Monthly Archives: August 2020

Matthew 16: 21-28 – 30th August 2020 – Take Up Your Cross

I first met Graham Turnbull in 1994. In the previous couple of years he’d felt God calling him to work in Rwanda. He’d left his job as a solicitor & trained to teach English as a Foreign Language. He left the UK in 1994 to travel overland to Rwanda – taking a landrover to the place he’d be working there.

As he was travelling, the genocide started in Rwanda and many people were killed. Graham was unable to enter Rwanda and I shared a house with him for two weeks in Kisoro in Uganda.

When the troubles subsided, he taught for 2 years in a place called Cyangugu in Rwanda. But he began to feel that he should be working for the UN as an ‘observer’. Observers travelled round Rwanda ensuring a visible international presence and so keeping violence to a minimum, a risky venture. His friends and family prayed it through with him, and in spite of the dangers agreed that God did seem to be calling him to this role.

Less than two months after he joined the UN there was an item on the BBC evening news – 5 UN observers had been killed in an ambush. Graham was the one Briton in the team. He was 37 years old when he died. …………..

God called Graham to Rwanda and led him to work with the UN. Graham gave his life in God’s service.

I wonder, is this what Jesus means in our Gospel reading when he says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Is he calling us to his kind of sacrificial lifestyle?

For many Christians around the world, this does indeed seem to be the case. The majority of saints who fill the Anglican calendar were martyred for their faith. There were more Christians tortured and killed in the 20th Century than throughout the whole of the history of the Church before that. But is Jesus calling us to that level of self-sacrifice?

Last week (on Sunday 23rd August 2020) those of us following the Anglican lectionary heard Peter acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Now we hear Jesus talking of his death, placing the Cross right at the centre of what it means to understand him as Messiah. Jesus is saying, very clearly, that his disciples, that we, will not understand him unless we understand the cross, and in some incomprehensible way take it on board for ourselves. In this passage, Jesus isn’t calling us to martyrdom, but rather to making the Cross central in our lives.

Why is the cross so important, so crucial in our understanding of Jesus as King, as Messiah?

Lesslie Newbigin says that the Cross “is the supreme parable: the kingdom of God, both hidden and manifest in the dying of a condemned and excommunicated man.”

Jesus says: “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it will bear no fruit.”

Paul talks of the cross as demonstrating God’s weakness, a mystery that shows that God’s weakness is stronger than our strength.

The cross was the place where sin was defeated, where redemption was won, where Jesus opened a door for us back into God’s presence. The Bible claims that at the place of seeming weakness, the greatest victory was won.

So what does Jesus mean when he talks of us taking up our cross?

Let me suggest three different things: the Cross is about identification, about self-denial/sacrifice and about weakness.

Firstly, we can identify with those who are suffering.

In Phil. 3:10, Paul says: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” Graham, whom I mentioned earlier, and others like him have paid the ultimate price for commitment to Christ. Persecution continues throughout the world and we are called to ‘identify’ with those who are experiencing Christ’s sufferings. To read their stories, to pray for them, to write to them and to their persecutors, to demonstrate Christ’s love in action.

Secondly, self-denial/sacrifice.

Do we really understand as individuals and as congregations, what Jesus means by self-denial? Is there any evidence of the Cross in our life together? Are we prepared to make ourselves vulnerable so that others might know God’s love? Are we willing to let our guard down – let others see our weaknesses, our fears, perhaps let others know about how God has helped us? Perhaps, for us, self-denial means giving time or energy to serving Jesus in different ways in the Church family.

Thirdly, weakness.

Some of us are very conscious of our weakness, conscious of pain, and of suffering. The Cross of Christ, the Cross we are called to take up, makes it clear that Christ identifies with our weakness and pain. It promises that in facing our weakness we will find God. Not when we are strong, not when life is wonderful, but most clearly, most real-ly, when we are at our point of greatest weakness, when the night is dark, when everything seems to be destroying us. Then, when we are weak Christ not only walks alongside us, but in the words of the poem ‘Footprints’ so loved by many, it is then that he carries us.

Finally, another quote, this time from David Runcorn, in a book called “Touch Wood: Meeting the Cross in the World Today.”

The Cross shows us a God: “who comes to us from beneath. He enters our world through its weakness, its wounds, its places of rejection. He shares our emptiness. He enters the absence of all we long for and becomes it. He makes it his own. He enters our desolation so completely that he makes our deepest cry his own, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?'”

The cross is central. We are very unlikely to be called, like Graham Turnbull, to sacrificing our lives for the Gospel. But in the Cross, Jesus calls us to service, to self-denial, to sacrifice – and with every fibre of his being, Jesus understands and identifies with our sense of weakness.

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 16: 13-20 – 23rd August 2020 – Peter the Rock?

Peter is the rock on which the church was built. At least that’s what our Gospel reading suggests. ….. St. Paul says similar things about us as Christians. Listen to his words from Ephesians 2:

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. [1]

We are God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, rocks, bricks being built into God’s Church. As Paul suggests in the second reading set for today from Romans 12. [2] Each of us exercising our different gifts and strengths, supporting and caring for each other is in Paul’s thinking, strengthened as a building by the interlocking nature of our lives together.

Jesus says to Peter: “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”

But Peter was anything but a rock. Yes, he has just exclaimed that Jesus is Messiah – but two verses later Peter shows just how fickle he is. He cannot accept Jesus’ statement to his disciples that he must die. “God forbid, that this should happen to you, Lord,” he says. And Jesus uses the strongest of words to rebuke him.

Later, as we know so well, Peter promises always to be faithful, yet within 24 hours of that promise he has denied his Lord three times. Peter is no rock. He’s not even stable enough to build a dog kennel on, let alone a house or a church!

So what is Jesus talking about? He knows how unstable Peter is. ………..

Jesus is looking beyond what is self-evident. He sees into Peter’s heart and he also sees his potential. Jesus’ seemingly unfathomable statement about Peter is based not on what we can see of Peter, not even on what Peter thinks of himself. Jesus’ statement, Jesus’ confidence in Peter is built not on Peter but on Jesus’ confidence in the transforming love of God.

And as we watch Peter in the story of the early Church we see someone who gradually becomes a rock, a place of certainty, a person, who in the end, dies a martyr’s death. We see God transforming Peter, dealing with the rough edges of his personality, dealing with the selfishness and sinfulness, the pride which is so much a part of his life. Moulding and making Peter into the rock that Jesus said he always was.

We too are living stones being built into a temple fit for God. Just like Peter, we are being changed and renewed, we mess up, we get things wrong, we hurt ourselves and each other. We definitely are not perfect! However, just like Peter, whatever we currently feel about ourselves, whatever we think others think about us, Jesus sees us as his rocks, his stones, his bricks.

And just like Peter we are called to build God’s church. We are called to be the secure point, the place of hope, the signpost to others around us. We are called to point others to the one who has loved us, who thinks the world of us and who gives life purpose and meaning. We are called to point others to Christ and to be the rock on which they can begin their life of faith.

We are called, as the Church in our community, to be a visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God in that community. If people cannot see the Kingdom of God in the church that serves them, where will they encounter that Kingdom?

We are not perfect, and never will be this side of heaven. But we are called to be a people, like the apostle Peter, who learn over time how to be more like Jesus. This is Jesus’ vision for us, or of us … that we are a community, in our parishes, and in our individual churches, that shines with the light of the Gospel. When God looks at us, that is what God sees. God sees the possibilities, the improbable joys, the unlikely achievements.

And, dare I say it, that is God’s hope for the way we relate to each other.

When we look at those with whom we struggle, we are intended to look through God’s eyes, to see the possibilities, unlikely as they may seem. To see what that person might become if loved and accepted and trusted. To see the possibilities, the improbable joys, the unlikely achievements.  To see that they too could be a Peter – a rough cut stone which could become the most beautiful of diamonds.

You and I are being built, being changed as God deals with us throughout our lives. You and I are each being built into the person God already knows we are, and it is God’s intention that we together become the people we are meant to be. His family, his people, his nation.

References

  1. Ephesians 2: 19-22.
  2. Romans 12: 1-8.

Matthew 15: 10-28 – 16th August 2020

What do you make of the Gospel reading set for 16th August 2020? … What does Jesus mean when he talks about the children and the dogs? Does it sound racist? Was Jesus being racist? That seems to be a blasphemous question to ask. Doesn’t it? ……..

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Why did Jesus say those words? Was it just rhetorical, aimed at getting the response it did? Was he just quoting a standard Jewish phrase? Was he, perhaps, working out his theology on the hoof? Learning as he went along? Applying what he had been taught by others and then discovering that it didn’t work or it was wrong. … Only realising as a result of this incident that his calling was wider than just to Israel? On the surface, in the first instance, he seems no different from his disciples. … Was it the woman herself that changed his mind? ……. What was going on? ………….

The Jewish establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned above all with purity – and we saw something of that in the first few verses of our Gospel reading. Our gospel goes on to raise real questions about racial purity. Just who does God see as his people. For many Jews it was clear – only the chosen people, only Jews. God wasn’t concerned for others, for the Gentiles.

Over the past few weeks in the Summer of 2020, we have once again seen images of refugees crossing the Channel in really unseaworthy boats, often small inflatables. I guess that we will also remember stories of people dying in container lorries in recent years. How should we respond to the stories we hear?

There is a very strong lobby which wants us to be fortress Britain. We are too full says that lobby. We cannot take any more. …

The world-wide statistics are indeed frightening.

According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million people displaced from their homes (about 1% of the world’s population) Many of them, 45.7 million displaced within their own countries but 29.6 million were refugees – people who have been forced out of their country of origin. Of these 5.6 million are Palestinian refugees and 3.6 million are Venezuelan refugees. Most (4 out of 5) stay as close as possible to their country of origin because they want, if at all possible, to return to their own land. ……There were 4.2 million asylum seekers throughout the world. [1]

The Governments statistics on asylum seekers show that, for the past 15 years or so numbers have actually been considerably lower than they were just after the millennium. [5]

What does this mean for the UK/Europe? The latest detailed figures available from the Red Cross [2] are for 2018.

Asylum Seekers: the UK received applications for asylum for 37,500 people (including dependents). This is far less than Germany (162,000), France (110,000), Greece (65,000) and Italy (49,000).

That works out as 5 applications per 10,000 UK population. In Europe the figure is 14 per 10,000 people.

Refugees whose claim for asylum has been accepted by the state in which they now dwell are given ‘leave to remain.’ But are still refugees. [2]

According to UNHCR statistics, at the end of 2018 there were 126,720 people still classed as refugees in the UK.  The number in Turkey is 3.7 million! [3]

The Syrian Crisis started in 2011. In the four years to 2015, the UK took 216 Syrian Refugees – 216 in 4 years! In 2020 the number has reached close to 20,000, the figure which was promised by the UK government.

At any one time around 5,000 people are waiting on the French side of the Channel to try to cross to the UK. Last year 1,900 crossed the channel, this year it has been 4,000, so far.

The most astounding figure that I have come across is the number of people granted asylum in Germany. This reached its peak in 2015 – wait for it – 440,000. Yes, over 400,000 in one year! Over the past 30 years, Germany has received at least 3.6 million asylum applications, or nearly one-third (32%) of all asylum applications in Europe over the period. [4]

In this context, what is our response to be, put up walls and exclude those most in need? Britain for the British! Fortress Britain. Keep everyone else out?

When we read the Old Testament we see that there was a constant tension in the life of Israel between those who believed that the Jewish race should be pure and ethnically ‘clean’, (whatever their reasons) and those who had a much broader vision. So Nehemiah and Ezra enact laws to prevent Jews marrying foreigners, yet the stories of Ruth and Jonah, probably written at around the same time, suggest that God is interested in the outsider and the foreigner. Ruth, who became the grandmother of King David (the person who became the symbol for the nation of Israel), was a hated foreigner, a Moabitess. And in Jonah, it is Nineveh, the hated Assyrian enemy city, that repents.

Jesus grew up in a community for whom those issues of racial purity were very important. Israel was for the Jews, no one else! That attitude would have been accepted as normal, an unwritten truth that the community accepted and which no one challenged. At some stage Jesus had to confront those attitudes in himself and his friends and family. Was this Gospel story the moment when it started to happen? …

Ultimately Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. But did he go through some sort of conflict within himself first? ………..

Does that help us when we grapple with our own feelings and ideas? Does it help to think of Jesus having similar struggles and overcoming them? Was this incident for Jesus just a little like the temptations in the wilderness – a real struggle? Or was it no more than the equivalent of swatting a fly? Easy? After all he was God, wasn’t he? Nothing too big or difficult for him! …

But Jesus was a real human being who had to learn and grow just like us. The toddler who had to take his first steps, the five year old who had to learn to read. ……

We have an ongoing struggle to engage with now in our country. It is a real struggle for the heart of our nation. Are we going to be xenophobic, focused only on ourselves, or are we going to be the open, relatively welcoming nation, that for much of our history we have been?

The issues are, of course, complicated.  Governments of all persuasions have struggled to work out what to do. There are no easy answers. ………

But I want to live in a country, in a world, where people matter; indeed that is a Gospel imperative. As Christians, we are called to respond to real need with a generous and open heart. We are called to set aside prejudice and to be open and welcoming.

Working that out can at times be complicated. We may need to make difficult choices at times. We will need to choose to be open, to place love and concern at the heart of our motives and actions. And as we do so we will begin to be a community that we can all be proud of, a community that welcomes the stranger.

References

  1. https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2019, accessed on 15th August 2020.
  2. https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/how-we-support-refugees/find-out-about-refugees%20, accessed on 15th August 2020.
  3. https://www.unhcr.org/uk/asylum-in-the-uk.html, accessed on 15th August 2020.
  4. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2016/08/02/number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3-million-in-2015/#:~:text=Germany%20received%20an%20unprecedented%20442%2C000,of%20Europe%27s%202015%20asylum%20seekers, accessed on 15th August 2020.
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2016/asylum, accessed on 16th August 2020.

The TNL Tram Network 1935 – 1944 – (Chemins de Fer de Provence 87)

This post continues a series of reflections on the tramway network in and around Nice which are primarily translated from Jose Banaudo’s French language book “Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire” [1]

Jose Banaudo’s excellent book on the Trams of Nice is sadly not available in English. This series of posts seeks to translate the text of the book for an English audience.

A more general impression of Nice in the War Years can be found on the Calameo website. [2] An English reader will require translation software or a good knowledge of French.

The Difficult Years (1935-1944)

Following the wave of tramway closures that began between 1929 and 1933 on the departmental lines and continued in 1934 on the urban network, the length of the network operated by the TNL was reduced to almost a quarter of the pre-war mileage. The fleet of rolling stock had been reduced by almost two-thirds, with a usable workforce of fifty-eight powered cars and twenty-six trailers, plus ‘tractors’ and wagons assigned to freight traffic. At that time, only Paris and Nice had so profoundly transformed their network ; in all other major French cities, buses had been introduced instead to complement existing tram lines or to replace those that were proving particularly difficult to operate.

A respite was needed but it did not materialise. Encouraged by the municipality and by public opinion, and always taking its Parisian counterpart as a reference, the TNL company continued to dismantle the trams. And soon, growing financial difficulties would force it to reduce its vast road network.

AN EVENTFUL PRE-WAR PERIOD

Further network reductions

A new redesign of the urban network took place on 18th March 1935. Tramway lines 4, 6 and 7, which connected the Passage-à-Niveau CP of Boulevard Gambetta to the eastern districts of the city, were transferred to road vehicles. The bus line 12, which duplicated other services, was abolished and two other lines were renumbered: the 9 of Righi became the 19, while the 39 of St. Roch was renumbered as number 9. Bus line 42 from Mont-Buron through the Col de Villefranche disappeared on 31st August 1936, and was reborn on 17th February 1936 on a different route, via Riquier.

On 18th November 1935, the tramway lines 20 from St. Laurent-du-Var and 29 from St. Augustin were switched to buses, a tram service 29 limited to Port – California was nevertheless maintained on rails. In addition, the lines 37 of Contes and 38 of La Grave were extended towards the centre by transferring their origin from Garibaldi Square to the end of Gioffredo Street (at the corner of Massena Square), from where the 36 already left for La Trinite.

As everywhere in France, the year 1936 was quite difficult. On 20th June, the staff of the TNL went on strike to demand the repeal of the laws decreed by the government and the reduction of the working week to forty hours. The St. Agathe depot was occupied and the red flag was raised on the power plant’s chimney. After almost two weeks of a total interruption of service, negotiations were successful and work resumed on 3rd July. However, the financial situation of the company continued to deteriorate and on 30th June, in the midst of the strike, the board of directors requested a revision of the agreements between the company and the city of Nice. As an indirect consequence of the conflict, the tramway line 5 Passage-à-Niveau – Ancien-Octroi was suspended on 4th July. The entire area north of the PLM line was thus deprived of a tram service, although the tracks were maintained on Boulevard Gambetta as far as the Passage-à-Niveau to allow the transit of goods trains between the Port and the Gare du Sud station.

Forced by strict cost-saving measures, the TNL reduced or abolished some unprofitable bus services. On 27th September 1936, the La Conque and La Liornala lines were closed while a 3 B Riquier -St. Philippe service was being tested.

The year 1937 did not see any improvement in the company’s finances, quite the contrary. To save money, the fleet of vehicles was reduced, the station at Place Garibaldi abolished on 5th April and the former depot at Carnoles, where the buses of the network of Menton were serviced, was abandoned on 19th April. During the summer, a new conflict broke out. The bus line of the Parc-Imperial closed on 11th July, followed the next day by five others: those of Bon-Voyage, Mantega-Righi, St. Isidore, Digue-des-Français and the Octroi du Mont-Boron. On the same day, the town hall and the surrounding streets were blocked by eighty buses gathered by the staff, displeased over the town granting many advantages to competing businesses that were jeopardizing their own employer.

This phenomenon had been felt for several years on the former departmental network, where the interurban bus lines that had replaced the trams were gradually being handed over from the TNL to private carriers. The lines AE Nice – St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat and BC Menton-Garavan – Val-du-Careï were abandoned on 21st December 1936 and 1st January 1937 respectively. Then came the turn of the AH Nice – Levens, first suspended from 15th April 1935 to 24th February 1936, then definitively abolished on 15th March 1937. The line AI Menton – Sospel was operated using a Rapides du Littoral bus on behalf of the TNL from 23rd March 1938.

Towards a New Operating Regime

As the economic situation of the company continued to deteriorate, a study on the reorganization of the network was submitted to the Inspector General of Roads and Bridges, Delemer, who submitted his report on 27th May 1938. On 11th July, the Caucade bus line was transferred from the Promenade des Anglais to the Rue de France. The next day, the board of directors requested the termination of the concession. As the municipality was slow to react, operations were totally suspended on 1st and 2nd August and the staff were notified of their dismissal. A provisional agreement was reached with the municipality as a matter of urgency to re-establish a minimum service on tram lines 21, 22, 29 (over it remaining length) and 35 as of 3rd August, eight city bus lines and four intercity bus lines. But as of the 6th August, the line AI Menton – Sospel was definitively abandoned by the TNL while the AC Nice – Cannes was taken over by the Compagnie des Tramways de Cannes.

On 15th August 1938, the company was relegated to the status of a temporary concessionaire which gave time for the city of Nice to find a new concessionaire. The next day, the network underwent a major overhaul: the Bon-Voyage bus line was replaced by a circular service 8-9 serving the St. Roch district, the Rimiez line was attached to line 2, while the St. Sylvestre, St. Laurent-du-Var, St. André and Miramar lines were simply abolished. The tramway network was cut off from the suburban lines of the Paillon valley and services 37 of Contes and 38 of La Grave, whose operation was maintained for the still important goods traffic fed by the cement factories. The tram lines were now reduced to five: 21 from La Madeleine, 22 from Carras, 29 California (shortened), 35 from Cimiez, 36 from La Trinite, plus a partial service 36 bar shortened to the Carrieres de Bon-Voyage.

However, the situation was far from stabilized and in the year leading up to the declaration of war, there was hardly a month that went by without route changes, route consolidations, line cancellations or reopenings, changes of numbers, inconsistent measures which had the effect of displeasing customers already quite weary of frequent fare increases and service interruptions. Thus, bus routes 8-9 and 11 were cancelled on 29th September and 3rd October respectively, the 34 became 4/34 and then 4/44 on a new route from St. Sylvestre to Hôpital-Pasteur, and routes 24 and 29 were renumbered 8 and 9 as of 13th October. The 6th October saw the trams make an unexpected return to the right bank of the Paillon with the creation of a new service 20 Gendarmerie – California, running from the Gendarmerie to Gioffredo Street on the track of the old line 34 of St. André which had not been in operation for four years, then the route of the 29 bar from Gioffredo to California.

On 30th November 1938, following a national call for a general strike in large companies, some of the staff stopped work despite a threat of job losses. The next day, the management dismissed several hundred striking staff, declaring itself ready to re-employ those who made a written request. One hundred and twenty-one agents were not reintegrated and their case was not finally settled until ten years later, after the war, by a decision of the municipal council. In the meantime, the year 1938 ended with further service changes. On 10th December, the terminus of line 8 of Caucade was moved to Piazza Gambetta (South Station) and was replaced by a variant 8A with a terminus in Piazza Garibaldi. On 12th December, the TNL abandoned its last intercity lines AF Nice – Monaco and AG Monte-Carlo – Menton. On the same day, services 9 (bus) and 20 (tramway) were replaced by a tramway line 9 Port – Pont-Magnan, extended to Carras on 15th December and then to California on 9th January.

On 1st January 1939, the TNL sold the bus lines it had been operating for eight years in the Principality of Monaco to a new company, the Compagnie des Autobus de Monaco (CAM), a subsidiary of its predecessor in Nice. This company abandoned the old tram depot in St. Roman to install its garage on a new site at the other entrance to the principality, in the Fontvieille district.

In Nice, a new 4L Risso – Parc-Impérial bus service was created on 16th January 1939 but it disappeared on 17th July, as did the 19 Gare TNL – Righi, which only operated from 14th May to 16th August. On 2nd February, the tramway lines 21 of La Madeleine and 36 of La Trinité took the new numbers 3 (shortened) and 3. While with these incessant changes the company was experimenting with a new numbering system. The company was using these alterations to experiment with all the possible solutions to transport the most passengers in the most economic conditions. And negotiations continued to settle the administrative status of the Nice network. On 25th April, the State Council withdrew it’s intention to terminate the concession, thus allowing the operator to continues for the time-being.

This picture shows the  line from Nice to La Madeleine in 1949 – Powered car No. 123 is pulling a very old-fashioned trailer. Although taken after the Second World War, this picture is typical of the decaying state of the tramways in Nice from 1935 onwards. The tram is in a relatively poor condition and does not display the line number, © Ch. Schnabel – Th. Assa collection. [3]

THE TNL. NETWORK AS OF 1ST SEPTEMBER 1939

Tram lines
3 Gioffredo – La Trinité
3/ Gioffredo – La Madeleine
9 Port – Gioffredo – California
22 Port – Station – Carras
35 Hôtel-des-Postes – Cimiez

Bus routes
1 Port – St. Sylvestre
2 Riquier – St. Maurice
4 St. Sylvestre – Hôpital-Pasteur
6-7 Circulaire Passage-à-Niveau – St. Roch
8 Gare du Sud – Caucade
8A Garibaldi – Caucade

References

  1. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire; Les Editions de Cabri, 2004, p97-100. Translated using ‘deepl’ translation software in August 2020.
  2. Les Alpes Maritimes Pendant La Seconde Guerre Mondiale by cdi06130;
    https://en.calameo.com/read/00417128672f1708ac36a, accessed on 21st October 2020.
  3. http://transporturbain.canalblog.com/pages/les-tramways-de-nice—de-l-apogee-au-declin/31975780.html, accessed on 21st October 2020.

1 Kings 19: 1-18; Matthew 14: 22-33 – Sunday 9th August 2020 – Holidays and Retreats

We are in holiday season – and our Old Testament Reading tells the story of the first known package holiday. Not arranged by TUI or Jet – this holiday is arranged by God.

Elijah has been working all hours as the head prophet in the Yahweh organisation. Business has not been that good. The competition have been gaining ground. It seems like bankruptcy is on the cards. Yahweh could well go out of business – or succumb to a hostile takeover by the Baal conglomerate. … The tension is brought to a head on Mount Carmel. Elijah challenges the opposition. A credibility test – whoever wins is the real God.I guess that you know the story well – Elijah wins. Baal cannot provide the fire to light the sacrifice on his altar. Yahweh, the God of the Bible, sends fire down from heaven. The whole Baal organisation is in turmoil – Baal’s prophets are killed. Elijah is on cloud nine. But things are not quite that simple – the chief shareholder of the Baal conglomerate is incensed. Queen Jezebel will not go away, she issues threats on Elijah’s life.

How does Elijah respond?

The tension of recent events has got to him. Rather than confident trust in God, built on the foundation of what God has just done at Mount Carmel, Elijah panics – he runs. It’s a classic case of depression and stress – he’s taken on more than he can handle. Elijah can now only see problems where once he saw opportunities. Run down, feeling hopeless, he runs off into the desert.

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life when I’ve been just like Elijah in our reading. Stressed out, having lost perspective on life, God seems to have disappeared.

It isn’t always something as drastic as Elijah’s experience that affects us. It’s strange isn’t it how often when we review something we have done, that it’s the negative things we remember rather than the good. Or, I wonder, have you ever had the experience in some unguarded moment of tearful emotions overcoming you. Sometimes holidays, perhaps because we begin to relax, or perhaps because of the memories they evoke, are times when life is particularly hard – times when we’re prone to self-pity – even times when God feels distant.

How did God deal with his faithful servant Elijah in this time of darkness? ……….

It’s important to note that God doesn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it – or to buck his ideas up.

No! First God allows Elijah time to rest and sleep; then God makes sure that he is well fed and watered; and then he takes him on a forty day excursion to the mountains.

At times we need to hear this – rest and recuperation are God’s gifts to us – listen to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” ……..

Secondly, God helps Elijah to see that although God can work in power, God is to be heard most clearly in the silence. God’s words of comfort to Elijah are whispered gently to him. Time away from noise and business, times of holiday and retreat, are times when we can hear God. Times when we can be resourced again for faithful service.

Life can drain us, it can pull us down, we can feel defeated. Holidays and retreats are God’s gift to us, they’re times when we can choose to make space for him. Times when we can pick up our Bibles again. Times when we can make space to pray. Times when we can set aside noise and competition and listen to God’s still small voice of hope. ……

Peter’s story in Matthew’s Gospel is a little different!

He is out of the boat walking towards Jesus. …. For a moment things seem to be going really well – until he looks around and sees the storm and suddenly the water underneath his feet really does feel like water. And Peter begins to sink. Life for him, like Elijah, is overwhelming. Peter is desperate.  “Lord, save me,” he cries. And Peter, like Elijah, discovers that God is there for him. …..

Both Peter and Elijah have seen God at work in dramatic ways – Elijah on Mount Carmel, Peter, with the feeding of the 5,000. But both discover that they have to learn to trust God for themselves. It is not what they have seen that counts – not even what they have been involved in. They for themselves have to learn to trust the quiet voice of God in the midst of what life can bring.

Peter cries out, “Lord, save me.” …. Elijah stands still, listening to God’s voice.

Whoever we are, whatever our nature and whatever our experience of life, we need too to learn to place our confidence and trust not in our own abilities, not in the faith of others but in the love that we discover God has for us. And when God reaches out to us in love, we need, like Elijah and Peter, to trust him.

And we can trust God to be there for us at all times – providing the strength that we need for each day, intervening on occasions, but most of all assuring us of his loving presence.

And when we come to Communion, when we release our burdens in confession, when we receive again the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, when we eat the food that God provides for us. We can hear God speaking once again in the silence, God says again – “I love you, rely on me!”

Every day that we come to Holy Communion can be a holiday – a Holy day!

 

 

Matthew 14: 13-21 – 2nd August 2020 – How to Read a Story?

Matthew 14: 13-21

Many of us, when we go on holiday, take with us something to read, usually a novel or two, occasionally a biography. Apart from reading books about railway history, I’m an avid reader of suspense, crime and murder mystery novels. I really like the police procedurals like Rebus from Ian Rankin, Alan Banks by Peter Robinson, Bob Skinner from Quintin Jardine and books by Rachel Lynch, Harlen Coben, James Patterson, … etc.

This isn’t really the time or place to chatter on about what I like to read. But I do want to ask you about the way in which you read a story or a novel. Who do you identify with most readily? Whose eyes are you looking through as the story unfolds? Is it the hero or the heroine, a bystander, or someone else who is involved in the plot?

I guess to some extent it depends on how the book is written, whether it is in the 1st person or the 3rd person, whether you are actually encouraged to identify with one character or another. Some of the most intriguing stories are those where the author encourages you to see things through the eyes of one character, to identify with them, only to find out that they are not the person you thought they were. The experience can be quite shocking!

It is usual for us, when we read a story or a novel, to identify with someone … to live the story through them.

So, I wonder, when we read stories in our bibles do we do the same? Or do we sort of stand detached, alongside events almost like spectators?

I think the bible authors had just the same kind of intentions as modern story-tellers do. They want to draw us into the story, to get us involved.

We are given an account of the feeding of the 5,000 in all of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All the accounts are different in their own way, all reflect the perspective or agenda of the particular Gospel writer. All help us to have different perspectives on the story! So Matthew and Mark place this story just after the death of John the Baptist – and in the context of the story that is clearly meant to be important. Luke suggests that the 12 have just arrived back from their mission as healers and preachers and that they are desperate to talk to Jesus about the things they have done and seen happen. John adds personal detail mentioning both Andrew and Philip, two of the disciples, by name – and mentioning that the five loaves and two fish came from the picnic box of a young boy. The same story told in four different ways.

Not only is the story told slightly differently by our four Gospel writers – highlighting different things in the story. We also have the opportunity to see the story through different people’s eyes. If we allow ourselves to imagine it, we can look out on the story through the eyes of the disciples, perhaps particularly Andrew or Philip, we can watch as members of the crowd, we could take the young boy’s perspective (although he does not appear in Matthew 14) or we could see things through Jesus’ eyes.

One thing I could ask you to try would be to choose a character from the story in Matthew 14 and listen again to the story trying to see things from their perspective and then perhaps share with others who have read the story but who have chosen other characters, what you saw. It would be a good way to broaden your understanding of a passage that you have read.

I’d like to highlight a couple of things that might come from doing just that as we read this story:

Jesus: The context of this story of the feeding of the 5,000 is set for us in each of our Gospels. Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he is in mourning. … The disciples have returned from the mission he has set them and they are full of excitement; clamouring and eager to talk to him about their impact on other people’s lives. … Our reading tells us that Jesus hearing about John’s death, withdrew by boat, privately to a solitary place. I guess he needed space to mourn. The other Gospels tell us that he withdrew with his disciples. In Mark we hear Jesus say these words to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

Jesus is exhausted, emotionally, spiritually and physically – he is done in and he needs space. His disciples similarly need space to rest and recuperate from their mission. I can imagine Jesus climbing up the slopes on the far side of Galilee – so grateful for the opportunity to rest, only minutes later to look up and see a large crowd gathering. Jesus was exasperated, grief-stricken, exhausted, ready for a break. … I guess, some of those feelings will be shared by parents and others here who have still to take their holiday, maybe even by those who have just had their holiday with children in tow.

In this instance, Jesus sets aside his own needs for the needs of the crowd. Even in the midst of his tiredness and grief he is willing to give himself to their demands for his attention. A while back, on our day off at 8.30 in the morning the doorbell rang. Still in my night clothes, I answered the door and there was a man of the road – can I have some breakfast. Come back later I said, we are still in bed. At 9.00 he was back, this time shouting through the letterbox, a few expletives about our laziness and unwillingness to serve him. He eventually got a piece of my mind and some days later came back to apologise. What does Jesus’ attitude in our Gospel reading say to me about my attitude to this man? Could I not have served him rather than place my own needs for rest first?

As Christians, all of us are here to be God’s hands and feet in society. Jesus challenges us, not just by his words, but by his actions, to be willing to go the extra mile in serving others! And only after having done so, here in this story, do the following verses tell us that he makes time again for solitude and rest!

The disciples: John and Mark have the disciples chuntering away before they come up with a very small amount of food. John has them ‘borrowing’ the food from a young lad. Both the disciples and the young lad had no idea what their paltry, tiny offering would make. They perhaps only made the offering to reinforce the fact that trying to provide for this host of people was a lost cause. ‘Lord, we just have to send them away – can’t you see that now?’

But Jesus takes their reluctant, tiny offering and turns it into the most sumptuous of banquets. … Like the disciples we so easily see what we have to offer as not enough. We are not gifted enough, our congregations are too small, we can’t possibly afford to meet Parish Share, we cannot meet the maintenance demands of our buildings – it is hopeless. … And it is so easy to think like that.

We are small and seemingly overwhelmed by the world around us, yet God is still working in our midst. We reminded ourselves last week that it is when we feel small  and helpless, then we are most like the Kingdom of God, for it is then that God can work through us. Things are fragile, they are certainly very dependent on the life of God’s Spirit. God is quietly at work in our midst and we have had a part to play in his work in our world.

Here in the characters of our story – seeing events through their eyes – we can be:

  • challenged and encouraged;
  • spurred on to service; and
  • reminded of God’s love and provision for us.

Prayers

Why not try what I have suggested for your prayers this week? Sit with this or another passage of Scripture for a little while. Try picking one of the characters in the story and see things from their perspective. Ask yourself: What do they notice? What do they do? Why, what motivates their actions? If you chose the passage from Matthew 14, you might find that you gain a different insight to the ones that I have suggested. …………..

Take time as well to pray for the work of the church, for those in authority in our world, for peace, for the needy, for those who are unwell and for those who are at rest with the Lord.