transformed to joy.

As young people face the drain of education through computers and the internet, loss of community and comradery with schools closed. Where they only see their friends faces in boxes on screens and where play is restricted. Break into their boredom, their anxieties, and the exhaustion that comes from constant use of technology.  Speak to them of your peace and comfort and guide them as they navigate ways to continue their friendships and development.

For those who are suffering from ill health and those who are dying and mourning. We are reminded of the miracles You worked in the gospels and the promise of eternal life through faith in you. Through miracles and medicine may sickness be transformed to health.  Where there are natural fears that come with death may your presence bring comfort to all those affected, so their fears and sadness are transformed to peace.

We pray for our country and world torn by division. Use us your church to bridge divides and through sharing your love transform division into unity.

We pray for all those in poverty, not just poverty of finances but those in food, fuel, and technology poverty. We pray for a greater sharing of provisions so that all needs are met, and that poverty is transformed to equality.

We pray for our world which through our neglect is facing disastrous transformations. Help us remember our responsibility to be stewards of the earth. Grant us courage and a platform to speak out to governments and business to change the way we use the worlds resources and begin a new transformation to a better greener world.

In Jesus name

Amen

Reflection on Matthew 15:21-28

I do not normally begin a reflection like this, but I am angry. I am a football fan so last Saturday as I do every Saturday, I checked the BBC sports page to see which teams were playing over the weekend. However, the main story in the morning was about how Reece James the right back for Chelsea had been racially abused on social media. In the evening when I went on the site to check the results and read about the matches the main headline was about how Marcus Rashford, a forward at Manchester United had also been racially abused on social media. What has made me angry is not just how these players were abused because of the colour of their skin, it is that it is no longer surprising or shocking to hear about the abuse levelled at them. What makes it worse is that these incidents are only the tip of the iceberg of the inequality and racial prejudices ingrained within our society.

 As I have struggled with this and how I can respond to what has happened, I have found myself thinking about a slogan I used to hear a lot in church when I was younger. “What would Jesus do?” As I have reflected on this, I find myself drawn to Matthew 15:21-28 which is interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

“21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

At a first glance this passage can be difficult to understand particularly Jesus’s interaction with the woman. However, the interaction is not necessarily how it seems. First off, the way the woman approaches Jesus shows her faith. By calling him “Son of David” it shows that he recognises Him as the Messiah. Even though she appears to show her faith in who Jesus is, He still ignores her and only interacts with her once the disciples come to him asking him to send her away. When the disciples make this request of Jesus, they use the verb apolyō, which means a release either from jail or debts or from a difficult situation. This suggests that the disciples were asking Jesus to grant her request. However, this was not out of a sense of altruism but rather because they just wanted her to go away.

After the disciples come to Jesus, the interaction really begins with Jesus saying, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.” This was the second rejection; this still does not dissuade her as she now comes and kneels before him pleading for his help. Jesus’s response here is maybe the most difficult part of the passage to understand with him saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” I could make the argument that the Greek used here is kynariois, a better understanding for this would be puppies rather than dogs and suggests a domesticated dog rather than a wild dog. However, even with this interpretation it still appears to be a disrespectful response. Even so, the woman is not put off instead of responding to the insult, she seemingly accepts the metaphor Jesus uses and expands on it herself by saying, “even the dogs eat the scraps from under the masters table.” Now Jesus finally grants her request and commends her faith.

One of the many explanations I have heard defending Jesus’s interaction with the Canaanite woman is that by ignoring her and rejecting her pleas for help Jesus was testing the sincerity and extent of her faith. While this is possible, it is not in line with Jesus’s other interactions with Gentiles where he just heals them. It doesn’t seem to fit with the character of Jesus who has compassion for people when they call on Him for help.  Instead, I suggest that in this passage the we are confronted with the full humanity of Jesus. Yes, Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully human. It can sometimes be easier for us to only think of Jesus’s humanity at Christmas seeing him as a small infant and then for the rest of his life and ministry only seeing His Godliness.

However, this passage does not let us do that, for to be human is to be a product of the culture and environment in which you are raised. As such, Jesus would have had a very particular world view. This view was Israel centric, “I have come only for the lost sheep of Israel.” This view would have also seen Gentiles as unclean, when Jesus is referring to her as a dog, he is describing her as an animal that was considered unclean. However, Jesus does not stay fixed to this point of view. Instead, as the woman challenges Him and He spends more time engaging with her and listening to her, His perspective and attitude towards her changes. As a result, His understanding of His mission also broadens. Yes, he is there for “Israel’s lost sheep” and to fulfil the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament.  Yet, He is also there to share God’s love, grace and healing to all. This change is exemplified a few chapters later in Matthew 22 when Jesus responds to a question from a Pharisee by saying,

37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Then when expanding on and explaining this in Luke 10:25-37 Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan: a story which uses a person from another group of people considered unclean and generally viewed as enemies of Israel as the hero of the story.

In a service this year I shared this prayer as part of the prayers of confession,

We are surrounded by selfishness and sin in the society and culture we live in. It places individual gain and gratification over all else. It forgets the shared humanity of our brothers and sisters of every creed and colour.  It is impossible to remain untouched and it permeates through all areas of our life.

Just like Jesus we are also products of the culture and society we have grown up in and live in. However, He chose not to conform to the society and culture he was brought up in. Instead, He chose a life of sharing love and grace to all.  Will we do the same? For encouragement I have included the Message’s version of Romans 12:1-2.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Do not become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You will be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Reflection on the Methodist Covenant Service

Last Sunday I took part in our Methodist Church Circuit’s Covenant Service on Zoom. As part of the service, I shared what the covenant means to me. I shared about how I have come into Methodism from a varied denominational background, and that in all my experience of other churches I had never come across a service quite like the Methodist Covenant Service. I explained that I have always felt a bit of a special connection with God during these services, that by reciting this prayer I am recognising that my relationship with God is more than a statement of faith, but it is a two-way interaction between God and myself that is ever changing and evolving.

When it came to discussing with the group after I had shared my piece, I was challenged when one of the people with me expressed their difficulty with parts of the prayer and explained that there are some parts that she struggles to say. Other people who were part of the group agreed and explained that there are some people from their churches who will not attend for the covenant service. Listening to these responses I could understand why some might find it difficult after all the language is incredibly challenging. It reads as a very sacrificial prayer, the first line in particular which reads, “I am no longer my own but yours,” can convey a sense of loss of control and likewise the following lines can be read as though we a pawn being moved about on a chess board. I also understand why people may feel that it is too much to promise, so they would rather not make a promise they do not feel they can keep. While I understand these interpretations, I do not hold to them. However, that does not mean I have not had my own struggles with the prayer.

The parts of the prayer I have particularly struggled with are, “put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you.” Living a congenital heart condition there have been times when due to ill health I have suffered and been incapacitated. Without going into detail on my experiences I can say that during this time the idleness I experienced and the suffering from the medical problems caused me to question what it means to say, “put me to doing” when I couldn’t really do anything and why on earth would I pray “put me to suffering and what could possibly be achieved through it?  (If you want to hear more about this experience I have written my testimony from this time and it can be found at, https://sallysjourney.typepad.com/sallys_journey/2008/01/christophers-st.html) The other times I have really struggled with the covenant prayer is when I have found myself unemployed. The worse instance was when I was living in Newcastle and found myself out of work for nearly a year. During this time praying, “let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,” at the time this felt like a gut punch, the best way to describe it was by saying that praying this made me feel devalued as a person because of the situation I found myself in. However, I do believe these experiences tempered me and helped to prepare me for current and future ministry.

So, what is my view in light of these experiences? To begin with my view is based in how I understand covenant. For me covenant is how we experience our relationship with God. This is how people throughout the Bible experienced their relationship with God. In Genesis 15 when God seals the covenant with Abraham, Abraham sacrifices animals which God then passes between. Traditionally at this time when two parties had formed a covenant such as this, they would both walk between the sacrificed animals as a sign before God or the gods they believed in that they would keep the promises they had made. However, in the passage God puts Abraham into a deep sleep so he is unable to pass through the sacrifices with Him. God knew that Abraham and his descendants would not be able to keep the promises, so he freed them from being bound to them. However, God still bound Himself to the promises He made Abraham so that he could live in relationship with God. In the New Covenant Jesus is both the sacrifice and the one who passes through them in our places which means we now experience life in relationship with God through the grace of God demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. God knows that even with the best of intentions we cannot live up to the promises we make in faith but despite this he still loves us and values us, and he wants us to know Him and know that love.

I also believe that covenant in this sense puts the promises we make in the Methodist Covenant Service into perspective. Knowing that I am loved and valued by God in this way means that this is where I find my identity. The times where I struggled before were because I had placed my value and identity in what I could do or what job I had. I now know that regardless what I do or how other people rank me, my identity is found in my faith in God. I believe that in everything I do and experience God is with me to comfort and support me in times of struggle and rejoice and celebrate with me when all is well. I believe this covenant prayer reflects this.

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Reflection Luke 2:22-40

Greetings,

The reflection for this week is on Luke 2:22-40. As we reflect this week, I have a few questions you might want to keep in mind as you read on.

  • Can you remember promises that you have made in your life? Have you been able to keep them all?
  • What promises have others made to you? Were they all kept?
  • Is there a promise that you feel God has made to you?

Here are my answers to these questions. I like to think that I keep most of the promises I make, although I know that at times, I have failed to do so which has hurt people I care about. I also know what its like when friends and family have kept their promises and I know the pain and disappointment I felt when they had not. Finally, I believe that God has a promise for my life. It was given when I was very young, I was very ill in hospital, the promise is John 11:4. It was given first to my parents and then myself and is what gives me strength and encourages me on in my faith journey. I believe that God is fulfilling this promise in my life and ministry.

Over the last four weeks we have heard the Christmas story told through the scriptures and the reading for Christmas Day was Luke 2:1-20 which covers the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the shepherds to worship him in the manger. In the Christmas story old testament prophesies from, Genesis, Numbers, 2 Samuel, Isaiah, the Psalms, Daniel, Malachi, Micah, and Hosea were all fulfilled. This theme of God keeping his promises continues in this passage. When Mary and Joseph come into the temple to present Jesus it fulfils another prophecy in Micah 3:1. This passage also sees God complete the promise he made to Simeon.  When Simeon receives Jesus and praises him in verses 29 to 32 and 34 to 36 he declares the ways in which Jesus will continue to fulfil God’s promises as the Messiah.

It is also important to note in this passage is that in Jesus, God placed Himself under the law so that in Him the fullness of the law could be realized and through him we receive salvation. In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul writes,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”

Through our salvation we live in the promise of a life in relationship with God as His children. We share in and look forward to his promise of redemption for all of creation. I also believe that God has a promise and plan for each of us. As we can see in the Christmas story and through the rest of the Gospels God keeps his promises.

God Bless

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