St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Luke

March 24                    NOTES FOR REFLECTION             Palm Sunday

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Luke

Text:  Luke 22:39-23:56

[Note:  I am following the practice of St Barnabas, Warrington here, which seems to be supported by The Lectionary.  Although last Sunday was "Passion Sunday", and it might seem more logical to read the Passion narrative then, that is not suggested in The Lectionary.  It seems to make more sense to have it on Palm Sunday as the perfect lead into Holy Week.  Just how much of the narrative to select is a matter of choice.  We are starting in Gethsemane, or, as St Luke prefers, on the Mount of Olives.]

Theme:  "The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ "is the obvious candidate.  An alternative might be "That All May Be Fulfilled", which appeals to me because it brings out the underlying thought that we are not simply recording a series of horrendous examples of humanity at its very worst: in all THIS God is working his purposes out.

Introduction.  Every Sunday we are urged to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church", but we are still people of the "written" word, by and large.  We do not listen very well, or very long; which is unfortunate when we remember that for most of our history our forebears listened to the Scriptures rather than read them.  [Today I was reading an email from a friend who had forwarded an article on various poets who had chosen to work in a language other than their native tongue, for various "political" reasons.  In an aside someone made the point that the first command that came to the Prophet Mohammed was "Read!".  The Judaic-Christian tradition begins, surely, with "Hear!"  In that regard perhaps we are better Moslems than Christians?]

So it is important on one Sunday a year to listen, to hear, and to let the word take possession of us.  Our practice is to divide the reading into three sections, with a hymn or a period of silence in between.  Using three different readers can also reduce "listener fatigue", but it is important that those who read today read well, slowly and clearly, and preferably from the same version.

A possible division might be Luke22:39-65 as the opening act of the drama, beginning with Jesus' own anguished struggle to accept the Father's will, and ending with Peter's denial of Christ and the mocking by the guards.  The second act, from 22:66-23:25, would feature the "trials" before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod; and the third act, from 23:26-56, would cover the crucifixion, death and burial.

Background.  In this week's Time Magazine there is an article on the election of Pope Francis.  Most of it is the sort of journalistic stuff that seems to surround events of this kind.  No one knows what went on in the conclave, except every journalist who was anywhere near Rome at the time.  But the last paragraph caught my eye and has fired my imagination since I read it.  It reads thus:

On the Sunday before the conclave began, the Gospel reading in Catholic churches around the world happened to be the parable of the prodigal son, the tale of a spoiled heir who takes his inheritance and wastes it – only to be forgiven by his father and taken back in.  In Rome, the Cardinals used it to talk about bringing back Catholics who had left the church.  Perhaps Francis, through his experience of living on the streets, may read that lesson differently.  For the church itself has been prodigal, and now may be the time for it to find its way back to its people.

Of course, the parable of the lost son has the place it has in The Lectionary, not because it provides a good background for papal conclaves, but for the events of Holy Week.  Nevertheless, I have found the idea of casting the Church in the role of the prodigal son very fruitful.  Where I differ from the authors' approach is in their application of this insight: if the Church is the prodigal son then it is to the Father that the Church must return.  When it does so, the people will turn or return to the Church.  (Incidentally, the authors' description of the younger son as "spoiled" is an invention of their own: there is nothing in the text to suggest that he is any more spoilt than his elder brother.)

But let's see where this famous and much-loved parable might take us if the Church is the prodigal son.  What might be the nature of the inheritance that the Church has received from the Father and has squandered it in wild living?  Might that not be the Spirit, poured out so lavishly at Pentecost – not on the world at large but on the first members of the Church?  And, if so, in what way could it be said that the Church has squandered this inheritance?

Although the text doesn't go into detail, commentators often picture the prodigal son having a fun life with guys (and girls) of his own age – great for so long as the money lasts, but inevitably ending in tears.  (The elder brother, of course, has a slightly different take on all this, but he had every human reason for taking the dimmest possible view of his younger brother's activities while abroad.)  We have only to think of our compatriot, the fake Tahitian prince who had a high old time in Queensland to fill in the gaps here.  In short, what the younger brother was doing with his inheritance was courting popularity.  Could the Church be accused of doing that?

As I pondered that question I found myself once again comparing the Church pre-Constantine and post-Constantine.  Of course, the temptation is to take a too romantic view of the Church in the earliest centuries, bravely struggling against violence from without and treachery from within.  For every martyr who accepted death rather than deny his or her faith in Christ there were no doubt many other members who followed the path Peter himself made infamous before the cock crowed.

But does it not remain true that, in general, what we now call Christendom was a monumental waste of our spiritual inheritance?  How many times have we baptised the infants of people who are not themselves practising the faith in any real sense, and have no real intention of bringing up those infants in that faith?  How many times have we married people whose interest in a "church wedding" is more about photographs than God's blessing?  In all the talk about the need for the new Pope to sort out the Vatican bureaucracy has anybody wondered why so many ordained priest are employed there when there is a worldwide shortage of priests carrying out the ministry for which they were ordained?

Were we really given our spiritual inheritance so that we can maintain empty buildings, attract tourists, display art, and exhaust ourselves in all manner of petty fund-raising schemes "to keep the show going"?  Doesn't our present predicament, our great need, suggest that we have spent everything and the severe famine is now upon us?  Are we far from hiring ourselves out to citizens of another kingdom, if only they will give us something to eat – or at least chip in towards the cost of up-grading our earthquake-prone buildings? 

In short, is it not time for the Church to come to its senses – to set out and go back to the Father and say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you..."?

 And so to Holy Week and beyond.  For me, in the light of all this, I find myself attracted to the extraordinary vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his little book The Divine Milieu.  For him it is the Body of Christ that hangs upon the Cross on Good Friday.  At the very least that means the Church is crucified in Jesus Christ: the Church then rises with him on Easter Day and, perhaps most importantly in this reflection, ascends with him forty days later – returns to the Father.

Pope Francis may or may not have experienced "living on the streets", as the authors of the Time Magazine believe.  But he is a Jesuit, in which case he will be familiar with the writings of his fellow Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin.  Perhaps that will be in his mind as he enters Holy Week.  I hope so.

Taking It Personally.

·         This is surely the week for giving priority to our faith.  Whatever else demands our time, we surely cannot deny to our Lord at least an hour of our time each day throughout Holy Week for self-examination and special devotion.

·         If at all possible attend a church where the whole Passion Narrative will be read this Sunday.  Let the whole thing wash over you and soak into you.  Avoid anything flippant or unnecessary for the rest of the day. 

·         Remember it is Palm Sunday.  Read that story, too.  Enter into it imaginatively. Where would you place yourself?  Among the curious, the cheering, the mocking, or just on the fringe, not really taking a particular interest in what's going on?  Have you got your cellphone with you?  Are you taking pictures?  Why?

·         Each day take part of the Passion narrative and reflect on it in the same sort of way.  Can you watch with the Lord for one hour?  Are you aware of his struggle?  Are you fearful of what might lie ahead for you?

·         Experience the arrival of the arresting party, led by Judas.  What are your feelings now?  Have you been betrayed by someone close to you?  Have you ever betrayed someone close to you?  Have you ever betrayed Christ?

·         Stand with Peter in the high priest's garden.  Watch his panic grow, listen to his repeated denials.  What would you do if the spotlight turned to you?  What do you say today if someone asks you if you are a Christian?  Hear the cock crow.

·         Follow Christ through the so-called trials before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and then back to Pilate?  Is there anything in you that might be represented by these people?  Are you quick to judge?  Do you understand Pilate's dilemma?  Would you have acted differently in his position?

·          See Jesus the prisoner on his way to Golgotha.  Watch as Simon is grabbed and made to carry the cross.  In what ways do you feel you are bearing the cross of Christ sometimes?

·         Listen to the conversation between the two thieves and Jesus.  Which one of them speaks for you?

·         Take the story of Jesus' death on the cross particularly slowly.  Notice the darkness all around.  In the darkness hear Christ call out with a loud voice "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."  Stay in silence for as long as you can.  Then hear the centurion: "Surely this was a righteous man" (or, better, "Surely, this man was the Son of God.")

·         Notice the change in tone in the last section as the body is placed in the tomb.  It is all about being practical: it returns us to the mundane detail of our daily lives.  But spiritually it is time to stand back, watch, and wait in hope.

·         Do your best to attend services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Try to observe Holy Saturday quietly, and then, O then! Enter fully into the Joy of Easter Day!



Thursday, 14 March 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 17                    NOTES FOR REFLECTION             Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts:  Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; Psalm12:1-8

Theme:  The obvious choice is "Anointing at Bethany"; something a little more imaginative might be "Letting Go of our Baggage", or even "God is Doing a New Thing", or "Through the Eyes of Faith".

Introduction.  We are now just a week away from Palm Sunday, the so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the start of Holy Week.  If we have been keeping a holy Lent we will have been spending at least some time in self-examination, focussing on ourselves, on what we have been, and what we have been doing, thinking, and saying.  Looking back, in other words, retracing some of our footsteps.  Now the call is to let go of all that and to focus, not on what we have being doing, but on what God is doing.  For the people of Isaiah's time is was a call to understand that God acts in new ways.  For the people in exile it would have been natural for them to look back to the time of slavery in Egypt and to pray earnestly and frequently for a new Moses to lead them (back) to the Promised Land.  But God was doing a new thing: God was working his liberation purposes out this time through a Gentile, a man who had no idea that he was God's chosen instrument, a Persian leader called Cyrus.  For us Isaiah's message points also to the even more unexpected way in which God has worked out his liberation purposes through Jesus Christ.  And St Paul, through the eyes of faith, sees this new thing that God has done, and forgets the former things, those things he had previously put such store in.  Mary of Bethany reminds us that to look through the eyes of faith is to look in love at the One who is Love.

Background.  I am writing these notes just a few hours after the news from Rome that a new pope has been chosen.  That's all the excuse I need to refer to a sermon I preached two weeks ago in St Barnabas, Warrington.  The readings set for that Sunday were Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, and Luke 13:1-9.  At the time Italy had just held its General Election and the Cardinals were beginning to head for Rome for the papal election.  I noted that the world media clearly assumed that all the same power-games, faction-building, horse-trading, plots and sub-plots would characterise the papal election as they do general elections (not only in Italy).

Against that background I told a little parable about one cardinal called Cardinal Humilius.  He genuinely believed that he should earnestly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to whom God wanted as the next pope.  However, every time he prayed the name of a particular cardinal, Cardinal Smartas (with the benefit of hindsight I would now change his name slightly to Cardinal Smartipus) came into his mind.  This created a real dilemma for Cardinal Humilius because he had heard a great deal about Cardinal Smartipus, and what he had heard about him left him in no doubt that Cardinal Smartipus was totally unsuitable to be the next pope.  He could only assume that heaven was not as well informed as he was on that matter.  Being a man of Scripture as well as prayer, Cardinal Humilius prayed, "But, Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints under his jurisdiction."  [To save you the bother, I'll tell you: Acts 9:13.]  What, I asked, should Cardinal Humilius do when it came time to cast the first ballot?  My advice to him on that occasion was to reflect on the readings we had that day.

This week's readings would have been just as helpful, and the outcome of the conclave suggests that possibly, just possibly, enough of the cardinals were listening to the Holy Spirit rather than the media.  At the very least we can say, that virtually all the media got it wrong.  With the probable exception of those based in Argentina, no one seemed to predict that the Archbishop of Buenos Aires would be the new pope – even though they are now telling us (8 years after the event) that this man came second to Cardinal Ratzinger in the last election.  How they could possibly know that remains a mystery – unless, of course, the butler did it.

The media led themselves astray because they did not have in mind the concerns of God, but human concerns: Mark 8:33.  They were looking for a younger man with plenty of energy, a good administrator with the strength to cleanse the Curia, a man with great personal charisma who could command world attention (by which they meant provide plenty of good copy for the media), and, above all a man who would and could single-handedly change most if not all of the Church's social teaching on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and so on (while at the same time abhorring any thought of an hierarchical monster for whom collegiality was anathema.) 

Well, it's still early days, of course, and most of us don't yet know what sort of pope Francis the First will turn out to be.  But the early indications suggest that he is a man known for his humility, a man of prayer, a man who identifies with the poor, a man who believes that he is there to serve rather than to be served, a man rather like St Francis, which means, of course, a man rather like Christ.  Who among the world's media would have seen that coming; and who among them now will be celebrating the election of such a man? 

To them who will not hear what the Spirit is saying in this week's readings, and to the Church who should, the messages are clear.  For the first time for over 600 years a pope retired on grounds of frailty and ill-health.  For the first time in the history of the Church the new pope hails from South America.  "See," says the Lord God through the prophet Isaiah, "I am doing a new thing.  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"  Or are we blinded by the former things, preferring to go on dwelling on the past?

Imagine, if you will, that neither Peter nor Paul had been martyred: instead they had been nominated for the new position of Bishop of Rome (pope to us).  How might that first ever conclave have decided the issue between them?  We can be pretty sure what sort of case could have been mounted for Paul.  He is the man who can bridge the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles.  His Jewish credentials are exemplary: "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless."

"Hang on!  'Persecuting the church'?  He's actually put that on his CV?"

 "Well, yes – but let's forget the former things, let's not dwell in the past.  Look how he has spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippae, and even here in Rome.  And what a mind!  Who among us can hold a candle to him when it comes to theology?"

Certainly not Peter.  The man of bluster, of wild promises and lost nerve.  The man who shied at the first sign of danger to himself, on the choppy waters of Lake Galilee and in the garden of the High Priest's house.  The man who earned his living through the sweat of his brow, and was not the sharpest tool in the shed by any means.  Even if he did write the epistles that bear his name, their theological content does not match the thought and depth we find in St Paul's writings.  And yet, they chose Peter, perhaps because he had been with Jesus from the beginning and in his own, very human way, he truly loved him more than all the others.

Rather like Mary of Bethany.  And, hopefully, Pope Francis the First.

Isaiah.  As always, it's helpful to read a few verses either wide of today's passage.  Start at verse 14.  Here is God's statement of Intent.  None of the tender concern we associate with the pre-Exodus intervention.  No assurance that God has heard their cry and has compassion for them.  Here is just a plain statement: this is what I am going to do.  And who am I to make such a statement?  Verse 15 is equally emphatic: in relation to Israel, God has a fourfold title.  Then our passage begins with Isaiah's editorial comment, reminding his audience that God is the One who rescued them from slavery in Egypt; yet this is surely one of the former things they are to forget, the past on which they must not dwell; for those who look back will never see the God who goes ahead of them, doing new things, making new ways through the desert of their dried up faith.  And the verses that follow today's passage show us just how dried up their faith has become.

Taking It Personally.

·         What mental, physical, social or spiritual baggage do you now need to forget?  Do you have a tendency to dwell in the past?  Ask the Holy Spirit to bring into your mind anything in the past that might be holding you back in your faith journey

·         What new thing is God doing in your life?  Can you not perceive it?

·         Focus on verse 21.  End with a time of praise.  Give thanks for the other members of your local church community.

Philippians.  We are often reminded of the dramatic way in which Peter, James, John and Andrew abandoned their means of livelihood to answer Jesus' call.  Here we get a glimpse of the same sort of sacrifice Saul/Paul made.  Everything he was and everything he had studied and worked so hard for over many years – and the prestige he would have enjoyed in Jewish circles – he suddenly threw away as so much rubbish.  Elsewhere he gives us an agonising list of the injuries he suffered in the course of his ministry.  But yet he is still focused on the future: the ultimate "prize", certainly, but also on his own need for continuing spiritual growth.

Taking It Personally.

What has your commitment to Christ cost you so far?

  • With verses 5 and 6 in mind, write out your equivalent "credentials".  [Baptised in infancy, of good Christian stock, of the tribe of Anglican...]  In which of those do you take pride, and which of those do you consider rubbish?
  • Read slowly through verses 12-16.  How would you compare your present commitment to the faith journey?  Will you bear this in mind the next time you are about to criticise St Paul?

 John.  Notice the mastery of the author before we go any further.  Six days before the Passover (in John's timetable, five days before the Last Supper) Mary "washes" Jesus' feet, as he will wash his disciples' feet at that meal.  Here Judas protests: there he allows his feet to be washed without demur.  Judas steals from the common purse, yet criticises Mary for making an offering that must have cost a few bob.  "Do you understand what I have done for you?" Jesus will ask his disciples.  Here it seems only Jesus understands what Mary has done for him.  And as mentioned above, we should notice what is going on in verse 9.  Not everyone has gathered to see and hear Jesus: now Lazarus seems to have equal drawing power.  He could be well on the way to his own reality TV series.

Taking It Personally.

  • A wonderful passage for the prayer of imagination.  Put yourself in that little house in Bethany.  Who else is there?  What is the "atmosphere" like?  Is there tension and foreboding in the air?  Is Jesus looking at ease, or is the strain of what lies ahead beginning to show?  What about Martha – is she serving gladly and gently, or is she still emitting martyr's vibes?  Are you keen to have a good look at Lazarus – or even ask him to tell his story (again!).  Watch as Mary performs her service for Jesus.  Can you smell the aroma of the nard?  Is it pleasant or rather stifling?  How do you feel towards Mary?  Now look at and listen to Judas.  How would you describe his appearance and the tone of his voice?  Now hear Jesus' rebuke: how would you describe his tone?  What do you think of the visitors hanging around, trying to get a glimpse of Lazarus the Miracle Man?
  • What have you learned from this visit to Bethany?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 10                    NOTES FOR REFLECTION             Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts:  Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

[Note: This Sunday is also designated Mothering Sunday, for which a different set of readings are given in the Lectionary.  I must confess that if I ever knew why it is called Mothering Sunday, I have long since forgotten.  Whatever the reason, I doubt it could possibly justify a change of readings from the wonderful set we have been given for this Fourth Sunday in Lent.  This Sunday is also called Refreshment Sunday, which makes more sense to me, and does not require a different set of readings.]

Theme: Multiple options today, including simply "Refreshment Sunday".  More subtly, what about taking a lead from the first lesson and going for "A Place of our Own"?  Our second lesson might suggest something like "Made New in Christ", or "Reconciled to Reconcile", or even "Ambassadors for Christ".  As for the gospel!  "Welcome Home", or "Coming to our Senses", or even "It's Party Time", though the latter might be going too far for the Season of Lent.

Background.  Believe it or not, there was a time (some decades ago) when I developed a serious interest in running, and even set myself the goal of running a marathon.  Of course, this involved rather more reading about running than actual running – after all, as the Scriptures tell us, it's important to get expert advice before rushing into such a big venture as this: Luke 14:28-32.  So I was very pleased to come across a book by a man recounting the story of his first (and probably last) New York marathon.  (No, I wasn't aiming quite that high: I set my sights on the Upper Hutt marathon.)  The book had a lot about his months of training, including very helpful schedules, dietary advice, and even a whole chapter about the choice of clothing, including the all-important footwear.  But what has stuck in my memory is his account of what happened at the 20-mile mark.

There was a drinks station there, one of many along the way where runners could grab a tumbler of water to drink and/or pour over their heads, according to their most urgent needs at the time.  The author had not bothered at the earlier stations; he was concentrating on maintaining his rhythm, was going well, and didn't want to risk interrupting the flow.  Had he read as many books on how to run a marathon as I had by then he would have known that he was doing the wrong thing.  By the 20-mile mark his body was in rebellion.  He suddenly felt it was all too much.  He saw a big sign saying cheerfully, "GOOD JOB!  ONLY 6 MILES TO GO!" and heard himself shouting abuse at it.  One of the attendants saw his distress, came over to him, and said very quietly, "Hey, Buddy, there's a whole lot of people waiting for you when you get there."

That's all he needed.  Far more than the water he gulped down, those words energised him.  The attendant may have been guessing, or he may have been referring to the crowd who give everyone a great shout as they finish.  But the author remembered that waiting for him when he got there would be his wife, their children, his parents and his sister.  The latter had spent 20 hours or so travelling from overseas to be there for him; their parents had flown across the USA.  They were just 6 miles away now, waiting for him.

His next clear memory was crossing the finishing line, and seeing his sister pushing through the crowd to get to him.  It was her who caught him as his legs finally gave way.  The final chapter was a real tear-jerker.  At the time, of course, the spiritual significance of the story passed me by.  But what a parable it is to help us experience more deeply the truth of the story of the Prodigal Son!  Through the tough times, when we are taken to the limits of our own strength, we should keep before us the vision of the One who is waiting for us when we get there.

It may even help us to grasp the importance of this little passage we have today from Joshua.  The Israelites have completed a journey far longer and more challenging than the New York marathon.  There were many times along the way when they felt like giving up, that it was all too much for them.  But they, too, have somehow got there and taken possession of their prize.  It's time for a celebratory meal.  Nor should we get caught up in judging all this through 21st century eyes, focussing on the wrongs of land-grabs, and the rights of the indigenous people of Canaan.  To do that is not just political correctness, it is intellectual imperialism of the worst kind.  This is the Jews' story, and we have no right to re-write it.  Rather, we should receive it as a sacred gift to share, and to learn from it.

I suggest we read it as a story of spiritual growth.  Notice the emphasis in verses 11 and 12: they are no longer "hand-fed" with manna.  Now they eat the food produced by the land God has given them.  There is surely something here about maturing in their relationship with God.  Of course, the danger is that they will forget the grace of God, and assume that they are now providing for their own needs.  Hence the need for the ritual of remembrance in the Feast of the Passover; and hence the urgent exhortations we find, particularly in the Book of Deuteronomy, to remember the Lord your God as you enter this new life.

Which gets us to St Paul.  Among the books I am reading at the moment is Ursula King's fascinating biography of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  My eye was caught by this quote on the back cover from contemporary theologian and spiritual guide, Thomas Berry: "From the viewpoint of our present understanding of the universe it could be said that Teilhard is the most significant Christian theologian since St Paul."  That's quite a claim for Teilhard, but it's also quite a claim for St Paul: at least, it's quite a challenge for our usual understanding of St Paul's writings.  What is the immediate thing you think of when someone mentions his name?  His image of the Body of Christ, perhaps?  His black-and-white approach to all issues of faith?  His dramatic conversion?  Or perhaps his alleged misogyny?  How many of us immediately think of him as a prophet of conservation of the environment, the patron saint of  biological thinkers, the pioneer of Darwinian thinking?


Yet in many places in his writings, including today's passage, we can see what Thomas Berry might have had in mind in his comment on Teilhard.  [Romans 8 is the classic passage on this topic.]  So great is the effect of the Incarnation, in St Paul's eyes, that he sees a new creation.  At the very least, we might say that the evolution of humanity (and, through humanity, the whole creation) has reached a new stage of evolution.  As the first human being came into exstence through the infusion of spirit and matter (God breathed into the dust of the earth), so now the Spirit has re-entered the whole of creation.  All that blocked its flow previously has gone, swept away by Christ's saving death: the death-dealing Flood has been replaced by the Life-giving inundation of the Spirit. 

That's surely at least a bit of what St Paul has in mind with the deceptively simple idea of reconciliation between God and humanity.  And it doesn't stop there, of course: we are called to carry it on, to be proponents of the invitation to be reconciled to God, so that more and more people may hear and become aware of this new way of life, this new creation.  We are, in St Paul's telling phrase, to become Christ's "Ambassadors".

Joshua.  The final stain of slavery and captivity has been removed.  The long and bitter struggles of the wilderness years are over.  A new generation of leaders has emerged to replace the old guard.  They have at last entered into the Promised Land.  It has yielded their first season of crops.  It is time to stop, reflect on all that has been, to celebrate, and to prepare for the new future that now lies open to them.  That involves new challenges, including spiritual ones, but they are now embarked on a whole new stage of their development as people of faith.

Taking It Personally.

·         Reflect on the story of the New York marathon runner.  What insights does that story give you into this passage from Joshua?

·         Have you ever broken in a new garden?  Can you recall the satisfaction of getting your first crop from it?

·         What might this story say to an early immigrant to this country, or perhaps a recent refugee, who has undergone great difficulties to reach this land and started to build a new life here?

·         Ponder the distinction between the daily supply of manna from heaven and the produce from the land.  Reflect on the present state of your relationship with God in the light of that distinction. 


Corinthians.  St Paul begins with a leap from the local to the cosmic.  There was a time when we regarded people from "a worldly point of view".  There is a huge amount in that phrase!  At the very least it means, simply as men and women, good bad, and ugly, some like us, some not so much, some we like, some we will go to any length to avoid.  But that's not how we see people today. Today we see people in two groups, those who are "in Christ" and those who are not.  The first group are already part of the new creation; they have already left behind all that previously enslaved humanity and held it back from a full, life-giving relationship with God.  The other group have not yet had their eyes open to this new reality.  Through Christ those who are open to him have already been reconciled to God, and have been given the mission to reach out to others, on God's behalf, to beg those others to be reconciled to God. 


Taking It Personally.


  • It's time for another bathroom mirror challenge.  In the privacy of your bathroom look yourself straight in the eye and say, "I am a new creation.  Thanks be to God."  Keep repeating these words until you believe them.  Let them continue to echo in your mind as you go about your daily business.
  • Are you now, or have you been in the past, estranged from any member of your family or someone else you once knew well?  Call that situation to mind as you ponder the whole concept of reconciliation in this passage.
  • By reconciliation, does St Paul really mean forgiveness, or is that something different?
  • Think about the role of an "ambassador".  An ambassador belongs to and represents someone else; lives in a society but is a citizen of another place; is told what to say and follows an agenda laid down by someone else.  What does all that mean in term of our mission and ministry as Christians?


Luke.  This story is so well known, it hardly needs any more commentary from me.  Perhaps the thing I should draw attention to is the first 3 verses of chapter 15: Jesus tells this story, not to encourage those of us who sometimes feel we have strayed or lost the plot in some way, and are unsure if we can come back.  He tells it to deflate those self-righteous religious experts who disapprove of the company he is keeping.  So it's very much in keeping with those other stories about people judging others instead of themselves.  The elder brother is in that group, of course, and is the real villain of the piece.  The fact that we often feel some (secret) sympathy for him shows why the story is particularly helpful in this Season of Lent, a time of Self-Examination and Special Devotion.  But notice how the story is about free-will: the father does not attempt to stop the prodigal son leaving, does not try to track him down and drag him home.  He waits, and waits, until the son comes to his senses and comes back of his own free will.  Then the party begins in earnest.


Taking It Personally.  Do just that.  Read the story slowly and prayerfully, asking the Spirit to lead you deeper into the truth of the story.  Use it for a careful period of self-examination.  Finish with a time of special devotion.