Friday, 24 April 2020

Daily Message 24th April 2020

The house in Emmaus (Luke 24)

All this week we’ve been looking at scenes in the gospels that record Jesus being present in someone’s house, and they remind us that although crowds often flocked to Jesus,  he also went to where people were – and today he comes to us where we are in our houses.

Today we read from Luke’s gospel – the account of Jesus meeting 2 disciples later in the day of his resurrection as they walk to Emmaus – a village about 7 miles from Jerusalem.

Earlier the disciples had sensed Jesus’ presence as they walked along the road, but it was only when he broke bread with them that they recognised him.
Breaking bread and giving thanks – such an ordinary thing, that anyone would do as they ate together. I wonder how many times Jesus had done this before.  Maybe Jesus had a form of words that was immediately recognizable. Maybe the 2 disciples were suddenly transported back 3 days to that last supper when Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to them; or perhaps a year or two back when Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish, gave thanks, broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute.

In many churches the service of holy communion – the Lord’s Supper, the Mass, the Eucharist, call it what you will – is the central act of gathered worship. In some places it is accompanied by ceremony and ritual with music and incense, in others it is much more humble, but at its heart is a meeting with Jesus where bread is broken as a sign of his presence with us.

Some are finding it difficult to forego communion while we can’t meet together physically, so  we have to make do with a virtual gathering together and a ‘spiritual communion’.  But even that can be consecrated – made special – by the presence of the risen Jesus with us.

We’ve lost the idea of offering hospitality to strangers – we are much more cautious and suspicious about who we let into our homes – and sometimes with good reason. In the culture of Jesus' time, and still today in many parts of the middle east, it was normal and even expected to give hospitality to passing strangers.  At the beginning of John’s gospel Jesus invites Andrew and another disciple to come and spend the day at his place. Here in Luke the 2 disciples invite Jesus to spend the night at their place. And in both cases Jesus makes himself known in a new a living way. Later Jesus meets the 12 and as a sign of his real presence, he eats broiled fish with them. And later still, though not in a house, Jesus cooks a fish breakfast for his disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee.

When you have your next meal, make a point of inviting Jesus to share with you, whether you’re on your own or with others. And who knows, maybe Jesus will make himself known to you as he did to those 2 disciples in Emmaus.

Daily Message 23rd April 2020

Jesus in our homes
This week we are looking at scenes in the gospels where Jesus is in someone’s house as an invited guest. We find him teaching, healing, but most of all eating and drinking. Wouldn’t you love to have been at one of those dinner parties.

The one thrown by Mary and Martha with their recently raised-from-death brother Lazarus – imagine the conversations.

The one at the house of Levi – later known as Matthew – where Jesus was accused of keeping bad company. The onlookers thought Jesus would be ‘infected’ by their sin, but rather – like a frontline doctor – he was the one that brings healing and forgiveness.

The posh dinners at the houses of Pharisees, like the one at Simon’s house where a ‘sinful’ woman – probably a prostitute – poured perfume over Jesus’ feet and wept tears of gratitude. Imagine the men’s discomfort. Maybe some of them knew her in the ‘wrong’ sort of way.

And the ultimate – literally the last – dinner with his disciples.

And then there’s Jesus at the house of Zacchaeus, which is described in Luke 19.

We’re familiar with the details: Zacchaeus a short man who casts dignity aside in order to see Jesus.  He was a chief tax collector - I wonder if Levi had worked for him? – collecting taxes for the hated Roman occupying power. But there is something about Jesus that captivates him more strongly than the love of money, and unlike the rich young man who wanted to add one more good thing to his portfolio of goodness, Zacchaeus is prepared to give away most of his wealth: half to the poor and four times what he cheated people out of.

It’s not the act of giving his wealth away that ‘buys’ him salvation – rather salvation comes to him and his generosity is the result of a changed life.  Jesus comes to his house.  When was the last time he had such a famous guest? Imagine his delight, imagine him running back to get things ready. And you can hear the muttering starting already.  If Facebook had existed back then the neighbourhood group would probably been posting: ‘Just seen Jesus going to that scumbag’s house. Thought he’d have known better!!!!! Expect Zak is trying to buy a favour.’

But Jesus replies: Today salvation has come to this house.  He is the one who saves.  It’s not by our own good works.  ‘For this man is a son of Abraham.’  Jesus saves and he restores Zacchaeus to his place among God’s people.
And that’s what Jesus does today: he saves and restores.   The friends of the paralysed man made a hole in the roof; Zacchaeus climbed a tree.  What will we do to meet Jesus today?

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Daily Message 22nd April 2020

Jesus in our homes

This week we are exploring scenes of Jesus in different people’s houses.
Yesterday we thought about how Jesus brought healing and comfort, but at the same time his presence resulted in the roof of the house being destroyed.
Today we find Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary, those 2 sisters who were so different. And again Jesus’ presence brings comfort to one and disturbance to the other.

Read Luke 10:38 - 42 

I think we often picture just 3 people in this scene: Jesus, Martha and Mary, but actually Luke tells us that Jesus was travelling with his disciples. Presumably he didn’t leave the 12 outside – they probably joined him in the sisters’ house. So dinner for 13 hungry men who turned up on her doorstep without letting her know in advance – no wonder Martha was distracted!

Traditionally a teacher, or rabbi, would gather his disciples round him, sitting at his feet.  This was a mark of respect. In the culture of the day it was only men who would be accepted as part of this learning community – the rabbi (male) with his disciples (also male).  Not only that, but it was accepted that in a household women would work in the kitchen, and stay there while the men enjoyed each other’s company. That is still true in some cultures today.
So what do we find here? Martha in the kitchen, as would be expected, but Mary in the main room with Jesus, sitting at his feet – presumably with the 12 – taking the role of a disciple.

No wonder Martha was shocked: not only was she having to do the work on her own, but, if that wasn’t bad enough, her sister was flouting every social and religious convention by putting herself on an equal footing with the other disciples.  And Jesus seems to think that’s OK – adding to Martha’s distraction.
If yesterday’s scene showed Jesus tearing up the belief of the teachers of the law that a ‘mere man’ cannot forgive sins, now he’s tearing up the convention that says that women can’t be accepted as equal disciples. But this isn’t simply because Jesus is being deliberately provocative just to upset people – it’s because he is working to a much higher priority: the kingdom of God.

In God’s kingdom all people will be accepted and treated equally, in God’s kingdom there is forgiveness for all.  And Mary is welcomed as part of that.
Only Luke records this scene, but John shows us at greater length Mary and Martha as they grieve for their brother Lazarus, and later in the same house a dinner party given in Jesus’ honour where Martha is again serving and Mary pours expensive perfume over Jesus feet.  This time she is criticised by Judas for her wastefulness. Maybe Mary was so grateful to Jesus for being accepted as part of his new kingdom community that she would do anything to show her gratitude.

As we come to pray, let’s consider what it means to be part of that new kingdom community that Jesus is building – and more than that…. Part of his family in which we can call God our Father.

Daily Message 21st April 2020

Jesus in our homes

This week our theme is ‘Jesus in our homes’, and we’re thinking about the number of times in the gospels Jesus is recorded as being in someone’s house.  

The account of Jesus healinging the paralysed man who was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching the people is recorded in 3 gospels: Mark focusses on Jesus preaching; Luke on his healing; Matthew on sins forgiven.

Read Mark 2:1 – 12

It’s a well-known and vivid story, but any churchwardens might say, “Yes, but what about the roof?”

I wonder what the man whose house this was thought?

Imagine opening your house to Jesus, then you have to move all the furniture because so many people are crowding in, and then – if that’s not bad enough – your roof gets destroyed. 

Or maybe you were so amazed that you praise God along with the crowd, and thought – Never mind about the roof. I’m sure someone will help me mend it.

There are two images here:
·        One comforting
·        The other more disturbing

Comforting image: Jesus forgiving the man’s sins and healing him.  Jesus is prepared to ‘make a house call’ like an old fashioned GP to bring healing into the home. There are 2 other gospel accounts of Jesus healing in someone’s house: Peter’s mother in law, and Jairus’s daughter. Jesus acts out of compassion for the sick and visits them where they are.

Disturbing image:  friends so desperate to find Jesus that they are prepared to wreck someone’s roof to get in.  I once had to break in to our previous house in the middle of the night because we’d locked ourselves out. Very embarrassing making so much noise that it woke our neighbours.

But there’s another form of wrecking going on here: the religious system that is so dear to the teachers of the law in which God alone can forgive sins. Jesus literally tears it apart as he takes that authority on himself. And the teachers don’t like that anymore than we would like someone destroying the roof of our house.

2 questions for today:
  • ·        Have we ever been desperate enough to find Jesus as the friends of that paralysed man?
  • ·        if we invite Jesus into our homes, are we prepared for the consequences?

Daily Message 20th April 2020

Jesus in our homes

Yesterday’s gospel reading was about risen Jesus encountering disciples in a house.

It made me think of the number of times Jesus’ is found in a house: teaching, eating and drinking, healing.

And the number of times he refers to houses or domestic scenes:
  • ·        How to build a solid house.
  • ·        The best place to put your lights.
  • ·        How to avoid being broken into.
  • ·        Don’t get locked out by the owner.
  • ·        If you lose something search the whole house until you find it.
  • ·        Don’t treat your home as a castle and ignore the poor.

Jesus was born in a guest house – in fact not even in the living quarters. He was born probably in a downstairs room where animals were kept, with sleeping quarters on the floor above.

·         While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Lk 2)

Later, they probably moved into the living quarters of the house.

·        11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. (Matt 2)

Jesus never owned his own house, but was often welcomed into other people’s houses.  Can you imagine if he had?  I’ve just got to go back to Capernaum to check on the house, or make sure the tenants are paying the rent, make sure it hasn’t been broken into, tidy up the garden.

So my question today is: Where is our security? In bricks and mortar?  I ask myself. We live in a bigger house than most, but it’s not ours and in a few years’ time when I retire we’ll have to find our own house.  When we did buy a flat as an investment a few years it immediately brought a whole load more worries and cares with it. So I ask myself, “Where is my security? Where is my hope for the future?” I don’t want to be like the man in the parable who built bigger and bigger barns to store his crops so he could enjoy a comfortable retirement, and then died.

There is nothing wrong with owning our homes – it's enshrined in Universal Declaration of Human Rights; nothing wrong with making sensible plans for the future,  but let’s just check ourselves to make sure that our trust is in the right place.

Psalm 91:2  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Saturday, 21 March 2020

The best of times, the worst of times

Times like this seem to bring out the best and worst in people. Because we are all feeling more stressed than usual it's not surprising that some people are grumpy or rude, or panicking and buying more than they need.  Let's try not to add to that, but ask God to grow his fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  

At the same time there are some lovely stories going round of neighbourly help and encouragement.  Whenever you see a good story like that, thank God for those people.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Dear Friends

This morning I was reflecting on the tradition in the early church that led people to seek solitude in the desert of Egypt, and discover a life of prayer, worship and bible reading. The Desert Fathers, as they were known, renounced many of the normal worldly comforts but discovered the rich joy of knowing God more closely.  St Anthony was one of the leaders, and he attracted many followers. He is attributed with starting what become the monastic movement.

Perhaps at this time, although we are looking for imaginative ways of connecting with other, we should also embrace the solitude and look at it positively, seeing it as an extended time of Lent.

The psalmist says, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139). Though we may be isolated from other people, we can never be isolated from God.

So for those who suddenly find you have more time on your hands, use it to hear God - and share what you are hearing with us. 

Pray for those whose lives are more stressful than usual: working parents with children at home, NHS staff, teachers, delivery drivers. Pray for those who are anxious, fearful or depressed. 

Catch up on sleep! Prolonged stress takes its toll on our bodies.  If you're not travelling to work every day, take some time out.

Once this first week of isolation is over, I'm actually looking forward to getting into a routine of prayer, reading and study.... as well as some gardening! Let me know if you have a particular request for prayer. I shall be in church most days at 9.30 a.m.

Looking ahead, it would be really helpful to me to know how I can help us all continue to engage with God.  Maybe some bible study suggestions, or a short thought for the day.  Some churches are setting up interactive prayer and study groups using Zoom or Google Hangouts, or similar.  Let me know if you have any ideas, especially if there's something we can do to engage with our children and young people.

Finally, thank you so much for your many encouraging comments. I'm really grateful.

The Lord be with you.