May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful new Year.
The year that was 2023 has passed and with it, perhaps those whom we have loved. For some people last year saw the loss of a job or the breakdown of a relationship. For others it was a disturbing diagnosis or period of prolonged illness. For a whole host of reasons, many of us are glad to see the back of 2023.
But the change of year, a new calendar or diary, is not somehow going to guarantee any of us better “luck,” health or happiness in 2024. If only life were that simple.
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we face the new year not with wishful thinking, optimism or luck, for none of these have any power to fully sustain us as we journey into the unknown.
This Sunday is Epiphany, the close of the Christmas Season, when we will be thinking of the effect of the Nativity on those who were involved, especially the shepherds and the magi. Their encounter with the Christ child changed their lives.
The Christian Faith is not about rules and rituals, no matter how worthy or meaningful those may be, but about a relationship.
We step out into the unknow future not relying on our own strength but trusting in one who said, “ I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
On December 25th 1939, King George VI spoke via radio to the Nation and Empire and included in his speech a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth.
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”
He finished by saying,
“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”
Amen and amen!
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK JANUARY 14TH
This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Epiphany. The Gospel is John 1:43-end and the following reflection is by Dr David Lose,
Senior Pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, USA.
“Come and see.”
Think, for a moment, about the effect of those words might have on you were you to hear them in an everyday context. Would they generate a certain sense of excitement about whatever it might be you were being invited to witness? Perhaps curiosity?
Or maybe gratitude that someone thought to include you?
The words are both simple and warm, issuing an invitation not only to see something, but also to join a community. To come along and be part of something.
These words, this invitation, form the heart not simply of this opening scene but much of John’s Gospel. John’s story is structured around encounters with Jesus.
And so across the pages of John’s Gospel there are men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable, people of all shapes and sizes and varieties whom Jesus meets.
And to each one, in one way or another, he says the same thing: come and see.
Come and see God do a new thing.
Come and see your future open up in front of you. Come and see the grace of God made manifest
and accessible and available to all.
In response, some take up that invitation and follow, while others are puzzled, confused, or simply do not believe Jesus’ offer.
And some not only follow but invite others to do the same.
“Come and see.” Such easy, warm, and hospitable words. The heart not only of John’s Gospel but Christian evangelism, as we are called not to cram our faith down another’s throat or question their eternal destiny or threaten them with hellfire, but instead simply to offer an invitation to come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him.
But as simple and as non-threatening as these words are, I wonder how many of us
have ever uttered them, or anything remotely like them.
For that matter, I wonder how often we have said them, not only to people who came to church one Sunday but to folks we meet in our daily lives.
The future of our faith communities will, I believe, be greatly determined by our willingness to invite others to share what we have found.
But the future of the church is without a doubt in God’s trustworthy hands.
The Spirit that inspired Philip and Andrew, who reached out through their efforts to others, and who overcame even the scepticism of Nathaniel is still offering all kinds of people all over the world an invitation to “come and see” and creating in them the desire to do just that.
So no matter how you may approach this text, perhaps we might end with this simple prayer:
“Come, Holy Spirit, that we may see and taste the grace of God afresh.
Come, Holy Spirit, that we might share the grace of God with others.
Come, Holy Spirit, that we might bear witness with our whole lives to the grace of God made manifest and available to us in Jesus.”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK JANUARY 21ST
The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Epiphany is Mark 1 vs 14-20.
Below is a reflection on the passage by Karoline Lewis, Professor and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.
“What I am struck by this week in the calling of the disciples according to Mark is not the “follow me,” not the calling, but the immediately. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” We can rationalize the “immediately” all we want — they saw something in Jesus. Mark loves the word “immediately” and in repeating it creates an urgency unlike any other Gospel.
I think that “immediately” can be less about marking time and more about describing action. Immediately does not only designate a when but a what.
Not only a place in time, but an event that changes the meaning of life.
Granted, the disciples have no clue at this point how life has been changed.
But we know. And maybe immediately is all we can do; all we can manage.
Because, preparation? Maybe it makes faith matters worse. Builds up anticipation, expectations. And then, when things do not go as planned?
Maybe a life of faith can only happen in immediately, in the surprising, sudden, profound epiphany of God at work, God revealed in our lives. Because if we think we can adequately prepare for God’s epiphanies, that we can be fully ready for what we will see, well then, God might be less than epiphanous.
Like taking childbirth classes will really prepare you for having a baby or being a mother. Let’s be honest.
We are called, perhaps not so much to follow, but to take Mark’s immediately seriously. This is not,
“wait a few minutes. Let me pack my bag. I have a few more arrangements to make.” No — epiphanies just happen. No preparation. No packing list.
No recommendations of what to take, what to do.
And so, Jesus just happens.
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
No time to think.
No invitation to take your time.
Here is truly epiphany according to Mark. Epiphanies are un-tamable and unpredictable. Unexpected and even undeserved.
We could spend a lot of time speculating why the disciples followed Jesus.
At the end of the day, I am not sure I care. They did.
Maybe there was no choice. I don’t know.
When we place our emphasis on the immediately, we are directed more toward the event and less on the how. I don’t know how. I just know that it happened.
Epiphanies, especially of the divine nature, demand an immediate response.
There’s no invitation for contemplation or reflection
but instantaneous commitment and risk. Or, to put it another way, no real choice. Naming epiphanous moments, describing those times when your response is out of your control, that might be getting close to articulating what happened with the disciples in Mark. If the heavens are ripped apart, well then, get ready for a wild ride. This can be simultaneously freeing and terrifying. Free to respond in the moment. Terrified of what beyond the moment will unfold.
This week, at least according to Mark, Epiphany is when your life is changed forever because Epiphany celebrates, in part, that God was forever changed.”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK JANUARY 28TH
The Gospel this week is Mark 1 vs 21-28.
Below is a brief reflection on the passage by Professor Paul Berge,
Luther Seminary, St Paul Minnesota USA.
“The evangelist of the Gospel of Mark has selected this exorcism story to inaugurate the public ministry of Jesus. In the Gospel we are “immediately” faced with the story of Jesus’ exorcism in the synagogue of Capernaum (1:21-28).
Our text for this Sunday follows the title and promise of the Gospel (1:1),
the identity of John the Baptist (1:2-8),
Jesus’ baptism and voice from heaven (1:9-11),
God’s Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness and encounter with Satan (1:12-13), Jesus’ announcing of the kingdom of God and call to repentance (1:14-15)
and Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John (1:16-20).
We have experienced early in our hearing from the Gospel of Mark a story which proclaims the lordship of Jesus Christ. This text is just as present for us as the experience in this first century story and world.
The immediacy of the story is continuously present as the adverb “immediately” appears three times in this brief story (1:21, 23, and 28).
The evangelist emphasizes the immediacy of God’s reign and rule breaking in and present in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
In this world of demonic powers that continue to enslave us, Jesus has broken its hold. The hold of the evil one has no power over us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil,” when the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew reads “rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, New Revised Standard Version).
We too have been rescued from the evil one and restored in our right minds through the lordship of the crucified and risen Christ.
This is an epiphany in our lives present in the Word of God.
Whether in the first century world of a healing in a synagogue in Capernaum
or in our gathering for worship today, the kingdom of God, the reign and rule of God’s power and authority is manifested in Jesus Christ.
This is an epiphany story now in our proclamation for all who gather to worship the one, true God on January 28th, 2024.
“The Holy One of God” is our title for the Christ. He alone breaks into our world of possessions to free us to live in his authority to exorcize the powers of this age.”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK FEBRUARY 4TH
February 2nd is observed as Candlemas in the liturgical calendar and we will be reflecting on its meaning in worship this Sunday.
Below are some thoughts on Candlemas (and the Irish saint Brigid) by Jan Richardson, an artist, writer and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church in the USA.
“The beginning of February offers us another lovely feast day on the heels of today’s Feast of St. Brigid. In the rhythm of the Christian liturgical year, tomorrow marks the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, also called the Feast of the Purification of Mary. This day bids us remember Mary and Joseph’s visit to the Temple to present their child Jesus on the fortieth day following his birth, as Jewish law required, and for Mary to undergo the postpartum rites of cleansing. Luke’s Gospel tells us that a resident prophet named Anna and a man named Simeon immediately recognize and welcome Jesus. Taking the child into his arms, Simeon turns his voice toward God and offers praise for the “light for revelation” that has come into the world.
Taking a cue from Simeon, some churches began, in time, to mark this day with a celebration of light: the Candle Mass, during which priests would bless the candles to be used in the year to come. Coinciding with the turn toward spring and lengthening of light in the Northern Hemisphere, Candlemas offers a liturgical celebration of the renewing of light and life that comes to us in the natural world at this time of year, as well as in the story of Jesus. As we emerge from the deep of winter, the feast reminds us of the perpetual presence of Christ our Light in every season.
With her feast day just next door, and with the abundance of fire in the stories of her life, it’s no surprise that St. Brigid makes an appearance among the Candlemas legends. The stories and prayers of Ireland and its neighbours often refer to Brigid as the midwife to Mary and the foster mother of Christ. Chronologically, this would have been a real stretch seeing as how Brigid was born in 454 AD! However, the legend says that Brigid walked before Mary with a lighted candle in each hand when she went up to the Temple for purification. The winds were strong on the Temple heights, and the tapers were unprotected, yet they did not flicker nor fail.
On this Candlemas, where do we find ourselves in this story?
Are we Mary, graced by the light that another sheds on our path?
Or are we Brigid, carrying the light for another in need?”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK FEBRUARY 11TH
The Gospel this week is Mark 9 vs. 2-9, the story of the Transfiguration. Below is a reflection on the reading by Melinda Quivik, Liturgical and Homiletical Scholar, St Paul, Minnesota USA.
“Every time we gather for worship, we are the disciples on the mountain seeing the rabbi, the carpenter from Nazareth who became our teacher, bathed in light.
The vision the disciples behold removes the veil of Jesus’ humanness to reveal his divinity: wondrous, frightening, powerful, unexpected, and rich, connecting all ages (the prophets Elijah and Moses with Jesus), giving enlightenment.
Jesus’ transfiguration is not to be approached with the assumption that we can understand it. It means to draw us in toward what is abnormal, unnatural—like the burning fire that does not consume the bush and like the fire Elijah hoped for and received from God on the altar drenched in water to win the wager against the prophets of Baal.
The Transfiguration places Jesus in the lineage and honour of the two prophets who stand beside him on the mountain.
The Transfiguration gives the disciples the experience of witnessing a most amazing and unspeakable vision that draws them to want to stay there, dwell in that place of wonder, and then to be told by the voice of the divine that their job is not to abide in that wonder but to go back down the mountain.
The voice in the cloud is directed at the disciples, to the church, rather than to the Son as it was at his baptism.
In worship, week after week, through the Word of God, our vision is restored. We are enabled by God to see Jesus as Saviour (something more than a teacher of morality and ethics) because the dazzling clothes constitute an epiphany. His transfiguration transforms the disciples in the story and transforms us by removing the veil over our vision.
The church has a responsibility: to listen to God’s Son. That listening does not result in staying aloof where the air is pure and the view is stunning.
The church must listen to the voice of God’s Word in our midst
so that we follow in a way that leads to the cross.
We are not called to have power over others
but to rise up as dust that has been formed by the breath of God
and give life to others.”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK FEBRUARY 18TH LENT ONE
This Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent.
Below are some thoughts on the Gospel passage for this week, Mark 1 vs. 9-15
by Karoline Lewis, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota USA.
“The first Sunday in Lent is always Jesus’ temptation. Always. But when was the last time you noticed just how brief Mark’s temptation story is? It’s virtually non-existent. A summary only. To the point. No details really.
Just that it happened.
One could say, and you probably have,
“Well, that’s Mark for you. The Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the Gospel.”
Of course, Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation would be abbreviated!
To preach the temptation of Jesus in Mark is to call attention to our greatest temptation — the temptation to think that God is not present. We are tempted to believe that God is absent. God has given up. Withdrawn. Why? Well, you name it. A whole host of reasons. Need any prompts here? Our fellow parishioners sure don’t. They are fully aware that they are not worthy of God’s love which we tend to perpetuate during Lent. They are fully aware, as are we if we are honest, of those excruciating times when God is silent.
To reflect on Mark 1:9-15 on the first Sunday in Lent is to say clearly, unapologetically, without any doubt, that God is present in it all. We will not have the same temptations as Jesus. And naming Jesus’ temptations as some sort of comfort in our experience of the same implies that we can get through it, whatever “it” may be.
But we are talking about Jesus. The point of contact is not necessarily that Jesus was tempted yet without sin. That’s not helpful. I can’t be Jesus.
But I can look at Jesus’ temptation, whatever it is, whatever it turns out to be,
and say, God was there.
God is present. In other words, what if we focus less on listing all that tempts us, less on some pep talk that we can deny all those so-called things that seek to get us to craft our golden calves, less on giving up the so-called temptations of our lives and focus on true denial of that which tempts us the most.”
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK FEBRUARY 25TH LENT TWO
This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Lent and the Gospel is Mark 8:31-end. It contains Jesus` well known saying,
“If any want to become my followers,let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.”
The cross has lost much of its power and meaning and not just among those who see it as little more than a fashion accessory. Even for Christians, the cross can become so familiar that it loses its ability to both shock and inspire.
I hope that the following short passages and the reflection which follows,
may aid our devotions for this week.
"The cross of Christ is like a well-cut diamond.
Turn it in the sun and you get a variety of colours and sparkles.
Among other things, it brings out the price of true love, the power of vulnerability to bring about community, the presence of God within human suffering,
how death washes things clean,
how death can be triumph,
how one is tempted to cry out in despair just before triumph,
and especially how God loves us unconditionally."
Ron Rolheiser O.M.I.
"But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction,
can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape.
Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing.
The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers."
G. K. Chesterton
"The cross performs a function of synthesis and measurement.
In it Heaven and Earth are conjoined…in it time and space are intermingled.
The cross is the unbroken umbilical cord of the cosmos,
linking it to the centre from which it sprang.
Of all symbols the cross is the most universal and all-embracing.
It symbolizes intervention, mediation, the natural and permanent structure of the universe and communication between Heaven and Earth and Earth and Heaven.
Champeaux, G.de and Dom Sterckx, S. (O.S.B.)
AND THOSE WHO LOSE THEIR LIFE WILL SAVE IT
I opened the curtain this morning:
the sun was giving itself away
with a brilliant smile.
I walked by a stream this morning:
the water was giving itself away
with a gentle song.
I greeted a friend this morning:
joy was giving itself away
with the warmth of touch.
I thought of your cross this morning:
how you gave yourself away
in holy love.
May I become such grain this morning:
living in what is given away
for another’s bread.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK MARCH 3RD LENT THREE
Below is part of a reflection on this week`s Gospel reading about the Cleansing of the Temple, by Rev Janet E Hunt.
“One wonders how it is that Jesus 'saw' what no one else could or would. How could his perception have been so radically different that he would act with such forthright certainty to make right that which was so wrong.
And yet, we do recall that the temple held precious memories for Jesus.
It was the destination where every Jewish child knew he or she would make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetimes.
It was the place where he had gotten so caught up in conversation with the teachers when he was a small child himself, that his parents lost track of him.
To be sure, unlike any who had come before, this was his home before any other home for he understood it to be his 'Father's house.'
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Jesus would show his outrage at what things had come to there. For it appears this holy place had become, for some at least, a place of business transactions. Indeed, some believe that the surcharge for exchanging money into currency which was suitable for temple offerings was so exorbitant that the poor were not able to afford to encounter God in that place in the way that it was customary to do so. And that would have been entirely contrary to God's intent.
Whatever the case may have been, clearly Jesus saw all of this as standing in the way of it being the holy place it was meant to be.
And when Jesus comes face to face with it, he sees red.
He throws the money changers and those selling sheep and cattle
and doves for sacrifice into chaos.
How can you and I develop the eyes of Jesus?
How do we gain sight or insight which is not content to turn away or to ignore or explain away that which gets in the way of others encountering the Holy One?
How do I gain the courage or the will to see 'bright colours' which yes,
sometimes will offend, even as they inspire?
Surely one of the ways to do this is to invite others with 'fresh eyes' to tell us what they see and experience in the 'temple' where I serve.
It may be those newest among us.
Or those who have been away a while.
Or simply someone who does not necessarily agree with me.
While they may or may not actually have 'eyes of Jesus,' even in their questions and observations they are likely to challenge or point out what I have failed to see or no longer experience because I have grown accustomed to the 'way it is.'
Now of course, even as I wonder this, I am aware that in this life our 'temples' may never be entirely clean. Even so, it seems to me that as we encounter Jesus' outrage today, the call is also ours to seek to see our lives, the lives of others, the 'temple,' and this whole wide world in which we live with the eyes of Jesus and to do what we can to rid it and us of all that would get in the way of others encountering God.
And yes, sometimes it our call is to 'see red,' it seems to me, at least when it matters.”
In a building that is not a building
but the dusty halls of my spirit,
in a heart that is not just a heart
but an intended-to-be-holy temple,
there are sheep and there are cattle
that are not sheep and cattle
but the worries and concerns
and the sorrows of life,
and there are dulled coins and doves
that are not coins and doves
but the tarnished hopes and dreams
of an aging mind,
and they clutter and crowd the courtyard,
cloud the air with their smells and voices,
their noises of stress and hunger:
overpowering the words of prayer.
Saviour, come into the spaces
of this yearning-to-be-holy temple,
come and cleanse this heart of distractions,
help me clear the clutter, the noises,
make it more of a place of listening
open to the mystery of your presence,
a space of restfulness, a quiet centre
for lifting unfettered prayer.
Minister ~ Rev Alan Kennedy 07733153203 01612703296 email@example.com