4th Sunday of Advent 23.12.12 Luke 1.39-45 [46-55]

16 12 2012

Mary’s News, Mary’s Message

The square brackets suggest that this passage can be read without troubling with Mary’s song.  That would be a real shame. Here is a liturgical suggestion: why not read the gospel in the normal way up to verse 45 and then have everyone say or sing the song together?

Luke 1.39-45 [46-55]

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

‘Head Questions’

  1. How far did Mary walk?
  2. What does the repeated word ‘blessed’ mean?
  3. Where do you see fulfilment here?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. What depths in you are touched by the phrase ‘the child leapt in her womb’?
  2. Which line in Mary’s song evokes the most powerful emotional response from you?
  3. Imagine you had a commission to paint the scene… Either sketch it out or describe it to someone.

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Is there someone you need to visit – for whom a visit from you would be a blessing?  (No time? Pick up the phone.)
  2. Mary’s song begins with praise of God.  How big a feature of your life is praise?
  3. If God is active in the way Mary suggests, what should be the priorities of people who live by faith in God?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.





2nd Sunday before Advent 18.11.12 Mark 13.1-8

10 11 2012

Big Stones – Scary Future

This passage really needs to be read as an introduction to the whole of Mark 13 – so the other verses are appended below.  It is not about ‘when’ things end – but ‘how’.

Mark 13.1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What was Jesus saying about the temple?
  2. Why is that such an important truth to convey to the disciples?
  3. Why does Jesus not answer the ‘when’ question?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How do you feel when you come up close to a great and ancient building?
  2. What feeling lay behind the disciples’ question?
  3. What images do the verse 8 put in your mind – and how do you feel when you reflect on them?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. To what extent do you put your trust in things that are not really going to endure?
  2. What can you do to wake people up to the realities the future has in store?
  3. Are you the sort of person who responds to disaster appeals or do you tend to think it is someone else’s problem to sort it out and bring relief?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

The rest of Mark 13

‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’





3rd Sunday before Advent 11.11.12 Mark 1.14-20

3 11 2012

This is the Moment

This passage from the first chapter of Mark’s gospel gives a sense of the urgency of the gospel message. It is about now.

Mark 1. 14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What did Jesus mean by ‘the good news of God’?  (good news  = gospel, but what does that mean in everyday terms?)
  2. What does it mean to say that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’?
  3. Why was Jesus concerned to call practical men – and siblings – to be in his band of followers?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How do you feel when someone says, ‘stop that, now do this’?
  2. And does the word ‘immediately’ reduce or exacerbate your  feelings?
  3. How do you think those busy working fishermen felt when Jesus called them to stop and follow?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. What, if anything, are you ready to be called to now?
  2. Do you have anything to say about the closeness – or distance – of the kingdom of God?
  3. What are you going to do about sharing your faith this week?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.





4th Sunday before Advent 4.11.12 Mark 12.28-34

27 10 2012

A Wise Scribe

Today’s gospel describes brief encounter which goes very well for the scribe who initiates it. He asks a good question, ‘which commandment is the number 1 priority?’ and then engages well with the answer he gets. He does not simply say, ‘yes rabbi, thank you very much’. Rather he reflects the answer back, explaining how he sees it.  Jesus warms to this approach of intelligent dialogue and yet the result is that no one else asks questions. I wonder whether we need to ask why.

Mark 12.28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What would your question be if you were a scribe who was impressed with Jesus?
  2. If you had chance for a 5-minute one-to-one with Jesus, what would you ask him?
  3. Suppose the scribe had asked you the question, what would your answer have been?
  4. What, in your view, is the third most important commandment?

 

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How have you felt when you have approached people who are arguing?
  2. How do you feel about the repetition of ‘all’ in the great commandments?
  3. How would it impact on you if the word ‘all’ was replaced with ‘some of’?
  4. What does the word ‘dared’ signify in the final sentence?

 

‘Hand Questions’

  1. For the scribe this was a very successful episode. How can you follow his example of asking a good question?
  2. What evidence can you give that you have lived a life consistent with the two great commandments over the last week?
  3. What can you do differently next week to align more closely to them?

 

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.





Simon and Jude Apostles 28.10.12 John 15 17-end

20 10 2012

Instructions for Living

To help us commemorate two of Jesus’ friends and apostles, Simon and Jude, we have gone to John’s gospel. The preacher’s challenge is to connect what Jesus said to them – according to John – with what God might be saying to us today.

John 15.17-end

Jesus said to his disciples, I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

Head Questions

Notice how often the word ‘if’ is repeated in this passage.
Do you think it is really a matter of if’ or ‘when’ with all these things?
What does Jesus mean when he uses the word ‘advocate’? (You may prefer to think of the ‘comforter’.  That works as long as you think of it in the literal sense of ‘the one who strengthens and supports’ rather than the softer sense of ‘the one who calms and placates’.)
What does the word ‘sin’ mean here?

Heart Questions

What is it like to be on the receiving end of hatred?
How do you typically react?
Can you say anything about being on the giving end of hatred?
Have you ever despised the followers of Jesus?

Hand Questions

The practical outcome of this seems to be a requirement to testify. Well here is your opportunity:
What do you have to say about Jesus?
Where do you say it?
Where are you going to say it?
How will you be an advocate for the advocate?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.