Epiphany 6.1.13 Matthew 2.1-12

30 12 2012

Wise Gifts

The British view of Christmas is dominated by Luke’s version. It would be fun to begin to work out what aspects of the story we miss by including so little of what Matthew offers. This passage, however, always gets in. It is the eighth lesson in the cycle of nine used at King’s College, Cambridge. When I was Chaplain there, someone wrote in suggesting we were wrong to stop at the end of verse 11 – the traditional version. We felt that they were right, and if you listen carefully you will hear that it now ends with verse 12. As does this gospel reading for the Feast of the Epiphany.

Matthew 12.1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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. What does Epiphany mean? How can you make people interested as you explain that?
  2. Do you agree that it is better to end with verse 12 than verse 11? Why?
  3. What is the meaning of the gifts?  How can you go beyond the lines of ‘We Three Kings?’ (see below for a PS)

‘Heart Questions’

  1. Why was Herod frightened? Can you build a sermon on the contrasts between wisdom and fear?
  2. The word ‘homage’ is used three times in this brief passage. How does it make you feel on each occasion?
  3. Sadly you know what happens next in this story: the slaughter of the innocents. What shadow does that cast over the treasure?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Is there journey you need to take – following some sign that is calling you forward?
  2. How might your worship become more devout; your ‘homage’ more sincere and profound?
  3. What is your treasure?

P.S. In my book Healing Agony: Re-imagining Forgiveness I have a chapter called ‘The Gifts of the Wise’. In it I describe the gifts needed by those who find themselves helping someone who has suffered a shattering hurt to move forward in the direction of forgiveness using the imagery of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

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.

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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.





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.