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 first. Please scroll down for previous month’s notes.
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
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!
This month I have chosen one of the psalms appointed for each
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 The Second Sunday after Trinity: Psalm 86
The ‘controlling’ Bible reading for this Sunday is chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul describes the baptised Christian as one who dies with Christ and rises with Christ. This implies that our Christian pilgrimage is a way of life in which we share a close relationship with Jesus who shares all our pains and joys and questions and doubts as we walk with Him. This psalm wonderfully expresses the kind of inner dialogue that we can have with Jesus at any moment of our daily living. This whole message and practice is well summarised in v11, “Knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.” Some of you may want to recite those words a number of times and think about them. Others may simply want to say the name ‘Jesus,’ as you might to a partner or friend just to draw reassurance. Others may
simply want to be silent in the Presence of ‘He Who Is.’ The psalm leads us through a whole variety of thoughts and feelings that come and go for us from time to time. Maybe one of the verses catches your heart and you just want to stay with it for a while. That’s good. Do that. A verse of particular interest is v15, “But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.” These are the words with which God chose to reveal Himself to Moses in Exodus 33.19 when Moses asked to see the face of God. These words are repeated several more times throughout the Old Testament right through to the later prophets, one example being Joel 2.13. Some people are put off the Old Testament because of all the violence and anger. It is humankind that is violent and angry – nothing has changed there! The wonder of the Old Testament is that God shines out as full of mercy and compassion.
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.
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 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 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 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.