Bible Readings and Reflection
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Ash Wednesday Reflection: Matthew 6:1-6
A poem by Mark Oliver called ‘The Summer Day’.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I came across this poem recently and I had never thought of my life as wild and precious. I love the idea of the invitation to be free, to express, to dream big and go beyond the currently possibilities of the impossible. I find myself asking what really matters in life and that is a perfect question to ask on Ash Wednesday - What does it mean to live a wild and precious life? How do we give up the things that devalue our lives? How do we recognize and recover what is important?
I wonder what this year Lent journey will feel like – it might be a rush or we are currently very busy leading up to this period. We might have things done or left undone. What if Lent is really about the life yet to be lived? Or in other words what if I paid attention to where I am going? How precious is life?
I started to think about my own life and what would I thing was important, what did I value, what is wild and precious. What in my life means to life a live of wildness?
I am not talking about being disobedient or living an unruly life but about being open, unbounded and free. To explore the possibility of something new, something different, something that will transform us from the inside out.
After talking to my oldest daughter Chloe about what it might look like living a wild life. She mentioned to me a book called where the wild things are. The story is about a young boy named Max who dresses as a wolf and wreaks havoc through his household and is sent to bed without his supper. Max’s bedroom undergoes a transformation into a jungle and he sails to an island where the wild things are. The story ends with Max appreciating what he left behind and discovers a hot supper waiting for him.
Sometimes we let fear, self-doubt, guilt, regret, disappointment or wounds tame our lives. Something is broken and we feel lost.
I watched the advert of Lloyd’s Bank which has a horse running which is unbroken as to a horse which has been tamed and is rideable. So, in what ways has our life been tamed? Or in other words what do you need to do or give up to reclaim your wild life? What freedom and opportunities would a wild life offer you? What dream might become a reality?
For me, Lent is a time to understand a bit more about God’s mystery, God’s love, His compassion, His mercy, His forgiveness and kindness because God sees us as precious. We are His children who is worth so much in His eyes.
Our Life is precious – it is found in its fragility and mortality. Life is short and uncertain. The poem has the line ‘everything dies at last, and too soon’. Most of us know about the ‘too soon’ of death. That does not, however, negate the value and beauty of life; it intensifies them. It makes life even more precious. Everything and everyone matters. Nothing and no-one are to be taken for granted. Not a minute of time is to wasted or wished away.
Our life is precious and gets revealed in the things we are most passionate about; in the people we love and those who love us; in the things that give us meaning, offer us hope and bring us the courage to live wildly. They are people, circumstances and things to which we give all that we are and all that we have. We pour ourselves, time, and money into them and there is never remorse.
The preciousness of life means that we are of infinite value. Do you see and believe that about yourself? Or are you devaluing yourself or another? We are the treasure chests that hold God’s heart. So maybe this Lent stop diminishing your preciousness and see how would your life be different if you lived from a place of preciousness? If you saw others as precious?
In a normal Ash Wednesday service, I would be saying these words
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So, what do we need to do on our Lenten journey, do we need to live a life that is wild and precious in God’s eyes?
Reflection: John 4:1-42
John’s gospel is about the evidence of Jesus Christ, which in turn involves believing or faith in Jesus Christ which produces life.
As we look at John, chapter 4 where a conversation is recorded at Jacob’s Well and its astonishing result, it is impossible not to be struck by the wealth of teaching in these verses. We have probably heard a range of sermons, talks and reflections about this passage of Scripture. So, in this chapter we can take John’s key elements: testimony, faith and life and locate these where they come in the narrative.
Testimony: Within the conversation with the Samaritan women there are two records of witness: first her own story and then their story of the townspeople shaped by God’s story. Let’s start with the Samaritan community.
We are told that it was her story that people believed in Jesus. They left to come out to Jacob’s well. They had a choice. Usually at that time Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix, so when this community heard the women’s story, they might have ordinarily crossed the street to avoid a Jew. But they came, following this woman to the place where Jesus was. It was in this little Samaritan town that Jesus conducted his first revival meeting, and it was in this town that large numbers of people first believed – first accepted Jesus as the Messiah – first accepted Jesus as Lord.
Her own story at first sight of coming to see reminds us of our own deep spiritual hunger as well as the communities which in turn they are all seeking truth. Their thirst for truth made it possible for them to see that Jesus was, indeed, the living water gushing up to eternal life.
They recognized that Jesus could quench their thirst and fill their hungry hearts. It was these marginal people who were open to receiving Jesus, so it was to these marginal people – these unlikely candidates – that Jesus first revealed himself to be the Messiah!
So, who is this person? The answer is the revelation Jesus brought into the world for people like the Samaritan community, came to this person a woman and to come to a sinner whose guilt is beyond doubt.
Faith: Jesus has different choices to meet this Samaritan. Jesus had a choice. He could go around Samaria or he could go through it. Going through Samaria was the most direct route, but Jews didn’t like Samaritans and Samaritans didn’t like Jews. For a Jew, going through Samaria could be trouble! Most Jews took the longer route and avoided Samaria.
But Jesus took the direct route – right through the middle of Samaria. It wasn’t that Jesus was spoiling for a fight, but that Samaria offered him a special opportunity. Jews thought that the Samaritans were hopeless. In Samaria, Jesus could demonstrate that there is no such thing as hopeless!
When Jesus arrived in the little town of Sychar, he went to the town well. It had been a long walk, and the sun had been high and hot. Jesus was thirsty.
A woman came to the well for water. That was unusual. Most women came to the well in the morning or evening – why carry water in the noonday sun?! But this woman had a reason for coming at noon. She didn’t have many friends. The women in her village didn’t like her, so she came to the well when no one was there. She was lonely – but she prized her solitude.
Jesus broke the silence by choosing to speak. He said,” Give me a drink” (v. 7). The woman was surprised. “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (v. 9). Good question! Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, and men didn’t start conversations with women. What did this stranger want? Jesus gave a strange answer. He said,
“If you knew
the gift of God,
and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him,
and he would have given you living water” (v. 10).
Who was this anyway? “Sir,” she said, “you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. From where then do have you that living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well?” (vv. 11-12).
Our own conversation start like this encounter, talking about surface level and then going deeper into that subject. Sometimes in that conversation we might even fine it a little embarrassing. This woman could have felt that when Jesus turns his thoughts on husband.
He said,” Go, call your husband, and come here” (v. 16). “I have no husband,” she admitted (v. 17). Jesus said,” You said well, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband” (vv. 17-18).
How embarrassing! Was this man a mind reader? If he knew about the men in her life, he must know everything. But this woman had been around men, and she knew how to get them to change direction. She said, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (v. 20). Jesus responded by saying something so important it can easily be skipped over. “I AM HE!” Jesus said (v. 26).
Did you catch that! Jesus said,” I am he! I am the Messiah!” To be perfectly correct, Jesus said,” I AM!” That was God’s name! At the burning bush, when Moses asked God his name, God said, “I AM!” (Exodus 3:14).
“I am the Messiah!” Jesus had not said that to his disciples! He had not said that to his inner circle, Peter, James and John! He had not said that to the priests! He had not said that in Bethlehem, where he was born; nor in Nazareth, where he grew up; nor in the synagogue, where he worshiped; nor in Jerusalem, where God lived. It was here, in this ungodly place with this ungodly woman standing in the dust at High Noon that Jesus first revealed himself to be the Messiah.
Isn’t that amazing?! After all Jesus had gone through to get to this point, why would he choose this time and this place and this woman to reveal the Big Secret? Stop and think for a moment! Can you imagine a less likely candidate than this much-married, truly ostracized, Samaritan woman? The question is not whether Jesus could have made a better choice. The question is whether he could have made a worse choice!
But that’s how Jesus worked. Jesus picked the unlikeliest candidates! It began with his birth. He could have been born in Rome – the Capital of the World! He could have been born in a palace! Instead, he was born in a nowhere town in a nowhere country to a nobody girl. He was born among a stiff-necked, self-righteous people who let him teach for about three years before they killed him.
The principle of unlikelihood held true when Jesus chose his apostles. He chose the unlikeliest candidates. He chose twelve men. One of the twelve betrayed him. A handful amounted to something. The rest we never hear from again. And even those who amounted to something were often an embarrassment. You could always count on Peter to do something, but not usually the right thing!
But there was method to Jesus. Just look at what happened when Jesus tried to work with the religious leaders – with the more obvious candidates. In John 3, just a weeks ago, Jesus tried to work with Nicodemus, one of the best and most open of the religious leaders. What happened? Nicodemus’ last words to Jesus were “How can these things be?” (3:9). Nicodemus came to Jesus as an honest inquirer, but Jesus stretched him to the breaking point. Nicodemus tried to believe, but he just didn’t get it. And Nicodemus was the best of the bunch! The rest of the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus! So much for the most likely candidates.
Now look at what happened when Jesus came to this Samaritan woman. She left her water jar sitting by the well, because she couldn’t carry a water jar and run. She ran into town and said, “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29).
Life: In short, her story leads to belief that there at the well is none other than the Saviour. In this personal encounter John is drawing from her example to light of the gospel upon someone who is lost and now is found. A struggle is taking place before our eyes and she tries to evade with distraction but focuses on Jesus who speaks to her so she can see and have life.
That should tell us something! It should instruct our ministry today. We Christians today are called to share God’s story with others too. We can draw from our circle of friends as well as those people outside. Jesus went to people like this Samaritan woman and these Samaritan villagers – people who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness because they had so little of it. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to these unworthy people, and they believed! They received Jesus gladly, because their lives were empty, and they saw that Jesus could fill their souls with good things.
We have people with empty lives in our community today. We have Samaritans living among us. Who are they? Perhaps the homeless. Perhaps prisoners in jail. Perhaps those who are hooked on alcohol or drugs or gambling. Those are obviously empty people. But the empty people also include ordinary people facing the challenges of ordinary life without Jesus. In many cases, the empty people are our friends and neighbours and members of our family. Jesus says,” Behold, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and look at the fields, that they are ripe for harvest already” (v. 35).
Did you ever think of your community as a field ready to be harvested for Christ? Or do you ever think of the people you meet in the ordinary course of your day as a field ready to be harvested for Christ?
It might seem as if the task is hopeless, but it’s not. It might seem as if our neighbours are hopeless, but they aren’t. We have God with us and have to choose to continue to tell his story and invite others to come and see. We all have the responsibility to invite or to plant or to water or to harvest. Each of us plays a part in God’s kingdom to bring life. God needs us to be faithful to Him.
The Samaritan woman was faithful. She did her part and brought life to her community. She ran into town to tell her neighbours about a Jew who might just be the Messiah. The scripture tells us that “many of the Samaritans believed in (Jesus) because of the word of (this) woman” (v. 39). Then it goes on to say, “Many more believed because of his word” (v. 41).
We all have opportunities to invite friends and our community to church. You will have opportunities now and then to tell someone what your faith means to you. When that happens, ask yourself this question: “If not me, then who’s going to do it?” Amen.
Reflection: John 3:1-17
Nicodemus ‘came to Jesus by night’. I wonder if that’s not true for all of us. I wonder if we don’t all come to Jesus by night. Some have said that Nicodemus was hiding in the darkness. He was embarrassed. He was scared and didn’t want to be seen or caught. Others have said Nicodemus wasn’t a true believer and that his faith was shallow and superficial. A few have even said it was just a matter of scheduling and night was the only time Nicodemus and Jesus could get together. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s any of those. I think there is much more to it than that.
John is using night in a particular way. It’s not our usual understanding of the word. John is using it to describe a condition or a circumstance. Elsewhere in John’s account of the gospel night is that time, Jesus says, “when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Our usual daytime activities have no power or meaning in the night. We are unable to create and sustain our own life in the night. Jesus speaks of night as the time when we stumble because there is no light in us and we just can’t see the way forward (Jn. 11:10). Night is the separation, fragmentation, and division within us that can become betrayal of ourselves and others. Remember Judas? He got up and left the table, John writes, “and it was night” (Jn.13:30). Night describes those times we fish all night but catch nothing (Jn. 21:3). Our efforts prove fruitless and our nets remain empty.
Coming to Jesus by night is not a statement about the time, Nicodemus’ motive, or his faith. It is, rather, a description of Nicodemus and his life, a description that probably fits all of us at one time or another. Coming by night is the recognition that there is a daytime Nicodemus and a night time Nicodemus; just as there is a daytime Chris and a night time Chris, a daytime you and a night time you. But what do I mean by this?
Well, by day Nicodemus knows who he is. He has an identity. He is a Pharisee. He has a role and a reputation as a leader of the Jews.
He knows and applies the law. People listen to and follow him. He has a particular place in society. He fits in. He has security and power.
By night, however, Nicodemus is lost and confused. He cannot see or understand. Nothing makes sense. He’s in the dark, as we say. His work, accomplishments, reputation, and place in society no longer provide stability or answers. Everything has changed. He’s stumbling in the dark. Daytime certainty has given way to night time questions. “How can these things be?” By day he keeps the faith. By night, however, his nets come up empty. He’s looking for something the daytime life just cannot give him.
We probably all know what that’s like. We live daytime lives and we live night time lives. By day all is well. We live with a sense of identity and security. We have a place and purpose. Our life has meaning and direction. Daytime reveals what is, but darkness reveals nothing. By night everything is hidden. We stumble through the darkness, grasping for something to hold, seeking answers and explanations for our life. Everything has been turned upside down and nothing is certain. In the dark life it doesn’t make sense and we don’t understand. The night is a time of vulnerability, questions, and wrestling with life.
We are almost always better at daytime living than night time living. We have been taught to live daytime lives. That’s what our world values, encourages, and rewards. We want to be daytime people. That means we spend our time looking for information and answers. We build our reputations. We desire recognition and approval. We establish our place in life. We buy stuff and gain wealth. We want predictability and control. We prefer what is safe and familiar. Daytime life is the life we create for ourselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
We all do it and we need to. Some of those things are necessary. The problem is that daytime life keeps us stuck in the cycle of always having to create and re-create our lives. Somehow, we can never get enough. We never quite get there.
It seems that which we most want is always just beyond our grasp. That’s important information to know. It means we cannot keep doing the same old things and expect a different result.
It means no matter how hard we try, how much we gather, or how much we know something will always be missing from our daytime life. It will always be less than the life God intends and desires for us. No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. No matter how full, beautiful, or successful daytime life is it will always be incomplete, fragile, and fleeting. How could it not be? It’s the life we have created for ourselves and “what is born of the flesh is flesh.”
When we realize that about our self and our life, we have entered the night time of life. Here’s the irony. The very life we create for ourselves often becomes the circumstances that take us into the darkness. We keep doing the same old thing but nothing changes. We’re so exhausted we can’t muster the energy to re-create our life one more time. We have everything we want, everything is fine, but something is lacking. Those and a thousand others like them are the start of our darkness.
Most of us do whatever we can to avoid or get out of the darkness. Night time living isn’t much fun. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, even painful. It’s not our first choice. It is, however, necessary. That’s why we are marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday and reminded of our mortality. We must remember that what is born of the flesh is flesh and that there is more to us and our lives than what we can create for ourselves. It’s why at times we need to let go instead of possessing, hunger instead of fullness, self-denial instead of self-satisfaction, change instead of status quo, self-examination instead of blissful ignorance, and darkness rather than light.
The great temptation in the night time is to think that if we just get the answer, if we can understand and explain it all, then we’ll know what to do. We’ll do it better this time. We’ll do it differently this time. Things will change and we’ll get what we want.
That’s what Nicodemus is doing. “How can these things be?” He wants an answer, information. That’s just more daytime living and it doesn’t work in the night time of life.
The night time of life is not a situation to be resolved, a problem to be figured out, or a question to be answered. As difficult and painful as it may be the night time of life is the womb by which we are born from above. The discomforts of the darkness are the contractions by which we are pushed into new life and born again. This night time birth changes everything about our daytime life. This second birth gives meaning to, completes, and fulfils our first birth.
This, however, is the Spirit’s work not ours. We cannot birth ourselves. We can only feel and give way to the rhythm of the contractions. So, don’t flee the darkness. Don’t fight the night. Let yourself be born. The contractions of the darkness are God reshaping, forming, and molding you in the likeness of Christ. Isn’t that what we really want? Isn’t that why we’ve shown up here today?
Today is our reminder that the night time of life, no matter how dark, is always filled with the promise of new life, full life, abundant life, God’s own life – what Jesus calls eternal life. Why settle for re-creating ourselves one more time when Christ is dying to give us a life, we could never create for ourselves?
Reflection: John 2:13-25
1 Jesus, 2 Temples, and 3 Days
Often Jesus is depicted in popular imagination as a Hippie figure, with sandals and long robe. In this section of John's gospel he is holding a whip - driving out the animals and money changers from the Temple courts. Does you understanding of Jesus include this side of Jesus. It is a passion for the purity of worship.
The problem at the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover is that it had become a market. Animals for sacrifices were being bought and sold. Also the Temple had its own currency, so money changers offered the chance to get some Temple coins, but obviously at a mark up. Hence Jesus was angry. The Temple was supposed to be the place where God was worshipped, and the outer courts were an area earmarked for Gentiles (non-Jews) to come and pray.
When asked to show a sign of his authority to purify the Temple, Jesus points to a greater Temple: his Body. The Temple was where God dwelt and met the people - ultimately the fulness of God dwells in the person of Jesus (Colossians 1:19).
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection just a few years later at Passover when he says that the Temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days. But why 3 days? In Jewish thought you could stay up to and including 3 days at someone's house as a visitor, but if you stayed longer than 3 days you were classed as a 'resident.' So what Jesus is explaining is that he will only be a visitor to the realm of death, and not a permanent resident.
This should give us the confidence to know that as Jesus followers and "in" Christ we also will not dwell in death, but follow Jesus to eternal life.
Reflection: John 2:1-12
In every marriage ceremony, there can be mistakes that take place. In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, we have a wedding scenario where the refreshments for all the guests were running out. If that happened the celebration wouldn’t have joy anymore.
Weddings in Israel are not like are wedding services today because the wedding celebration would usually last a week where the bride and groom were surrounded by their friends and family. In this famous wedding from Cana, we have no names of the bride or groom but only the names of two of the guests – Mary and her son Jesus.
Jesus and his disciples arrive on the third day – almost ½ way into the feast of the wedding. From our perspective, it looks like Jesus has bad time management because he arrives when supplies of food and drink were running out but this was the perfect time that people would recognize that they need him.
If we were there at the wedding feast, we can just imagine the beautiful bride looking worried and anxious about the shortage. We could even hear her say to her own mother
‘My wedding day is not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy but instead I’m worrying about what everyone is going to say about us when they discover that we have no wine left’.
Mary, Jesus mother might have been the one responsible for planning and co-ordinating the feast and would have been blamed for the embarrassment.
When Mary realized that there was a problem, she took the problem to Jesus. Some commentators believe that the bridal family may have been Jesus’ relatives, or perhaps it was even the wedding of one of his younger sisters. They believe that Mary was not asking for, or expecting, a miracle, but was saying, in effect,
“The arrival of you and your disciples has caused a problem. Please send some of them to purchase more wine.”
In the passage we gather that the family didn’t show great wisdom in how they planned the wedding feast but they did invite Jesus which turned out to be the wisest thing they did.
Jesus response towards his mum but it seems to be cold and hard to us. Some translations make it sound much harsher but I prefer the NIV translation that says:
‘Dear women, why do you involve me?’
Rather than addressing her as mother, he calls her ‘woman’. He is gently distancing himself from his mum and this indicates that their own relationship is changing. Until now, she had enjoyed special privilege as Jesus’ mother, but now she had to begin to learn how to be a disciple. This process would be painful for her.
If that was true for Mary, then it is also true for us. There are times when we bring our requests to God for what we think would bring joy into our lives that God’s response seems cold and hard. The response Jesus gave to his mum was to let her know that she was no longer in control. He was not going to do what she wanted when she wanted it because He was fully obeying his heavenly father.
The servants were are willing to be obedient. Obedience makes the possibility of joy to become a reality. Mary says to the servants
‘Do whatever He tells you to do.’
At that moment, Jesus ceases to be a guest and becomes the one who is in control and a miracle begins to happen. There were 6 stone jars and within each jar it had water because the Jews used the water for washing their hands with. The servants heard Jesus speak, and they responded in obedience. They began to fill the stone jars with water from the nearest well. Each jar held between 20-30 gallons of water so it took time and energy to accomplish the task. The servants filled the jars all the way to the brim.
Jesus commanded them to draw some and take what they drew to the Master of the Banquet for him to taste. Reading this verse in English gives us the impression that when the servants did this, they drew water out of the stone jars.
But the word draw out here means to take the water from the place where water settles, in other words not from the stone jar but from the well. The servants had spent time and energy filling the stone jars and to them it seemed that their own effort was wasted.
Jesus was interested in more than just seeing water change into wine because he wanted to change the servants too and in order to make that happen, he had to get them willing to serve his authority without questioning. Jesus didn’t need the servants work to do the miracle because he needed their obedience.
The servant then took the water that had been drawn out and presented it to the Master of the banquet. As far as we know, Jesus doesn’t say to the servant that He was going to perform a miracle and so the servants thought that they were carrying a cup full of water and not wine.
When the Master tasted the cup he got a mouthful of wine that was better than anything he had ever tasted before. Jesus had performed a miracle and brought a renewal of joy to the situation.
Two miracles happened on that day – 1st was changing water into wine and 2nd was Jesus’ disciples were changed because they put their own faith into Jesus which also applies for us that if we allow Christ to be within us there is cause for a celebration.
Let us pray together....
Eternal God, your greatness is shown through the miracles of Jesus, letting the world realize that you are very real. Thankyou for all the little miracles that you have allowed to happen in each of our lives and help each one of us to know your joy in our different circumstances we face today. Amen.
Bishop Gregory's January Pastoral Letter
We’re familiar, I suspect, with the story of the twelve disciples, who are an integral part of the story of Jesus in the Gospels. As sure as Snow White belongs with the Seven Dwarfs, so Jesus belongs with the twelve, if that isn’t too trivialising a thing to say. What is so fascinating in the Gospels is what a motley band the disciples are. They make a mess of things, they misunderstand, they question, they fail to believe and to follow. Over the course of the ministry of Jesus, however, they are forged into apostles, and Jesus is not afraid at his ascension to put the whole business of the Gospel of Salvation and the Church into their hands.
I was challenged before Christmas when someone said to me that they didn’t think that Christians today thought of themselves as disciples, and that people didn’t understand what a disciple was. It was a name which belonged in the Bible, but was hardly a contemporary description of faith, they said.
For me, the fundamental question of faith is whether I am a disciple. Faith is not an abstract exercise of the mind, it is how it affects my daily life. A disciple is one who learns: it is clearer in the Welsh, where disciple and pupil are the same word: disgybl. To be a Christian is to lay one’s life on the line, and to follow Jesus. We see the “crisis” of discipleship when Jesus calls the twelve – peremptorily – from their fishing or their tax collection or their political activism. He just turns up, it appears, and issues the invitation (we might be better saying “command”.) And they go with him, they leave their work, they leave their families, they set out on a journey from which, to tell the truth, they never return, and yet they come truly home. The gospels even tell us about one occasion when someone said “no”: a rich young aristocrat, who just couldn’t tear himself away from the privileges of his wealth (Mark. 10.17-27).
Jesus, I’m afraid, doesn’t call us to stay where we are, in the sense of saying our creeds with meaning, but otherwise going about our lives. He calls us to set out on a journey, away from the familiar, to become larger than we are, greater in spirit, holier in life, loving in service. Nor does he make it easy, “If anyone does want to come after me,” he says in Luke 9.23, “they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and so follow me.”
Are we frightened by this? Was it enough to be baptised or confirmed in the past, so that we need not heed the call that comes today or tomorrow, to go somewhere we don’t expect and to learn something new about the real meaning of life? This is what it is to be a Christian: to learn what God has in store for us and to follow it, to be a disciple. The disciples didn’t find following Jesus easy, and indeed, the Gospel according to John tells us that on one occasion Jesus’ teaching was so demanding that a lot of people gave up, and left. (John chapter 6, particularly v.66 ff) Jesus has to turn to the twelve, and say: “Are you lot off as well?” It is good old Simon Peter who replies on this occasion: “Where else could we go?”, he says, “You are the one who has the words which give eternal life.”
And that’s the promise – to follow Jesus, to go on the unexpected journey, is to discover the riches of a life beyond compare, beyond blessing. “He who would true valour see, let him come hither,” wrote John Bunyan in the seventeenth century. “One here will constant be, come wind, come weather. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent: to be a pilgrim.” Pilgrim follower, disciple. Are you a disciple? I can think of no better vocation, no more exciting journey in 2021 than to get up, shake off the lethargy or the disgruntlement, and to go through the door of life, and look to Jesus, who stretches his hand towards us, and for us to say to him: “Here I am, and where you lead, I will follow.”
Reflection: John 1:15-34
Who are you?
When someone want to know who you are, they ask ‘Who are you?’ 'What is your job?’ ‘What is your career?’ and we usually answer with ‘ I’m a teacher, a farmer or a truck driver’ Who we are is connected with what you do.
This isn’t always the way things have to be. A friend of mine said that when asked him 'who are you’ he spoke about His own family, he showed them pictures and usually said ‘I am the son of these parents’, or ‘I am the uncle of these wonderful children’.
Who are you is an important question with some important answers? As we think about that question, we can use this to focus on our bible reading from John’s gospel looking at three parts - who is John, who is Jesus and who are you?
Who is John? This question is just what the delegation sent from Jerusalem asks John. The group of priests and Levities arrive and ask ‘Who are you?’ and John says that ‘I am not the Christ’ very quickly and openly confessing that he is not claiming to be someone great but is a humble man. John gives a response that he is not Elijah either who was a prophet of God. John responds according to the opinion of the Jews that the literal exact same person – Elijah would return. John is not the same person or the soul of Elijah. As the questions keep coming to John, he makes his third denial. I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah, I am not the Prophet.
As we know from the other Gospel accounts, John the Baptist is a wild-haired, locust and honey eating figure who lives out in the desert. His activities have gained a lot of attention. Now he has come to the attention of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and there is at this time a great messianic expectation. Many people believed that the Messiah, the Christ, would come. The Jewish leaders were coming to investigate John to bring a report back to the Sanhedrin that they might determine what to think about John.
The delegation cannot go home empty handed so they ask – who then is he? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? John responds I am the voice of one crying out – He is a herald of the coming King. This reference is from our Old Testament reading Isaiah which prophesies that the glory of the Lord will be revealed. John is simply a voice.
Secondly, who is Jesus? John very quickly turns his attention to the members of the delegation – who is Christ? John explains three ways in which Christ is greater than he is. John starts by saying that he baptises with water, but the Christ will baptises with the Spirit. John’s baptism couldn’t take away sin. It was with water but Jesus’ baptism is with the Spirit. It gives life. The water sign-posts to a greater reality of being with the Father. The Spirit cleans away our sins.
Next John says that he is not worthy to untie his sandal. Untying the thong of his master’s sandal was the task of the lowest slave. Feet are dirty, gross and covered in all sorts of things like sand, sweat etc. John feels that he is not even to do the lowest of tasks for Christ.
Next John says that He who came after me ranks before me. Jesus comes after John, because Jesus is God, He has always existed. Being God, Jesus is holy, something neither John or humans can measure up to. Christ ranks before John. We see this throughout John’s ministry because it is all about someone greater than himself. He constantly points to Jesus. He is the witness, the herald, the voice, the one preparing the way for the coming King.
But we have more because Jesus is the Lamb of God. The Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. In various places in the Old Testament there are lamb sacrifices but all of these were insufficient to take away sin. The people of God needed a Messiah. Our other bible reading from 1 Peter tells us that this did indeed happen in Jesus Christ. “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that lamb without blemish or spot.”
The sacrifices of the Old Testament had no power whatever to atone for sins, but that they were only figures, the truth of which was manifested in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is the Lamb of God who also was revealed to John by a direct message from God. Christ is revealed to him from God. When John sees the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, remains on Jesus, he knows that Jesus was the Lamb of God.
Thirdly, who are you? What do you say about yourself?
Now we might answer with our profession, our family but have we ever said I am a Christian as a response to that question. What happened if we got questioned who are you and we say I am one who believes in Jesus Christ. My identity is rooted in God, I am forgiven by Jesus. John the Baptist bears witness to the Son of God, and we can hear his testimony but our choice is do we behold the Lamb? Do you see him in this passage and understand that Christ alone is here? If so we can believe in His word and trust in Him as our Saviour and our Lamb of God. Amen.
Reflection: John 1:1-14
We are beginning a new series on Sundays, preaching through the gospel of John.
In his introduction John writes that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. In his Gospel John presents evidence to prove that Jesus was God in the flesh. John likes the number 7, symbolic of perfection - he introduces 7 witnesses that Jesus was God
1) The Father (see John 12:28)
2) The Son (Jesus says "I am"= the Old Testament name of God, Exodus 3:14)
3) God the Holy Spirit (John 15:26)
4) The works of Jesus (eg feeding 5000)
5) The Scriptures (John 5:39)
6) Human Witnesses (eg the woman at the well in John 4)
7)John the Baptist (he testifies that Jesus is God)
John the goes on to say how faith in Christ brings light and life to those who believe in him.
Reflection: Revelation 22
This final chapter of the Bible speaks of a new beginning and a new blessing.
Notice the similarities between this chapter and where the Bible begins in Genesis 1/2: There is a river, trees of life and most importantly the presence of God. There is no church or temple in the new creation because God himself is present. Genesis begins in a garden with the presence of God, and Revelation ends in a garden city with the presence of God.
There are seven beatitudes or blessings in Revelation: 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 22:14. God blesses his new creation and those people who are part of it. Do you want to be there? There is only one way and that is through the washing, cleansing and forgiveness of Jesus. Only Holy people will be allowed in this garden city. We know we are not Holy, so the way is through Jesus who was Holy for us, and forgives us of our Unholiness.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Reflection: Revelation 21:1-8
We continue our sermon series by looking at Revelation 21. We find ourselves in the middle of the final scene of the entire Bible which is beyond the life and world we know, beyond God’s victory, beyond God’s final judgment. In these 8 verses we find seven truths that reveal more about God, so let’s explores these truths together.
The God who creates (verses 1-2)
John picks up the language from the Old Testament that God will create a new heaven and a new earth after this present heaven and earth passes away. Eugene Petersons describes this as
The biblical story began, quite logically, with a beginning.
Now it draws to an end, not quite so logically, also with a beginning.
The sin-ruined creation of Genesis is restored in the sacrifice-renewed creation of Revelation.
CS Lewis, wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and features this scriptural reading in his book ‘The last Battle’ in which he describes this transformation as the door being closed on the new Narnia as the faithful enter a new Narnia.
If you look throughout scripture God is one who creates, breathes life, speaks into everything and simply continues to create and is creating His people for himself. We hear about the Bride being prepared for her husband to help us understand that the new heaven is not a picture of our future home
The God who comes (verses 1-3)
The God who creates is the God who comes. God comes to dwell with His people in the fullest way possible, like the groom comes to be with His wife, to take her to himself forever. Throughout scripture God comes to His people even when the Israelites travel in the wilderness God says a promise to them that I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall by my people. This promise comes in many passages and they lead us to this verse to accept that God will continue to come to us His people.
The God who comforts (verses 4-5)
God who comes brings us comfort too. Look at verse 4 and think about every time we have carried a burden, ever tear that you had shed, every fear that’s ever gripped us, every worry about the future you’ve suffered under. John writes ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’
What are tears? Tears tell us about our soul as we shed tears it could be from the pain that cuts the soul such as sorrow, we experience. Tears can express other emotions such as despair or disappointment or of joy and gratitude. God who comforts us speaks to reassure us in the light of the suffering or joy that we experience in our everyday life.
The God who confirms (verse 5)
If there is any doubt in our minds about this kind of future, we must see here that the God who brings comfort also confirms us where we are. Think about these words from verse 5, trustworthy and true. Think about what these words mean to you? Or to those hearers from the seven churches mentioned at the start of Revelation. The challenges they and us face? Think about those words in the context of the rest of the letter and about the future for which they had to prepare themselves for.
They like us might be prone to doubt when things seem so dark and yet they needed to hear God’s word, we too need to hear this word, that these words are trustworthy and true.
The God who completes (verse 6)
God reassures us and confirms that His words are trustworthy and truthful and what’s interesting is that within verse 6 God’s declaration is in the third person. It means that these opening words of verse 6 ‘And he said to me, “They are done!”
What does John refer to as ‘these words’ – could it be the whole context point us to all the promises of God? God is telling us here that there is a day coming when every single promised of God will be perfectly fulfilled. When all will be finished.
We currently live day by day in the light of God’s promises and Jesus has fulfilled many promises and yet in our future and forever home, we will live day by day in a new world in which every promise of God has been fulfilled. We will dwell with, serve, worship the God who completes every one of His purposes and plans.
God tells us this by saying that in verse 6 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. God introduces himself in chapter 1 verse 8 as that Alpha and Omega. This bookends not only the letter of Revelation, but is points us to God’s position over all of history. The A-Z, the beginning to end, God is Lord over it all and everything in-between. Everything will work out to bring glory to Him and God has guaranteed us to be part of it.
The God who covers (verse 6)
Listen to these words ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’.
This promise again from Isaiah, this time from chapter 55 is another way of describing the future God has in store for us, you will be satisfied, forever. You will never be thirsty again ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. God can offer us something that is so valuable as the ‘water of life’ without payment but how? Because He is the God who covers. He has covered the cost by covering us with the blood of the Lamb – the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.
The God who calls (verses 7-8)
The passage ends on the God who calls. Verses 7-8 connects us back to chapters 2 and 3, forming yet another bookend about the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ‘one who conquers’ found at the end of all seven individual letters to the churches in Asia Minor. The promises to conquerors, the promises like the tree of life, the new Jerusalem, the protection from death, these promises are further described in these closing chapters.
What does it mean to conquer? It means to stand firm for Jesus, to the very end. Verse 8 uses the terms that describe the path of compromise for those who confess Christ. These are also the very temptations these churches faced, to be cowardly when called to stand for Jesus, to be faithless in the face of persecution, to go along with the murderous and immoral ways of the culture, to dabble with idolatry, to lie about God’s truth. The letter of Revelation is the voice of a God who calls us to not compromise but to stand. Stand to the vision of the future that inspires us and leads us into action.
So, what does God want to inspire you this morning?
The other bible reading we had from 2 Peter chapter 3 provides us one answer that gives us a very similar description of the end of all things. Peter writes,
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly...
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar,
and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Do you notice the parallels, and even the order of the events? Clearly Peter believes visions of what is to come can change our lives now; that holiness and godliness would be the qualities that characterizes us and not compromises us to the fading world. That life is fuelled by more than a vision of what is to come, it is inspired by a vision of who is to come. God comes, God creates, God comforts, God confirms, God completes, God covers, God calls is the God of new beginnings.
We as God’s people are moving forward toward a new beginning, something to encourage us that in some sense the future is now. In our responsibilities and relationships, in our feelings and our finances, in our circles and struggles, God shows himself to us and our hope is always in Him.
As Peter reminds us For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God... When you know and love and serve God, there are opportunities for God to bring a new beginning, in light of the new beginning that's to come. So, I finish with these words of truth, as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Amen.
Reflection: Revelation 19:4-10
This section of revelation describes a wedding supper between the bridegroom (Jesus) and the bride (the Church). It is the consummation of a relationship shown through the whole Bible:
-Betrothal: The Old Testament contains promises given by God to his people (the bride). Jewish weddings began at betrothal, something like engagement, but legally binding/
-Payment of the dowry. In Jewish weddings the groom had to pay an appropriate sum to the Father of the bride in order to marry. It is Jesus who 'pays' the Father with his life and death on earth in order to make the bride (the Church) his treasured possession. By forgiving sins the bride is made spotless and holy, dressed in pure white for the wedding.
-The wedding procession. At Jewish weddings, the groom would lead the guests in procession to pick up the bride from her house. This is the return of Jesus, who will in the future return in order to take his bride (the church) to be with him forever.
Blessed are those who are invited to this wedding feast. You are invited - have you responded to the invitation?
The right response to Jesus's invitation to be with him forever is repentance (putting God first in your life) and faith (trusting in the finished work of Jesus to clothe you in the white garments through his life and death)
Reflection: Revelation 14
Sermon Christ the King
We continue our preaching series looking at the letter of Revelation and I hope that as we explore this letter, we are learning together the challenges it presents to us.
We still might find it complicated or even confusing at times but when we do engage with this letter it is full of insights about our faith and gives us a wealth of knowledge about who God is.
As I was writing this sermon, I was watching on BBC1 the gameshow Pointless and when each contestant is greeted by Alexander Armstrong, I discovered that He usually asks three sets of questions:
Who are you?
Where do you live?
What do you do?
As I re-read Revelation 14 it offered a solution to these three pointless questions which we will explore this morning.
Who are we?
This question is about identity and identify appears in our contemporary culture. We live in an era of identity politics – we can cause great offence by falling to acknowledge aspects of the identity of those we are talking with. We know a lot more about our physical, biological and medical identity now these days now. But for me I am interested in genealogy – who are we – about my own past – understanding this identity for me from the past helps to understanding myself in the present.
To understand the five verses in Revelation chapter 14 we need to understand John the writer of Revelation who uses the lenses of a mathematician. John does his own theology through maths such as the number 144,000.
The number 144,000 has two parts – a product of 12x12 with 10x10x10. Part a the 12x12 is significant to John because in the Old Testament God chose 12 tribes of Israel to be God’s covenantal people.
Jesus himself chose 12 disciples to begin his renewal movement and so this number represents the place of God’s people, the continuity with God’s eternal promises from the Old Testament, the invitation to enjoy God’s blessing throughout history.
Throughout his letters Paul assumes that the followers of Jesus will read the Old Testament as their own story regardless of their own identity and as Paul says, we Gentiles have been grafted into the olive tree that is the Jewish people of God.
Part b of the number 10x10x10 is a cubed number as my oldest daughter reminded me which produces a distinctive shape. The shape of the cube is distinctive in scripture as well and could point to the shape of the Holy of Holies, which sat at the centre of the temple, the centre of Jerusalem, the centre of the nation. Here is a place where God’s holy presence comes from heaven down to earth. Jesus describes his own body as the new temple and Paul continues this image as Christian becoming the body of Christ or where the spirit dwells inside of us. Here in Revelation 14 it tells us the same thing so look at the people surrounding you or sitting near you, they too are holy places, where God dwells within them.
The second pointless question asks the contestants where they are from? Where are we or where do they live? Revelation 14 tells us who we are and immediately tells us where we live. If we are as I said before God’s temple, where would you expect to find us? Well ask a first century Israelite/Jew and they would probably answer you, in the holy city, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
People would have travelled a physical ascent, praising God as they climbed to the temple and sing and read psalms together such as from the prophet Isaiah 60:3 that Mount Zion would become a great high mountain to which all nations would be drawn to the presence of God.
We as Christians are not only located on Mount Zion in the presence of God but we are also living in places where god has called us to be. We live in two worlds, not to conform to one way of living but to set our values on Christ our King and His kingdom. We as God’s people are to live to His purposes, His plans, His ways which at times might look odd but the difference is that we walk the path of righteousness and a vision that endures for eternity.
What do we do?
Each constant give detail about their jobs and their hobbies but Revelation 14 gives us a clear answer for us: we sing!
You might like singing or not like singing – some churches are currently like ours have no singing or having singing from the front that the congregation can listen to rather than join in with. But for me singing makes a real difference. Sing transforms our souls and makes a real difference to people who suffer from anxiety or depression.
We have a song which is not sung, we who were lost in our woundedness, in our sin, in our pride, have been ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven! We who were far off have been brought near, we who have no hope can have hope in the God who sent His son into our world to save us. For me that is our song we have to sing!
As we sing this song it becomes the voice of God to others, as we speak, we might even catch the same vision as John did of ‘the rushing of waters and the peal of thunder’ to help us understand that God is real, God is holy, God is love. We can sing this song together as we declare His praises who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light in order that others will be invited to join in the song. It is a song that can only be sung by those who know God’s ways a song which is not just sung with our lips, but with our lives.
So, these three pointless questions are anything but pointless! Revelation 14 tells us who we are, where we live and what we are to do.
Today and this week, let us receive God’s gift of a new identity in Christ, to rest in His grace and to commit once more to live the life His is calling us to do. Amen.
Reflection: Revelation & Remembrance
Sacha Baron-Cohen disguised as 'Ali G' once did a spoof interview with Major General Ken Perkins, one of Britain's most distinguished army officers. Amongst the questions he asked was whether the General thought of changing sides during World War 2 when things were not going well for Britain.
This was obviously meant as a joke. However, as Christians we can often be tempted to give up or change sides when the spiritual battle is very intense and challenging. It is here that the book of Revelation can help us.
Of course looking bad on the Second World War we would say a person wanting to switch sides from the Allies to the Germans/Japanese would be stupid - because we know the outcome - the Allies won. In the same way Revelation urges us not to give up or switch sides because the battle is won and Satan has been defeated and will be cast into away for eternity.
Reflection 15th November 2020: Revelation 13
Revelation 13 can be understood by looking at Daniel 7 in the Old Testament. The beast from the sea is found to the state or political power. There are a series of contrasts..
The Real Trinity vs The false trinity
(Father, Son & Spirit) vs (Dragon and Beasts)
Worship of the slain lamb vs Worship of the wounded beast
(Jesus dies on the cross) vs (the political parody)
The mark of the lamb vs The mark of beast
(the mark is a sign of ownership and belonging)
777 vs 666
(God's perfection) vs (human imperfection)
Lessons for now
-Do not worship the state. We must worship the true and living God. It is interesting to think how the Government views churches in Wales - during the recent lockdown churches were allowed to stay open for weddings and funerals, but not for corporate worship. The Government does not think that worship is a priority.
-Remember Christians are in a spiritual battle. Our main weapon is prayer. The political world operates through petitions, protest marches and lobbying. We have to recognize as Paul did: Ephesians 6:12 "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
Remembrance Reflection: Nove.mber 2020
Recalling 11th November 1918 Corporal Clifford Lane said...
"the Armistice itself was an a kind of anticlimax. We were too far gone, too exhausted to enjoy it. All we wanted was to go back to our billets, there was no cheering, no singing, no alcohol. We celebrated in silence and thankfulness that it was all over. We were drained of all emotion."
Every year we remember with silence and thankfulness those who have served our nation during times of war. This year our remembrance will be different due to the Church being closed and the parade cancelled. There will still be a service at the Rhyl war memorial, but it will be by invitation only. However, we can all still pay our respects, which may involve a quiet visit to the war memorial during this week.
We have been looking at the book of Revelation, and chapter 12 verse 7 speaks of war breaking out in heaven between angels. War was not part of God's original creation which is described as "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Instead war has come on earth as the result of sin, usually the that of pride, greed and envy. We all long for an end to war and peace across the whole earth, For this to happen the root cause (sin) must be dealt with. Although Jesus triumphed over sin on the cross, it is still an earthly reality until his return - when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Then we will enjoy everything without the presence of sin, meaning no more death, mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 29:4).
O Arglwdd Dduw, a roddaist i ni wlad ein tadau yn draftadaeth, cynorthwya dy weision, i gadw Dy ddeddfau yn etifeddiaeth inni dros fyth, nes y down i'r wlad well a nefol a baratoaist i ni, trwy lesu Grist ein Harglwydd.
Reformation Day 31st October: Reflection
On October 31st 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Church Door in Wittenberg, an event that began the Protestant Reformation.
Ten years later the plague came to Wittenberg and, while others around him fled, Martin Luther, along with his pregnant wife Katie, stayed—against advice—to care for the sick. Although he was never personally infected, Luther felt a pastoral responsibility to stay and serve. Indeed, Luther penned his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” around this time. But what was the right response to plague—fight or flight, remain or retreat? This was a pressing question for many, and Pastor Johann Hess from Breslau (modern day Wroclaw in Poland) wrote to Luther and asked for his advice. So, Luther responded, with a thoughtful piece of pastoral theology, entitled: “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.”
What is clear from the outset is that Luther recognises that Christians may in good conscience hold different ethical answers to this question. He notes that the “strong” may firmly believe that “one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague.” That is good and commendable. But since it is generally true that there are few strong Christians like this, then we ought not place the burden to remain on everyone. Indeed, the two main groups who Luther believes must remain during the plague are ecclesiastical office holders and civil office holders such as mayors, judges, and so forth. Preachers and pastors must remain because that is what good shepherds do: just like Christ Jesus, good shepherds lay down their life for their sheep. Public office holders must remain because God has appointed governing authorities and they ought not to abandon the care of their communities. There is a third group of which Luther speaks, a more ambiguous but nevertheless important group: persons who stand in a relationship of service or duty toward one another, such as masters and servants; mistresses and maids; parents and children, and so forth.
It contains some good counsel for those in Christian ministry: first, admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so they can learn through God’s word how to live and how to die; secondly, everyone should prepare themselves to meet God by confessing their sins, and being reconciled with their neighbours; and if someone wants a pastoral visit, ensure it is done quickly before the patient is overwhelmed with disease. Surpassing even that eminent wisdom, Luther’s treatise provides one of the most profound Christological motivations for staying to serve the suffering. He writes:
“This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, ‘As you did to one of the least, you did it to me’ [Matt 25:40].”
Adapted from an article in Churchman by Mark Earngey
Sunday Reflection 25th October: Revelation 12
When looking at difficult passages in the Bible it is always good to remember the context. So far as we have looked at Revelation we have seen:
-The book is written to encourage Christians facing difficulties
-Revelation is the same story told 7 times, covering the time from Jesus's time on earth until his return in the future
-Often Revelation uses Old Testament imagery
Knowing these three things helps us understand Revelation 12.
There are 3 characters: the dragon (satan v9), the woman and the child. The identity of the woman and child can be discovered through reading Isaiah 66:7-12. The woman represents God's people and the child is Jesus (v5 references Psalm 2:9).
Revelation 12 therefore gives the story of Satan's futile attempts to defeat Jesus. He fails, and Jesus is victorious over him through his death on the cross (v11).
So the significance for us is that the chapter shows us that we are part of a wider cosmic battle, but it is a battle Jesus has won. When we feel under pressure because of our faith we need not despair as the victory is won. Satan attacks the Church and Christians furiously, precisely because he knows his days are numbered (v12).
October Pastoral Letter from Bishop Gregory
t does us good sometimes to look at the big picture – to stand back and remember our basic orientation as the people of God. When talking about the Christian message, the Church often says that it commissioned to proclaim “Good News”, and we do need to be good news for the people whom we encounter and serve. Part of that good news – the core of it in fact – is the belief that God is on our side, and enters into this world to bring us salvation. But what is salvation, and how does it speak into our present times?
I’ve often thought that Christianity is a very realistic religion because it begins with the fact that human beings mess things up. We do well on many things, of course - art and science and civilization. However, we also give in to darker impulses, greed and hatred and prejudice and sin. This operates on two levels – we fail as a society, and we fail as individuals, to live up to what God desires of us. This might be rather gloomy were it not for what comes next – God loves us, and is committed to our salvation. “Herein is love,” says the scriptures, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.10)
There can be said to be a double giving by God in Jesus – first, comes the Incarnation, celebrated at Christmas, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14). By becoming human, God in Christ sanctifies creation, and unites heaven and earth. Yet Jesus’ life finds its climax in the crucifixion, at Easter, when God in Christ gives himself up to death on the cross: “God forgave us all our sins; he cancelled the unfavourable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2.14). To be a Christian is to enter into the mystery of Christ, to be baptised into his body, to share in the incarnation, and in his death and resurrection, to become inheritors of salvation and eternal life. I might just as well reference the whole of the Letter to the Romans here, as the opening chapters go into great depth about this, but let me choose one verse: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6.23). God wants all of us to grow into fullness of life. He tackles the mess we make of things by taking on the whole of human life in Jesus, and winning the battle for us. This is all gift: “… to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1.12). To sum it up in one word that I used last month: it is atonement, God and humanity through Christ are brought together to be “at one”.
In the same way that “sin” (what I’ve described as “humans messing up”) operates on two levels, the individual and the societal, so does salvation: individuals are invited into eternal life; while together we are invited, under God, to build His Kingdom, and to be bearers of peace and justice.
“If God is on our side, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31). To know Christ is therefore to know eternal life and to receive the hope of salvation, when we will be made whole, and when society is brought into the reality of God’s vocation of a redeemed, just and whole society – the Kingdom of God. This should give us hope in every situation, because if we know the destination, life – with all its troubles and challenges – is the process of journeying there. “For I am sure,” wrote Paul, “that he who began this good work in you will bring it to completion.” (Philippians 1.6). Even Covid cannot stop it; even death cannot defeat it.
How does this speak into our present situation? It means that putting our hands into the hand of God, of walking with him, makes the hope of salvation the context in which everything else takes place. In Covid, we struggle, we fear, we are forced into new ways. We face bereavement, and illness, and the opportunity to love. Yet “… I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29.11). Can we be people of hope and joy at this time? Can we be people who truly believe, and embrace God’s gift in Christ? And if you want some homework, take the opportunity perhaps, to sit down this week, and to read, in one sitting, Romans Chapters 1 to 8. Whether it is new or familiar – it speaks of Christian hope.
May God bless you, Gregory
Sunday Reflection 18th October: Revelation 10
Over the past few months, God has blessed us with the opportunity to study the letter of Revelation. This morning we have arrived at chapter 10. Just as a reminder we are looking at the third layer of the letter of Revelation a bit like the third layer of a cake. This section is from chapter 8 till chapter 11 and John is watching within the throne room. The sealed scroll representing God’s plan has been opened by the Lamb of God who we know is Jesus Christ and Jesus breaks open the seals.
In chapters 8 and 9 it is revealed the sound of the first six trumpets representing great wars, plagues, oppression, judgments which Glen spoke about last week.
For this this morning we look at chapter 10 and we see three things that help us understand how God will bring judgment in three ways:
1. An angel that John sees
2. An Oath that John hears
3. A calling that John receives
An angel that John sees
Have you ever experience seeing or encountering an angel?
Angels are among us and lots of people experience angelic encounters. For me when I hear or have had that experience, we need to acknowledge that God is close. Many people think that angels only appeared during Biblical times, but angels appear every day to everyday people.
However back to our scripture we are told that John sees an angel. Now John has seen all sorts of angels so far, the seven angels of the seven churches, the angels that surround the throne of God, the living creatures who worship God day and night. John saw a crowd of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and then thousand times ten thousand: whilst encircling the throne. John sees here another angel but not an ordinary angel. It is an absolutely magnificent angel:
(Rev 10:1-2) Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. (2) He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land ...
What is so different about this angel? This angel is a colossus, a giant. Because the angel has one foot on the land and the other food in the sea. Not a little cherub portrayed in many stain glass windows as little childlike figures but more as my oldest daughter pointed out like the Big Friendly Giant.
Furthermore, this angel reflects the glory of God? The features that are used elsewhere to describe the Father and the Son are used here to describe this angel. ‘Robed in a cloud’ often mentioned in the bible when the presence of God is near like Moses on Mount Sinai or Jesus’ own transfiguration. Notice the language that is used for God is also used for this angel. This shows us that the angel comes from the very presence of God himself.
“With a rainbow above his head” The rainbow was in the heavenly throne room. When God’s people think of the rainbow they remember the flood and God’s promise. The rainbow speaks of God’s mercy towards Noah and His justice towards the unbelieving.
“His face was like the sun”. John portrays Jesus in his first vision in Revelation 1 as Jesus’ face shinning like the sun in all its brilliance.
This angel reflects the glory of God in many ways and is holding a scroll.
Remember how John wept and wept because no one could open the scroll or even look inside it? But then the lion who is a lamb came and took the scroll and opened the seals one by one.
Here in the angel’s hand is the same scroll – You might say to me it can’t be the same scroll because in chapter 5 it is called a scroll and here it is called a little scroll and in chapter 5 it is closed whereas here it is open. Well in the Greek, it is the same word used in both places and Jesus opened the scroll, Jesus has split the scroll open to reveal its contents. Jesus passes the little scroll to the angel and at the end of this chapter John eats the scroll.
Why then called it a little scroll? Think who is holding it! In the hand of the huge angel and it must have looked very small and John is required to eat it so it can’t be too big.
So, John sees an angel and hears an oath
John hears a number of things, the voice of the mighty angel roaring of a lion, the roar triggers a response but what did they speak? We aren’t told because John was not allowed to write down their message.
(Rev 10:4) And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down."
This part of chapter 10 echoes Daniel 12:4, where Daniel is told to ‘Close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.’
In others words, it is God who determines when Daniel’s vision is to be revealed and according to His will, that time has not yet come. Likewise, here, God according to His will, has determined that the message of the seven thunders is not ready to be revealed but God is in control.
The mighty angel is about to swear an oath so what exactly is the oath John hears – There will be no more delay – delay of what? Judgment? Justice? Earth?
(Rev 10:6,7) There will be no more delay. (7) But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
What mystery is this oath? Well, the mystery of the gospel message, announcing God’s kingdom to be done.
No more delay – but how do we know for sure? Well a clue maybe on how the angel is standing? He planted a foot on the sea and a foot on the land. In the bible to have your foot on something shows your sovereignty over it such as psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
This sovereignty applies to Jesus – think of the image of a mighty conqueror stands with his foot on the chest or head or neck of the captured enemy. He is sovereign. He is in control. The mighty angel stands over the land and sea ad thunder out ‘no more delay’
There is more in chapters 12 and 13 we meet a great red dragon and the beast comes from the sea and the earth. The mighty angel, as God’s representative, has authority and sovereignty over both land, sea and over these beasts as well, God has authority of the worst that Satan can offer.
Lastly John receives a calling.
(Rev 10:8) Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: "Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land."
Can you imagine John, going on is own to the huge gigantic angel? John needs a command and the angel provides Him one.
Rev 10:9) So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth, it will be as sweet as honey."
This again is familiar from the Old Testament but from Ezekiel 2 and 3.
(Ezek 2:9-3:3) Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, (10) which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. (1) And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel." (2) So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. (3)
Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it." So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
How can the word of God be sweet in the mouth and sour in the stomach? To receive the Word of God is a delightful thing, a wonderful thing, a blessing. Ezekiel was so blessed to receive there was no bitterness as we called people to repent and turn back to God.
John also finds the word of God sweet in the mouth, which could be that this revelation from God is joyful, look at verse 11.
"You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings."
God has ordained and commanded John to not ignore what God is doing but instead tell His story, write it down what God has shown. John’s message is not just for him but for the world. It is the message of the angel, no more delay, repent and turn back to God, sin and be forgiven by God, mess up in your life and come running back to God.
The passage should also affect us, to know that God is sovereign over everything even the hardest thing we face, he has the power to overcome it, it should affect our relationship with God that God wants us to turn to him. It also effects our prayer life to be like John, to experience both the bitterness and the sweetness, to have our hearts broken for those without Christ and that our mouths might be opened to tell other how much God has done for us.
God works on our hearts as we share, forming in us a heart like the heart of Jesus so that we will truly be His witnesses in the world today. Amen.