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 – Lazarus raised from the dead

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow.
This week it’s

John 11:1-45

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

We are preparing to enter the season of Passiontide, towards the end of Lent when we turn our attention more fully to the coming of Easter.  This strange and powerful story is at such a  turn in John’s Gospel, a turn of the road that will take Jesus through death and into life.  We have had hints of what will come before, but this is something much more significant, which attracts much more attention. Crowds pour out of Jerusalem to see Jesus, and Lazarus, and the religious leaders are afraid, and their resolve to be rid of him hardens.

It also contains one of the great I AM sayings which form the backbone of my  next Book

 

Lazarus

By Jacquie Binns

……
4I5

Jesus is now close to Bethany, when Martha, Lazarus’ sister, comes out to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,”  she says, the same phrase  Mary uses later.  They have such confidence that Jesus would have healed their brother, if he had been there.  Then, Martha continues….”But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Martha’s confidence in Jesus seems to hold even in the face of his delays, and her brother’s death.  We do not know what she expected might happen – maybe she didn’t know herself, speaking in fresh raw grief.  Perhaps she was simply throwing her whole self, her whole confidence and trust, on this dear friend who was unlike anyone else she knew.
“Your brother will rise again”
“I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
To Martha, this talk of rising may have sounded like a conventional consolation, and  Martha takes it up, this hope, and places it on the Last Day, a day when the dead will rise. It is hope that death is not the end.  It is a distant hope, though, for a distant future.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”   Jesus moves that distant hope – a time, an event, a particular future thing, and says this instead:  He is the resurrection and the life .  Now.
In him is life.

Jesus is more than the one who rises from the dead on Easter Sunday, for others to look on and marvel, and believe if they can.  He himself  is resurrection, and that means something transformative for Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary, and all of us.

After Martha makes her extraordinary statement, she quickly moves on.  Her sister, Mary, is still shut inside.  She must be told that Jesus is here.

Jesus  meets Mary, and the raw grief that she and the others bring with them.  She says the same thing as her sister –
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She says it weeping.  She says no more words beyond these.  The tone, therefore, feels different.  Her words sound desperate, almost accusing.  Maybe they are accusing.

“Where have you laid him?”
“Come and see”

The pain of the moment now is overwhelming.  Jesus is described as being greatly disturbed, deeply moved.  There is no talk here of denying the hope of the resurrection by grieving.  No accusation of lack of faith for being overcome with emotion.  Grief here is fully experienced – for his friend, and for those who love him still.  Grief too for all the death and loss that are caught up in this, and in the death that Jesus himself will face very soon…..

Jesus moves to stand by the grave with those who weep, and weeps too.

Perhaps we can learn from this “come and see”, to invite Jesus into the darkest places in us.  It is the same phrase Jesus uses to answer “Where are you staying?” right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him (1:35-39).

He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love.

And then, and then…….

JESUS AND LAZARUS 

Jesus followed the road on towards Jerusalem, stopping at the desert place by the Jordan where John had baptized him: where the sky had opened and the Spirit had come down like a dove.  Many people came to him there, and many believed.  While he was by the Jordan, a messenger arrived.
“Teacher, I bring word from Martha and Mary of Bethany.  Your dear friend, their brother Lazarus, is very ill.”
“This sickness will not end in death, but in God’s glory!” Jesus replied.  But he did not follow the messenger back.   Two days later, he stood up and turned to his disciples.
“Come on, let’s go!” he said.  But they were afraid to go so close to Jerusalem, remembering how Jesus’ life was in danger there.
He stepped forward into the sun-baked road. “Now it’s daylight.  Lazarus is asleep, and I’m going to wake him up!”  And the disciples followed Jesus despite their fears.

As they came close, they saw Martha running towards them.  “Lord,” she called out, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sobbing shook her as Jesus stepped towards her, steadying her. “But I know,” she carried on, quietly, “even now, God would do anything you asked.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said.
“Yes, I know, on the Last Day – the day of resurrection, of new life.”
“I am the resurrection, I am the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, and will never be swallowed up by the dark emptiness of death. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was promised from long ago!”  Then she went back to find Mary.
“Sister, the Teacher is here!”  Straight away Mary got up and went out, followed by those who had come to mourn with her.  She went up to Jesus and fell weeping at his feet. “Lord!” she said. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”   Jesus saw her sorrow, and looked at those around, draped in black, and weeping. And he, too, shuddered under the heavy weight of grief.  “Where is he?”  Jesus asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they answered. And Jesus wept. “See how he loved him!” said some.

“Could he not then have saved him?” questioned others.

They came before the tomb – a cave with a stone rolled across the entrance.
“Take away the stone!” Jesus said, but Martha hesitated.
“Lord, he has been dead four days.  The body will smell,” she said.

“If you believe, you will see God’s glory!” Jesus answered, and they rolled the stone away.  He prayed in a loud voice, and then, he looked into the deep darkness of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” he called.  And Lazarus came out, wrapped in linen grave clothes, with a cloth around his face. “Set him free from his grave clothes!”  Jesus said to those around him, who stared in astonishment as the man they had been mourning stood before them, alive again.

From The Bible Retold

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Henry Ossawa Tanner

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Vincent van Gough

What would it mean to be a resurrection people?

To follow Jesus into this experience too? To participate with Jesus in this walk down to the darkest, deadest places, and participate in this bringing of life and hope,  of making things new.  To be part of the new heavens and new earth, to pray and work for his kingdom to come now, on earth, as it is in heaven.  Is it possible to move from discussion of the meaning of resurrection, important as that is,  to beginning to practice it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be and were becoming?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage  to walk through the valleys of the shadows (Psalm 23), to not be afraid, to trust there is a way out the other side.  And, when we are ready,  to look up, to look for signs of light, and life.

Here is a poem, one of a series.  You can find the first, and follow them through,  here

Mary, sister of Lazarus, at your feet a second time

She sits in the shuttered room,
the room where her brother had laid,
dying, dead, the messengers sent out
returning empty, with no reply,
like prayers that bounce  off ceilings
or stick to the roof of the mouth,
choking with sorrow.
When you stay by the Jordan
that shuttered room is where Mary stays.

This is her shadowed valley, the dark forest of her path,
foreshadowing yours, it is all foreshadowing you.
The room where her brother had laid,
how can she ever leave it now?

But leave she did, at last, when you called for her,
she came quickly, running, trailing darkness behind
her weeping.  Mary, once more at your feet,
and when you saw her weeping, you wept too.

You know us in our grief.  You come to us, call to us.
In our darkest, most shuttered places,
your spirit moves, breaks with ours.
Death lay heavy upon you, too, and all the sooner for
this, what you do now, standing before that tomb.

For now, you who are Life,
Word made warm and beating flesh,
and weeping,
call Lazarus out,
You, who are life, and will rise,
call out one who is dead from the cold tomb.
You watch as they run to free him from the graveclothes,
pull darkness from him, calling in strange bewildered delight,
and you see Mary’s face as she sees now,
her brother, who was dead, once more in light,
astonished, seeing your glory, part of your glory,
as she weeps again, is weeping again
breathless with joy.you staying, right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him(

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

From Prayers and Verses

 

1:35-39).  He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love. 

The one coming into the world.  This is an interesting bit.  I like the continuous tense.  It is not just the one who was promised, although it holds that meaning too.  It is one who is coming into the world.

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

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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.

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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.

Sunday Retold – The Presentation at the Temple

Feb 2nd is Candlemas – the official end of Christmas.  This year, for the first time, I have left out my nativity scene till now, with the Wise Men arriving late, at Epiphany and then standing near the front, clustered around the manger with their camel.  I think I shall keep the season like this again – starting later, running later.  It has helped in the quietness of January, the cold and the fog, to hold the story of Jesus coming into the darkness a little longer.

The season ends with many remembering Jesus being brought to the Temple, which you can read about in Luke 2:22-40

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Presentation at the Temple -Bellini

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Simeon and Anna – Rembrandt

There are many striking things about this story.  Firstly, there is the contrast of age and youth – Rembrandt, in this picture painted in his own old age, captures that so well.  Look at Simeon’s hands, unable to cradle the baby naturally, but instead open in a kind of frail prayer.   Also marked in this picture is the light – the contrast with Simeon is again striking, as his eyes appear sightless.  For this is about Jesus being the light to enlighten all people.   This is the way the Glory returns – not to a grand building, but in a person – a child of poor parents, at that.

At this moment, at this time, when we are thinking much about the plight of refugees , when there is so much despair and anger and confusion in our politics and national life, it is good to remember that Jesus comes to show another way, to be a light to lighten us all. He will break down the things that divide us from each other,  and perhaps then, we will see clearly. (Eph 2:14)
Not that, suddenly, everything is going to be all right, all light, though.  There is pain in the path ahead – pain for the young mother who will see the suffering of her child.  When all she can do is watch.  There is a place in this story for all who watch the suffering of those they love. This hope is not all blithe and sunny, it knows the path will be hard.

Whether we are old, and despair that we will never see what we hope for, or young, and see the future slipping into chaos, we remember the power of light to overcome darkness.  Of hope.  There is a better way.  There is a path of love, and hope and peace.  It turns its back on violence as a solution to problems, but that does not mean it will not suffer violence.  The path is costly.  It leads to the cross. It will pierce Mary’s heart.
The way is down and through. (John 13:3-4)

What do you hope for?

What light do you need?

 

From The Bible Retold

Mary and Joseph took the newborn Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, as God’s Law required.  They gave thanks for him with an offering of two doves.  Now, in the city at that time were two people who had been waiting for the Anointed One.  The first, Simeon, held on to God’s promise that he would see the Messiah before he died.  And on the very day that Mary and Joseph came, he was moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the Temple.  He went straight up to them, took Jesus in his arms, and said, “Now I can leave this life in peace, for my eyes have seen God’s plan to save all people, God has sent his light to everyone, even to those far away from Israel.  This light will shine on us and fill us with his glory.”   He spoke to Mary, too, of the pain that would pierce her own heart in years to come.

The second person was Anna, bent with age, but always worshipping, and always praying.  The Temple was her home.  As Simeon was speaking, she came up and praised God, knowing Jesus was the one they had all been waiting for, the one who would set them free.

 

From Prayers and Verses

Grant me to recognize in other men, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin   (1881-1955)

Help me, Lord Jesus, learn who you are.
Help me learn as I try to love, and forgive,
and help others as you did.
Thank you most of all for loving me just as I am.

 

Even if it is not your practice to keep the old festivals, this feels to me like a time when it is good to light a candle,  and know that the darkness will not put it out.

 

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