Sunday Retold – Transfiguration

Part of the Sunday Retold series, following the readings may churches around the word use.  This week it’s
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

With relevant extracts from my Books.  I hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to use any of my material you find helpful, saying where it’s from.

matthew-spidersilk1

Photo – Matthew Ling

CHANGED BEFORE THEIR EYES (Mark 9:1-30)

Jesus led his disciples on from Caesarea Philippi towards higher ground. Jesus took Peter, James and John, and began to climb the steep slopes of a mountain that rose above the landscape.  Rocks slid under their feet as they walked under the bright, burning sun. At last they reached the top, and looked down on the outstretched wings of eagles riding the rising thermal currents.

And there, under the wide, open sky, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. He was shining, changed, his clothes dazzling white – brighter than pure untrodden mountain snow. Then, the disciples saw two figures join Jesus – Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet. And there, on that high mountain, they talked together.
Peter, James and John watched wide-eyed until Peter said “Rabbi, Teacher, it’s so good for us to be here.  Let us build shelters for you, and Moses, and Elijah.”

Then cloud swirled around them, and a voice came from the cloud. “This is my Son, the one I love.  Listen to him!”  Then there was silence, and they were alone with Jesus.
On the steep path back down, Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I have risen from the dead!”  And the three whispered together, wondering what rising from the dead might mean.

From The Bible Retold

It’s such a strange story.

It forms part of the great turn in the gospel accounts – the turn towards Jerusalem, towards death and resurrection.  It follows, and in some ways partners,  Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Phillipi, in which he asks them who they say he is.  He begins to explain what must happen – how the way is the way through death.  Peter, for one, cannot accept it.

And then, this.  A strange experience which seems set apart from our everyday reality, and yet shows a deeper reality, almost a peering behind a curtain.

Today, as I write this, I don’t find it very easy to know what to do with that experience  – I don’t find myself on a mountaintop.   I wonder what it must have been like to be one of the ones left at the bottom,  trying to help a desperate father and his desperate son, and unable to do so (Luke 9:37-43).  I feel more inclined to ask – if all scripture is useful, how is this useful?  If it is supposed to lead to goodness, then how does this do so (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?  These are often the starting of my enquiry into a passage.

And I find that recognising there is more than meets the eye in life, there is both dazzling brightness and deep, mysterious cloud, that we sometimes have hints, intimations, of reality and depth and connectedness does indeed help.  Although there is much that could be said about the greatness of this mountaintop experience, today, now, I am thinking more simply.

 

wp_20161021_16_28_38_pro

Photo, Peter Skevington, Selworthy Green

I am praying for my eyes to be transfigured, so that I can see the depth and mystery, the brightness and cloudiness that is around me every day.  I pray for eyes to see each person I encounter is a holy mystery, beloved by God, made in the image of God, and therefore I seek to look for what they can teach me of God.    I would pray to be able to see as God sees, but I do not think I could bear the weight of that.  But I can pray for a little more understanding, a little more insight, a little more patience to wait in the cloud, not understanding, and to listen to Jesus, even when no words are said.  And I do find that seeing differently leads to acting differently.  I hope so. I hope that if I know more fully that the world is charged with God’s grandeur  as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,  I will walk differently through it, with more care and more delight.  I hope that if I know more fully that each person is precious, I will treat them as precious.

 

Grant me to recognise in others, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955

From Prayers and Verses

elizabeth frink

Sculpture, Elizabeth Frink – Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral

 

On Sunday, we went to the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds for evensong, beautiful as ever.  We walked past the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my favourite part of the Cathedral.  The table is formed of two pieces of stone.  The base is new, polished, very pale and smooth, and the top has been cleaned, but it is plainly old, broken, worn, rescued and repurposed.  Made new.  Transfigured, even.  Above is this beautiful Frink sculpture, which always catches my breath.  The figure of Jesus seems to float off the wall, it seems to hold within it the movement of resurrection, of ascension, those times which are to come showing that this death is not the end, that now, there will be a rising.  There will be life. Death is transfigured in this sculpture – and included.
You might like to take time to look at it.
How do you respond to it?
Does knowing that it is set in the Chapel of the Transfiguration affect how you see it?
You might like to think about the Transfiguration, and its part in the road to the cross, by dwelling on this – written by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

All things reconciled.

The brightness and the cloud.  The voice and the silence.  The death and the life.

Perhaps, like Peter, James and John,  we can wonder what this rising from the dead might mean.

Perhaps we can see things more clearly, with transfigured eyes.

Sunday Retold – The Sower and the Seed 16th July 2017

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow, with passages from my books The Bible Story Retold and Prayers and Verses.

This week it’s

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23,  the Parable of the Sower

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

The Sower (van Gogh)

The Sower  Vincent van Gogh

 

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

 

       “I will open my mouth in parables,

        I will utter things hidden since the

             creation of the world.”

 

Matthew 13:34-35″

I love this small commentary from Matthew’s gospel – it opens up for us all kinds of insight into Jesus’ storytelling.   Things hidden since the creation of the world are spoken out – spoken out in stories.  How extraordinary is that!

Matthew’s reference takes us right back to the beginning – perhaps we can wonder what these things hidden from the beginning are.  Perhaps Jesus is unlocking meaning, and truth, showing us a natural world which is also a mirror in which we see our own experience, and a window into the mind of God.  These parables, parables of the kingdom, reveal things about the nature of God, of the kingdom Jesus tells us is near, very near, and even within us.  Things which have been hidden, up till the moment the stories begin.

Story works, as we know, very differently on the mind and heart from rational argument.  We remember stories, they stay with us, working deep in our imaginations.  Many of us remember this one – the parable of the sower.  It draws from lived experience – or it did, before so many of us ended up so far away from the rhythms of planting, and growing, and eating.  You could even say that the story itself is, in some ways, alive.

Stories reveal their meaning slowly, over time.  The words of God can grow, unfolding within our own hearts, like the secret growth of the seeds.  Not fast food for the soul, but a banquet – it takes time.

But, why didn’t he just say what he meant? we can ask.  Not every meaning can be spoken out like that, for a start.  There are different kinds of meaning. Perhaps Jesus didn’t want people simply to agree with his point of view, or perhaps he knew they weren’t ready to hear…. not all at once.  Perhaps he wanted to hold out a possibility even  to those whose hearts had been calloused by the hardness of life – the possibility they could be transformed by a new way of seeing the world. Metanoia, the Greek word usually translated repent, means to change your thinking – change your mind in a deeper sense than we usually mean it – change the whole orientation of how you see and understand things.  Even if they could not hear the meaning when they heard the story, the story would stay with them, ready to reveal meaning when the time was right.

As we read it, it can help to set to one side what we think we know of what it means – to allow our rational thinking mind to be stilled, for a while, and to respond with the heart, with the imagination.

Stories can help us make sense of our lives, they open us up to a deeper kind of reality and truth.   When we are ready.  It takes time.  Don’t rush to an explanation.

IMG_0589

 

 

 

Once, when Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners, he told them this story.

“One dry, bright day, when the wind was still, a farmer went out to sow seed.  He took handfuls of grain from the flat basket he carried and, with a flick of the wrist, scattered seed, hopeful for its growth.  But some of the seed fell on the path, where the passing of many feet trampled it, and the birds swooped down and ate it.  Some fell on dry rock.  After the soft rains, it swelled and sprouted.  But then it withered, for its roots could find no water.  Some landed among the thorns, which grew so fast that they soon smothered the tender new shoots.  But some landed on good soil, where it grew up, and ripened. When the time was right, the farmer came back and harvested a crop from it, a hundred times more than was sown.”

After the crowds had gone, and Jesus was left with the disciples, they asked him “What does that story mean?” And Jesus answered:

“The seed is the word – God’s word.  The seed that fell on the path is like the seed that falls in some hearts – it’s snatched away by the devil before it takes root, before those people begin to believe. The seed that falls on the rocks is seed that falls where there is little depth – at first, God’s words bring joy to those people, but there are no roots, and when trouble comes their faith withers away.  The thorny places are like hearts choked up with worry, with riches and pleasures.  There’s no space for God’s word to grow. But some seed does fall on good soil – the word takes root in hearts that are ready, and they hold on to it.  In time, the word gives a rich crop in people’s lives, and they are fruitful.”

From  The Bible Retold

 

So, I don’t want to say too much – just these few things.
I love the way the sower is generous – it is the nature of the sower to scatter the seed.  Seed is light, it lands lightly on the earth.  It speaks to me of an abundant, overflowing God, who gives, but does not impose the gift.

Secondly, I wonder about the soil.  We tend to respond to this parable individually – thinking about the state of our own hearts.  And Jesus’ interpretation points us that way. Maybe, in our communities, we can also ask what things make this soil in this place good, or poor?  Are there rocks we can remove, is there compost we can dig in, are there thistles we can pick before they set seed?  What stands in the way of  people being able to receive – for new life to thrive with them?  Is there anything we can do about it?
And, of course, we can ask the same questions of ourselves, and our lives.
We can engage in soul gardening.

Then, I have been wondering about what this word might be.

What are the seeds that Jesus is speaking of?

What did Jesus mean when he talked of the word, and of Good News?

As we read the gospels, these are good questions to hold in our minds.

Often, Jesus spoke of the good news of the kingdom of God, which is much closer than we think.  If I wonder what it is like, as well as looking at the parables, I often think – it is like the presence of Jesus – what he said, and did, how he lived, what he showed.

Transforming.

Isaiah 55:10-13English Standard Version (ESV)

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

This is one of the other readings given, to be read alongside the Parable of the Sower.  It is worth spending some time reading it slowly,  meditating on it.

Speaking of meditating, you might like to look at the second of the Van Gogh pictures.

Notice the figure is in darkness.  Who has been a sower into your life?  Who has brought love and hope, new growth, life itself?  Can you thank them, or give thanks for them?
Are there ways you can sow good things into the lives of others – with a light generosity?
Notice the way the sun hangs over the sower’s head – does it remind you of anything? make you think anything?
How do you respond to the use of colour in the picture?
Can the light of love and goodness warm what you do today?
How do light and dark interact in the growing of a seed?

Can you nurture new life in yourself and others today?
Can you connect with living growing things?

the-sower-van-gogh

The Sower – Vincent Van Gogh

Help me to be patient as I wait for your kingdom
and your righteousness:
as patient as a farmer who trusts that the rains
will come in their season,
and that the land will produce its harvest.
Keep my hopes high.
Help me to pray to you and to praise you.

The Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun, the rain, the appleseed.
The Lord is good to me.
Attributed to John Chapman, planter of orchards 1774-1845

We can do no great things,
Only small things with great love.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997

from Prayers and Verses

 

May the God of growth and new beginnings bless you and all you love today.

 

Sunday Retold – The Spirit Comes, Pentecost

4epenb-jyoti-sahi-pentecost

Picture Source: Jyoti Sahi

 

 

We celebrate Pentecost this weekend, and the story continues its extraordinary movement outwards.  Last week, it was Ascension, when Jesus left the disciples. They were still thinking in terms of their own people, and Jesus showed them an ever widening perspective (Acts 1:6-9)

Now, we see how God continues to open and include.  It seems that all those gathered together (1:14-15) were part of the great outpouring of the Spirit, and the impact on the listeners suggests God was at work beyond even those.  The barriers between us of race, gender, nationality, language, youth and age, are being broken down, moving us towards a deep unity (Col 1:17, Gal 3:28). No wonder the whole house was filled with a great sound! This is powerful and much needed work.

We notice how the barrier of language is overcome.  We notice that God’s priority is not to change the listeners so they can understand, but change the words (and the speakers) so people can hear – directly, in a way that makes sense to them as they are.
The words are an overflow of joy.

Below is my version of the story, from The Bible Story Retold

If you wish to use it this weekend, please do, saying where it is from.  I hope it helps.

From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest.  It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits.  It was Pentecost.

Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting.  Then, suddenly, it began.  It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze.  This was a shaking and a roaring: a sound of power, whooshing and howling about the house, rattling every door and shutter.  The sound seemed to come down from heaven itself, and filled the house as the wind fills sails.  Then, the disciples watched wide-eyed as something that looked like fire came down, and tongues of flame peeled off it and rested on each of them without burning them.  All of them were filled, for the Holy Spirit had come.  And as it happened, their tongues were loosened, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them words.  These words were not Aramaic, their own language, but in languages that were unknown to them.
A crowd had gathered by the house because of the extraordinary sound, but then they heard voices. There were pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and they recognized the words the disciples were speaking.
“He’s talking Egyptian!” said one.
“That one’s talking my language,” said a visitor from Crete – and the same was true for all.  Each person heard God’s praises in their own tongue.
“What can it mean?” they asked each other.  But others among the crowd joked that the disciples had been drinking.
The Twelve heard what they were saying, so Simon Peter stood up to speak to the crowds.
“Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happening.  We’re not drunk! It’s too early in the day for that! This is God’s promise come true.  Do you remember what one of the prophets wrote long ago?
I’ll pour out my Spirit on everyone – young and old.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
young men will have visions, and old men dreams.
All who follow me – men and women – will
be given my Spirit, and there will be wonders!

 

From Prayers and Verses

 

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours…
Yours are the feet with which he is to go
about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which he is to
bless us now.
St Theresa of Avila 1515-82

 

Pentecost

Spirit of God
put love in my life.
Spirit of God
put joy in my life.
Spirit of God
put peace in my life.
Spirit of God
make me patient.
Spirit of God
make me kind.
Spirit of God
make me good.
Spirit of God
give me faithfulness.
Spirit of God
give me humility.
Spirit of God
give me self-control.

From Galatians 5:22–23

candles_flame_in_the_wind-other

You might be interested in this podcast, from Nomad
Bless you this weekend, and always.

Good Friday Retold

A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday

From The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from

cano_alonso-zzz-crucifixion

Cano Alonso

THE ROAD OF TEARS, AND THE PLACE OF THE SKULL (Luke 23:26-49)

Jesus stumbled under the heavy wooden cross, weak from his beating, and so the soldiers seized Simon, a visitor from Cyrene in north Africa, and gave him the cross to carry.  Jesus followed slowly over the rough, hard road.

A large crowd followed, and among them were many women, sobbing.  He turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. You and your children will know enough pain.”

Two other men were led out to be crucified with Jesus at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull: one on his left, and one on his right.  So Jesus was nailed to the cross, and a sign was hung above him, saying: “This is the King of the Jews.”
From the cross, Jesus spoke slowly, painfully. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But some among the crowd sneered “Save yourself if you are God’s Chosen One. You saved others!”

The soldiers joined in, as did one of the men being crucified. But the other said, “Don’t you fear God, at the hour of your death?  We are guilty, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  He turned his head towards Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

And Jesus answered “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Then, a deep darkness came over the land, and the shadows spread and joined together.  In the Temple, the curtain that hid the holiest place was torn in two.  “Father, take my spirit!” Jesus called in a loud voice, and then his head fell forward, and his breath stopped.

The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross said, “Surely this was a good man.”  And many of the crowd were overcome by sadness, and turned away.  But those who knew him, men and women, stayed, and kept watch.

THE TOMB  (John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61)

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, went to see Pilate. “I request permission to bury Jesus,” he said, and Pilate gave him the body.  So Joseph and Nicodemus, the man who had visited Jesus at night, took Jesus away.  Nicodemus had brought a great weight of spices – myrrh and aloes – and together the two men prepared Jesus’ body with the spices and wrapped it in linen.  Then they carried him to Joseph’s garden tomb, cut into the rock, and there they laid him. They rolled the stone over the entrance, shutting out the last red rays of light. Then they turned, and walked away. But Mary Magdalene, who had been healed by Jesus, and the other Mary, stayed and kept watch in the chill of the deepening shadows.

 

 

Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:
You know this world’s suffering,
You know this world’s sorrowing,
You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:
I will work for this world’s healing,
I will work for this world’s rejoicing,
I will work for this world’s living.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we feel abandoned.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we face danger.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we are suffering.

When sorrow threatens to defeat us,
Jesus, who rose from the dead, be with us.

Come, O Joy:
Let heaven break into my dark night of sorrow
like the early dawn of a summer morning.

 

Bless you this Easter

Maundy Thursday Retold

As we approach Easter, I’ll share with you retellings and prayers that might help you in your preparation, and might be useful for faith communities to share.  Today, we’ll look at the time when Jesus knelt before his followers to wash their feet, and gave them a new commandment – to love each other.
The word Maundy derives from the word commandment.

Love and serve one another

jesus-washing-his-disciples-feet1

THE SERVANT KING (John 13: 1- 17)

Evening came, and Jesus and his disciples were together in the upper room they had been given.  Jesus knew the time had come to leave the world – and those he loved, and would love to the end.  Jesus knew that God had given him power over all things, and so he took a towel, and tied it around his waist. He knelt down before his followers, and began washing their feet.
“No, Lord!” burst out Simon Peter when Jesus came to him. “I can’t let you do that!”
“You don’t understand yet – to be part of me, you must let me serve you.”
“Then wash my hands and my head, too” Peter replied.

Jesus came to Judas.  He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray him to the high priests and the Temple guard, but still, he carried on washing his feet.
“Do you understand?” he said when he had finished. “I’m your Teacher, your Lord, and yet I take the place of the humblest slave.  So you must serve each other, and you will be blessed in doing so.”

BREAD AND WINE  (Matthew 26:20-29, from John13:31-17:26)

Then, they began the Passover meal.  They ate flat bread with bitter leaves, and dipped greens in salt water, to remember the bitterness and the tears of slavery in Egypt.  Once more, they told each other the story of how God saved the people of Israel.  But then, Jesus’ face clouded with sadness.
“One of you is going to betray me!” he said.
“No!” they all answered, pale with shock.
“One who shares my bread,” Jesus said, giving a piece to Judas.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, giving it to all of them saying, “Take and eat, for it is my body.”  Then, after supper, he raised the cup, and gave thanks.  “Drink, all of you. For this is my blood, poured out for forgiveness.  It is the blood of the new covenant – the binding promise of God.”

During the meal, Judas slipped out unnoticed into the dark, dark night.

“Now the glory begins, and I give you a new command.  You must love one another.  Your lives will be marked by love, and all will know you are mine because of it. For I will leave you, and you cannot follow yet,” Jesus said.
“I’ll follow you anywhere!” said Simon Peter.
“Will you?  Before the cock crows, you will deny you even knew me three times.”

They were all silent, stricken with sadness.
“You are troubled – don’t be.  Think of it like this.  I’m going ahead to my Father’s house, to get rooms ready for you.  Then I’ll come back for you. You know the way!”

Thomas said “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know the way!”
“I am the way,” said Jesus. And his disciples remembered the many long, dusty roads they had followed him along.   Now, where would they go, what would they do? He saw their sadness, and spoke gently to them for a long time, planting hope.
“I am a vine, and from me grow branches – you. The vine gives the branches life, and they bud and blossom and fruit.  So draw your life from me, and you will too.

“When I go, the Spirit will come, to guide you into all truth. In this world, you will face trouble.  But take courage: I have overcome the world!”

From The Bible Retold

This reading, too, contains one of the great I AM sayings of Jesus.  I have been mulling it over in my mind as I write my next book.  I hope to share more on this with you another time!

Dear God,
Help me to love you with all my heart,
with all my soul and with all my mind.
Help me to love those around me as I love myself.

O God,
Let me learn how to love.
May I grow more patient.
May I speak more kindly.
May I act more humbly.
May I never give up learning to love.

Lord Jesus,
May our lives bear the mark of love.
As we are kind, as we share, as
we are gentle, may your love be seen in us.
Help us, for this is hard for us.

From Prayers and Verses

Please feel free to use my material if it helps you, saying where it is from

And finally, a poem, imagining what it was like for Jesus to wash the feet of Judas.  I will be using this poem as part of my Quiet Day at Otley Hall  on the Wednesday of Holy Week

Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up?  Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?

As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.

And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.

In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew,  what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.

Easter Retold – Palm Sunday

Over the next week, I shall post extracts from The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses which I hope will be useful to you in your preparation for Easter.

Please feel free to use my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.  I love to hear that groups, churches and schools have enjoyed these retellings and prayers.

palm_sunday_lg

 

INTO JERUSALEM  (John 12:12-36)

The next day, word spread that Jesus was going to enter Jerusalem.   People poured out of the gates, and those who were with him gathered, waiting to see what would happen.  Jesus sat on a young donkey, and began the ride towards the city as people cut palm branches from the trees and went out to meet him on the road. The crowds were bursting with joy – shouting and cheering to see Jesus, at last, coming into Jerusalem.  They remembered God’s promises from long ago, and they believed their eyes would see them fulfilled.
“Hosanna – God saves!” they cried. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” The disciples followed, astonished, and laughing with joy.  At last, the kingdom was coming.
But there were those in the city who looked down from shadowy windows, and would not listen to the words of those who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.  They drew back from the laughing, shining crowds that poured through the open gates in dazzling sunshine. The Pharisees were afraid.  They said, “Look, the whole world is following him now!”

Jesus tried to explain that his kingdom was not as his followers expected, and tried to warn them of his death. “You are going to have the light with you for only a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overwhelms you.  Put your trust in the light.”

 

palm sundayFlyer

From the Orthodox tradition

 

The road to Good Friday

Dear God,
May I welcome you as my king:
King of peace,
King of love,
King in death,
King of life.

O God,
Put an end to death.
Put an end to grief and crying and pain.
Make all things new.
Lead us to heaven.
From  Revelation 21

 

palm_crosses

May the King of Peace bless you with his peace.

 

Otley Hall Quiet Day – 12th April

Here is some information about my next event, a day at the stunning Otley Hall in Suffolk on the Wednesday of Holy Week.
Otley Hall in the spring is a beautiful place.
It would be lovely to see you there!

Otley Hall Quiet Day
Wednesday 12th April 2017 10am-4pm

Entering imaginatively into the Bible

mary-anoints-the-feet-of-jesus-by-frank-wesley

We will read gospel stories, imagining ourselves into the scene, and then be free to respond however seems best  – quietness, poetry, prose, media of choice.  For those who wish, we will also think about how to communicate the treasures we find with others.

To book a place on the Quiet Day (£25 including lunch), contact Otley Hall
Otley Hall’s website
01473 890264

I will have a few copies of my books available to buy, thanks to Browsers Bookshop of Woodbridge.

 

Sunday Retold – The Woman at the Well

Part of the  Sunday Retold  series, based on the readings some churches follow week by week.:

This week we’re looking at

John 4:1-42

Please feel free to use any of my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.

This is a powerful and extraordinary story early on in John’s Gospel, one of the important conversations he has with just one person that are recorded for us.  It is a story I have turned over in my mind for a few years, and at present it forms the basis for a chapter I am writing in my next book on the I AM sayings  – not one of the classic seven I know, but I have been exploring a little beyond those, and find this story too interesting and too significant to overlook.  What follows are some of my reflections as I prepare this chapter, a very early share before I have gone through my editing process.  I hope you find it helpful.  I hope it gives you living water.

 

The bible scene with Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman shows signs of damage and peeling of paint.jpg

Mural by  Emmanuel Nsama

 

At a time when our politics is increasingly divided and divisive, where people divide each other into categories, and make some lesser than others, this is a particularly relevant conversation.

John the Evangelist is preparing us for this story very carefully, for it is profoundly counter-cultural. Jesus stops to rest near the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph.   Jacob’s other name was Israel – one who wrestles with God.  We are going back to Israel’s common spring, common source, at Jacob’s well.  We are being reminded of a time long ago, before the time when and the Jews and Samaritans became peoples who saw themselves as separate.    It is a place that holds meaning and memory for Jews and Samaritans – of their common father, and their common salvation story.  John is placing us on common ground……

 

I think it is no coincidence that John begins this story by setting it against an atmosphere of potential conflict – between cousins, between related nations.  We see Jesus acting out his mission to be a peacemaker, a reconciler.  “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14.  Jesus himself is common ground,  and his presence changes things.  If we look carefully at how we are prepared for this encounter, we can see that we are being led away from conflict, towards reconciliation, to inclusion, and to hope…….

And so, as Jesus waits for the disciples to find food, as he waits by the well in the heat of the day, a woman approaches.  We can only imagine what it must have been like for her, in a culture where a woman could be divorced “for any and every reason”.  We often think of her as one utterly disgraced in her community, having to visit the well at such a time.  That may well be so.  It is a highly plausible explanation.  Her multiple husbands are hardly a marital model, but, we must remember that at this time divorces were easy for a man to come by, and early death not uncommon.  However her situation came about, she had most certainly known her share of tragedy and disappointment.  She may have known deep shame and disgrace.  If we are thinking in terms of barriers and divides, she has many to cross.

And yet she, like everyone else, gets thirsty, and needs water to drink, and water to wash with.  She is as human as everyone else.  So often, we do not see people like this.  So often, we make quick judgements, build fences, wonder about people’s worthiness, and in our own pride and insecurity, seek to feel superior, safe, chosen, righteous in some way.  Not so Jesus.

His question bursts through all our categories and barriers in its gentleness, its humanity.  It is a question that changes everything for this woman, and for her community.
“Will you give me a drink?”

It is not just that he recognises her thirst, but that he humbly admits his own.  He speaks, not to rebuke a sinful woman, not to point out what she needs to do to straighten out her life, but to make himself vulnerable before her, and to call out her goodness.  For this is what the question does. It recognises her goodness.  It recognises and awakens this truth about her – that she is made in the image of God, she is a God-bearer in the world.  That image can be buried beneath layers of hiding, of shame, buried under words of condemnation that have been spoken over a person, it can be twisted by hatred and fear and darkness, but it is always there, and Jesus sees it.
If we have  come across the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 this question opens up others – the thirsty person before us, asking us for water, for help, is Jesus.  How do we respond?  Do we give?

 

samaritan-woman

She does not know who is speaking to her. Of course not!  Neither does she know the gift of God.  But Jesus is revealing both of these things to her.  Jesus is the greatest gift. And he has living water.  We are diving deeper now.  We know that in John, there is often an association between water and Spirit.  Jesus’ previous encounter with Nicodemus (Ch 3) touches on that…. and it is such a beautiful counterpoint to this one.  Here we have a woman, an outcast, a Samaritan, in the heat of noon – there we had a man, a Pharisee, member of the ruling council, at night.
This water that Jesus gives, it can become a spring in us, as indeed the Spirit in us is a spring, bubbling and welling up to life.

 

From The Bible Retold

LIVING WATER 

It was hot when the woman went to get water from the well, near her home town of Sychar in Samaria.  As she drew near, she saw a Jewish man sitting there, in the shade.  She hesitated a moment, nervous of this stranger.  For the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for centuries, since the time of the exile.  “But,” she thought, “I must have water,” and she carried on walking to the well.

The man was Jesus.  He had left Jerusalem and was making his way back to Galilee.  His disciples were buying food, leaving him to rest from the burning sun. He looked up at the woman.
“Will you give me a drink?” he asked, with a thirsty smile.   Jews and Samaritans never ate or drank together: it was against all the laws and customs.
You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan for a drink?” She was so startled she nearly dropped her water jug.
“If you knew who I was, you’d ask me, and I would give you real, life-giving water!”
“How can you get water?  You have nothing to hold it in!”
“If you drink from the well, you’ll be thirsty again.  If you drink the water I offer, it will become like a clear spring within you, bubbling over with eternal life!”
“Sir, I would like that water!”  she replied.  But Jesus questioned her about how she lived, and amazed her by revealing her secrets: things she had kept hidden, for shame.  Could this man be a prophet?
She ran back to town, telling everyone.  They invited Jesus and the disciples to stay, and he taught them for two days.

The people of the town said to the woman, “Now, we don’t just believe in Jesus because of what you said.  We’ve heard the truth for ourselves!”

 

“The well is deep”  What does that mean for you?

Meditation suggestion:

Pour out a large jug of water, and set it before you, together with a glass or glasses.
Consider the water, and ask yourself what you thirst for right now?  Try to allow honest answers to rise in your mind, and note them.  Are there places in your life that feel dry and unproductive? What would bring them life?

 

Take a look at the photographs drawn from different cultures.  How do you respond to them?
You might like to place a picture reminding of of this story above a place where you wash, or your kitchen tap.

 

WP_20170317_15_18_38_Pro.jpg

Detail of stained glass at Gloucester Cathedral, above the place in the cloisters where the monks washed.

 

This is what God says

“I myself will look for my people and take care of them in the same way as shepherds take care of their sheep.

“I will bring them back from all the places where they were scattered on that dark, disastrous day.

“I will lead them to the mountains and the streams of their own land, so they may make their home amid the green pastures.

I shall be their God, their Good Shepherd; they will be my people,  my flock.”

From Ezekiel 34

From Prayers and Verses

 

May your week be bubbling up with life-giving water

Sunday Retold – Abraham, and Nicodemus? March 12th

Part of the  Sunday Retold  series, based on the readings some churches follow week by week.

They are:
Genesis 12:1-4

John 3:1-17

Please feel free to use any of my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.

Abraham and Nicodemus?  It’s intriguing the way passages are put together.  They shine a light on each other, helping you see them in a different way.
Both of these passages speak of a new kind of beginning in God, stepping out perhaps into a radically different kind of life.  There is uncertainty, too, in the way ahead.  Abraham will be shown the way to go, but he hasn’t been so far.  The wind  blows where it will, we don’t know where.  These two stories together tell us something important about this walk, this life of faith.  Both speak of setting aside our competencies and certainties and desire for control.  Both put us in the place of learners, students, disciples even, having to be open and listening, because we have no blueprint, no map in our minds to impose on the outside.
To begin again as a little child, to set out from all you have known for – who knows?  Life made new requires courage.

From The Bible Retold

“Get up! It’s time to go!” God said to Abraham.  “You must leave your father’s household and go to the land I will show you, the land of Canaan.  I want to bless you, and make your family into a great people.  Through you my blessing will flow to everyone on the earth.”

So Abraham set off for this unknown land, with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot, and all their possessions and animals and servants.  Their long convoy travelled slowly.  Sometimes they followed great river valleys, where the grass grew green.  Other times they travelled across wide plains, throwing up clouds of dust from the hot earth.  They journeyed through many lands on their way to Canaan, and drew more people to them as they went .  When they camped at night, it looked like a town of tents

img_0682

It’s not always easy to see where we are going

The story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus by night is well known, but some of the ideas it contains have lost their anchorhold in the story, and rolled around gathering new associations as they go.  When I came to rewrite it, and when I came to rewrite it again and again with the editor, some of these difficulties surfaced.  It was one of the hardest parts of the gospel to attempt.  It contains ideas which were difficult for Nicodemus to grasp, let alone us, but it seems that the pictures Jesus painted stayed with him, gradually unfolding their meaning, until we find him and Joseph anointing Jesus’ body on Good Friday as darkness gathered.
I remember getting up at night, unable to sleep, with no idea how to tell this story.  But  I lit a fire and a candle, and prayed, and imagined what it would be like to go to Jesus at night, as Nicodemus did.

From The Bible Retold

NICODEMUS THE PHARISEE

One night, Nicodemus slipped through the dark streets of Jerusalem to visit Jesus, who was staying the city.  He came alone, not wanting to be seen. Nicodemus was an important man: a well-known Pharisee, and a leader of the Jewish people, and many of the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus.

Nicodemus came to the house where Jesus was staying, and went in.  He stepped into a room lit by a small lamp which threw a warm circle of light into the shadows.  And there was Jesus, sitting in the lamplight, ready to welcome him in.  Nicodemus joined Jesus and began to speak the words that were running through his mind.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.  The miracles you do prove that!”

As Nicodemus spoke Jesus looked into his face, searching his eyes by the warm light.  He knew this man was wise, so when Jesus broke the silence, he spoke to Nicodemus of the deep truths of God’s ways.

Nicodemus listened as Jesus spoke of God’s Spirit: how it could not be seen, but could be felt, as the wind is felt as it blows.  Jesus spoke too of a new type of birth: a birth of the Spirit, giving another chance to become like a child and to see God’s kingdom.

Then, Jesus spoke of how much God loved the world: enough to send his only son to die, so that everyone who believes in him could have a new life that would last for ever, a life full of light and truth.

Nicodemus listened, opening his mind to take in these extraordinary words. And as Nicodemus stepped out of the circle of lamplight, and walked home through the shadowy streets, he turned Jesus’ words over in his mind, beginning to understand.

WP_20170224_14_26_44_Pro.jpg

The after-effects of Storm Doris at Whitby

Perhaps you would like to do a similar exercise – imagining yourself in Nicodemus’ place, seeking light in the darkness.
You could look at the two pictures, and use them to help you as you pray through your response to these two stories.
You might like to read the  A Poem for the road – Returning  in the light of these passages, and see how they connect for you.

As Abraham set off for an unknown land,
so we begin each day, and each journey,
knowing you are with us.
Bless us on our way,
and make us a blessing to those we meet.

Dear God,
Help me to find the right way to go,
even though the gate to it be narrow,
and the path difficult to walk.

Trust in God
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you;
All things pass;
God never changes.
Patience achieves
all it strives for.
He who has God
finds he lacks nothing,
God lone suffices.

Theresa of Avila, 1515-82

I am a pilgrim
on a journey
to the place
where God is found;
every step
along that journey
is upon
God’s holy ground.

 

 

Where are you going today?
God Bless you on your way.