Today’s gospel (as well as being the longest gospel I’ve ever had to sing) is one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables. It has been used time and time again and reinterpreted for different genres of expression, Kipling wrote a poem about it. Scott Joplin turned it into a ballet. Britten and Debussy set it to music. Rembrandt painted it.

It is so well known and loved by us that I’m sure I hardly need to say anything at all…….but I will all the same.

Because when a story becomes well loved, we can stop seeing the details.

One of the things I love about this parable is the dynamic between the characters, how they interact with each other and how we can interact with them.

In all good stories there are different types of characters, we have the hero, a role we’re familiar with in stories, then there is the protagonist around whom the story revolves, (sometimes these are the same person, but not always) and then there is the anti hero, generally my favorite character, because they are the ones who are flawed, who creates disruptions and conflicts, in the story and in your own feelings, they’re often the characters you like but shouldn’t. And of course there are support characters who help the story move along and the extras.

So, who is who in our parable?

Lets get the easy ones out of the way first, we have the servants and the pig farmer who are support and extras.

So then we have the father and his two sons. And now things become a little more tricky because who is placed in each role depends on how you read it.

It could be the younger son coming to his senses, seeing the light, and returning home.

Or, it could be the older son being shown that bitterness against his brother is no way to live, and that everything that the father owns is his anyway so he too should rejoice.

Or it could be the father, after searching for his child, giving the response of complete joy and forgiveness at his younger sons return.

What do you think?

You may change your mind when you consider the parables that have gone before because Jesus tells two other parables to the Pharisees at this time. We’re told that the Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and the scribes and they unhappy at Jesus’ friendships with sinners, they grumble when they come close to hear Jesus. So Jesus tells them a series of stories to get them understanding why he spends time with them.

I give thanks the lectionary compilers didn’t include these other two parables this morning. They are the lost sheep and the lost coin.

All lost things will be found, and in these other parables it is made clear that the shepherd who found his sheep and the woman who found her coin are the heroes of those, so, the father who found his son must be the hero.

So now we have our hero identified, we can put the others in their place. We have the protagonist around whom the story revolves as the younger Son, who goes away, blows everything, and comes crawling back.

And then my favorite, the anti-hero, the older son, who puts the twist into the story at the very end.

Because if this story was just about sinners repenting and coming back to the father, the story could end when the younger son returns home.

But Jesus goes on to tell us about the reaction of the older Son, who is resentful and bitter towards both the Father and his brother.

“Listen, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never gave me anything.

But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after wasting your property gets the fattened calf and a party to go with it”.

The older son feels hard done by, deserving of reward for his years of faithful service but going without. But he is blind with jealousy and misses the fact completely that he already has everything in his possession, everything that the father has is already his. His wealth and property and love are already in his possession, but he just can’t see it.

 

Jesus doesn’t tell stories for our enjoyment, so the question is, where are you in this parable?

Are you a lost child, feeling unworthy, too sinful for the love and forgiveness of the father? Are you painfully making your way back, searching for the right path to lead you back?

Are you a slave to faithful work, but without the joy of the reward? Or are you full of jealousy for those around you who seem to be given better gifts?

Where is your relationship with the Father? Are you on speaking terms? Are you shouting or scared to talk?

This reading is important because it makes us question, our sinful actions and need for repentance, and also about the attitude we practice our faith with.

This is a calling, in the middle of Lent, for some further self assessment, and perseverance for the journey so that we can be the children that return confident, and with joy for each other too.

 

 

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Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Lent 2

 

In these words of Jesus we hear the voice of God’s lamenting, we hear the sound of God’s heart breaking for his children who reject his love.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the story of God’s relationship with us, the only creatures made in his own image, made from his love and for his love.

We see how he entered time & time again into covenant relationship with his people, just as he did with Abraham, promising his protection & his blessing.

Time & time again he sent prophets, his messengers, to warn of the folly of turning away, of thinking we can live without him, yet every time these warnings were rejected.

How could this be?

How could the people of Israel have been so foolish, so un-naturally rebellious, especially when God had protected them & rescued them so many times?

As Jesus turns his face resolutely towards Jerusalem he does so in the full knowledge that he too will suffer rejection, that the religious establishment is already planning how to silence once & for all this uncomfortable prophet with his uncompromising message of God’s love & forgiveness for all people.

We might well wonder why Jesus did not take the warning & return to Galilee, lie low for a while, perhaps even return to the desert until danger passed. Surely the temptation must have been strong.

We know that his human instinct shrank from the mental & physical suffering that lay ahead.

Yet he knew also that God’s love for his rebellious children would only be fully revealed when he absorbed our hatred, our greed, our anger on the cross.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets & stoning those who are sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!”

 

But if it’s hard to understand why the Jews, God’s chosen people, rejected his freely offered love, even harder is it to understand why we still reject that love so clearly shown & offered to us from the cross.

For God still longs to gather us to him as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. His covenant with us has not been broken, and through good and bad.

And yet we, like the Jews are still reject him, how often, when we are in need of his protection, do we seek security in the false gods of fame & fortune, of worldly prosperity & success even though we know that these things so quickly fade away & can never satisfy our deepest longings.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets & stoning those who are sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!”

God’s lamenting cry still rings in our ears because we too are not willing to trust our worries, our pain, our sinfulness to the forgiveness & protection of God.

So this Lent let us pause & listen to God’s invitation, “Come to me all who are weary & heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” for even now God bids us to come, to trust.

Rather than some empty promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us, God’s promise assures us that whatever does happen to us, whatever pain or problems may plague us, whatever fear we may face, whatever sin may assail us, we will never be defenceless or alone.

For we stand under the protection of God’s wings, strong in his covenant with us, shaded by his forgiveness, and strengthened by His body and blood.

Temptation – Lent 1

I’ve always found it a source of comfort that we have our gospel for this morning, the temptation of Jesus, because if in his humanity he was faced with temptation, then it’s ok for me to struggle with mine.

However it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to see the Judean wilderness for myself, that I came to appreciate how difficult the physical wilderness there is.

This limestone desert is well-named Jeshimon- the Wilderness of Desolation.

And it’s a warped and twisted landscape, shimmering with the heat. The rock is scorching to the touch as if there were some vast furnace beneath it. It’s hard to see how anyone, or anything could possibly survive for even one day. Let alone 40 days.

Yet it’s here that many of the Bible’s prophets, including John the Baptist sought solitude.

In today’s gospel we’ve heard how Jesus, guided by the Spirit, went into this wilderness knowing that in this raw, untamed place, he would be alone with God.

Jesus wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last, to realise that when we need to come to terms with our inner being, when we want to free ourselves from everything that crowds us in and prevents us from being still, then it’s good to withdraw for a time.

Many have been drawn to a wilderness for that very reason. And in our own day, many people still seek out retreats of solitude.

For in the wilderness we’re stripped of all the things that protect us from ourselves and from our mortality. In the wilderness we find God but we also find our demons.

Jesus went to the wilderness to be rid of all the comforts he’d known.

Standing on the brink of the start of his ministry, for forty days and nights he stayed dedicated to the task ahead, the unflinching life of self-giving, the life of obedience even unto death
When John Milton, in his epic poem, Paradise Regained, wrote about the story of Christ’s temptations in the Wilderness, he let his imagination run free.

And if you have a fancy for 17th century poetry, this is a good one for Lent.

At one stage it’s described that Satan is faced with what for him would be for him a disaster, the prospect of Jesus’s life and ministry being a success, as the beloved Son of God, so he calls together a council of demons to work out how best to stop Jesus in his tracks.

The Council rejects a whole series of possible temptations as far too easy for Jesus to detect. The best way of subverting his mission, they conclude, is to tempt Jesus into quick fixes and short cuts. We should pay heed; we’re prone to the same kind of temptations.

First Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to turn the little limestone rocks that litter the Wilderness into bread.

That doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing to do. Surely there is no harm in using his God-given power to provide food for the hungry?

Didn’t the Lord’s own mother praise the God who “fills the hungry with good things?” and is this not the same Jesus who will transform a boy’s lunch into a meal for 5,000?

But to have done so in these circumstances, Jesus would have been taking gifts he’d been given for the service of others and using them to serve himself.

Jesus countered this by reminding us that food and possessions are not the only things we need to live our lives. ‘One does not live by bread alone’

Next, Jesus battles with the temptation of power.

Seeing all the power and wealth in the world and the enticement to pursue glory and authority, fame and wealth is still attractive today.

There must have been some temptation for Jesus to respond to the evil oppression of the Roman occupation with a show of supernatural force must have been enormous.

Jesus was very aware of the Jewish expectation that God would send his messiah to vindicate his people, to free them from tyranny & the yoke of oppression.

At his Baptism God had confirmed him as his beloved Son- he knew that he was the longed for Messiah, with all that title meant for his own people.

But he refused to use evil to overcome evil.

Instead he chose to confront both religious & state oppression with the ultimate power of His love, the cross.

Finally having been defeated on this front Satan now tries a different approach.

Let’s try a circus act; give people a bit of excitement. No need for a safety net, after all that word of God you’re so fond of quoting says if you’re the Messiah you won’t even stub your foot on one of these stones.

Jesus responds “You shall not put God to the test.”

To test God is to refuse to trust him, to fail to take the risk of true faith in response to his love.

It’s a temptation that is still around. Many want God to perform “magic” and liberate us. This is why there is a hype around certain churches and tele-evangelists who offer the high energy excitement of spectacular so-called miracles

Attracting people, yes, but what’s bringing them is what they can get out of it.

And it is very different from having true faith in God who calls us to be at service for one another.

We are only a few days into this season of wilderness. And if you haven’t started some form of discipline this Lent, it’s not too late.

Lent is a time for self examination and for re-balancing. It’s our time to enter the wilderness so we can be faced with the things that distract us, and separate us and tempt us.

It won’t be easy, facing our demons never are, but this is the task that is put before us, so that we can be strong in our own ministries, strong in our own discipleship, and strong in our own relationship with God.

How are you going to use this time of wilderness?

 

(Image from http://www.gracevine.com/sermon/the-temptation-of-jesus/)

Sermon Lent 1 22/02/15

Mark 1. 9-15

Earlier this week I received a text from a friend of mine in Wales saying that she’s seen her first lamb of this year. It may not quite feel like it yet, but the seasons are changing yet again and before long we will clearly see the signs of new life telling us that winter is behind us and new life is preparing to show itself. If we look closely we can see the early signs of this for ourselves, it’s lighter in the evenings and some of the spring bulbs are shooting, or they were in my garden until my dog decided to dig them up!

As we progress down the weeks, these signs will become more tangible as new colours, songs, life and warmth enter our world. This all sounds really lovely, but we mustn’t forget that with new birth of spring will come the violence of storm clouds to fill the rivers and water the land and the pain of child birth as new creatures are born.

Spring and new life means turmoil, and disorder.

Lent is the church’s spring.

It is the time for us to prepare and show those early signs before we are reborn in the gentleness and violence of new life in Christ.

New beginnings are exciting. It was six months ago last weekend I ‘officially’ started working in the Abbey, that that was really exciting. Most of us can remember that sweet anticipation of starting on a new journey.   New beginnings also involve risk. They call us out of the comfort of a familiar world that we have known, to a strange new reality. New beginnings take courage, because you don’t know what you’ll face and it can be difficult to see the path ahead.   And this is where we are this morning.

The1st Sunday of Lent reminds us that this is a new beginning. A chance to start a new journey.

Lent for me is an exciting, and scary time. Full of possibility and opportunity for the taking, if you are brave enough to step outside your comfortable familiar, safe world and step into the possibility of something greater.   And this is the way of God’s people. Stepping out of what is safe and familiar whether by choice or by being pushed.

Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left his dry land home. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gn. 12:1). Jacob feared for his life. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt. And in today’s gospel it’s Jesus’ time. As Mark tells it, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” to the Jordan River.

He left his family home, the area he knew, and the people who knew him. And now he’s wet, standing in the Jordan, between home and the wilderness.

Jesus is standing between his private life and his public ministry. And this moment marks a covenant, a pledge, a pact between him and God. It is a point of intersection, a meeting of heaven and earth. “You are my Son, the Beloved,” God tells him.The Spirit of God enters him enabling him for what lies ahead. It is for Jesus as it would be for any of us, a time of decision, of pressure, of anxiety.

This is not just about Jesus, or the faithful people of the Bible. This is our story too. The Father’s words refer to Jesus in a uniquely literal way but they also apply to each one of us.

So how do we go about making this step and entering the wilderness?   How do we make the most of these days of Lent?

Baptism is the new beginning for the Christian. We go down into the water to die. We emerge from the water to new life. It is an exciting moment in our lives as we make a decision to follow Christ. We enter into relationship with God. It is an exciting moment. as we recognize the Spirit of God at work in our lives. But there is also risk at entering the water. It is a time to let go, to lose control, to become vulnerable.

Whether you were baptised as a child, or an adult, we all get to a point in our spiritual lives when we will want to renew that contract with God.

Lent is a time of self-examination, of checking our focus, of sorting our priorities. It is a time to reflect on God’s promises and to recognize our failure to live up to our part of the relationship. It is a time to begin anew, through repentance, through seeking God’s guidance, through struggle, and through renewed commitment. It is a time to seek God’s guidance. Hopefully we begin to rely on God again.

Lent is a journey. Time given to us. If we are brave enough to face the facts and take that step into the wilderness with Christ. We do not know where this new beginning will take us, but together we enter into a journey from ashes to Easter.

Lent – the first few days

One of my Lenten disciplines this year is to give up TV. Or more accurately, to give up watching endless box sets, which means Netflix! I spend far too much time in front of moving pictures. It’s always been a weakness for me which is why it’s taken me 10 years to buy a TV for my living room. I have a slightly addictive personality, so when I start something, I usually have to finish it, and will find imaginative ways to reach the end. A familiar position is sat with iPad or laptop on knee with a program on in the background. I choose to watch programs rather then go outside and be sociable. And other favourite hobbies fall by the wayside. So sorry Netflix, you have to go. Dvds, you’ll stay on the shelf. And TV, you can be unplugged (until the Youth Group come round, the only exception).

So in this first week, a book has been read, a hood and gloves have been crocheted, and a new set of paints bought. It’s amazing what you can get done when your attention is not divided!

The first book I’ve finished this Lent is ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey. It’s been sitting on the coffee table for a few weeks. A story of Maud, in her 80’s who is struggling with her memory. Extremely well written and a totally compelling story. Elizabeth is missing, but it turns out she is not the only one. She slips between the modern day ‘old’ Maud, and a much younger Maud who is looking for her missing sister. Maud even in her forgetful state is astute and articulate. She knows that she forgets things and can’t remember events, and as the tale unfolds, her distress and anguish increases.

This is a book I would highly recommend. It’s poignant, funny, sad, frustrating and intriguing and you’ll be taken through an emotional roller coaster as you travel with Maud’s in her search for answers.

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Mark 14: 46 – A Faceless Crowd

Mark 14: 46 - A Faceless Crowd

A faceless crowd. Harsh, accusing, out for blood. The giver of truth being condemned by a lie.

A traitor. A kiss.

A crowd of traitors. How many people in that crowd were also crying ‘CRUCIFY!!!’ just days later?

How many times have I stood in that crowd?

How many times have I accused, condemned, rejected? Turned my back because the truth was too hard to take? Gone along with the energy and hype, to be part of the ‘in’ crowd?

When we are accused, how often do we feel like we are being faced by that crowd?

Surrounded by darkness, pressured and pushed around, asked to be something you are not? Mistreated, abused, kept on the outside; rejected.

A faceless crowd of accusers, focused on the result rather then the truth. The greatest pain and injury we can feel comes not from our enemies, but from those who are closest to us.

Psalm 55: 12-14

It is not a enemy who taunts me –

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me –

then I could hide from him.

But it is you, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

We used to hold sweet converse together;

within God’s house we walked in fellowship.

Sermon St David & Lent

St David/ Sunday before Lent.

I feel very spoilt this morning. First of all because I get to be here, in this group of churches this morning, I was really happy to be asked to come here this morning/ afternoon. Secondly I feel spoilt because there was such a range of things I could have preached on this morning. Of course yesterday we celebrated St David’s Day, and we continue the celebrations this morning.
In the church calendar it is also the Sunday before lent, and the celebration of the Transfiguration, and many churches will be hearing this morning from Matthew 17 of how Jesus and a few of his disciples went up to the mountain and Jesus’ appearance changed, and Jesus’ true nature was reviled, and the figures of Moses & Elijah joined Jesus and they had a little chat. And then if you remember Peter, in his typical clumsy way, wanted to build three dwellings.
(I love Peter and some of the things he comes out with, he is one of my favourite disciples and I could talk about him for ages, but you’ll have to invite me back to preach if you want to hear more..)

I struggled a little while thinking about what I was going to say to you, I sometimes have a problem with making decisions, especially when faced with so much choice, but today I want to talk about Lent and St David, because for me this year, they have a strong link,

We all know the stories and legends of David, and you probably know them better than I do. It’s unfortunate that the first ‘biography’ of him wasn’t written until about 500 years after his death, so we cannot be certain which legends and traditions are true. But even so, there is still a lot we can learn.

St David is believed to be the son of King Sant, and St Non, he was ordained a priest, lived the life of a monk, and was made bishop and archbishop of Wales. He founded many monasteries and he lived a very simple life, eating only bread and herbs and drinking only water. This lifestyle even earned him the nickname of ‘David – the water drinker’.
David made some very specific choices about the life he was going to lead. There was no one forcing him along this path, these paths of faith and service, and the life of simplicity, it was a deliberate choice, and the way he believed he should live.
As a result, he has been remembered in the pages of our history books, of our tales and legends and in the heart of our nation. This was not his intention, but just the result of his faithful discipleship, and having the courage to follow what he believed was right.

In our gospel today, Jesus is asking us to make a deliberate choice, to take up our cross, and to follow him.
I consider these some of the hardest words in the gospels, and yet some of the most exciting. Because in these lines, Jesus is asking us to make a choice about our lives, these are challenging words and they have the power to be life-changing.
Jesus at this point is talking to only his disciples who have gathered around, he is talking to a group of people who have already made the choice to leave everything behind and follow him.
But thought the scriptures, he is also talking to us gathered here.
And it might seem that Jesus is setting the bar a little too high. If we were to read this passage away from the rest of the bible, especially the other teachings of Jesus we could easily be lead into believing that our only hope for salvation and being a disciple of Jesus would be that if I was somehow able to discern what in fact losing my life for Jesus’ sake meant; and then actually losing it.
Thankfully we have the rest of the context, and just before our verses today, we know that Jesus just spoke of His cross, and how necessary it is for Him to accomplish His purpose. We then know that as followers of Jesus we can only do what he has called us do.
In verse 23 Jesus scolds Peter for not achieving what in our passage He says that all of his disciples must do;
Jesus said, ‘“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”’
Peter failed, he got things wrong, as I am sure each of us fail; daily!
Peter failed to meet Jesus’ calls, and he is scolded for placing too much on earthly things and not trusting enough in God. But instead of pushing us away, we are brought closer to Jesus, and through this, we can learn that our cross is nothing without His cross.
That we could never carry our own cross; if we try, if we try and do things in our own way, when we try to live without God, we will fail.
We can only do what he has called us to do. And we are at the most perfect time of year I think for discerning what this is.
For too many people, Lent has become a time of year when we MIGHT give up on of life’s luxuries, maybe chocolate, or alcohol. But if that is all you do, I fear the point may have been missed.
Lent, is a time of preparation, it is the time we remember Jesus in the wilderness and his temptations, and it is a time when Jesus prepared to do what God has called him to do.
Likewise, Lent should be a time when we can take stock of our lives;
What are the good things?
What are the bad habits?
What are the things we do that pull us away from what God has called us to do?
What stops us using our gifts and talents?
What separates us from the people around us?
What stops us from following Jesus?

This does not just apply to church, but to the whole of our lives.
For me, I find two big problems, money and time. I spend too much money on things that just are not important. If I want something, I will buy it from amazon or ebay without a second thought. If I have a craving for something, I often don’t think twice about jumping in the car and driving to the shop.
And I fill my time with business, and I get caught up in the doing of things that I fail in taking time to appreciate what and who I have around me.
And so this year for the 6 weeks of Lent, I am going to try and change these.
Firstly with money, I am going to try and live off the budget set by our local Foodbanks which is £14.33 per person, per 3 days. So roughly £30 a week for food. I am also cutting out internet shopping, completely, because those things I think I NEED in those moments of weakness, I actually don’t.

I am also going to try to follow those famous words of St David, ‘Be joyful and keep your faith…Do the little things that you have heard about and seen me do.’
To do the little things, is to appreciate each moment, and give thanks for the blessing that are around us. To do the little things, means you have to slow down, otherwise those moments are quickly gone.
Lent is a time to prepare for what God has called us to do.
What has God call you to do? And what is stopping you from doing them?