Rev. David’s Old Testament Reading Notes

For each Sunday of the year, the Church of England appoints an Old Testament reading which may be read at the main Service. Recently, Rev David has been providing a monthly leaflet offering brief comment on these passages.

At Claines and St George’s we use the New Revised Standard Version Anglicised (NRSVA). If you don’t have a Bible ready to hand you can always find the readings at www.biblegateway.com. For psalms, search for ‘Psalter Church of England.’ There you will find the excellent Common Worship version.

Rev David’s notes commence with the most recent month’s first. Please scroll down for previous month’s notes.

October

October 4th

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 20. 1-4, 7-9, 12-20

The Ten Commandments, sandwiched between two descriptions of the ‘thunder, lightning, trumpet sound and smoke’ that accompanied their presentation, are clearly meant to be of great significance. These are the conditions of a partnership (covenant, testament) between the LORD and his people. They are remarkably comprehensive in their scope. The LORD has done his part, rescuing the people from Egypt; now they must do their part.

Vv 2-8 call on the people to put the LORD first, elsewhere summarised as, ‘Worship the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ (Deut. 6.5.)

The prohibition of murder, adultery and theft are recognised by virtually all nations as basic human rights.

Any system of justice is undermined by people bearing false witness which is why perjury is a serious offence.

In case we are tempted to just ‘put on a good show’ and just follow the letter of the law the tenth commandment reminds us that what counts is where the heart is. The commandments are not setting us up before a human court, but setting us up before the face of the LORD. How are we measuring up as his partner?

Honouring father and mother is a bit different. The words point us to the fundamentals of the whole Old Testament tradition of ‘wisdom’ as enunciated in Proverbs 1.8 and 10.1. We are creatures dependent on all that has been handed down to us from previous generations.

Comprehensive as the Ten Commandments are, it is well to remember that when Jesus was asked to summarise the Law he also included, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22.39. Lev. 19.18.) The Old Testament has much to say about care for the poor and weak, and hospitality to the widow, orphan and stranger.

October 11th

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 32. 1-14

We may not carve and cast our gods of wood and metal but we certainly have our gods – and we pay them millions of pounds to kick a football about or to sing on stage. And when I look at the poor and the devastation of our environment I do wonder whether we are putting our money into the right pockets. Some of our gods arise from our untamed desires – the need to have all the latest gadgets – the need to outdo our neighbours in wit, or knowledge or fashion or the quality of our car. These and many others can become obsessions that dominate and drive our lives to the exclusion of considerations concerning the priority of God and care for our neighbour. It is the practice of regularly focusing on God in worship and the pondering of scripture that helps us keep matters in perspective.

God changed his mind in response to the pleading of Moses. That may seem a strange idea if we think of God as omnipotent, omniscient, absolute, holy, utterly other. But we can never see or grasp all of God at one time. We always have to say, ‘On the one hand God is like this ……. But on the other hand He is also like this.’ So without denying the omniscient, all-holy God the psalms are full of examples of imploring God to change the situation or his plan for the sake of his compassion for his people and for the sake of upholding the ‘honour of his name.’ (Ezekiel).  Jesus, of course, reflects the heart of God and is often seen being moved by compassion. On one occasion in the presence of a loved one who had died, he even wept. (John 11). Never be afraid to tell God your real feelings.

October 18th

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 33. 12-23

In Genesis 18 Abraham has a dialogue with God over the threatened destruction of Sodom – Would you destroy it if you found a handful of righteous people there? Abraham talks God down to ten – “Even for ten I will not destroy it.” But Lot and his family do not number as many as that and Abraham holds back from pressing the dialogue any further. He does not ask the ultimate, ‘Would you spare it for the sake of one?’ Moses by contrast wants to go the whole way. He wants to understand what the Lord is doing and he wants to be assured of the Lord’s continuing presence and favour. Moses wants a full reciprocal partnership. Moses wants to know the Lord through and through just as the Lord claims to know him. Moses was indeed privileged to know the Lord more intimately than any other character in the Old Testament. He is described as the ‘friend of  God,’ and ‘the greatest prophet.’ He is the one to whom the name of God was revealed, the one whose face shone when he communed with the Lord in the Tent of Presence, the one who laid the foundations of the faith of Israel as set out in the first five books of the Bible. To Moses was granted the vision of the compassionate heart of God – ‘compassionate, gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love, forgiving rebellion, sin, and wickedness.’ (Exodus 34.6,7.) That is the faith that sustained the faithful ones of Israel right up to the time of Jesus despite all the rebellions and sins and wickedness. Yet Moses was not granted the perfection of fullness, ‘You cannot see my face.’ (Exodus 33.20.)

Jesus transfigured in glory on the mountain in the presence of Moses and Elijah is the unique one who has full reciprocal partnership with God as of Son with Father.

October 25th

The Last Sunday after Trinity: Deuteronomy 34. 1-12

Moses is one of three Old Testament characters whose death is mysterious. In Genesis 5 we read of Enoch who “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” In 2 Kings 2 we read of Elijah: “suddenly a chariot of fire and horses appeared … and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.”  Although Moses died in the land there was never any known burial place for him as there was for Abraham in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre. We like to build memorials for the great ones who have gone before us. Admiral Lord Nelson stands on a column which is enriched with lions and fountains situated in a large open square – Trafalgar Square. It is a spacious area of peace and public freedom in a world that might otherwise be one of violence and oppression. The memorial to Moses is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. At the heart is Moses’ friendship with God: the revelation of God’s name at the burning bush, his partnership with God in securing the release of the Hebrews from slavery, the receiving of the Ten Commandments, the record of God’s Presence that led Moses and his followers through the wilderness for forty years. These encounters between Moses and the LORD lie at the heart of the Torah but are embellished with further writings, especially Genesis and Deuteronomy. Here we may read and re-read at our leisure these remarkable accounts of the LORD Yahweh’s initial breakthrough into the hearts and minds of men and women. Deuteronomy 30.14 tells us, “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.” The text carries the revelation of God’s Presence within it. As we read we pray for the Holy Spirit to make God’s Presence real for us – to nourish us, to heal us, to strengthen us, to give us wisdom, to provide a purpose and meaning to our life.

September

September 6th

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 12. 1-14

The Israelite month always began with the viewing of a new moon. 14 days later would be full moon which was when Passover was celebrated. According to the New Testament Jesus was raised from the dead on the Sunday following Passover. Our current dating of Easter still follows this precedent – Easter falls on the Sunday that follows the first full moon occurring on or after the March equinox. At the heart of both Israelite and Christian worship there is the remembrance of something that happened in history which changed things.

“Remembrance worship” is a matter of calling to mind some significant moment in the past in such a way that what it effected then it will do for me, the worshipper, now. The Passover feast is set within the context of God rescuing a collection of slaves from Egypt and forming them into his own chosen people. Holy Communion is set within the context of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Holy Communion brings to us the graces and benefits of those Holy Historical Events. Holy Communion ministers to our most immediate and intimate needs. But it is good to remember also that we are part of an enormous world-wide movement seeking to bring the peace and compassion and righteousness of
Christ to all humankind.

September 13th

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 14. 19-end

Here is the story that lies at the very heart of the Old Testament.

It is a story of escape from the harsh slavery under Pharaoh, a story of deliverance from imminent death at the Reed Sea, all set within a context of a powerful experience of the Presence of God. This is celebrated especially in the song of Exodus 15, one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew literature. The story continues with another spectacular appearance of God’s presence on Mount Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the forty years in the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, and the eventual establishment of the great kingdoms of David and Solomon.


This history is rehearsed several times in a variety of ways in the Book of Psalms, e.g. Ps 78, 81, 105,106, 135, 136. But Israel did not just remember its history and celebrate it with their equivalent of ‘Rule Britannia,’ and ‘Land of hope and glory.’ Israel was also a group of individuals who could each sing of their own personal knowledge and experience of this same Yahweh.
“I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel, and in the night watches he instructs my heart.” (16.6)
“He makes me lie down in green pastures
And leads me beside still waters.” (23. 1,2.)
“Upon you have I leaned from my birth,” (71. 6.)
“On the day I called You answered me,
You made strength well up within me.” (138. 3.)
“Your word is a lantern to my feet, And a light to my path.” (119. 105.)
God’s presence is still made known to us today in the particular circumstances of our own personal lives.

September 20th

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 16. 2-15

The wilderness stories of the time of Moses, remembered and handed down from the past, encouraged the Israelites in their later Babylonian exile and in the harsh and impoverished conditions they faced when they returned and began to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem. The stories also speak to us in whatever ‘wilderness’ period we might be going through. There is a complex of stories – led by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, supplied with bread and water, equipped with clothes that never wore out. In Genesis we learn how God ordered the world, separating dry land from the sea, providing birds in the air, fish in the sea and animals on the land, the sun to have dominion of the day and the moon dominion of the night. So now God orders his people in the wilderness, encamping them by tribe in ordered formation around the central tabernacle. He descends on Mount Sinai and provides them with rules and regulations. If that all sounds a bit patriarchal and military and awesome, our scriptural text shows a more intimate and compassionate side of the Lord, providing the Israelites with manna for their daily food. The people are presented as fickle and discontented and so quickly forgetting the lessons of the past. Nevertheless the Lord takes a personal interest in the words of their complaint and provides for their basic daily needs – an abundant supply of quail and daily provision of manna. The reading continues to tell us, “the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” The One who out of compassion for us like a mother provides our daily food is also the One who provides for us in a well-ordered and fair and just way.

September 27th

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 17. 1-7

The Israelites were on their journey, following the way of the Lord, when they encountered a serious problem – there was no water. So it is with us. We are happily pursuing our church life, doing our best to follow the way of Jesus when, suddenly – a blockage across the path; perhaps a falling out with someone in church, perhaps a family crisis, a moral dilemma at work. We feel we’ve come to the end of the road. In 1 Corinthians Paul is trying to guide his fledgling congregation through a number of problems they have encountered. In Chapter 10 he uses this passage of the Old Testament to help them. He is not concerned with the issue of whether it really did happen like that for the Israelites. Rather he seeks to find a spiritual or moral message from the text. Moses had already been promised by the Lord: “I will go with you.” Paul sees the rock as a symbol of the hidden presence of Christ (of God) among his people. Paul is saying that as Moses struck the rock and water flowed out so as we call upon Christ some kind of help or guidance will be given. The Old Testament is very down to earth and answers don’t always come as a megaphone call from the blue. (Although they may do so!) But here Moses was called upon to do something that must have appeared as quite ridiculous to the grumbling crowd – strike the rock with your staff. Yes, we do need to look to God in prayer and quiet. But maybe we also need to look around us – ask advice, open the Bible … A friend of mine was working as a hairdresser and wondering what to do with his life. His eyes happened to catch sight of an advert in a customer’s newspaper for young men to test their vocation by staying a while with the Anglican Franciscans at Cerne Abbas. He went and later became a priest. You never know how God may speak to you out of the immediacy of your own particular situation in life.

August

August 2nd

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity: Gen.  32. 22-31

Here we have Jacob returning to his homeland after some 17 years. He is about to meet Esau of whom, we presume, he has heard nothing since he deviously stole his birthright all those years ago. He is anxious, more than that, wracked with anxiety. There is no comforting ladder of angels on the way back as there was on the way out. The name ‘Jacob’  means ‘heel-grabber,’ ‘wrestler.’ Jacob wrestled in the womb, he wrestled the heavy stone off the well, he wrestled the birthright from Esau. Now he is wrestling with God, the One he promised to serve if He brought him safely back to this land. Did God really want him back here to establish the land for the descendants of his grandfather Abraham?

On our path to faith we all have God-problems to wrestle with. If God is there why doesn’t He speak more clearly? Do miracles happen? How can Jesus be both man and God? Somewhere along that path God steps in, assures us of his Presence and sends us forward with new confidence. Often this new path demands that we leave something of the old self behind. Some natural strength or habit that we have relied on in the past is set aside and we go forward in the strength of new insights and visions and zeal that God has brought to us. This is the way God dealt with Jacob when He struck him in the thigh, the way He dealt with the nation of Israel when he deprived them of their earthly king, and the way He deals with us today. Jesus is the Wounded Saviour.

A note on semi-nomads.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are semi-nomadic people. With their goats and sheep they move from one fertile area to another. Occasionally they grow corn but especially they trade with the people around them. They do not own or control the land but seek to live at peace with their neighbours. Before all else they seek to follow the ways of the LORD, bearing witness to His love and mercy. This is a way of life that we can follow.

August 9th

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 37. 1-4, 12-28

The omitted verses, 5-11, tell of Joseph’s dreams of the sheaves of corn and the stars, implying that one day Joseph’s parents and brothers would all bow down to him. Knowing the jealousy between Joseph and his brothers it may seem strange that his father should send him on an errand to his brothers in a distant place. But then Jacob himself had not been pleased with Joseph boasting about his dreams and perhaps he felt this errand would help to heal the rift. We all misjudge situations and people suffer as a result of our decisions. Sometimes we are made aware of the consequences and we can confess to God. But here events conspire to hide the truth from Jacob. Yet God works through it all. God’s purpose is to bring a blessing to all humankind through Abraham and his descendants and He will see it through despite the weakness of those involved.  Both Jacob and Joseph in their own unique ways sensed the Presence of God in their lives, responded as best they knew how, despite their failings, and thus became a part of God’s overriding purpose. ‘One step enough for me,’ said Cardinal Newman in his great hymn. We must do today what we feel God is calling us to do; at the same time we hand it over to God for Him to do with it as He will.

August 16th

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 45. 1-15.

Having taken his elder brother’s birthright by deception, Joseph gathers his brothers around him and he holds no grudges. He explains how God has used the situation to bring him to Egypt and to use him to save humankind from this terrible seven years of famine. God uses Joseph to provide bread for His people to keep them alive. Later on bread will lie at the centre of the annual Passover meal. The meal will run like a golden thread down the centuries holding the Jewish people together enabling them to remember their being chosen and entrusted with the commandments of God. Jesus will then identify this bread with His own Body which is given to us as the Bread of Eternal Life. As we look back from our Eucharists today we are reminded of that original family gathering of warm brotherly love, no grudges held, all forgiven, no one shut out. We pray for the growth and realisation of that love in our own local churches and in the world wide community of churches. Bread shared within a company of love.

August 23rd

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Exod. 1.8 – 2.10

In the original Hebrew the book of Exodus begins with the word ‘and’ indicating it is a continuation of the story of the previous book, ‘Genesis.’ Attention focuses on God’s promise of blessing, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1.28). Unlike Sarah and Rachel who had problems about conceiving, the descendants of Israel are ‘vigorous, giving birth before the mid-wife arrives.’ This is the blessing that triggers the way of escape despite the imposition of harsh slavery. ‘Fling the boys into the Nile’ recalls the flooding of humankind at the time of Noah. Moses’ basket (tevah) is the same word as is used for Noah’s ark. As Noah floated on the water to save a remnant of humankind so Moses floated on the water to be the Saviour of his people. As Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter from among the ‘reeds,’ so Moses would one day save God’s people from the Egyptians at the Sea of ‘Reeds’ (Exodus 13.18). There is a pattern to God’s ways of dealing with us. As God acted then … and the same then … and the same then … so He deals with us today. And you never know when the stubborn faith and obedience of two ladies like Shiphrah and Puah is going to achieve such amazing social and political change.

August 30th

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity: Exod. 3. 1-15

Today we’ll just focus on the burning bush and leave reflection on the revelation of the name, YaHWeH, till another day.

It is a long way from the foot of Sinai to the top which is 7,497 ft high. Just so, Moses’ encounter with God in the bush at the foot of the mountain is far different from his encounter with God on the top of the mountain. Exodus 19 tells us of the thunder and lightning, the thick cloud, the loud trumpet blast, the mountain shook and the people quaked. The encounter at the bush is by contrast, humble, quiet and deeply personal. God appeared in a bush, not even a fine tree, let alone a grand cedar of Lebanon – a simple desert bush, probably only 2 or 3 ft high. The burning was not a roaring fire, more like the gentle flames of the brandy that does not harm the Christmas pudding. Moses experienced himself addressed by a Presence, perhaps like Jeremiah who experienced God’s word like fire in his heart yet was not destroyed by it (Jeremiah 20). As with Jeremiah, so with Moses, God promises, ‘I will go with you; and I will rescue you.’ The God of the Old Testament reveals himself as One ‘who will be with you … to bless you … and comfort you,’ but at the same time He puts you under obligation. The presence of the God  revealed in the Bible brings to birth within us the sense of ‘what I ought to do.’

July

July 5th

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 24. 34-38, 42-49, 58-end

Genesis 24 has to be one of the most lovely pieces of literature in the whole of the Old Testament. What we read today is the servant’s account to Laban of the events that the narrator has given us in the first 33 verses. There are subtle illuminating differences. The narrator tells us that Abraham had been ‘blessed in many ways: the servant spells it out – ‘flocks and herds, silver and gold …’ The servant makes no mention of the time when Abraham broke away from the clan and went his own way. Neither does the servant mention the new God, ‘God of heaven and the God of earth,’ to whom he swore obedience with his hand under the thigh of Abraham. The reason, we must surmise, is because the servant wants to create a favourable impression that will aid him in the success of his mission.

Another fact to notice – in Genesis 12.2 God promises to bless Abraham. Here we see an abundant fulfilment of that promise, not only in flocks and herds, but also the blessing of a successful mission, the blessing of answered prayer, the blessing of generous, open-hearted hospitality, the blessing of kind and considerate human relationships and, of course, the blessing of a beautiful bride for Isaac. The whole chapter oozes the charm and beauty of paradise in which we can bathe ourselves as we read it over and over again. We might note the servant’s attitude in v21 who was staring, wondering whether the Lord had granted him success in his mission after he had just witnessed Rebekah’s heroic feat bustling back and forth to satisfy the needs of ten thirsty camels. I mean, come on, how much more proof did he want!? So often we are blind to the presence and glory of God all around us. Notice too the way Laban eyes the expensive jewellery (v30). Is that a clue to the character that will be revealed later in his shady dealings with Jacob? (See Trinity 7.)

July 12th

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 25. 19-end

These lovely stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are probably built on oral legends reaching back to the 1800s BC (although there were no camels in Canaan at that time). Written up sometime between Solomon and the fall of Jerusalem, they would have been edited into their final form during or after the exile in Babylonia (ended 520 BC). They are a kind of overture to the rest of the Bible, setting the scenes and themes of much that is yet to come.

Esau is the ancestor of the Edomites. The conflict in the womb with Jacob continues historically with the conflict between the Israelites and Edomites right down to the time of psalm 137 during the exile. The boorish behaviour of Esau is given away in his speech and in his mannerisms. He abruptly asks, ‘give me.’ There is no ‘please.’ Jacob’s broth is ‘that red stuff,’ and his manner of eating, ‘he ate, he drank, he rose, he went.’ No graciousness. No ‘Thank you.’ Jacob is the ‘humble’ one, the servant of Isaiah 42 who ‘will not shout out.’ It is the humble who will be chosen by God to fulfil his purposes (Matthew 5.5) exemplified in Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper.

As Jacob was chosen in the womb so will Jeremiah claim he was chosen in the womb and so too psalm 139 marvels at the care God exercises over us in the womb. So often God is working in our life and we are not aware of it. But next week Jacob will be made aware!

June 19th

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 28. 10-19a

Having taken his elder brother’s birthright by deception, Jacob is now fleeing from Esau in fear of his life. Jacob had left the security of his home; he was in an unfamiliar place, alone, and he had to sleep out in the open. How does it feel to be all alone, facing an unknown future with no familiar friends around you? In these circumstances God came to Jacob in the night and spoke to him through a dream. Not one of those dreams where you think back and wonder what it was all about – this was a dream that left Jacob with a strong sense of God’s presence and protection. Later, God would make a promise to Moses as he set off on his wilderness wanderings, “My Presence will go with you.” (Exodus 33.14). So, too, Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, at his last Resurrection appearance, promises his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Expect God to give you a sense of his presence. Ask Him to fulfil his promise. Sometimes the sense will be deep, long and lasting. Sometimes the sense will be gone by the next day. Jacob ‘set up a pillar.’ You could ‘set up a pillar’ when you feel God has drawn close to you in a special way by writing a few words in a spiritual diary. In this way you say, “I believe God spoke to me in this way.” You affirm that God continues to speak as He has spoken for thousands of years. When you are tempted to dismiss it as ‘only my imagination’ you can think back and re-read what you wrote. Often the memory will grow stronger and more significant as the years go by and becomes a source of spiritual sustenance.

July 26th

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Gen. 29. 15-28

In the morning after his wedding night Jacob discovered that his uncle, Laban, had given his elder daughter, Leah, to him as wife rather than the ‘beautiful’ younger daughter, Rachel. Sometimes it is those very close to us who pull a fast one over us and we feel very hurt as Jacob did. Like Laban they have their reasons and there is little we can do. They reached a compromise; Jacob received Rachel as wife by the end of the week but he had to labour for another seven years. Sometimes there just seems no end to the fix we find ourselves in. Jacob was sufficiently worldly-wise to know eventually how to break away from the unjust hold that Laban had over him. I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the ‘shrewd manager’ (Luke 16). It’s not an easy parable to understand and there appear to be several attempts at explanation following it. In v8 we read, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Sometimes we do not avail ourselves of all the wisdom and counsel that is available to us through Christian tradition and fellowship.

Adolescents growing up, seeking their life’s work, seeking a partner or no partner, seeking a purpose in life, leaving home and setting out, can leave a big empty emotional space in the hearts of their parents. The ups and downs and heartbreaks of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph – their scheming and separations and reconciliations, can help to place our own challenges in a wider perspective. There is no heartbreak God cannot heal, no separation He cannot re-unite, no dead-end where He will not provide a way of escape. One text that has been close to my heart all my Christian life is: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” It is amazing how answers come to lift us out of our darkness and pain and anxiety. Praise God!

June

This month I have chosen one of the psalms appointed for each
Sunday.

June 7th

Trinity Sunday: Psalm 8

If you are reading this you probably already have a love for Jesus and draw strength from his words and are attracted to his life of care and compassion. St John, in his Gospel, describes Jesus as the Word, “who was with God at the beginning, and without whom nothing was made that was made.” That is not so easy to believe. Jesus, co-Creator with God at the beginning of time? What does that mean? It means that in his life we see Jesus exercising the same kind of power that God exercised when He created the world. This is most clearly seen in those ‘more difficult to believe events,’ such as when Jesus raises the dead to life. But all the healing events are “life-giving” and this is the work of a Creator. The psalmist in today’s psalm marvels at the works of creation, its diversity and magnificence. He also marvels at the creation of humankind and the many gifts God has blessed them with. To say that Jesus is the Son of the Father who created all things is to marvel at Jesus in the same way that we marvel at the One who made all things. We see in Jesus something that goes beyond normal human experience. Jesus is not just one among many several exceptionally gifted men. No, there is some way in which He stands distinct and above and beyond all others who have ever lived. Most of the time his human living camouflages his true divine self. But there are times when his
true self shines through. Peter and James and John were knocked back by such realisation when they ‘saw’ the other side of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. The Centurion when he saw how Jesus died bore witness, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” As we ponder the words and life of Jesus we pray that our hearts and minds may be enlightened to see Jesus for Who He really is and to adore Him and worship Him in awe and wonder. And the psalms give us words with which we may do that. Recite the psalm for yourself, understanding that Jesus is our ‘Lord and Governor.’

June 14th

The First Sunday after Trinity: Psalm 116

Here is a wonderful psalm that can be used as a preparation for coming to Communion on a Sunday. It begins with a thanksgiving for bringing me to know Him. Maybe I was born into a Christian family and a church environment and have always known the Lord or maybe He met me part way through life and brought me into the church family. Whichever way or other way, thank Him for that. As we try to follow the Way of the Lord we each have our own stories of when we needed to call on the Lord, how He answered us, how He blessed me with his peace and his love and led me safely through some ups and downs. Thank Him for this. Now (v8) the psalm encourages me to make a decision to continue to follow His ways. Then (v10) I am encouraged to consider what I should pay back to the Lord
for all He has done for me. Everything I have is His so in one sense I cannot pay Him back but I can do what He asks, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Eucharist is the way we all gather together to thank the Lord for all He has done for us. We ‘lift up the cup of salvation.’ (v11) And now, strengthened by the Lord I can fulfil my vows, ‘To love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my mind and with all my soul and with all my strength; and love my neighbour as myself.’ This is my ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving.’ (v15)

June 21st

Exodus 20. 1-4, 7-9, 12-20.

The Ten Commandments, sandwiched between two descriptions of the ‘thunder, lightning, trumpet sound and smoke’ that accompanied their presentation, are clearly meant to be of great significance. These are the conditions of a partnership (covenant, testament) between the LORD and his people. They are remarkably comprehensive in their scope. The LORD has done his part, rescuing the people from Egypt; now they must do their part.

Vv 2-8 call on the people to put the LORD first, elsewhere summarised as, ‘Worship the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ (Deut. 6.5.)

The prohibition of murder, adultery and theft are recognised by virtually all nations as basic human rights.

Any system of justice is undermined by people bearing false witness which is why perjury is a serious offence.

In case we are tempted to just ‘put on a good show’ and just follow the letter of the law the tenth commandment reminds us that what counts is where the heart is. The commandments are not setting us up before a human court, but setting us up before the face of the LORD. How are we measuring up as his partner?

Honouring father and mother is a bit different. The words point us to the fundamentals of the whole Old Testament tradition of ‘wisdom’ as enunciated in Proverbs 1.8 and 10.1. We are creatures dependent on all that has been handed down to us from previous generations.

Comprehensive as the Ten Commandments are, it is well to remember that when Jesus was asked to summarise the Law he also included, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22.39. Lev. 19.18.) The Old Testament has much to say about care for the poor and weak, and hospitality to the widow, orphan and stranger.


June 28th

The Third Sunday after Trinity: Psalm 13


The literary style, “How long … ? How Long … ? …
throws emphasis on to the second half of the phrase.
What the psalmist is actually saying is something like –
“You’ve forgotten me!
You won’t look at me!
I’m really anxious.
I’m depressed.
Everyone’s getting the better of me!”
We can be completely free and open with God. We can tell Him exactly how we feel, however angry we may feel at the way we imagine He has treated us. The psalms wonderfully search out all our dark corners and hiding places and shameful moments and enable us to lay ourselves open to God so that He may refresh us and give us a new start. The reason for this is given in v5, “I will rejoice in your salvation.” Right from the time when He clothed Adam and Eve outside the garden of Eden the Lord has a long record of saving his people from calamity. He rescues, heals, restores, offers new opportunities, blesses, calls and endows with gifts. As we look back and consider all that the Lord has done; as we look around and see all He is doing now, then we can join with the psalmist in saying, ‘Despite all I’m going through at the moment, “I put my trust in your steadfast love.”’
The post-communion collect for today describes God as One “whose beauty is beyond our imagining,” and “whose power we cannot comprehend.” We need to hold on to these assurances.

May

May 3rd

The Fourth Sunday of Easter: Genesis 7

The message of the Bible is that planet earth is essentially good, supplying us with food to eat, water to drink, air to breathe, light and warmth and many other blessings. Moreover humankind, “made in the image of God,” is enriched especially with wisdom and love, enabling us to manage life and find satisfaction. But men and women tend to seek fulfilment of their own self-centred desires and the blessedness of Paradise remains as only a dream. We read, “ The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created— But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.”

A recurring theme of the Bible is that however bad things become, God always arranges a way of escape for a ‘remnant’ so that his purposes of love and goodness may eventually be fulfilled. Noah in his ark, with his family, floating on the surface of the waters is a powerful pictorial symbol of this theme. Perhaps you have felt something of the power of this way of escape in recent weeks as you have Skyped or Zoomed on your screens with your family or a small group of friends or, maybe, found that ‘room’ where you may ‘pray to your Father in secret.’ You will have drawn strength and encouragement to ride out the storm of the coronavirus.

May 10th

The Fifth Sunday of Easter: Genesis 8. 1-19

Writing in the middle of April it is impossible to know how we might be feeling about coronavirus in the middle of May. But right now we are beginning to ask questions as to how long the lockdown will go on for and how shall we set about easing it when the time comes. I am amazed at the way in which these soul-searchings and anxieties are reflected in the story of Noah. Noah would have known that the rain had stopped and that the Ark had come to rest on a mountain top. But he had no means of looking down on the earth below. He only had one small upward facing window. So it was a matter of ‘How long, O Lord?’ as he sent out first the raven and later the dove until at last he had the evidence of a freshly plucked olive leaf. Even then he waited another seven days. Patience is one of the ‘fruits of the Spirit.’ (Gal.5.22)

May 17th

The Sixth Sunday of Easter: Genesis 8.20 – 9.17

 The climax of the story of the Flood is of God setting up the rainbow in the heavens. The symbol of the rainbow has become part of our culture and is currently displayed in many windows and public places as a sign of hope for life after Covid-19. In the story of Noah the rainbow is the sign of a covenant between God and all living creatures that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

God is promising that from the time of Noah onward the earth’s environment will be manageable with a rational order that is reliable – “seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.” In contrast with the creation narratives of surrounding nations the biblical accounts have no unpredictable spirits living in caves or forests, no evil monsters lurking in the depths of the ocean. Thus it came about in the course of time that the biblical belief in the basic goodness of material things and the belief that all things were made and arranged according to some rational plan provided a springboard for the rise of Western Science. Scientists explore the environment in the belief that there are logical and rational reasons behind the various naturally occurring events. They also have the belief that if the human race is racked with some terrible affliction, such as the current Covid-19, a cure can be found. And governments invest huge sums to support such enquiries, and individuals dedicate lifetimes to such enquiries. And we should stand amazed and praise the Lord that so often such faith and dedication is rewarded in wonderful ways.

May 24th

The Seventh Sunday of Easter: Ezekiel 36. 24-28

At the heart of Israelite religion lay obedience to the Ten Commandments communicated to Moses. Many people may feel they can tick off several, “I don’t do this; I don’t do that; and that no longer applies in this day and age.” But the one that gets us all is “Thou shalt not covet ……………”. It strikes at the very heart. Oh, yes … we all desire a little bit more of something that is not good for us, or is not right for us, or is not conducive to the common good. Covetousness reflects what we read in Genesis 7, “every inclination of the thoughts of (human) hearts was only evil continually.” The prophet Ezekiel realised it was no use just going on shouting at people to do the right thing. Either people take no notice or they find they have no strength of will or if they have some strength of will they cannot maintain it for ever. The only answer is, there has to be a change of heart. And that can only be done by the LORD. So Ezekiel foretells the time when God will change human hearts by setting his spirit within them. The prophet Joel foretells the same when he prophesies of ‘those days’ when “I (the LORD) will pour out my Spirit on all people.” The prophecy came true on the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ. We pray that that may be true also in our own heart. We can all pray with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer the one great hymn he did translate into English in our Book of Common Prayer, “Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire.” Pray it all your life that He may keep on touching and transforming your life.

May 31st

Day of Pentecost. Numbers 11. 24-30

The New Testament reveals God as eternally One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This enables us to look back on the Old Testament and see signs of the Trinity there that would not have been apparent before the coming of Christ. As we look back we can see that the Spirit was poured out on a number of leaders but not on the people as a whole. The Book of Judges tells of a period when Israel was led by individuals raised up by the Spirit in times of crisis – men such as Gideon and Samson. The prophets also were filled with the Spirit and even King Saul was numbered among them. We see an erratic and unpredictable power at work in all this which is well illustrated in the event narrated in Numbers 11. The Lord gathered seventy elders together to share the Spirit given to Moses for leadership. The ceremony takes place but then two who did not attend the occasion were found to be prophesying. Joshua felt this was out of order and wanted them stopped. But Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” This we see fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. So, at creation we see the God of order, arranging the universe according to a meaningful pattern: at Pentecost we see the God of disorder, breaking out in new ways, distributing a variety of gifts among his people. The current search for a vaccine is a matter both of knowledge of the rational logic of biological science combined with an erratic process of trial and error – suppose we try this? – what happens if this? The doctrine of the Trinity makes a unity of what would otherwise appear to be disharmony and conflict. Our God is big enough to cope with every eventuality.

April

April 5

Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50v4-9a

The reading is one of four so-called ‘servant songs.’  The others are Isaiah 42:1–4; Isaiah 49:1–6; and Isaiah 52:13–53:12. After the monarchy came to an end in 586 BC with the exile into Babylonia, the Israelites began to wonder how the Lord would fulfil his promise of providing a successor for all time on the throne of David. Prophets began to speak of ‘One who would come,’ a Messiah (The Anointed One). They wondered what form he might take – a leader like Moses, a King like David, a suffering prophet like Jeremiah? In these four songs Isaiah speaks of a ‘servant’ in terms which remarkably foreshadow the person we see in Jesus of Nazareth.

In Isaiah 42, the servant is a Spirit-filled man with a heart for the hurt and broken and wounded. In Isaiah 49, the servant is not only the rescuer of Israel but also one who will bring a blessing to all peoples, ‘a light to the nations.’ Isaiah 50 presents us with a servant who is a teacher and who persists in his calling despite opposition. Isaiah 53 is the remarkable foreshadowing of all the suffering that Christ voluntarily endured upon the cross – the once-for-all-time sacrifice that wins for us the gift of eternal life. Spend time during Holy Week reading and pondering these four passages. Thank Jesus for all he has done for us, ‘For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10.45). Thank the Lord for those who persist in their service during this time of coronavirus – medics, food suppliers, essential services, politicians, …, and many volunteers and kindly neighbours. Pray for their protection.

April 12

Easter Day: Jeremiah 31.1-6

Easter is the church’s season of rejoicing. ‘Alleluia’ replaces the Lenten ‘Lord, have mercy.’ And it is not just one day. Eastertide lasts a whole seven weeks – the Paschal Candle which we light during the Easter Vigil service is re-lit for all services right up to Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter. The Old Testament celebrates many occasions when God’s people were rescued from dire straits where hope seemed almost lost. Foremost among these are:- the deliverance from slavery in Egypt; the deliverance from the threat of the Philistines and the establishment of the monarchy under David; and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem after the exile in Babylonia. These are worthy of celebration in their own right as Jeremiah foretells in today’s passage. But they also tell us what God is like. YHWH is a rescuer, a saviour; and not only historically but also personally. God also rescues the faithful disciple from whatever dire straits he or she may have fallen into. God will bring us also through this time of coronavirus.

We see this work of God enacted in the life of Jesus especially in his healing ministry. We read of Jesus rescuing people from all kinds of sickness, impairment, social marginalisation, oppression and the like. Jesus brought new hope into peoples’ lives. He lifted them out of their sense of helplessness and insignificance and gave them new strength and a sense of purpose in life. This wonderful new life that Jesus brought we celebrate at Easter. Maybe we shall not be able to gather together for worship this Easter but many clergy are offering ministry through Parish websites and YouTube. As we call upon the Lord and draw close to Jesus in faith we find that he takes our fears and pains and anxieties from us. We are given the hope of travelling with him through death to a life of glory. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are promised a foretaste of that glory even now wherever we are in this life.

April 19

The Second Sunday of Easter: Exodus 14v10-end; 15v20-21

The deliverance from Egypt of the Hebrew slaves is for the Jews the defining moment of their faith just as the death and resurrection of Jesus is the defining moment of the Christian Faith. The Jewish Passover celebrates the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The Christian ‘Paschal Festival’ (Good Friday – Easter Day) celebrates the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Let us not dwell too much upon the question of the historical accuracy of the Red (Reed?) Sea Event except to say that the Israelites had to come from somewhere before occupying Canaan and if they escaped from slavery that would have been a momentous event.

Freedom from slavery is the key idea. Even today slavery in our own society still continues, perhaps as street workers, poorly paid farm workers or domestics. ‘Hope for Justice’ and ‘Love Justice’ are just two charities working for the release of the enslaved.

But all of us have some kind of experience of ‘enslavement’ to addiction, or bad habits or besetting sins. However hard we try we often feel powerless. Perhaps we feel some Pharaoh-like power, some dark oppressing presence holding us in its grip. Maybe the fear of the coronavirus pandemic grips you in this way – maybe you just want to hide under the blanket until it has all gone away. The Lord, speaking through Moses, encourages the people to look up and follow the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. The Lord will teach them and train them as he leads them through the wilderness. Now is the time to explore our Bibles and our faith and the lives of the saints. No generation has ever had so much information available in books, on-line, and as audio. Many Africans during their enslavement in North America and the Caribbean learnt their Bibles and created their Gospel songs preparing for their day of freedom. Now they can be heard leading ‘Songs of Praise’ from many parts of our country. As Miriam sang a song of deliverance for the Israelites so do the Afro-Caribbeans sing their songs of deliverance today.

April 26

The Third Sunday of Easter: Psalm 116

This psalm is a beautiful song of deliverance from some frightening or close-to-death experience. Maybe it was a serious illness; maybe a perilous situation in battle. The psalmist was aware of a remarkable deliverance or recovery which he attributes to God. Maybe, in these uncertain times, you know of someone who has just passed through a similar experience. The psalm indicates that it is always helpful to see our own experiences of deliverance as a personal reliving in a small way of the great experiences that are the defining moments of our faith. Maybe coronavirus is our own ‘Red Sea’ experience, our own seemingly unending ‘wandering in the  wilderness,’ our own ‘exile in Babylonia.’ We may see ourselves as protected through the plagues, saved from the chariots, watched over by an angel and brought into a new way of life under Moses. Or we may feel we’ve endured some small part of the sufferings of Christ and have been re-empowered with an encounter with the Risen Christ or an infilling of the Holy Spirit. As we pray ourselves into these ideas we become part of the story of God’s people. We, too, like the psalmist will want to ‘repay’ the Lord and serve him. The Church’s Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving where we can receive the ‘cup of salvation’ so that week by week we are built up as a ‘living stone’ into God’s Temple and find the work to which he calls us.

(Note. YHWH represents the four Hebrew consonants of the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. The Jews always regarded the name as too holy to be spoken aloud and the English translation of what they read aloud is LORD.)

March

March 1

First Sunday of Lent: Gen. 2v15-17, 3v1-7

In the midst of the Garden of Eden was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Where do our ideas of ‘good and evil’ come from and our ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? Are we born with them? Do we learn them from our parents, or perhaps our school? Are we all taught the same things? Do all cultures and religions have the same moral standards? We learn from experience which foods are good for us and which are bad. We learn from experience or observation that it is not good to jump off a cliff. Kings soon learnt that it is wise either to suppress the poor or to provide for them otherwise they might rise up and cause trouble. But there is nothing in nature or in human society that of itself tells us what we ‘ought’ to do. In practice, as individuals, we decide on our own standards; as family or cultural groups we conform to some commonly accepted codes and standards; as nations we create codes of law and standards and uphold them with courts of justice. The Bible presents us with the idea that there is a God, that He created all things, that He has a purpose of good for all humankind but that certain values have to be understood and maintained if humankind is to achieve peace and harmony and justice and happiness. Humankind is called to seek the Lord, to discover his ways and to live them. This is the way that leads to the blessedness that God freely bestows on his creation (Gen.1.28).

March 8

The Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12v1-4a

The parents of Abram (later Abraham) were part of a migration from the ancient civilization of Ur, up the Euphrates valley to Haran which is close to the present day border between Syria and Turkey. This seems to reflect the times of about 1800BC in that part of the world. It was at Haran that Abram heard the call of God to travel south to a foreign land (Canaan) and to be the means of God bringing a blessing to all the nations of the world. Abram’s act of obedience is in marked contrast to the general way of humankind as described in Genesis 6.5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Adam and Eve, Cain, the people of Noah’s generation, and then the builders of the tower of Babel all sought to do their own thing and seek their own glory. Abram’s obedience sets the direction for the rest of the Bible – the way in which God will call people in every generation to be a means of blessing to their environment and to the people among whom they live. This must be our fundamental orientation towards life – a selfless love and caring concern for the planet on which we live and all who share it with us. Without this basic attitude all other concerns whether religious or otherwise will be distorted.

It is right that we should be concerned for the ‘rights of the individual’ but that must be balanced against each individual’s responsibility for the ‘common good.’

It is, perhaps, an interesting thought that God began with a seventy-five year old.

March 15

The Third Sunday of Lent: Exodus 17v1-7

“They journeyed by stages as the LORD commanded.” The forty years wandering in the wilderness may be considered as a time when God prepares and trains his people to be ready to possess the Promised Land. It is a time of learning to put God first and to trust him: trust him to provide water from the rock; trust him to provide the daily manna, just the right amount for each one. It is a time of learning to follow the way of the LORD, moving when the pillar of cloud or fire moves, staying still when the pillar lingers in one place. It is a time for exploring the ten commandments and discovering how to practice them in daily life. Lent is an opportunity to set aside time to read and explore and ponder what life is all about.

March 22

The Fourth Sunday of Lent 1 Sam. 16v1-13

The prophet Samuel appears to have been pleased with the choice of Saul as King because, “Saul (was) a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (2 Sam.9.2). All the signs seemed to be favourable and the Spirit fell upon him. But Saul made a big mistake on one occasion when he grew impatient with Samuel’s delay and offered the sacrifice himself. (1 Sam.13.9). So often it is a failure to put the Lord first and to obey his word. Samuel is now called to find a successor to Saul and this time the LORD makes clear, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

March 29

The Fifth Sunday of Lent: Ezek. 37v1-14

Ezekiel is living among his fellow Jews who have been exiled from Judah to Babylonia. Jerusalem has been razed to the ground (586BC). The anger of the Jews is expressed in psalm 137 where we read how the Jews desired revenge against those who threw their babies to their deaths on the rocks below the walls of Jerusalem

Their despair is expressed in psalm 88. They feel cast out of this world, engulfed in a frightening darkness, overwhelmed by an uncontrollable storm of God’s anger, and left without a friend in the world.

The exiles might well have decided that their hope for Jerusalem becoming a centre of peace and justice for the whole world was all some great delusion. Has not this whole God-thing been a great fantasy? No doubt many did think and feel like that. But Ezekiel and some of his co-patriot priests did not give in. They continued to believe in the LORD God, his promise to Abraham, his appearance to Moses, his continuing presence through worship and the commandments. They believed that God was working some good purpose through the present pain and darkness. Ezekiel in this wondrous vision of the valley of dry bones expresses the hope that after this time of testing there will be restoration of life in Jerusalem and God’s light will shine again.

It is good to pause and wonder how it is that the Jews survived the 70 years exile in Babylon, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and the horrendous holocaust of WWII. Rabbi Jonathan Sachs’ latest book ‘Morality’ expresses the continuing hope that Judeo-Christian biblical morality can still transform our world for the better.