Monthly Archives: Jun 2015

Interruptions – Mark 5:21-43 – 4th Sunday After Trinity

Interruptions can be really irritating. … I always tried, when I worked for Stockport Council to maintain an open door policy for the people who worked for me. However, it did not stop me feeling aggrieved every time my concentration was interrupted!

A prominent Catholic teacher called Henri Nouwen said in the prime of his career that he became frustrated by the many interruptions to his work. He was teaching and had a heavy agenda each day and didn’t like to be disturbed. Then one day it dawned on him that his interruptions were his work. The unplanned things were his ministry. It was in those interruptions that he had his most important encounters.

There is a saying: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans!” … Often, when we are interrupted, it turns out that the interruption is of greater consequence than what we were doing at first!

Our Gospel reading says something about the way that Jesus treated people. Jesus left the crowd to minister to a single person. He was never too busy to respond to the needs of an individual … Bartimeaus, the blind man by the road side, the epileptic youth and his distraught father after the Transfiguration, Zaccheus the troubled tax collector, the widow of Nain weeping over her dead son, Nicodemus at the dead of night, the woman at the well in the heat of the day …. Yet even Jesus could not minister to everyone.

When we look at the needs of the world, we can feel overwhelmed. We want to help, but we hardly know where to begin or where to stop. … We can give in to despair, wringing our hands, feeling that anything we do would be of little or no significance. Or we can help by responding to needs that present themselves to us, often small or individual needs, with the resources at our disposal.

We can’t do everything but even if we just do something, we make a difference.  There is a story of someone who watched a man walking along a beach where for some reason thousands of starfish had become stranded above the usual tide line – they covered the beach. The man was picking up individual starfish and throwing them back into the ocean one by one. This person asked the man why he bothered – you can’t possibly save them all….. the reply was  “But I can save these ones from dying in some shell hunter’s collection.”  It clearly wasn’t possible for him to retrieve them all, but he was giving a precious few another chance to live.  We see this same thing in Jesus; unable to respond personally to everyone in the crowd, he helped some  – and made a difference.

So, Jesus’ time with the crowd is interrupted by Jairus, and Jesus responds, and as he hurries to Jairus’ house he is interrupted again. This time it is a stealthy interruption. Jesus feels the flick of someone’s fingers on the fringe of his outer garment. He stops and asks: “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples laugh: “You see the crowd pushing in on you and you ask who touched you?” perhaps too they thought, “You’ve got urgent work to do for one of the leaders of the town. Let’s get on with it.” But Jesus is not deterred. He looks around to see who has touched him, and a woman comes forward, falls at his feet, and tells him the whole truth.

She has a chronic debilitating disease. She’s suffered from haemorrhages for twelve years. She has spent all she has on doctors but is no better. She’s heard about Jesus, and she has determined just to touch the tassel of his robe in hope of a cure. (It was a superstition in Jesus’ day that if you touched the garment of a holy person, you might be cured. Much like today we might touch the cross on the chain around our necks, or some may have a rabbit’s foot.) And now she has experienced healing.

No one, nobody else, anyway, would speak to her openly. She is ceremonially unclean because of her blood flow. But Jesus speaks to her, he notices her, he is kind to her! He calls her, “Daughter,” and says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” In other words, it isn’t the touching of his robe, but her faith that works her healing.

This is quite amazing.   A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, pushing through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ focuses for a brief moment in her. She goes from being a nobody to being the centre of God’s attention.

And this is how God is with each of us. We celebrate this love this morning. As we receive the elements at Communion God’s love is focussed on each of us and we receive it once again into ourselves.

Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine affirmed that God loves each of us as if we were the only person on earth, yet God loves everyone as much as God loves each one of us. There’s no one on earth today that God loves any more than he loves you, nor is there anyone God loves any less than he loves you. That realization should give us assurance about our own well being; and, should motivate greater concern for others.

If this is how God is with us, then this is his call to us. When we encounter need, we should respond in love, in whatever way love dictates.

The woman’s faith should also grab our attention.  She never gave up hope. She had heard about Jesus of Nazareth and the wonderful things he was doing, the difference he was making in people’s lives. She sought him out and acted on her belief. She was wrong about just needing to touch the robe, but she was right about reaching out to Christ in total commitment. The healing she experienced is God’s gift to all who seek him in sincerity and in truth – and we too can receive this gift when we reach out to him.

A Prayer

Loving God, in your majesty you number the stars in the heavens; and in your mercy, you heal the broken hearts of our world. In Jesus you entered our human world as a helpless infant. You know what it is like to be human and you are ever present with us in all that we go through. Open us up to the hurt of individuals all around us. Use us in a world full of loneliness and misery. Help us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil your long love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

21st June – 3rd Sunday After Trinity – Mark 4: 35-41

The readings set for Sunday 21st June in the Anglican lectionary are Mark 4:35-41, Job 38:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13. The passage from Mark 4 reads:

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

When was the time when you felt closest to God?

I remember in my twenties sitting at the end of Buttermere in the lake district on a still and bright summer’s day with the lake as flat as a pond and the mountains reflected as clearly in the water as I could see them above it. And for a moment I had the strongest of senses that God loved me and that everything would be OK.

So, when did you feel closest to God?  Perhaps seeing a stunning view; perhaps the birth of a grandchild or a son or daughter; perhaps out fishing early in the morning; perhaps when you knew that you’d be getting married.

Many of us will have had those special moments when God seems present in a special way – when we feel something of his glory, his majesty, his closeness, his love. Perhaps not just in good times, maybe in the saddest of times too – God breaks into our fear, confusion or depression, our grief or loneliness and reveals his love or a way out of the mess we feel we are in.

But the vast majority of our lives are spent plodding on, aware of God somewhere in the background but without that intensity of feeling that we experience on those special occasions. And perhaps just as frequently as the good moments, the highlights, we experience things that draw us down into the deepest of despair.

The reading from Job comes at the end of a great dialogue between Job, and his friends about suffering and hardship. In which they have discussed the meaning of suffering and the reasons for it. At the end of the book of Job, God speaks, and we heard the first eleven verses of God’s response to their deliberations. God asks a series of questions about their authority to challenge him. Who are you, says God to challenge me, can you possibly understand the workings of the universe?

The reading from 2 Corinthians, talks of Paul’s hardships and sufferings as he served God and as he spoke about Jesus. In the midst of the list of his hardship, Paul seems to find hope and life:

“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Suffering and joy intermingle in Paul’s experience but he remains sure of his faith and of God’s love despite whatever hardship comes his way. … Paul is convinced that God has given us work to do and that as he faithfully serves God, whatever comes his way, can be overcome. The book of Job reminds us that suffering and hardship is ever present and it encourages us to express our feelings to God, secure in the knowledge that God will always be there for us, secure too in the knowledge that God knows and understands what is happening, even if we have not a hope of understanding.

The reading from Mark’s Gospel tells the story of an encounter with a violent storm. Jesus disciples find themselves in a place of fear and worry and concern. It is a place that they cannot cope with and they fear for their lives.  In this story, God’s power breaks in. Jesus seems at first to be ignoring the danger. And then the disciples are amazed when they see him command the water and the winds and return them to safety. … The disciples are afraid and then they see God’s power at work in a dramatic way that leads them into peace.  As the disciples spent more and more time with Jesus they saw again and again how God could break into the lives of people and transform them.  And it didn’t end with Jesus’ death and resurrection  – for as we read our Bibles, we see this continuing through the disciples ministry in the book of Acts.

There have been times when God has broken into our lives. ………..  Often at these times that we gain a new perspective on God, or a reminder of something we’ve forgotten.  These moments can motivate us, or sustain us. They’re moments to treasure.

But, if you’re like me, there will be those times when you desperately want God to break in again. When you want to know for sure, to feel that God is with you. But for some reason God is absent, or the pain is too great, or the anger overpowering.

fpsGod does not deal with us in predictable ways. We want to feel his presence all the time. When actually what we may need is to begin to grow in faith, to grow in our confidence that God is there with us even when it doesn’t seem to be the case. God wants us to grow to be strong in faith. And so will be times when we need to remind ourselves that God is intimately concerned with us, with me, giving me life, giving me purpose and giving me hope for the future.

God has created us, God has redeemed us, God walks alongside us in the mundane experiences of life, at times of greatest difficulty, when he seems most absent he remains there with us in the pain, and ultimately God has a future for us in heaven.

Parables – Mark 4: 26-34

Jesus  said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Jesus’ parables are intended to intrigue us, to catch the imagination, to get people thinking, to draw out a response which when reflected on becomes a place where God interacts with us and changes us. There’s the parable of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in open country and goes looking for the one that is lost. Can you imagine Jesus’ audience’s response: “The fool. Who will look after the 99?” …. “He should cut his losses and look after what he still has.” … “One in 99 isn’t that big a loss. Why risk the whole flock over one wayward sheep?”

And in that process of response Jesus’ listeners are hooked. They go away full of a story that will provoke discussion in the pub. Perhaps you can imagine the conversation:  “What do you think he meant?” … “Perhaps he was just telling us a joke about shepherds – after all they are a dim-witted lot.” … “No, I’m convinced that he said something important …”

In our Mark 4, we hear Jesus telling two parables about the kingdom of God. Picture stories about growing plants. His listeners would know all about growing plants, as many of us do. So, we say, that in his parables, Jesus draws on his listeners own experiences to make his point. He uses stories to convey deep truths, usually referring to an aspect of life that people can identify with. And that is part of the truth. …

But if that was all of the truth then surely he would go on, in these stories, to apply the truth. A parable would be something like a fable, the moral would be underlined at the end of the story.

But that doesn’t happen here. … In fact it doesn=’t happen with many of Jesus’ parables. And here, Mark is at pains to emphasise that Jesus didn’t explain what he was talking about, except to his disciples. These parables are intended to have hidden meaning, to intrigue, to provoke questions. And Jesus choses not to answer them or explain what he is saying.

Perhaps, in this case, Jesus knew that having heard the story, the next time his listeners were out in the fields sowing their crops they would be reminded of his words.  As the farmer scattered seed in his field maybe he would suddenly be brought up short, exclaiming “Ah, now I see, that’s what the kingdom of God is like.”     Perhaps he would think about the planning that is involved in seed sowing – reviewing how his crops have fared in the past, choosing the right place and time for actually sowing the seeds, and his hopes for a healthy crop to sustain him later in the year.  And then think, for God’s kingdom to grow, perhaps we need to make sure that it has the right conditions to grow – and what might these be?  What can I do so that my hope in this kingdom is realised?

Perhaps when the farmer sowed his mustard seed he would look at it and notice for the first time just how small and insignificant it looked and remember again just how large a bush the seed would produce. Perhaps he or she might cotton on that the weakest and smallest of things can become something of importance.

Rather than being told the meaning, Jesus listeners would have discovered a meaning for themselves. And because they had made the discovery, it would stick. Perhaps ……….

As Christians, we pray for God’s kingdom to come. We do so every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  We say that we desire to see a world which operates in line with God’s way of being; a place where his love is known by all and where all thoughts and words and deeds stem from this love.  As with all prayer, we need to expect to be part of the answer, to have some part to play in the outworking of our desires.  What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come? What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come in our place of worship? What does it mean for our community? What does it mean for the village, town or city in which we live?

I’m not going to suggest answers for you. I’m going, so to speak to take a leaf out Jesus’ book. I’m going to leave you with his parables. So, when you visit a Garden Centre, when you see the plant stalls on the Market, when you buy a packet of seeds or when you plant some seed. When you put mustard on the side of your plate. At any of these times, you might just find yourself being reminded of these parables – don’t dismiss them from your mind but allow yourself to hear them again and ponder what they mean for you and for us all. The question to ask is: “What on earth was Jesus getting at?”

God’s Face in the New Testament

Jayson Georges suggests that the bible wants us to understand that God welcomes us into his presence. We are welcome to see the face of God. Yet so often we chose to turn away in shame. The bible tells us very clearly that:

God shows and offers his face to people, but due to both disgrace and arrogance people often turn their faces away, from glorious communion to shameless isolation.

The bible often talks of the ‘face’ of God, particularly in the Old Testament, but its message comes into clear focus in the New Testament. See:

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And now for something completely different! (Mark 3:20-35)

Whose side are you on?

This is a different way of looking at Mark 3:20-35 (cf: – variations of it were used in St. Martin, Droylsden, St. James’ and St. Peter’s, Ashton-under-Lyne on 7th June 2015, the first Sunday after Trinity. ….

So, ….. whose side are you on?

In our house over the last fortnight, there have been very different emotions experienced by my wife Jo and I.  Jo supports Wycombe Wanderers, the local team from where she grew up in High Wycombe.  They’ve had their highs and lows as a team, and this season spent most of it in the automatic promotion spots at the top of league two.  But at the end, they ended up 4th and had to face the play offs.  They reached Wembley where they played Southend. They played well, but sadly for Jo, they were defeated in a penalty shoot out 7-6.

On the other hand, I support Arsenal! So last Saturday was wonderful! A 4-0 win in the FA Cup Final! Many of you will know that I was born in Manchester, lived in Hull, Essex and Norfolk as a child before moving back to Manchester when I was 18. So why support Arsenal? It was about saving my bacon. A large group of boys in the school made it very clear to me in a school playground in Braintree in Essex, that unless I shed my allegiance to Hull City and started supporting Arsenal, there would be serious consequences! So reluctantly I agreed, and that year Arsenal won the league and cup double! It was 1971!

For many, choosing who you support is a serious thing. So who do you support?  Man City?  Man United?  Chelsea?  Liverpool?  ………………………..

How did you decide who to support?

Now, you might not think that the Bible has much in common with football, but the Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Trinity is all about choosing sides and about people trying to score against one another!

In the story, the scribes are the religious experts from Jerusalem and they want to know whose side Jesus is on:  God’s or the devil’s?  Jesus argues that everything he does is good:  he’s curing sickness and getting rid of evil spirits so if he were on the devil’s side he’d be scoring own goals!  It’s surely obvious that he’s on God’s side.

What about us?  Are we on the same side as Jesus? Check out what he says at the end of the reading: ‘Whoever does God’s will is my mother, my brother, my sister – you are my family?  So what does this mean?  What do we need to do to be on Jesus’ side and belong to his family?

If I just start wearing the football kit and the team scarf of my football team and if I know the rules of football – does this make me a good supporter of my football team?

Of course not!  What do I have to do?

It’s about staying loyal, even if my team loses or is relegated.  It means actively supporting my team by watching matches and cheering them on.m I’m sure there is more as well that makes someone a loyal supporter.

If I wear a cross, own a Bible and watch Songs of Praise, does that make me a Christian, on God’s side?

No!  To be on God’s side, we need to believe in him, even when things are not going well. It means doing what God wants by behaving in a loving, caring, forgiving way towards others.

So, are you on God’s side, on Jesus’ side?  Jesus invites us all to be on his side.  Whoever we are and whatever we have done, he calls us to come and join him – all we have to do is choose to start following him and living in the way that he shows us.

A Difficult Reading? Prejudice? Mark 3:20-35

On 1st Sunday after Trinity this year the lectionary asks churches to read Mark 3:20-35 as the Gospel reading. This is a difficult reading, full of quite strange concepts and ideas. How should we read a passage like this?

How are we to understand the accusation of the pharisees/scribes? What on earth is a sin against the Holy Spirit? Why do Jesus family think that he has gone mad? Why does Jesus seem to reject his family in favour of his followers?

I’m not sure that a direct answer to some of these questions is possible. Trying to answer them all would mean a very lengthy post. However, I think we can engage with some of the issues raised. To help, please read the following passage from Bishop Tom Wright in his book ‘Mark for Everyone’ published by SPCK in 2001 (ISBN: 0-281-05300-6), p36-38:

From the safety of my armchair, I watched the mass demonstration on the TV news. It started peacefully, at least on the surface. Banners and placards gave out a strong message, but the crowd seemed relaxed enough. The police were standing well back, watching for trouble but quite cheerful. Some even joked with the marchers as they went by. … Suddenly everything changed. A whole section of the crowd stopped marching and started shouting at the police. Some threw bottles. The police charged the demonstrators swinging batons at random. The battle quickly spread up and down the street, shops were smashed and hundreds were arrested.

Close up TV shots and recordings made at the time, made it clear what had happened. The police had decided that the demonstrators were ‘scum’. The demonstrators had decided that the police were ‘pigs’. Once they had labelled them like that, they could do what they liked. They were no longer dealing with humans, but with animals and dirty ones at that Raise the stakes, stick a label on people and then it does not matter what you do or who you hurt.

That’s what seems to be going on as word about Jesus spreads to Jerusalem. …… This passage is a powerful witness to the remarkable things Jesus was doing. The early church certainly didn’t make up the story about people thinking Jesus was mad or in league with the devil. People only say that kind of thing when the stakes are raised, when something is happening for which there is no other explanation. ….The scribes don’t like what Jesus is doing because it does not fit into their categories. Jesus isn’t accredited. He must therefore be sidelined. He must be labelled in such a way that people will no longer take him seriously.. He must, they say be in league with the archdemon Beelzebul. … That would explain it; and it would also justify them doing anything they wanted to control him, to contain him, perhaps to silence him for ever.

So, what are we to make of this passage in Mark?

Jesus does not lash back in anger against the scribes and Pharisees. He doe not stigmatise them or label them. Rather, he points out the error in their thinking. Jesus claims that in what he is doing, God’s kingdom is arriving.

It is so easy to stereotype and to categorise. It is so easy to be prejudiced.

When we stigmatise others for living in a particular place, or for the colour of their skin, or for their faith, our society has crossed a rubicon. The same rubicon crossed by Hitler and the Nazi party when it stigmatised Jews. The same rubicon we cross if we lump people from the Indian subcontinent into one group and start calling them names or blaming them for the ills around us.

Once the Pharisees/scribes had demonised Jesus, they were free to do anything, even to kill him. They could justify murder or collusion in murder. Jesus says that this is the worst of sins, unforgiveable in a way that nothing else is, because it takes what is good and calls it evil. Its ultimate end is what happened to Jesus – his death at the jealous hands of the authorities. This demonising, categorising, stereotyping is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

Jesus actions were good, but because he had been given a category and a name, those good actions were only seen through prejudiced eyes. So he was killed by those he came to save.

We need to beware our own prejudices. They are the most destructive and evil of our instincts. When we persist in them, and choose to continue to think within them, we cannot be forgiven. To receive forgiveness, however, all we need to do is repent. We need to turn away fromour prejudices and ask God’s help to begin to relate to all people as human beings.