Monthly Archives: January 2017

22nd January – Matthew 4:12-33

There is a saying about leopards – I guess you know the one I mean … “Leopards never change their spots”. We use it to talk about someone who has been in prison, or someone who we have caught lying, or someone who has offended us. We can’t believe it when they seem to have changed. And we are convinced that their motives must be odd or that eventually their true base character will show through.

There are other similar phrases:

“Truth will out:” I guess this means that the truth will become known eventually, you can’t hide who you really are for ever. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – Launcelot says:

“it is a wise father that knows his own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of your son: give me your blessing: truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.”

The hidden things we have done and the parts of who we are that we want to hide will always eventually come to the surface and become known.

“Once a thief, always a thief:” … or  Once a cheat, always a cheat. These suggest that once you have learned to behave in a particular way you will always revert to type!

I have heard the same formula used in a different way. … “Once a priest, always a priest,” and: “Once a bishop, always a bishop.” … I’ll leave you to decide whether those are positive or negative! … However, what they share is a conviction that a person who’s done a certain kind of job will always have the characteristics of people who do that job, even after he or she no longer does that kind of work.

Is this right? Are we defined by our past?

the-ugly-duckling-storyHans Christian Anderson tells a very familiar story whose main point is  that ugly ducklings can become beautiful swans. We know that ugly caterpillars can become amazing butterflies, tadpoles do become frogs and toads. Things do change.

In our Gospel reading today we hear the story of people being called by Jesus. He chooses them to follow him. James and John, Andrew and Simon Peter.

They encounter Jesus and in so doing are changed for ever.

We don’t know that much about Jesus disciples. We do know quite a bit about Peter. We know that, like James, John and Andrew, he was a fisherman. But we know more than that. What was Peter like?

… Hot-tempered, always making mistakes, a rough diamond, not someone to suffer fools gladly, someone who lived a hard life, a no-nonsense kind of guy. … Perhaps a typical country fisherman.

And then Peter meets Jesus. Something in this person, Jesus, changes Peter for ever. It doesn’t all happen in an instant, but it starts to happen as Peter listens to Jesus speak and when he sees Jesus’ miracles. He is changed as he follows Jesus.

“Peter, I have a job for you, follow me,” Jesus says. Peter I can see the potential in you, I can see who you will become. Peter I want you to be my fisherman now – only you’ll be catching not fish but men and women to be my followers.

And we know how the story ends – this ugly ducking of a man becomes a Swan – he becomes one of Jesus most faithful followers and eventual becomes the leader of the church.

In our Gospel, Jesus does not just call Peter – he calls Andrew, James and John to be his followers. And in just the same way he calls each of us to follow him. Rough diamonds that we are, self-deprecating or over confident, angry or depressed, rude and negative, fearful or fearless, strong or weak, trapped in difficult relationships. All of us called to be his followers, his ambassadors.

And you know, just like Peter, there is potential for change in each of us. Jesus can take me, he can take you, and he can transform us. We no longer need to feel that we are no good – just like Peter we can admit to God our weakness and our failings and then God urltakes us as we are and makes something special.

Please forgive all the mixed metaphors. … We no longer need to feel like the Ugly Ducking, for God in Jesus sees the Swan that we really are – and as we give ourselves to God – he draws out all the good that is in us. It really is a case for us that a leopard’s spots can change!

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15th January 2017 – John 1:29-42

Over the last few weeks, our lectionary readings have contained a series of revelations about Jesus.

On Christmas Day, we heard John’s revelation of Jesus as “the Word, who from the very beginning was with God and was God but also the Word made flesh living among us.”

At Epiphany, we heard of the wise men and their gifts, showing Jesus to be a king, worthy of worship and one destined to die.

Last week, at Christ’s Baptism we heard God’s revelation: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

These revelations actually took place over a period of thirty years. But for us, heard in the space of four weeks, they are rather more intense.  Each week, learn more of Jesus’ being and purpose. Today is no different.

1Today John announces to the crowd gathered around him at the Jordan “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” A few sentences later he says that Jesus is “the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.”   And he goes on to remind everyone that Jesus is God’s son.   Then Andrew tells his brother that the Messiah, the Anointed has been found.

Jesus’ appearances seem to come thick and fast, quicker and quicker. Chapters 1 and 2 of John’s Gospel seem to emphasise this. So, in today’s reading: v29: the next day John saw Jesus coming; v35: the next day John watched Jesus walk by; then v43: the next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee; and Chapter 2 v 1: On the next day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee!

It is almost as though John, the writer of the Gospel is feeling a great deal of intensity as he writes. “I must get this across,” he says to himself, “I must.” He seems desperate to make sure that his readers know Jesus’ credentials as fully and as quickly as he can relay them.

Indeed, after the opening of the gospel it seems to markedly slow down, the intensity drops and the reader has more time to reflect on who Jesus is – through stories and accounts of Jesus’ conversations.

Next week, we return to Matthew’s gospel for a number of weeks and get chance to see how Jesus’s ministry progresses. It’s also an opportunity to see whether he actually lives up to the titles that have been revealed to us over the last few weeks.  So it is almost as though our Gospel reading is asking us to take stock of the names, and roles, that have been showered on Jesus.  We are invited to take all this information that we have been given about Jesus, make sure we understand what it means and then use this in the coming weeks to help us understand the unfolding story of the next three years of Jesus= life.

In this blog, we can only scratch the surface of what John, the Gospel writer, hopes we will understand about Jesus.

Lamb of God.”  John the Baptist expected his listeners to recall pictures from the Old Testament; the lamb provided by God for Abraham to slaughter, the lamb of Isaiah 53, led to the slaughter for the sins of God=s people; the Passover Lamb from Exodus.  The word ‘lamb’, for John’s listeners connected strongly with words like ‘sin’ or ‘atonement’ – the way in which we can be reconciled with God despite our wrongdoing.

This Lamb is given by God – a gift from him. We can’t provide for our own atonement, instead God reaches out to us to draw us back to him.

The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the whole world,” says John the Baptist. Jesus will take away all sin, everyone’s sin. There is nothing exclusive or limited. Nothing narrow. No sin too heinous, no wickedness too terrible! Listen to the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn:

    Not all the blood of beasts, on Jewish altars slain,

   Could give the guilty conscience peace

   Or wash away its stain.

   But Christ the heavenly Lamb, Takes all our sin away;

   A sacrifice of nobler name, And richer blood than they                   

   Believing, we rejoice, To see the curse remove;

   We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice, And sing his wondrous love.

Baptiser with the Spirit.”   John the Baptist baptised people into a readiness for the coming of the Messiah. In the early church, baptism initiated people into the family of God.  Jesus, however, welcomes us into God’s kingdom by giving the Holy Spirit.  Jesus gives us the same gift as he received at his baptism – God’s spirit to guide us and lead us. And this is particularly important every time we baptise someone in our churches. When we baptise we incorporate people into the same family as Jesus, they become children of God, children of the Holy Spirit.

Son of God.” Jesus’ relationship with God was made explicit at his Baptism. He is loved by God – he is ‘the beloved’.   At Jesus baptism we are shown something of the closeness and intimacy between God and Jesus. It is only the one loved by God. The one who was with God, who was God. Only that one can secure salvation – no other.

Messiah.” At the beginning of the first century, there was intense speculation about the Messiah, the ‘anointed one’.  In the Old Testament, anointing was used to describe the way in which people were appointed for special tasks, and given God’s spirit to enable them to carry out this task.   People were waiting for a Messiah – a kingly figure embodying God’s rule.  Andrew calls Jesus, ‘Messiah’. He recognises Jesus as the long awaited king who would fulfil the Old Testament prophecies and bring about God’s reign on earth.

Lamb of God, Baptiser with the Spirit, Son of God, Messiah – John, the Gospel writer’s names for Jesus. John wants us to carry these names with us as we read his Gospel. It is as though he says to us, “You will only understand my message fully if you realise that this is what I want to show you. Here is the one who by his life and death fulfils these roles and in doing so brings hope.”

As we read the Gospels lets use these names to inform our reading and to help us understand for ourselves just who Jesus is: Lamb of God, Baptiser with the Spirit, Son of God, Messiah.

The Servant of the Lord – Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3:13-17

The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:27 – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Travel with me in your imagination, back to another time and place. … You might want to close your eyes. … It’s an unbelievable place. It has a sense of heavy quietness about it. You might know what I mean. I suppose, it’s like a cathedral. People are talking to each other in hushed tones. … Yet it still feels quiet.

Countless people from every nation under the sun are here. Some splendidly dressed in their finery, some carrying the tools of their trade – blacksmiths, … jewellers, … carpenters. Others, clearly with little money, have made every effort to look their best. It is the 5th Century BC and as we scan the room we can see people of authority and power; Kings of Babylon, Media, Persia and Egypt stand erect and tall with their courtiers in attendance. Other kings and queens from unknown parts of the world are also here – Incas, Aztecs, Chinese, Indian and Ceylonese – everyone is here, with their monarchs standing proud in front of them.

This is no ordinary cathedral, it’s too grand and large for that. The walls – too far away to see, the roof – higher and wider than anything we’ve ever seen. No columns hinder the view. The splendour of the room is beyond telling – it’s as though everything is covered in gold, and silver, and precious jewels. … Yet despite all this beauty everything in the room seems to point to its centre.

On a raised platform is a magnificent throne. It’s like looking at the sun –  seemingly all of the light in the room comes from that throne – … it is dazzlingly bright. It seems that wherever you are in the room the throne dominates your view.

Suddenly everyone is aware of someone on the throne – the hushed conversation draws quiet. This is the moment we’re waiting for. … As our host stands up and moves forward the brightness which had seemed to come from the throne moves too. No one needs to say anything – everyone just knows who this is. The whole room is first on its knees, and then flat on its face before GOD.

Our invitation to the heavenly court, says that GOD will be announcing his plans. Plans that mean declaring a chosen nation who will know God, and who’ll make his character known throughout the world. … All of the kings and queens are ready – jealously wondering which of them GOD will choose. …………………. One word from God and everyone is standing again; eagerly straining to see who it is. … Who has GOD chosen? ………….. From the back of the hall, somewhere behind the King of Babylon, a scruffy beggar stands and walks unsteadily forward to the throne. Some in the crowd look the other way as he passes, others try to stop him. It is only the voice of GOD which holds them still.

GOD welcomes the beggar and crowns him … ‘The Servant of the Lord‘. … It turns out that he is Israel, one of the small nations that have been conquered by Babylon. Insignificant, unimportant and of no consequence. What is God doing, choosing this non-entity, this tiny country, Israel? ….

As you think about that question, take a moment to adjust back to being here, wherever you are now, reading this blog …………….

servant-songsThis is the picture that chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah want us to see. Israel was a nation on its knees. Its people were in exile, depressed, defeated and angry; … God must have deserted them for ever – or so it seemed. A once proud nation, they were now snivelling with self-pity, full of shame and guilt. … In Isaiah 40 and 41 it is almost as though God whispers words of encouragement to this beggar Israel as he walks forward through the jealous and condemning ranks of the nations. Listen to his words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.

My people, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, “You are my servant”; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

In Isaiah 42, God presents Israel to the nations as his servant. God confirms his love and protection of Israel and commissions Israel to serve him again.

With hindsight, we know that Israel never lived up to its calling. As Christians we see these passages of Isaiah pointing forward to another Servant of the Lord, to Jesus. The one who through death and resurrection brings healing to the distressed, binds up the wounded and releases all sorts of captives from prison. In our Gospel reading Jesus receives the same kind of blessing from God:thisismybelovedsonlistentoh

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

But even with Jesus this passage has not been fully fulfilled. Jesus once said: “As the Father sent me so I send you.” Jesus passes on to us both the privileges and responsibilities of being the Servant of the Lord. We are called to bring justice, to be a light to the nations. Ultimately, it is us that God is speaking to in the Isaiah passage. He wants us to hear his encouragement as he picks us up, dusts us down and sets us on our way again.

God knows that we so easily see ourselves as Israel saw itself – depressed and defeated – often struggling with self-pity, and full of shame and guilt. Or at times we see ourselves as right when others are wrong, we seek to build ourselves up at others expense, we cannot hear God’s love for us because we are so busy trying to establish our own reputation against that of others.

And we are no different to Israel. Weak, mis-understood, seemingly at the end of ourselves, seemingly without answers to the problems of our day and if we are not very careful, seeing everyone else as the problems rather than ourselves. Whether it be our lack of numbers, the suffering and injustice of our world or the disregard of spiritual things by so many people, we have no overwhelmingly obvious, argument settling answers to the difficulties that life brings. Yet God speaks to us in the same way as he spoke to Israel. “You are my servants,” he says. God speaks to us in the same way that he spoke to Jesus ….

“My son, my daughter, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

God wants us to hear his words of comfort, to hold onto them as our own. To listen to his challenge to bring justice, to bring his assurance and to shed his light into the lives of those outside of the church community. God wants us to be those who show love and compassion, who because we are loved by God give space for others to flourish, God wants us to be those who because we are loved do not need to compete for affection and status, a people who build others up rather than tear them down.url

The truth is that it is our recognition of our own weakness that’ll mean that God can work through us to bring healing to our world.

I Corinthians 1:27 – But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.