Sunday 6th September 2020 – Romans 13:8-end, Matthew 18:15-20
It is a great joy for me to be preaching with people gathered here in Church this morning. Although you will all have seen more than enough of me on your computer screens for the last three months, and some of you have been able to attend on Wednesdays, this is the first Sunday I have been able to celebrate and preach in front of real live people since my last pre-sabbatical service at the end of February. An unprecedented and unexpected gap which I hope will not be repeated in my lifetime.
I mentioned the word ‘gathered’ just now, and it is a word which has been on my mind quite a lot for the last couple of months. When lockdown first began, and when churches first had to get to grips with what it meant to be church and to do church in a different way, there was a great deal of talk about whether ‘church’ was the building or the people. Whilst much of the debate was nonsensical, with people being accused of worshipping buildings, I think we have learned some important lessons which I hope we can continue to draw on as we go forward:
- For a traditional church I hope that we have learned that worship can still happen in non-traditional ways. Over the years I wonder how much time has been spent discussing which hymn books to use, which musical settings to use, how the church should be decorated, which bibles to use, who should process where and when even, dare I say it, which coffee to have after church. Suddenly, literally overnight, all that was swept away and our experience of church was stripped down to daily prayer and a weekly Eucharist celebrated remotely. And yet somehow, despite all the shortcomings and difficulties that has presented, especially for those without the internet, we have hung together as a church and worship has still happened week by week, in dozens of homes, including those who are on Zoom today.
I hope that we have learned from that the difference between the externals of worship and the eternals of worship. A great deal of what we do in church, and what we talk about and what we worry about, has to do with the externals and, as we return to church, it would be too easy to become fixated on them once again. However, I hope we remember that it was the eternals of prayer, God’s word and the Sacraments which kept us going.
I pray that going forward our identity as a church can be founded from the ground-up on those eternals. If we are solid in our relationship with God then the externals can come and go and change or be withdrawn entirely and we are still the church. Although we are all keen, in one sense, to get back to ‘normal’ I genuinely hope that this experience has given us permission to hold the externals lightly, to be more nimble in our approach to change and therefore to be more willing and able to share the eternals of who and what we are with the wider world.
2. There is another side to this coin, which I hope complements rather than contradicts what I have just said. Whilst we have continued to be the church whilst dispersed in the world and meeting only virtually I hope that it has made us appreciate the importance and the strength of what it means to be the physically gathered church. Being with other people makes a difference to the experience of worship. I have used the analogy before but watching a play on the television or on YouTube is an entirely different experience from being in the theatre and in the audience. There is something important about being in the same room not only where the action is taking place, but also with other people who are experiencing it with you. This is a limited analogy because worship is never meant to be about watching a performance but about a collective action but there is something fundamentally human about being gathered together for a shared purpose which cannot be replicated on a screen. So, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, I hope that the experience of being dispersed will help us to appreciate the privilege and the importance of what it means once again to be the gathered church. Being the gathered church means we need to meet in a building, and that building should be fit for purpose, but that does not mean that we worship the building any more than those who go to the Oast Theatre worship the Oast buildings.
And today’s reading, as a matter of sheer providence, talks about the importance and even the power of the gathered church.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
I hear so often people tell me that they can have a relationship with God, on their own and experience Him out in nature. There is a long tradition of people living as hermits which suggests that it is possible to be a lone Christian, but everything else I encounter about the relational nature of God himself in the Trinity to the communal nature of worship which exists throughout both the bible and the history of faith, tells me that the default practice of our faith was never meant to be a solo activity but was always meant to be a gathered, communal, community, church-family event.
“Where two or three gather in my name…”
People can obviously gather for any purpose but here we are told that there is something important about naming Jesus as the purpose, the instigator, the focus of our gathering. There is nothing accidental about the fact that our services always start by saying that we meet in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that for that time we are not random people gathered for a random purpose but that we have come together as the people of God and in the name of God.
When we do that Jesus says: “…there I am, with them.”
To gather in the name of Jesus is to make Jesus present. We hear Jesus speak today in the words of the bible, the people of God are themselves the body of Christ and bodies work better when they are assembled rather than disassembled, we encounter the presence of Jesus in the eucharist, as each of us becomes more Christlike we should make Jesus more present to one another and the church which is gathered makes Jesus present to the world.
The gathered church is the people of God, meeting in the name of God and assured of the presence of God.
That is why theatre analogies soon run short – a theatre audience of two or three is a pretty poor audience but two or three Christians gathered in Jesus name have the power to change heaven.
I beg your pardon, I hear you say, what was that little leap you just made?
A few weeks ago we heard the reading from Matthew 16 in which Jesus established Peter as the rock on which the Church would be built and told him that whatever Peter bound on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever Peter loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. Roughly speaking, that the decisions and the actions Peter took on earth, whether it is healing, pronouncing the forgiveness of sin or whatever, would be honoured in heaven. As the representative of Jesus on earth that Peter could speak in his name and his words would have effect on earth and in heaven. As you might expect there is a great deal of theology in the Catholic church about the authority this bestows on Peter’s successor the Pope.
However, today, we hear those words again – whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Only this time they are not directed at Peter individually, but at the church local and militant.
Two or three gathered Christians, meeting in the name of Jesus, make Jesus present and have the power to affect the life of heaven. Whilst our worship life here may be a pale reflection of the eternal worship in heaven, and whilst it may feel even more pale either wearing a mask or via a screen, we are reminded today that this is not nothing, this is not incidental and neither it is merely social or external.
We are truly the body of Christ, gathered around the word of God in the bible and encountering Jesus the living Word of God in his spirit, in his sacrament and in one another, and are reminded that what we say and do here matters, not only amongst ourselves but in heaven itself.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ. This matters, more than we may ever appreciate this side of heaven. Let’s not get hung up on the externals, but focus on the eternals in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Services from September to Christ the King (22 November) with readings
Sunday 30 August 2020 – Exodus 3:1-15, Matthew 16:21-end
The world, by which I mean in this case the tabloid press, love a good ‘naughty Vicar’ story. If a vicar is caught cheating on their partner or committing any kind of crime then you can bet that the press will be all over the story in a way that wouldn’t apply if the perpetrator did most other jobs.
Politicians and celebrities get similar treatment but, even with them, that sort of behaviour is more expected and cheating on your wife is no bar to the highest of political offices these days.
I suspect that people love to read about Vicars going wrong either because it confirms their view that the church is hypocritical, preaching one thing whilst doing another, or they have a salacious interest in seeing those who hold themselves out as being ‘pure’ fall from grace.
How we love to put people in categories and, woe betide them, if their behaviour does not fit into our categories. What clearer distinctions could be made than between pure and impure, between sacred and secular, between saint and sinner, between heaven and hell, between human and divine. Surely, we tell ourselves, that these categories must be mutually exclusive and that to cross between them is either impossible or unforgivable.
However real life is often messier than the categories we seek to impose upon it and, perhaps even more challengingly, the characters and the events we find in the bible, even the most celebrated and foundational, often demonstrate that God has no choice than to work his purposes through fallible, broken, human beings because that is all he has but, and here is the good news, being broken and fallible is no bar to also being forgiven and lifted up into God’s presence, indeed that is the whole point of God’s saving work on earth.
Our first reading this morning recounted the call of Moses to become the saviour of the Hebrew people, leading them from slavery and into the land flowing with milk and honey. Moses is obviously one of the towering figures of the Hebrew scriptures and, along with Elijah, is one of two who also appear in the New Testament at the transfiguration of Jesus. We know that Moses spent time in the presence of God, that he received the ten commandments directly from God and that the Red Sea parted before him as they fled from Egypt.
By any reckoning and on any scale Moses must count as a ‘holy’ figure? Of course, he does, but today we are reminded of some of the messiness of life.
The Moses we encounter today does not look particularly holy. He is employed as a shepherd. Nothing wrong with a bit of honest agricultural work, of course, and we often think of Jesus as a metaphorical shepherd or we may think of the shepherds of Bethlehem who were honoured to hear the heavenly choir announce the birth of Jesus.
But the reality of being a shepherd, is one of hot, boring and probably often smelly work and quite different from the ‘holiness’ of being a priest like the owner of the flock, his father-in-law, Jethro the priest of Midian.
Nothing about Moses the shepherd looks particularly holy and it is worth remembering how he came to be working as a shepherd at all. In the preceding chapter of Exodus the young man Moses had witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and Moses killed him and hid his body in the sand. He then fled to Midian in fear of his own life.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Moses was a killer and a refugee and employed to look after a bunch of smelly sheep. I doubt he looked or felt or smelt holy in any sense.
And yet God wasn’t confined by human categories or preconceptions. When God chose to call someone into his service and onto his holy ground, he did not call the priest of Midian but this most imperfect of characters.
We know that Moses did not feel worthy of this call because his response was not “At last I have been recognised for the true person I am below this shepherding exterior”, rather it was “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?”
Who am I?
I often encounter ordinands both in real life and on Twitter who are awaiting ordination and I always have more confidence in the ones who say: Who am I? those those who say: Here I am, Lord!
God’s response to Moses’ question is the same as the assurance we are given in the service of ordination: “I will be with you” or “With the help of the Lord, I shall.”
It seems to me that God can do more good through the imperfect who know their need for the continual presence and help of God then those who think themselves perfect in their own strength.
Moses’ imperfection was no bar to being called to stand on Holy ground and to do the work of God.
In the Gospel reading this morning we also encounter the reality that holiness and imperfection often interact in ways which defy our comfortable categories.
Simon, like Moses, had also been employed in difficult, smelly and ‘unholy’ work although as a fisherman, rather than as a shepherd. As God called Moses so Jesus called Simon and, in last week’s gospel reading, we heard how Jesus called him Peter, the Petrus or rock upon which the church would be built, that he would be given the keys of heaven and that whatever he bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven. This should have been the apogee of Simon Peter’s transformation from unholy to holy.
But this week how things have changed. The rock on which the church is built has become a stumbling block to Jesus.
Having just acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus now teaches the disciples what that actually means. It does not mean the defeat of the Romans, it does not mean earthly success, it does not mean any kind of triumph. For Jesus to be the Messiah means, first to suffer many things and to be killed and, only after that defeat, to be raised again to life.
It is clear that despite Peter’s ‘ordination’ as the rock of the church that he doesn’t yet understand the true purpose of Jesus and he tries to use his new-found authority to bind Jesus himself “Never Lord!” he said. A far cry from “Your will be done.”
Jesus response is quite shocking – he not only calls Peter a stumbling block but he actually calls him Satan. This bring to mind Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness when Satan offered Jesus the easy way out of suffering and, of course, that is exactly what Peter is doing – he is tempting Jesus to avoid the suffering, go straight for the triumph.
“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus tells all the disciples, not just Peter, that the way to follow him does not include the easy path, the avoidance of suffering, but that they must each carry their own cross and lose their own life, because that is the only way to find their true life.
Do we seek the cross or do we seek success or do we seek the true success that only comes on the other side of the cross?
There are many lessons to be learned from today, and from our imperfect situation at present. But, for me at least, the lesson is this: perfection is not a pre-requisite for being called by God. If God can call Moses then he can call you or I. And being called by God, and even being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, is no guarantee of never getting it wrong. If Peter can be called the rock one moment and Satan the next, can deny Jesus and yet still be forgiven, then rest assured that you are unlikely to annoy Jesus more than Peter did.
Our present situation as a church and as a world is messy and imperfect and often feels far from holy.
Which means that it is probably just right for God to call us and use us and ask us to follow him. But we have to be prepared to pick up our crosses and walk.
Sunday 16 August 2020 – Revelation 11:19-12:6,10; Luke 1:46-55 by Rev’d Paul White
There can be little doubt that 2020 has been an unexpectedly challenging and difficult year for everyone and, although some things are gradually opening up again, you only have to watch the news to know that we are not out of the woods yet. We proceed but we do so with caution.
Personally, the lockdown started about three weeks into my sabbatical and only a few days before I was due to fly out to Kenya. I had had my jabs and even started my security training, learning which people with guns to be wary of and that if the bullets started flying not to hide in the car but to take shelter behind a mound of earth if possible. That could come in handy at the next Deanery Synod.
But, as we know, lockdown happened, the flights were cancelled, Nicky was keen to continue the experience of running things on her own and so I was left wondering what to do in a world which was suddenly closed.
Apart from finally getting around to reading Proust I did two main things during April and May, one physical and one spiritual. On the physical front I worked in my garden virtually every day, clearing a really overgrown border and planted a rose and lavender bed. On the spiritual front I sought to enter more fully into the rhythm and discipline of daily prayer and to broaden my diet of prayer.
I had been aware of a group of Anglican priests, male and female, called the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests, for a couple of years previously, not least because one of the people I trained with is a founder member. I had made contact with them in that time, but their meetings never quite fitted with parish commitments here, and so it didn’t happen. But, one of the unexpected side-effects of lockdown has been the rise of online worship and the Sodality started meeting and praying together online, and that made it possible for me to participate.
So, I entered into an almost Benedictine rhythm of daily prayer and physical work and I discerned that I wanted to be a part of this Sodality. Fortunately, the Superior, Fr Richard, agreed and I was admitted as a member on the last Sunday of my Sabbatical. I mentioned broadening my diet of prayer and this included praying the Rosary, which I did every day during May in preparation for my admission.
Of course the reason I am speaking about this today is because we are thinking about and celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary as the patron saint of this our church of St. Mary’s.
But, I am acutely conscious that this is a topic which splits opinion.
I suspect that as soon as I even mentioned that we are celebrating Mary today that a number of you thought something along the lines of “What is all this Popish nonsense?”.
Some Anglicans appear not to want to think about Mary at all, despite her huge importance in the story of our salvation, and her own discipleship which went from conception to the cross and beyond.
If you are tempted to dismiss any thoughts about the importance of Mary then you should probably start with the person of Jesus, because what we think about Mary must be affected by what we think about Jesus.
One of the central tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. We talk about Jesus being the Son of God, or God the Son, so frequently that it trips off the tongue. We sometimes also remember that Jesus was the Son of Man, or a human being. But how often do we think of Jesus as the Son of Mary? Perhaps we do at Christmas but, to be honest, most nativity plays are, thankfully, short of realism and there is little real sense that Mary has given birth to Jesus and even less sense that this same person will feed, clean and look after this baby on their dangerous flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, that on their return to Israel she will continue to raise him through childhood, adolescence and onto adulthood, that she will sit at the foot of the cross and watch her son die when nearly all his followers had fled and she will still be with the church at the day of Pentecost. Jesus’ divinity comes from God, and from being God himself, but his humanity came from his mother Mary – Mary is humanity’s link with the humanity of Jesus.
We should also remember that Mary was chosen by God the Father to give birth to God the Son. The Angel Gabriel told Mary that she had found favour with God. Out of all humanity, she was the one chosen to carry God in her womb. Who are we to dismiss whom God has chosen? In Orthodoxy Mary is often called the Theotokos or God Bearer and in the Rosary she is called the Mother of God. Whilst that may cause some uneasiness the theology is completely sound – Jesus is the Son of Mary, Jesus is God the Son, Mary is the Mother of God the Son.
By any measure the Mother of God should feature in our faith and we should not be embarrassed that the Virgin Mary is part of our story. God the Father choose her to bear and to raise God the Son and her response to God of “May be unto my according to your will” is one that she passed onto Jesus as we see from the prayer that he taught us “thy will be done” and one that we would do well to take to heart in every aspect of our lives.
But it would be wrong to see Mary as purely submissive. The song of Mary, the Magnificat that was today’s reading from Luke, is not a song of quiet submissiveness but is one of exuberant joy:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
How wonderful both to magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God – what a soul to be so alive to the love and blessing of God.
But there is also a recognition that what God is doing through her and through Jesus will upset the status quo and will turn accepted values and norms of society upside down:
“…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”
The person who says such things is no mere submissive vessel, but is a powerful person in her own right. This is the person who brought Jesus up.
Over the years and at various times and places Christianity has been the faith of the wealthy and the powerful but that is changing. The biggest growth area for Christianity is in Africa and in Asia where converts to Christianity are often the poorest and are often persecuted for their faith. They would recognise the power behind the song of Mary, they would recognise that by joining himself to humanity through the person of this poor girl God is doing something new and radical and for us to recapture something of that radical ness may revitalise something important about our faith.
The Magnificat is not just something nice to sing at Evensong but it was Mary’s revelation that the baby she had been chosen to carry was going to change the world forever.
The reading from the Revelation of St John also contained the imagery of a pregnant woman about to give birth. Interestingly, unlike the nativity plays I mentioned, this reading does not shy away from mentioning the agonies of giving birth. I should know, I have stood near someone doing that twice.
Revelation is obviously a challenging read, because it is written in a very different genre from, say, the gospels, and there is no doubt that it can be read in many ways and on many levels. However, the mistake some people make when reading this book is to think that it is only talking in a prophetic way about things to come in the future. Another way it can be read is the heavenly view of things which happened on earth. On that basis the gospel accounts of Mary giving birth to Jesus and then fleeing from Herod tell the nativity story from the human perspective whereas St John’s vision tells the same story but from the perspective of the birth of Jesus being part of the battles in heaven. That reading would make Mary into the pregnant woman in Revelation and it is on that basis that Mary is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Heaven and shown wearing a crown of 12 stars.
You may be quite happy to accept Mary as the Mother of Jesus and all that entails, but you may still wonder about the Mother of Priests thing. Whilst there is much else that could be said there I was really intrigued by a part of Revelation 12 which immediately follows todays reading, but does not form part of it.
There is a battle between the woman who has given birth to the child who has been taken up to the throne of God and the dragon, but the dragon cannot overpower the woman because of the help she is given both by God and even the earth itself. Then, it says, that the dragon was so angry that it went off to wage war against the rest of the woman’s offspring – and her offspring are those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimonies about Jesus. (Rev 12:17). This is something really worth pondering, and is not something I had really thought about before. If we interpret this story as being about Jesus and Mary then this verse says that this woman’s other offspring are those who follow Jesus, i.e. the church. If we are sisters and brothers with one another and with Jesus then what does this make Mary? The mother of the church, the mother of priests, because we are a kingdom of priests.
We should not be afraid of Mary. We should liberate her from the confines of the nativity play and recognise her as a fellow human being but one who was chosen by God to give birth to God. Without her story, both human and divine, our story would be very different.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Trinity 8 – 2 August 2020 – Feeding of the 5000 by Francesca Vernon
Jesus hears about his cousin John the Baptist’s death. He gets into a boat and sails off alone, perhaps looking to find some space in solitude… to process.
On coming ashore, however, Jesus is suddenly faced with this stadium size crowd of people standing before him, following him, waiting for him. I don’t know about you, but I feel that faced with this on top of the grief, I’d have been at the very end of my emotional tether.
But, Jesus’ response is not frustration, not even a slight sigh of weariness. He responds with a full, open-hearted compassion. Amidst his deep personal grief, the only response he has to these people is love, a deep love that strikes him to his guts: in the original Greek text, the word for having compassion here is made from the word used to describe a person’s deepest guts, their heart, stomach, liver, their insides. So, Jesus’ compassion for the people overflows out of the very core of his self, out of his inmost being. This is the God who faces us here.
Then, out of this compassion, Jesus feeds the people. He sees their hunger, their need, and he responds. The disciples on their part want to send them off to town to buy their own dinner, as there is barely enough food for them! But Jesus does not want to drive anyone away. And so, his compassion within him creates, gives birth to, a spontaneous miracle in this place of wilderness. He multiplies bread.
One comparison that struck me here is with the other place of wilderness that involved Jesus contemplating making extra bread…then, it was bread from stones. A number of chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel, the devil says to Jesus as he is fasting in the wilderness, ‘if you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread’. And of course Jesus can, he has the ability to, as he has demonstrated here!
But back then, Jesus does not give in and make bread. He does not give in to using his status as Son of God for selfish reasons. As St Paul says in the letter to the Philippians, “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself.” Here, in the feeding of the 5000, this miracle of bread-making comes not out of selfishness, which is I think an opposite of compassion, but it comes out of a completely spontaneous selfless giving, a wish to give to others and to respond to their immediate need. And this of course foreshadows both the breaking of Jesus’ body on the cross, and his offering of himself to us all through the bread of the Eucharist.
Another fun detail from the original Greek text – is to do with the place where Jesus invites the crowd of people to sit down, before he breaks the bread and feeds them. This place in Greek is called the χορτος (chortos), and this χορτος is normally just translated into English as ‘grass’, just plain grass. But in Greek it actually has a strong link with the idea of a specific place where a flock of animals, such as sheep, is fed; it is pasture-ground or a specific enclosure where animals are brought for feeding. So this use of language directly invites us to see Jesus as a shepherd, a caring, compassionate shepherd who is inviting his flock to sit down in his pasture-ground to be fed.
We are Jesus’ flock. When we find ourselves in places of wilderness in our own lives, Jesus does not drive us away from him, but invites us towards him, to commune with him in his pasture-ground. We are invited to eat with him, to eat his bread, and to drink of his living water that we may never thirst.
We are also Jesus’ disciples. We are called to share Jesus’ compassion, and his selfless gift, as he asked the disciples to share the bread. Everything we have and everything that we are is a gift from our God; food, friendship, our very life. And whether we are called to feed 5 or 5000 people with our gifts, it is God who calls us, and it is God who multiplies in extravagant abundance whatever little it is that we can offer.
So, may we live our lives in the light of Christ, sharing with others God’s love and compassion for us, God’s gifts to us, God’s grace that we receive spiritually, even when we can’t gather for the broken bread of Holy Communion. May we shine the light of God’s compassion in the lives of others, as much as we possibly can. For: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it’.
Sunday 26 July 2020 – 1 Kings 3: 5-12; Matthew 13: 31- 33, 44- 52 by Rev Paul White
“The Wisdom or the Judgment of Solomon ” – if you mentioned that to most people then, if they had any idea what you were talking about at all, they would probably think of the story of Solomon having to decide between two women which of them was the real mother of a baby – as you doubtless know Solomon’s judgement was that the baby should be cut in half but the real mother loved it so much that she would rather hand the baby over to the other woman rather than see it die, thus proving her identity. (1 Kings 3:16- end).
DNA tests hadn’t been invented then. Although the King Solomon method would have made the Jeremy Kyle show more interesting.
What may be less commonly known about Solomon’s wisdom is that it is not a characteristic which appeared by accident, more DNA if you will, rather it was a gift that he expressly asked God to give him.
In our first reading we heard that God appeared to Solomon in a dream. I have often thought about the way God communicates to people in dreams in the bible, and I think it is a somewhat neglected subject. But today I want to touch on the question that God asks Solomon in his dream:
‘Ask what I should give you.’
Rather than asking for long life or riches or even for love Solomon replied:
“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people,
able to discern between good and evil;”
This response pleased God so much that he did give him an understanding and discerning mind, as we have heard, but he also gave him all the things he hadn’t asked for – hence also being as rich as Solomon and having a thousand wives, although no one mentioned the thousand mother-in-laws.
So Solomon listened to God in his dream but God also listened to Solomon. The gifting and the calling of Solomon to be a good and wise king was not simply an imposition by God but was the result of a dialogue.
I sometimes wonder whether we are afraid of listening to God or even asking God to speak to us at all because we are afraid of what he might ask us to do – ‘go and become a Vicar!’ or ‘go to Africa!’ I tried, Lord, honestly, I had the tickets and the malaria tablets!
But God doesn’t simply impose his will upon the unwilling – that is not what a truly loving Father does. Part of the process of being someone who seeks to follow God’s will is about identifying and naming our own will, because when our will works in accordance with God’s will then great things can happen.
A number of times Jesus, who is as much God as the God who spoke to Solomon, said to people: “What do you want me to do for you?” (e.g. Matthew 20:21 & Mark 10:51).
Often when I am leading morning or evening prayer I give people a space to bring their deepest prayers and petitions before God. Those deep desires which we may hesitate to name out loud for other people to hear, but which God longs to hear.
‘Ask what I should give you.’
‘What do you want me to do for you.’
Imagine if God, Father, Son or Holy Spirit, posed that question to you now, how would you reply?
In this churchy context it is easy to jump straight into the pious answer and say something like ‘end world hunger’ or ‘bring world peace’ but the question posed to Solomon, and the questions posed by Jesus, are expressly personal.
What can God do for you?
It may be equally easy to jump to the selfish answer – a new car and a million pounds would come in handy, thanks God.
But, if we can be like Solomon, even before he became wise, and steer a middle course between the pious but impersonal and the selfish but impious and ask how God can bless us so that we can be the best versions of ourselves and therefore be a blessing to those around us then perhaps there can be growth.
In our gospel reading from this morning we heard how unpromising and tiny beginnings can lead to great things: the tiny mustard seed can become the place of habitat and shelter, the yeast which is almost invisible to the eye can cause a whole batch of dough to rise.
When describing the kingdom of heaven in metaphors or parables Jesus could have spoken about a great king commanding an army to drive out the occupying forces of sin but today, and for the last three weeks, he talks of seeds and tiny beginnings. We have encountered the seed as the word of God planted in the soil of our lives, the good seed and the bad seed growing up together until the harvest and today the kingdom of heaven itself as being something which seems tiny and inconsequential but which turns out to be worth everything – even the pearl of great price which we should be willing to give up everything else for in order to acquire.
How do we plant that seed, grow the kingdom, acquire the pearl of great worth? Perhaps the leaven will land in your life through being willing to listen out for God in all the circumstances of your life, even in your dreams, to be sensitive to the growth to which he may be calling you but also to be willing to enter into dialogue – to tell him what he can do for you.
And if one life can flourish and grow by drawing closer and more attentive to God then it is possible for many lives to flourish and how wonderful it will be when God and the world looks to us and sees not a disparate group of weeds and an unploughed field but a productive harvest or an overflowing net of good fish ready and worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not simply a place we enter after judgement, God willing, but is a kingdom that can grow and flourish and bear fruit amongst us in the here and now.
What can God do for you?
What can you do for God?
This scheme will cease to be operational from the 1st June although help can still be given if required. A big thank you to all those who volunteered their time to help others during the lockdown. If help is required, please contact Tonbridge and Malling Community Hub on 01732 876152 or Kent Together on 03000419292.