Lent 5 – the readings for Passion Sunday

Ezekiel 37.1-14        Romans 8.6-11        John 11.1-45

God is the creator of all life, who opens our eyes to see the world upon which he has set our feet. We acknowledge that we owe him our very existence as we thank him and praise him for such acts of power and wonder. But the gift of life is not confined to our creation or to our birth: it depends upon God to sustain the universe in being from moment to moment. And so we should understand, as Ezekiel was made to understand, that this precious gift is both infinitely precious and eternal in its nature, according to the will of God who created us. Israel seemed utterly defeated, its cities in ruins and its people scattered or killed. Surely the end has come and there is no longer any hope? Even the dry and lifeless bones of the slain, which lie in the valley, are not beyond the power of God to restore to the fullness of life, binding them together once more with sinews and flesh and skin, breathing into them once more the life which to human eyes seemed irretrievably lost, but is safe in the mercy and power of the Lord.

Those whose eyes are fixed only upon this world may labour with all their skill and all their energies for the rewards which it offers, but these are only fleeting pleasures, to be followed by extinction and dust. Why toil for such things, why set our hope upon such empty baubles? Even the greatest wealth, the most powerful empires, the most dazzling beauty, are like flickering images on a screen, with only a brief existence in a material world which is passing away. If that is our choice we discover that we are bound by it, and worse, at enmity with God who asks us to love him above and beyond all else, and none other. Only when we commit our heart to him without reservation can we know his Spirit and share in the eternal life of Christ, who has by grace become our righteousness through his death to this world, and his resurrection to the new life of God’s kingdom. Though our body is mortal in this world, by God’s power we may live in the Spirit, and in hope of sharing in the risen life of our Lord.

Death is a mystery which we ponder while we live, seeking to comprehend the purpose of our creation and our existence. Without faith in God, in whose eternal love our future as well as our past is fulfilled, we can not understand, let alone have hope that life is of greater significance than merely for this earth only. That hope is embodied in the person of Jesus, who comes to Bethany too late to heal Lazarus, knowing that the events which follow will bring glory to God. After four days there is no doubt that Lazarus is very dead, as surely as the dry bones raised to life in the sight of Ezekiel. It seems that all had expected Jesus to heal Lazarus, had he come in time, but now that he is dead, what can Jesus do? As she pleads with him Martha hears the words spoken by Jesus but does not yet comprehend the significance of what he has told her. The raising of Lazarus brings life not only for him, but for his sisters and for many present, who finally believe in the salvation which God has sent through the coming resurrection and the risen life of his beloved Son, who stands among them.

Rev Stephen Trott

Readings for Mothering Sunday (Lent 4) Laetare

Exodus 2.1-10        Colossians 3.12-17          John 19.25b – 27

Foreshadowing Herod’s massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus, a brutal decree has been issued by Pharaoh requiring the destruction of all new born boys among the Hebrews, for fear that they might one day overturn his throne. Such is the paranoia which is often attendant upon regal power, suspicious of every threat, real or imaginary, conspiring and plotting to hold on to that power by any means. But as so often happens in God’s dealings with evil men, there is great irony in the manner of their downfall. No less a person than Pharaoh’s daughter rescues Moses from the river, and although she must be fully aware of her father’s decree, her pity for the crying baby overwhelms her caution, and it is her love for Moses which ultimately places him in such a position of influence that he is able to lead his people safely out of Egypt. The capacity for love which God has imprinted upon us opens our eyes to look beyond our own children, to care for others, and indeed for the other living beings which God has made to share this world with us.

Although we remain very far below the moral perfection and the fullness of love which characterise the God who made us to reflect something of himself, we can aspire to learn from the example of Jesus and to become more like him in all that we say and do, through the gift of grace which has been bestowed upon us. We can adopt the virtues listed by St Paul – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience – and make them our own, as we seek to grow in holiness and maturity in the life we now live in the light of the ministry of Jesus among us. They are the diametric opposite of the violence by which men like Pharaoh or Herod conduct themselves, as they seek to cling on to the power which they so exalt. Christians are to learn the principle of forgiveness, so that nothing can stand in the way of a fellowship which is nothing less than the body of Christ. There is no place in such a body for the rivalry, anger and suspicion of the court. Those who belong to Christ should instead be filled with constant gratitude to God for so many gifts of love, building one another up in wisdom and faith, and constantly praising God for all that he provides.

As he suffers on the Cross, Jesus sees standing close by a little group consisting of his mother, her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene. With his mother is John, the author of the gospel, who does not name himself but humbly speaks only of a disciple whom Jesus loved. Where are the other disciples, those who so recently professed their unshakeable loyalty to him, but have now sought to save themselves? As his presence there indicates, John can be relied upon, and it is to him that Jesus commits the care of his mother, who is soon to be left alone in this world. He is now to be a son to her, and John welcomes the widowed and bereaved Mary into his own household. As with Pharaoh’s daughter in her rescue of Moses, love sees far beyond the immediate bonds of family, and Mary finds the home which she needs with John for the years which are to come, when she will play her part as a member of the Church in Jerusalem, and hand on to the disciples of Jesus her precious knowledge of his early life on earth.

Rev Stephen Trott

Sunday Readings for 19 March 2017  Lent 3 – Year A

Exodus 17.1-7          Romans 5.1-11           John 4.5-42

There are few people who seek formally to deny the reality of God, who are atheists in the literal meaning of the word, for the evidence of our own eyes is that the world is the creation of a divine Being, who has richly endowed it with signs of his great beauty and glory. Our very existence is itself a living witness to the one in whose image we are made, and his provision for us of food and water attests to his desire that we should prosper and grow as a human race. Unfortunately we take for granted these many blessings, and become accustomed to expect our daily bread, without giving it too much thought, until we find ourselves hungry or thirsty. At that point, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are more likely to complain about our situation than to thank God for all the many days of prosperity which we have hitherto enjoyed, or worse, begin fighting over the resources which are available to us. What does it take for us to learn to trust in God, who created us, who certainly did not bring Israel out of Egypt to die in the desert?

Generous though God is in his gift of so many material things, faith in God is of infinitely greater significance than our dependence upon his providence for our existence in this world. We would be very poor creatures indeed if our relationship with God extended no further than our daily bread. The nature with which God has endowed is, however, one in which we bear a likeness to God whose desire is that our fallen humanity may be reconciled at last to himself. This likeness is no mere resemblance in appearance, but a spiritual existence whose eternal outcome depends upon the greatest of all God’s gifts, his Son Jesus Christ, and his redeeming death on the cross for sinners. This astonishing gift of grace is sufficient not only to reconcile us to God, but still more, to hope that we might share in the life of Christ, for the love of God which has been revealed by his cross and resurrection outweighs the wrath of God and the just punishment which our sinful words and deeds deserve. The Holy Spirit who is now at work in us is God’s full assurance that we are not only redeemed, but so filled with joy that we may boast about the grace of God who is bringing us to share in his glory.

The raw truth is that we have no righteousness of our own, however hard we may try to close our minds to the hopelessness of our human condition, instead occupying our thoughts with the business of daily living in a world which is drifting away. What we have hidden from ourselves is not hidden from God, however, and the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar marvels that Jesus knows everything about her, as she boldly engages him in debate, having received his encouragement to speak by being asked to draw water for him, against all the conventions of the day. She is truthful, as she reflects that she has no real husband, and that her life has fallen far short of the faithfulness which Scripture enjoins upon us all. Her encounter and conversation with Jesus bring her to that living water which no well can provide. It does not matter that she is a Samaritan woman: faith is God’s gift to those whom he chooses and calls, a gift which overflows and brings many from the Samaritan city to salvation, confounding the disciples and opening their eyes to see the harvest which is waiting all around them to be gathered in to God.

Rev Stephen Trott

Sunday Readings for 12 March 2017 Lent 2 Year A

Lent 2    Year A

Genesis 12.1-4a        Romans 4.1-5, 13-17         John 3.1-17

In any age it is hard to be uprooted from the familiar surroundings of one’s own land, and all of the security which home and family provide, and to begin afresh somewhere which is totally different, where unfamiliar languages are spoken and the landscape is alien. It is very hard to let go of home and to become a traveller through unknown territories, not knowing what the future will be like or even where one will eventually settle. All of this is a measure of the trust which Abram put in God, when he obeyed his call to begin a lifelong pilgrimage, with God’s promise as its goal. It is to be a long journey for Abram and his descendants, but Abram’s act of faith is to become a blessing to all the families of the earth. God is faithful to his promises, and our eternal home is to be found in no earthly city, but in God himself.

Along the way Abraham was tested to the uttermost, and was found to be a most faithful servant of God, worthy of the plans which God was making for his people and for the salvation of the human race. Not only were his descendants according to the flesh uniquely and wonderfully blessed by God, who saw Abraham’s deep faith and accounted it as righteousness, not something earned by Abraham but rewarded and blessed by God as a gift. Not one of us, not even Abraham, can achieve such righteousness by our own labours, or by obedience to the law, however perfectly – to human eyes – we may observe it. On the contrary we are doomed to failure if we imagine that we can obtain salvation by our own unaided efforts. Instead God makes salvation depend entirely upon grace, the gift of faith which he bestowed upon Abraham, and has chosen to bestow not only upon Abraham’s descendants, but upon all who share the gift of faith in God which Abraham received from the Lord. It is by faith that Abraham has become the father of many nations.

Such a radical break with Israel’s historic identity and self-understanding proves to be a severe test for Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel” who comes to Jesus privately seeking to understand what is happening, acknowledging from the outset that it is God who is at work in Jesus. It is too radical a step for the authorities, who see Jesus not only overturning the money changers’ tables in the Temple, but everything which they understood about God and Israel’s place in his providence. It is no longer to be sufficient to be born a descendant of Abraham, for Jesus proclaims a kingdom in which the faith of Abraham is to be the key to citizenship. It is necessary to be born again in faith, though the power of the Holy Spirit who bestows faith as a gift, in order to enter the land which God promised long ago to faithful Abraham. It is a very new and unfamiliar place, in which descent from Abraham, the law, the Temple, and many centuries of Israel’s identity as a chosen nation, must all find their fulfilment in God’s new covenant of faith in Jesus, who was raised up on the Cross for the salvation of the whole world.

Rev Stephen Trott

Sunday Readings for 5 March 2017

Lent 1 – Year A

Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7        Romans 5.12-19           Matthew 4.1-11

Lent begins with a stark reminder that our human plight began when we first sought to rival God himself, by taking the forbidden fruit which opened our eyes to the reality of rebellion against our Creator. It was not God’s intention that we should be subject to the harshness and futility of this mortal existence, but these are the consequences of making the wrong choice between good and evil. As scripture says, the wages of sin is death, and we find ourselves, like fallen angels, cast out from the peace and prosperity of Eden, and bound hand and foot as slaves in a world which is passing away. It is humanity’s catastrophic decision, prompted by the insidious whisperings of curiosity, wilful disobedience and the desire for power far beyond our place in the created order. The damage is of such magnitude that only God can restore his image and likeness which we have desecrated and destroyed again and again.

Because of our disobedience humanity has suffered greatly and caused great suffering in the mortal existence which is left to us when we are separated from God. Sin truly does bring death as its reward, a cause and effect from which much of the world prefers to avert its gaze. But for all our acquired knowledge and scientific progress, we have not found a way out of our plight. Only the power of God can rescue us from our self-inflicted exile, and he has chosen the most astonishing means by which to do so, inaugurating a new humanity through the gift of his Son. Jesus is the new Adam, the first fruits of a new life reconciled to God by his obedience on the cross, a sacrificial lamb which only God could provide for the sins of the world. That we were redeemed by the offering of his own Son is the astonishing measure of the cost of our rebellion against God, and of the love which God has continued to bear for us in spite of our rejection of his word from the very beginning.

The gravity of our situation is illustrated for us today by the titanic struggle which takes place in the wilderness, where Jesus prepares for his ministry by forty days and forty nights of fasting and prayer. The adversary comes to test him, to see whether he can be bought as cheaply as Adam, for whom an apple was enough. Jesus could put an end to his hunger in a moment if only he chose to disobey his Father. An apple – or a loaf of bread – seems a very small thing in itself, but it was Adam’s downfall. On the high pinnacle of the temple Jesus is invited to put God to the test, signifying if he does so a failure to trust absolutely in God. And finally, when these lesser trials fail, Jesus is offered power beyond the ambition of any emperor – if only he will switch his loyalty to Satan. Which of us would survive the first of these temptations, let alone what follows? But the only thing worth having is God, and him alone, for he is the pearl of great price of which Jesus speaks to us later in the scriptures, the price which is revealed to us on Good Friday as Jesus surrenders everything to his Father for the sake of our salvation.

Rev Stephen Trott

Sunday Readings for 26 February 2017

Sunday next before Lent – Year A

Exodus 24.12-18        2 Peter 1.16-21          Matthew 17.1-9

Moses is rightly revered as a pivotal figure in the history of the people chosen by God out of all nations on earth to receive his blessing and his covenant. Kings provide their people with laws by which they are to be governed, and it is through the ministry of Moses that Israel receives the law which is revealed by God as the foundational document for both the religious observance and the regulation of public and private life in Israel. It is at the heart of the ordering and identity of the nation, and its influence has spread far and wide throughout the world as part of the Bible via the Christian faith, shaping hearts and minds and societies in many places throughout modern history. Moses was the servant whom God entrusted uniquely with the task of leading his people from Egypt to the promised land, and to fashion Israel along the way as a nation under the sovereignty and the law of God.

Peter writes as a living witness to the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, including the transfiguration of which he was an eyewitness along with James and John. They heard for themselves the voice from heaven and saw the Lord with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, forerunners of the redemption which was to come in the person of Jesus Christ. Peter is a witness to an event which is not of human design, any more than the law itself is a human invention. Jesus is identified as the one who is sent by God to fulfil the divine plan for salvation, for which the law and the prophets prepared the way. Moses and Elijah are great men, but the Son of God is still greater, bringing to the nations of the earth a liberation surpassing even the Exodus, and an everlasting kingdom of which the promised land was but a foretaste. In the past the law was written on tablets of stone: now the Holy Spirit is the light of faith which illuminates our hearts.

Jesus is the fulfilment of biblical history, in which Moses played such a historic role in leading Israel to freedom and to prosperity in the land given by God to his people. The events at Mount Sinai have direct analogues in the New Testament, establishing Jesus as a new Moses, and much more than even Moses, to whom so much is owed. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain. Jesus entered the desert in order to be alone for forty days and forty nights in complete trust in God, in preparation for the fulfilment of his calling as Messiah, which is confirmed at the Transfiguration. It is on a mountain that Jesus later delivers his great sermon, interpreting the law of Moses in the light of the gospel in which all the great commandments are fulfilled. But first he must preach the word of God throughout Israel, so that all might have the opportunity to respond and to repent as he makes his way to Jerusalem: the news of his transfiguration belongs to the new order which is to follow his resurrection, when he is to be proclaimed to the world as the promised messiah.

Rev Stephen Trott

 

Sunday Readings for 19 February 2017

2 before Lent – Year A

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3         Romans 8.18-25        Matthew 6.25-34

The growing knowledge of the human race about so many aspects of our existence bears fruit in many ways, not least in the scientific advances in medicine and technology which benefit us increasingly by saving human lives and by providing food and education for an expanding population upon the earth. But the bubble of over-confidence in ourselves has rightly been deflated by the realisation that science may also be employed to build weapons of ever greater destructive power, and by the discovery that our industrial activities are contributing to the heating of the planet. There now seems to be a much greater sense of realism about “progress” – for not all change is for the good – and about our knowledge itself, which has yet to find answers to many of the most pressing questions. We need to be reminded that we did not create ourselves, or this world, or any part of the universe. We need to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over his Creation, and seek to order our stewardship of this world according to his designs for all of its creatures and for its well-being.

Human endeavours in this world fall very far short of perfection, or the establishment of ideals. Such is the nature of the material world that all is subject to decay, and that even our greatest achievements can never achieve the permanence of eternity. We live for now in the world as God made it, subject to the conditions of its existence in its present form, unable to alter the laws of creation, and unwise to suggest that we could do better. But it is not God’s last word and he has made it known to us that this is so. As children of God we hope in a future in which our lives will find their true meaning and fulfilment, in a creation which has itself been rescued from the limitations of materialism, and renewed as the eternal home into which he will gather his people. In this world, in which we glimpse the glory of what is to come, we should not lose hope and abandon ourselves to futility, but rather rejoice in the vision in which we have been privileged to share. God is already at work in us through his Spirit, redeeming his people in the present age in preparation for the age which is to come.

God is well aware of the limitations and constraints of this life, for he created us as we are, and in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ he knows our joys and our sorrows and all our needs, physical and spiritual, better than we do ourselves. Some people worry about whether they will have enough to eat: some dedicate their lives to obtaining as many material riches as they can. Neither will ever have enough to satisfy them in this world. Jesus bids us instead to look at the natural world around us, where the simplest of God’s creatures, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, have all they need. Are we not of far greater concern to God, who made us uniquely in his own likeness, and calls us to have faith in him? Does that faith not include our trust in God to feed and clothe us? If we do not trust his providence in such simple matters, how can we trust in the wonderful redemption which he has won for us on the Cross, or live in hope of the coming of his kingdom? We should constantly return to the very first principles, praying as he taught us for our daily bread, recognising that he only is our Creator, he is our Redeemer, he is the source of all our many blessings in this life. and to him are owed our thanks, and praise, and all the glory.

Rev Stephen Trott