Category Archives: Through the Year

Easter Saturday Meditation 2016


Darkness

Reading: Luke 23:50-56

There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honourable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action.  (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used.  (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it.  (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

Jesus is dead.

Joseph declared himself and took charge.
The women watched and prepared.
All of creation held its breath.

And Jesus waited.

We usually think we are the ones waiting: waiting in uncertainty; waiting for the resurrection; waiting for God to act. But Jesus waits too.

He waits for you and for me.
He waits for us to declare ourselves.
He waits for us to prepare ourselves.
He waits for our worship, our actions, our preparation.
He waits for our love.

He waits because tomorrow’s resurrection is not planned for a hidden tomb in a faraway garden in a foreign land. It is planned for you and for me and for our community.

Jesus waited for the Sabbath to pass – because worship would never be the same again.

He waits for us.

Are you ready to celebrate his life? Are you ready to give him room in your heart? Are you ready for your worship, your life and your community to be transformed?

It doesn’t matter how dark the tomb of your life might be, his light will shine, his love will conquer. All you need to say is, ‘Yes.’

Prayer:
Yes, Jesus. Come into our lives, our families and our communities. Transform our worship. Bring us to life; bring our community to life; bring our world to life today. Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. I Seem to end up with the Easter weekend. Perhaps it’s because my mother runs the project?? See HERE for Easter Sunday and past years’ contributions. 

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Discipleship and vulnerability: A prayer for Maundy Thursday


This prayer was one I wrote for Epiphany Sunday 2013 (see here).  Christine Jerrett very kindly suggested I reblog it on Maundy Thursday – a night of shadows. Christine writes (among other things) her own beautiful prayers that are challenging, life affirming and encouraging. You can find her blog here.

I pray that this prayer will help your meditation on this night of brokenness, denial and betrayal. Thanks Christine.

Lord we love to offer you our successes,
our strengths and our achievements.
But what are they compared with your glory,
your majesty, your power?

Yet you come to us tonight, not in victory but in vulnerability.
You come in weakness, as the baby revealed to the wise men,
as the saviour on the cross who could not save himself.
You come with broken body and tormented soul.

In awe and in wonder, we gather round your table tonight.
We receive your brokenness,
and we offer to you, and to each other, our brokenness in return.
As we touch your wounds tonight, and you touch ours,
open our hearts to the wonder of your love,
and the saving power of your brokenness.

For we acknowledge that, while we may never pull a trigger in anger,
we are made of the same stuff as every other sinner:
the same fears drive us, the same selfishness, pride and greed;
We are as full of insecurities and mistrust as every sinner.

Help us to embrace our own vulnerability, our own brokenness,
so that the fruit of your love may become the fruit of our lives:
a feast for our family, our community and our world.

Amen

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Holy Week Service – Matthew 24


Our theme at Prestbury Methodist Church this year is the teaching of Jesus during Holy Week as recorded by Matthew. I was privileged to preach on Tuesday evening on Matthew 24.

SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 24:1-14; 42-44

We sang Stuart Townend’s song just now, ‘I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom’.

Well, the disciples wanted to boast. They boasted in the glorious architecture of the Temple: ‘Isn’t it magnificent!’ they cried. The Romans might be in charge, but this is the real centre of power. This is what really matters.

And it was important. Whatever the world might throw at them, however difficult it might be to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the rent, if the Temple was there, if Jerusalem was secure, there would always be hope.

And we are no different. We worry about the Guptas, we worry about Nkandla, we worry about inflation and interest rates, we worry about unemployment and how it will affect our children and grandchildren. But while we are complaining that this is bad, that’s bad and the whole world is corrupt, we are constantly looking for something to hold on to, something that will give us a sense of security, just as the disciples found in the Temple building. If we could just fix this; if we could just settle that; if there was less corruption, more tolerance, there would be hope.

Jesus said to his disciples, and to us, ‘You may think that these stones, this wish list, this fix will keep you safe, but none of these things will last; not a single stone will be left in its place.’

None of the things we put our faith in, none of the things that give us hope, none of them really matter, none of them is permanent. And what happens to our faith and to our hope when they are gone?

If our relationship with God depends on the Temple, what happens when it is pulled down? If our confidence and trust in God depends on our health or our security or our comfort, what happens when our health deteriorates, our security is threatened, our comfort is taken away?

The disciples were horrified at the idea that the Temple might not be as permanent or as important as they thought. So they cried out, ‘When, Lord? When?’

We need to know, so that we can plan, we can prepare, we can get ready. If we know when it will happen, we will live our lives differently; we will plan differently, we will be ready.

Every now and again, of course, someone comes along bragging that they have worked it out. They know when it’s going to happen, and they give us the date. The end is not simply near, it is set for the 17th of April, just after tea.

Now we know. We can stop working, stop shopping, stop planning. We can go up onto a mountain, down by a stream, into the wilderness or into the Temple. We can worship without distraction, meditate without worry, pray without fear.

So, tell us, Lord; when will it be?

But Jesus is emphatic: no one knows, and no one is going to know.

He does warn us, however, that the end will not come easily. The process will be like the pains of childbirth: the reward is magnificent, but you are not going to enjoy the journey. There will be war and famine and earthquakes. Our own comfort and wellbeing will be threatened. We will be arrested, punished and put to death because of our faith. People will hate us, simply because we trust in Jesus.

Jesus warns us about these things not so that we can work out which war, which famine, which earthquake is the final one. He even tells us that these things ‘do not mean that the end has come.’ No, he warns us so that we know what to expect and are not taken by surprise.

No matter what happens, Jesus is saying, hold on to your trust and faith in God, not in fine buildings, good health, security systems or healthy pensions. Many will give up their faith. But if we hold onto our faith, we will continue to live in the security of God’s presence, no matter how bad it gets. Don’t give up.

But ever since Jesus said these words we have been trying to work out which earthquake he was talking about, which famine, which war would announce the end. (I can just see the angels rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Which part of “no one knows, and no one is going to know” don’t you understand?)

But Jesus does tell one thing that will happen just before the end. We tend to ignore it. It has nothing to do with earthquakes and war and stars falling from the sky. Jesus says: ‘(The) Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all people; and then the end will come.’

The end is not heralded by wars or famine or pain and suffering. Those things are going to happen. They will always be around us. Whether they will be any worse towards the end, Jesus doesn’t say. But instead of counting wars and famine and earthquakes, we should be looking for ways to share the Good News with people around us.

So when Jesus says, ‘You must always be ready because the Son of Man will come … when you are not expecting him’, he isn’t saying have your bags packed ready for heaven. He’s telling us always to be ready to share our faith, always to live as if the Kingdom of God is already among us. It’s not crime and corruption that matter or even our health and security. Persecution and death may be our lot. What really matters is that the Gospel is proclaimed, God’s way is demonstrated.

What has eternal significance is when our lives, what we say and what we do, begin to proclaim God’s love and faithfulness to a hurting world; when our choices and our reactions demonstrate that ‘normal’ responses, our ‘normal’ way of life, are not the only way to live – there is a better way.

In the chaos and the struggle of our lives, we are challenged to rise above the normal, to find ways to be better than normal; to stop taking offence at what we see around us, at what others are doing or saying.

That’s a phrase that challenged Jen and me in our quiet time recently: ‘Don’t take offence.’ Because we do. We take offence at what others do or fail to do; we take offence at what others say; we take offence at other drivers. It’s a normal reaction. But Christ calls us to be better than normal, to offer an alternative response, to demonstrate what the Good News looks like and what life in the Kingdom of God is like.

How about we start this Holy Week.
They are planning to put Jesus to death. There are signs it’s going to happen this week. But Jesus doesn’t want us to take offence – to scream and shout and draw our swords. He wants the love that drives him to the cross to drive our every interaction, our every relationship, our every decision; that his love should drive us this Holy week and every week, come earthquakes, war, famine or persecution, until he comes again.

‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Or as Graham Kendrick writes:

‘So let us learn how to serve, And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer, For it is Christ we’re serving.’

[We closed with Christine Jerrett’s beautiful prayer found here: Faithful, promise-keeping God]

 

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Easter Sunday Meditation 2015


Christ is risen – he is risen indeed.

Reading: John 20:11-18

Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb (12) and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet.  (13) ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ they asked her. She answered, ‘They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!’

(14) Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus.

(15) ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus asked her. ‘Who is it that you are looking for?’

She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, ‘If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.’

(16) Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (This means ‘Teacher.’)

(17) ‘Do not hold on to me,’ Jesus told her, ‘because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.’
(18) So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

‘The day of resurrection, earth, tell it all abroad;

… for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.’

But wait. Why are you crying?

A lost loved one? A lost opportunity? A failed relationship? Are you afraid of something or someone? Do you feel helpless and alone?

Trevor Hudson reminds us ‘that each person you see … sits next to his or her own pool of tears.’ You are not the only one crying today. You are not alone in your tears.

Mary, too, was crying, and she tried to fix everything, as we do: ‘tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.’

But there is so much that cannot be fixed, however many times we go over what we did; however many times we cry, ‘If only ….’

But what if the empty tomb was not a sign of loss but of life? What if our pain could be transformed into healing for others? What if others could find hope because of what we have experienced?

Jesus calls us by name today. And he sends us out to his brothers and sisters – our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, our neighbours, friends and enemies. He asks us to tell them that his Father is their Father, that his God is their God. We are not alone; we belong to the Father and we belong to each other.

We were never meant to keep the tomb filled with our pain and hurt and fears and anger. It was meant to burst open and to fill the world with light and love and hope.

The Lord is risen – he is risen indeed!

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for the hope of this day.

Thank you that our tears and the tears of the world do not have the final say.

Help us to discover, in the place of our hurt and loss and suffering, an opportunity to bring hope and love to the world around us.

Help us, today, to call someone by name, to reach into their tears and give them hope.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project, with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions. 

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Easter Saturday Meditation 2015


The tomb

Reading: Luke 23:50-56

There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honorable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action.  (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used.  (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it.  (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

‘It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.’

They put Jesus in the tomb, and waited….

Meanwhile, the women prepared….

We spend so much time waiting for things outside our control: for telephones to be answered, for service to be provided, for pain to cease, for opportunities to arrive, for miracles to occur. But the secret seems to be hidden from us, as the body of Jesus was hidden in the tomb.

So we wait. We wait to become gentler and more loving; to become kinder and more humble towards our families. We wait for the right circumstances, for more wisdom, for greater faith before we serve our neighbours. We wait for opportunities to do great things for God. We wait to be made holy.

Meanwhile, the women prepared….

While we are waiting, we, too, can prepare. We, too, can care for the body of Jesus: the Church, our community, our family whom Paul called, ‘the body of Christ’. People around us struggling, hurting and dying … and waiting.

What is the Spirit of Jesus inviting you to do to care for the body of Jesus today?

Prayer

Lord, help us recognise your body in the people around us, especially those closest to us.
Lift our eyes from our impatient busyness.
Teach us to prepare, not for some outward event of the future but for the renewal of our hearts and for renewed relationships with our family and our neighbours.
Help us to offer our lives (as Joseph offered his tomb) to be a source of gentleness and kindness for the body of Christ – the people in our family, our neighbourhood and our world.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project, with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. See HERE for past years’ contributions.

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Grace in the wilderness


[A sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 22 June 2014]

SCRIPTURE:    Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

The Christian calendar
Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost; it is also the beginning of a new season in the Christian calendar.

Is that particularly important? Does it really matter? And more to the point, why should we or the world care. We have much more pressing issues: desperate unemployment, HIV/AIDS and the evils of poverty and crime. The Christian message of love and hope, and of salvation itself, is lost in the noise and turmoil, what do the seasons of the church matter?

When Jesus spoke about proclaiming the message from the rooftops, he wasn’t talking about the Christian calendar. But the themes and the readings set down for each Sunday do help us understand who we are and what we have to say to the world.

During the past six months, the Bible readings in the lectionary have led us through the great events of the New Testament: the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit.

Those are the dramatic events we know and love and sing about.

Ordinary time
But now we enter a long season lasting five months, where we simply number the Sundays after Pentecost all the way to Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Catholics call this ‘ordinary (or numbered) time’.

During these weeks, instead of looking at the great events of Jesus life, we look at the way Jesus lived his life as we follow his work and teaching through one of the Gospels.

John van der Laar says this a time for ‘a change in our focus from God’s Story to our story – how we will now live our story differently because of who God is and what God has done; how our lives will become one with God’s story as we seek to follow Jesus.’ (Changing Seasons – So What?’ Sacredise)

But it’s not the first-century Jesus we are trying to follow. It is Jesus living here and now in this poverty-stricken, AIDS-smitten, educationally-challenged, wounded and weeping country of ours.

Because this is where we are called to live – not within these four walls, but out there, in the world, today.

Matthew 10
And today’s readings? Well, in Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for the mission field, and he tells them (and us) what following him will involve. And it doesn’t make easy reading.

Jesus says that people will swear at us – and they’ll mean it.
Then, as if to comfort us, Jesus says, ‘But don’t worry about them. What can they do to you? They can only kill you.’
‘Oh!’ we might say. ‘I wasn’t planning on getting killed.’
‘But if you want to follow me,’ Jesus will tell us, ‘you must lay down your life and take up your cross.’
Because the cross is not just a heavy burden, it’s an instrument of torturous death. If you take up your cross, you’re going to die.

So, living a Jesus life here in 21st century Africa means we are going to be sworn at, by people who really mean it, and it means giving up our lives. The end is not a nice comfortable seat in church and a friendly Bible study. Far from it. Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace, but a sword. Families and friendships will be torn apart. Your enemy isn’t the devil, he tells us; your enemy will be among your family and friends.

‘This isn’t what I signed up for’
What happened?

What about all the ‘peace and goodwill’ the angels sang about at Christmas?
What about the warm fuzzy feelings the Magi experienced when they gathered around the baby?
What about the love poured out on the cross? What about Jesus dying in our place?
What about the power of the Holy Spirit, of the fruit of love and joy and peace?
Where is the Good News in all of this?

No wonder John van der Laar said when he read this passage, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’. (‘I Didn’t Sign Up For This’, Sacredise)

A two-a-penny sparrow
But that’s not all Jesus says in Matthew 10.

He also tells us that not even a two-a-penny sparrow is out of God’s sight and care. And he even knows how many hairs are left on your head. And, what’s more, ‘if you tell the world you belong to me,’ Jesus says. ‘I will do the same for you before my Father in heaven.’
‘This one belongs to me,’ he’ll say. ‘That one is mine.’

In other words, Jesus is saying that, no matter what happens here, good or bad, we are claimed by God. We are his.

Life is not easy
Life is not easy, for anyone. That’s not the promise. And for those of us who want to follow Jesus, there will be additional burdens. As we reach out to the poor, as we sit next those in pain, as we take up the struggles of those who have no voice, as we challenge those in power, we will risk the dangers Jesus warned us about.

Yes, we pray for peace. Yes, we pray for healing. Yes, we pray for mercy. Yes, we pray for justice. But these things are in God’s hands, not ours. They don’t belong to us as our right. And they don’t arrive in the form of a world cruise or a tropical island trip. We don’t win the lotto and give up the daily grind. That’s where the world finds its peace and joy and comfort – for a while, anyway.

In the middle of the darkness
For you and me, much more meaningful peace and joy and love are to be found not by running away but in the middle of the darkness and pain and suffering.

I’m pretty sure I could randomly point to people here, and they would tell us how they have found God to be most real and closest to them, when the darkness was the greatest, the pain the hardest to bear, the mountain impossible to climb.

Genesis 21
Let’s look at the Genesis reading for a moment. Genesis 21 is not Sarah and Abraham’s finest hour. It is a very dark moment.

Sarah and Abraham were never perfect examples of faith and saintliness. But God chose this broken, struggling couple and enabled them to become better than normal in critical moments of their lives because their greatest desire was to walk with God.

But they sure got it wrong at times. God promised them so much, but like us, they would take matters into their own hands and hurt themselves and others in the process.

Abraham and Hagar
Among other things, they decided to help God with his plan to give Abraham an heir. After all, time’s marching on. Abe’s already nearly 90. So they agree that he should sleep with Sarah’s maid Hagar and get his heir that way. We can’t point fingers. In thousands of years, we still don’t understand sex, and still we haven’t learned that there is no such thing as a one-night stand. The repercussions (baby or not) are long lasting.

When Sarah finally had her own son, Isaac, the true heir, all the bitterness and jealousy of the past ten years or so began to emerge and be dumped on Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael thrown out
Finally Sarah succeeds in having Hagar and Ishmael thrown out. But don’t blame Sarah. Abraham was no saint in this matter, and Sarah’s life had been hell. Be that as it may, Hagar is out in the wilderness with just enough food and water to take them out of sight but not enough to survive.

And when it was all gone, Hagar left Ishmael under a bush because she couldn’t bear to watch him die.

But God…
And then it happened. One of those, ‘But God,’ moments we come across so often in the Bible. They were dying; this was the end; they couldn’t take any more.

How many of you have been there, or are there now? Who do you know in the same boat?

They were finished, but…! God heard the boy crying.

Of course he did! Ismael was named for this moment. Ishmael means ‘God hears’. And God heard.

As Dawn Chesser put it:

God hears, even when we are alone in the wilderness
God hears, even when we don’t know what to say to God
God hears, even when the tension of living remains unresolved
God hears
(‘Preaching Notes’, General Board of Discipleship)

God opened her eyes
And God provides. Not that God brought banquet, or a tea trolley. He didn’t even bring a well. In verse 19: ‘God opened her eyes.’ She was able to see what was hidden by her pain and her tears. She could see the well, and as she drank, she began to see the way forward.

But they never left the wilderness. Terrible though it may seem, God didn’t rescue them from the wilderness. He helped them find a way to live in the wilderness, to live through the rejection and hate, to survive and prosper. Not what the world calls successful. Not the ‘happy ever after’ that Hollywood pretends money can buy. But peace and the presence of God and a promise still being fulfilled today.

There are people around us, like Hagar, desperate to find a well that will see them through, that will sustain them, that will give them hope. There are people in this church community; people in our neighbourhood; people at work and in our families. They are within touching distance of us, a phone call away.

Called to be a well
Jesus warns us that the journey will be tough and thankless. It’s not that we are trying to die, though that might happen. We are not looking for abuse, though that might come our way. We are here to help people find a well. To be a well to the people around us. To support, to sustain, to share the hope we have in Jesus.

The message for us and for the world around us is not that all will be bright and sunny.  But that God hears. God hears.

God hears
God hears you and me and the people around us as we cry to him in our own pain and for the pain of others. And we discover that his presence is worth far more than worldly wealth and peace. I can’t prove that to you, but there are people here who have discovered its truth for themselves and are living it out today.

As Chrystal Rodli, put it:

‘If we define success as having engaged in an honest pursuit of God’s heart, and having endeavoured to sacrificially give of ourselves and our resources (to further) the kingdom of God, then there is nothing that can stop us from being successful. The world may insult us, mock us, fight us, and hate us, but it cannot stop us.’
[‘Babylon the Great: in or out’, Treasure Contained]

Which is just what Paul said in Romans 8:38, ‘Nothing can separate us from God’s love.’ Nothing.

Amen

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