5th Sunday of Lent 17.3.13 John 12.1-8

12 03 2013

Judas and Mary

This simple account of an all-too-imaginable incident can take us to the place of deep devotion, or make us recoil with horror at the meanness of human nature. Maybe we need to do both.

John 12.1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

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. ‘Six days…’ v1 what is the significance of this? Why is the story so precisely located in time?
  2. ‘Three hundred denarii’ v5 How much is that? On what other occasions is a large quantity of money mentioned in John’s gospel?
  3. Why do we always have the poor with us?

Heart Questions

  1. Imagine you had seen Mary do this. How would you feel?
  2. Can you imagine wanting to do just what Mary did?
  3. Is there a Judas inside you somewhere saying ‘tut-tut’?

Hand Questions

  1. Whom could you give a dinner for?
  2. Whom might you anoint?
  3. Is there anyone who needs some special attention from you before they die?

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.





1st Sunday of Christmas 30.12.12 Luke 2.41-end

23 12 2012

Anxiety and Astonishment in the Temple

This is a shocking story for any parent to read, and it is easy to get stuck at the emotional level of response. Yet maybe it teaches us that growth in wisdom often begins in something which astonishes some and causes great anxiety to others.

Luke 2.41-end

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ 49He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

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. Read through Luke’s gospel quickly, picking out all Jesus’ encounters with the Temple. What story emerges?
  2. Jesus listened and asked questions. Good boy. Questioning makes for better listening. What’s your question about his questions?
  3. Jesus was obedient to his parents after this. What are the implications of that?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How did his parents feel when they noticed Jesus was not among the group going home?
  2. How do you feel about Jesus’ single-minded pursuit of wisdom?
  3. Notice the word ‘astonished’ when his parents found him. This is an important word in the gospels. What astonishes you? How does that feel?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. This passage is framed by the observance of tradition. Is that something you value highly enough? How might you be challenged to be more traditional?
  2. How are you going to become a wiser person in the course of 2013?
  3. His mother ‘treasured’ all this. That was a mature response. How can you learn to treasure more challenging and anxiety-generating experiences?

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.





Christmas Day 25.12.12 Luke 2.1-20

23 12 2012

The Birth of Jesus

Luke is the best storyteller in the New Testament, but we have heard this one just too many times.  The preacher’s challenge is to get back to some of Luke’s inspiring freshness.

Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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. Why does Luke stress the context of the census?
  2. Why shepherds?
  3. Why does Mary, who gave voice to so much in Luke chapter 1, say nothing?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. What feelings are aroused in you by the thought of a birth a long way from home?
  2. Notice that the angels say ‘fear not’. Where is fear in this story?
  3. How do you imagine the shepherds ‘glorifying and praising God’?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Is there a journey you need to take but you are putting it off because this is not a convenient time for you?
  2. Are you sometimes a messenger angel to others ? If so, do you need to say ‘fear not’ more often?
  3. Notice that no gifts are exchanged in this passage.  Are you able simply to receive the good news and rejoice in it?

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 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.





3rd Sunday of Epiphany 22.1.12. The Glory of Good Wine

8 01 2012

The Glory of Good Wine

The season of Epiphany, like the opening of John’s gospel,  is about glory being seen and found attractive and compelling.  Here we see water changed into wine. It’s a sign – but somehow the word ‘sign’ does not quite do justice to what is being signfied here… For there are many layers to this story.

John 2. 1-11

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflections and Questions

‘The mother of Jesus was there’ v 2. Notice that she is the primary figure and that Jesus and his disciples are in the category ‘also’.  She is in control of events and is not in the mood to take ‘no’ for an answer.  Is it fair to say that Mary is the leader here, is that the right word?

‘They have no wine’ v 4  A nice simple statement.  No amplification is needed. No emotion added.  She just gives a simple fact of deficiency with the implicit: ‘do something about it!’  It is a statement about what is unacceptable. Does its simplicity and candour tell us something about her leadership?

‘Do whatever he tells you.’ v 5.   Fill the jars with water.’ v 7 Now draw some out…’ v 7  These are clear, concise, bold instructions. Like mother like son?  What tone of voice do you detect here?

‘You have kept the good wine until now.’ v 10. How many layers of meaning can you find in these words?

‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed is glory, and his disciples believed him’. v 11 This final sentence reflects the connection that we began to see last week between ‘place’, ‘glory’ and ‘faith’.  How do those three words fit together for you? (Idea: write them at the points of a triangle and see what comes up as you reflect on what you  see. What sort of triangle works best – equilateral, isosceles, scalene?  Or do you prefer to draw curving arrows between the  words and create a circle?)