Sunday Reflection – 28/2/21

Dear Church Family

I write this as the sun is revealing Tollerton at it’s beautiful Spring best. The daffodils are opening in the garden to join this years awesome display of snowdrops and there is the beginning of the feel that this long hard start to 2021 is giving away to the green shoots of recovery. Our awesome NHS has survived the worst that COVID can throw at it and we were heartened to read that the threat level has been officially lowered from 5 (the highest) to 4 (still under great pressure). We now have a tentative road map forward toward greater normality and, for us, discussions will begin next month as to when we can return to in-person services at St. Peter’s.

The bishop’s ‘Start the Day’ picks up some of these things and ends with a  lovely encouraging worship song. (look out for the daffodils!).
Bishop Paul and Sarah read from Psalm 57 and speak about the new freedom and confidence that comes through worship as our souls wake up to the presence of God.

‘My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;

I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul!’ Ps 57v7

Thank you to Joanne Arton and Neil Wilson for the beautiful song: Awake my soul!

Bible passage

As we look to a brighter future, the bible passage set for this weekend has a different trajectory. Jesus and the disciples are entering their period of greatest trial and Jesus seeks to prepare them for it.

(Mark 8:31)  He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.”

(32)  He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it. But Peter grabbed him in protest.

(33)  Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”

(34)  Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.

(35)  Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.

(36)  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

(37)  What could you ever trade your soul for?

(38)  “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”

Here are three thoughts out of the passage.

It is necessary? Verse 31

Why? This is the favourite cry of the toddler and the teenager. My parents took the old fashioned line of saying ‘because I say so’. Children (and adults for that matter) never ask the why question about something nice. Why do I have to have my favourite chocolates as birthday present? This is a phrase never expressed. If Jesus had said to the disciples ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to take his authority, dismiss the Romans and the corrupt authorities and reward his disciples with wealth, long life and happiness’, not one of the disciples would have said ‘bad idea Lord’. With the benefit of hindsight and 2000 years of Christian theology we know that the season of suffering leading up to Easter was the path to defeating the cosmic enemies of death and sin. Even then, there is much about redemptive suffering that we do not fully understand. What we do know however is that most of our periods of spiritual growth have happened when we have gone through tough times. In those times we have had to up our levels of trust. Our faith has carried us through those times in a way that being spoon feed blessings could have never done.

What is the real you? Verse 35

All of us want to be the best person that we can be. At one stage, I had a whole shelf in my study that could be labelled spiritual self-help. Titles like- ‘How to be a better leader’ and ‘7 Habits of Highly successful people’ – the list goes on. In the end, they didn’t help much and some of them made me feel worse. As a good Anglican, I should have gone to the collect for the third Sunday in Lent. Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. The best way to get the most from anything is to go back to the maker’s instructions. Only God knows us for what we are and what we can be. We are at our best when we are what and who he made us to be. The ‘real us’ emerges when we allow the maker to bring it out. We are the product of divine love. That love is giving and self-sacrificial. When we live that out we find the deepest reality.

Can we lose ourselves? Verse 36

Peter (our patron saint!) got many things right and also made some spectacular mistakes. He thought that he understood what his master wanted and how it could be obtained. He was impetuous and, like all impetuous people, he wanted to take the shortest route from A to B. He discovered Jesus as Lord and King and knew that Jesus had the power to call on the legion of angels to make it happen. Jesus who knew his true self also knew the father’s will and the father’s timing. He knew that, when the time was right, the legion of angels would come. He also knew that there were no short cuts to establishing The Kingdom. The path to that Kingdom was narrow long and painful. It was literally the Via Delarosa -the road to the cross. We all wish that finding our true selves will be easy, but it never is. It is spelt out in verse (34)  Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.

May God bless us all this Lent and help us all to real and deeper faith

Alan Howe

Sunday Reflection – 21/2/21

Dear Church Family

Greetings once again, as we head deeper into Lent. We hope you found the Ash Wednesday act of worship helpful. It has been heartening to see some progress this week with falling figures and increasing numbers of people vaccinated. We wait to see what Monday brings to discover the plan for returning to more normal existence. The weather does its usual seasonal yo-yoing and the bishop’s reflection progresses from snow to snowdrops. I attach the usual link below for this week’s ‘Start the Day’, as Bishop Paul and Sarah read from Psalm 50 and speak about how we can wander from the good path God’s sets before us without even seeming to notice.

Lent is a season to search our hearts as the Holy Spirit draws back into the good purposes God has for our lives and our world.

The passage set for this Sunday is Mark’s version of Jesus in the wilderness.

(Mark 1:9)  At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

(10)  The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him.

(11)  Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

(12)  At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild.

(13)  For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.

(14)  After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God:

(15)  “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

With Mark’s usual frantic paced economy of words, he sums up, in one sentence, what Matthew takes 11 verses to cover and Luke 13 verses. In the six verses above Mark not only gives the crux of the wilderness experience but the precursor and the follow up as well. In offering my reflections on this, I can neither match the economy or the potency of his account, but I will seek to ask what the three phases of this passage might be saying to us against the backdrop of our third lockdown and what feels like a almost a year in the wilderness.

Phase One: Verses 9 & 10 His baptism.

The baptism itself was part of a journey. The literal translation could mean ‘he came out of’ and ‘he was on the way to’. Many of us will not remember our baptism but may recall our confirmation. I was fortunate to have been both baptised as an adult at 16 (in a Baptist Church) and confirmed as an Anglican at 19. Both experiences were deeply meaningful. Both were opportunities to express my desire to follow Jesus. Both were public statements of faith. Jesus knew a calling on his life from the earliest days. As a young teenager, he knew that he needed to be in His Father’s house and be about His Father’s business.

For a decade and a half he could do that and be a village carpenter at Nazareth. Those years were not wasted. They were years of preparation. For Mark there was only one part of the baptism that he felt required a bit of detail. That vital element was the presence of God The Holy Spirit to equip Jesus for the next 40 days, and the next three years. He tells how the voice of God The Father speaks out, loaded with rich warm affirming love. The ‘well pleased’ form of words only occurs at His baptism and at His transfiguration. These were both times when heaven touched earth. I love the way The Message translates this ‘chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.’

Phase Two verses 12 and 13. The wilderness.

The form of words used for the entry into the wilderness, after baptism, is very strong indeed. The Spirit pushed Jesus  into the wilderness. It is the same word used for casting out demons. It is evident that the three phases Mark describes are fully interconnected. It is not a case of ‘the low’ that follows ‘the high’. When we have a wilderness moment after a mountain top moment it is often because the harsh reality of the real world knocks the stuffing out of us e.g. after the high of a wonderful service or Christian retreat. This was not the case for Jesus. The wilderness was a place of training and discipline given to prepare him for onslaughts to come. We should not think that the enemy (Satan) lives only in the desert. We are not only tempted to doubt and to give up when everything is tough. Those things can happen any time. However we are often attacked when we are down and we can be down for a plethora of reasons. We can be lonely and isolated. We can have many of the things we look forward to removed or cancelled. We can be starved of the things that feed our spirit the most (human company). For several million people in our nation that has also meant being starved of material resources. If Jesus could stave off Satan when tired, hungry and isolated, he could do so throughout the following three years of ministry. In all those times the ministry of the angels could be called on.

Phase Three verses 14 & 15. The Kingdom.

The brief time of respite and renewal from the ministering angels gave way to Satan’s next attack. Satan only ever withdraws to plan his next attack. That attack came in the most painful way of all. The next attack was on the family front. Luke’s gospel shows beautifully the parallel preparation of Jesus ‘the Son’ and John ‘the prophet’. Both knew, all their lives, that the pivotal time would come. Just as Jesus was ready to start ministry his much loved cousin had his ministry cut short by arrest and eventual execution. Mark again with great economy declares in one sentence that John’s ministry is cut short and in the next that Jesus takes up the baton with the same message. That message is ‘The Kingdom is coming and it’s coming : NOW!’ May Lent 2021 be a time when The Kingdom grows.

May it grow in our personal experience as we enter the discipline of Lent study.

May it grow in our nation as the church steps up to be a resource for the struggling and the needy.

May 2021 be a year in which the glory of the Lord is seen as the Spirit comes on us and the angels minister to us, afresh.

The Lord bless you and keep you. The UK Blessing — Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK – Bing video

Alan