Sunday Readings for 23 July 2017 (Proper 11)

Isaiah 44.6-8        Romans 8.12-25       Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

Israel was a very tiny nation, with insecure borders, surrounded by powerful neighbours who worshipped a variety of local deities. As the nation chosen by God and defined by their faith, the people of Israel were at constant risk of losing their very identity and thus their salvation by being drawn into contact with their neighbours and their idols. The human desire to form alliances, and willingness to compromise some things in order to achieve others, can swiftly lead to the dilution of first principles, even where faith in God and his teaching is concerned. It happens on the national scale in politics, and close to home where intermarriage takes place between believers in God and those who either have no faith, or believe in false gods. Syncretism, blending of religions, becomes a powerful temptation which quickly undermines and subverts true faith in God. The first commandment is that we should worship God and Him alone. Isaiah rightly declares that there is no other god worthy of our worship: indeed there is no other god at all.

There is no such thing as another god, but human nature is quick to substitute alternatives for faith in the one true and living God. Our capacity for idolatrous self-deception is astonishingly powerful and equally toxic for our eternal well-being. In a material world, we become all too easily addicted to a hedonistic lifestyle, in which our worship consists of attempting to satisfy our appetite for more and more goods, money, power, food, sex, fame, status – there are many kinds of fool’s gold waiting to catch our eyes. But as Christians we know that this world is passing away, and none of these things can save us. For our sake God has sent his Holy Spirit, adopting us and giving us new birth as children of God, so that we no longer foolishly rely on the ephemeral and valueless trinkets which formerly dazzled us, but now we look with complete confidence to God who is our life, now and in the future. It may be costly for us to be Christians, at least as the world sees it, if we turn our backs on the prevailing culture of materialism, and opt instead for lives of evangelical simplicity. It may even bring us suffering, for the world persecutes those who refuse to conform to its expectations. But whenever we lay aside any part of this world’s rewards, whenever we suffer for the sake of our faith, we share in the cross of Christ, where he laid down everything for our sake and for our salvation. The outcome, thanks be to God, is eternal life.

For now we must learn how to live in the world, to speak its languages and to use for good the things which God has given to us in his providence, our daily bread and whatever God chooses to add to this for the sake of the gospel. We recognise that these are given to us for his service, and not to be our masters, or objects of false desire or worship. We must learn discernment, so that we recognise where the Spirit of God is at work, and equally recognise the things which are a source of great danger to God’s people, so that we may hold fast at all times only to what is good, and true and holy. It is as hard today as it was for God’s people in the time of Isaiah, for us to remain at all times and in all things faithful to God, when there are so many insidious ways in which the world sets out to deceive us, or we deceive ourselves. What we must remember is that the day will come when God will separate out the wheat from the weeds, and so encourage one another to remain faithful to God, to live holy lives, and to serve God to the utmost of our strength as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will listen to the good news.

Rev Stephen Trott

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Sunday Readings for 16 July 2017 Proper 10 – Trinity 5 – Year A

Isaiah 55.10-13         Romans 8.1-11        Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

In the beginning of time God pronounced his word of creation, and there came into being the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, and living creatures, the plants of the earth, the animals which inhabit land and sea, and finally those who reflect the likeness and image of God himself. From his word springs a universe of immense age and size and complexity which we have barely begun to fathom, and his word sustains all of this glorious creation in its existence from moment to moment. So many and great are his blessings that nature itself rightly rejoices before him: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps.19). We whose destiny equally lies in his hands should be bold in our praise of God, and at all times confident in his providence, for he who has made so many good things has many blessings still in store for us.

Our knowledge of God will always be limited by the bounds set upon our mortal nature, but from our very beginning God has revealed himself to us, little by little, in the course of human history described in the Hebrew scriptures. There are pivotal moments in the course of his revelation to Israel, chief of which is his gift of the Law, guiding Israel towards holiness of life as a nation and as his chosen people. The Law was not an end in itself, but a guide along the way until a greater gift was revealed in the sending of his Son. The Law was a a great blessing, but it could not save us from the slavery of sin and death. But now God has revealed the fullness of his plan for our salvation in the person of Jesus who is indeed the Christ, anointed to set us free. For those who live according to the flesh, the Law is of inestimable value, but thanks be to God, a greater guide has been given to us in the Spirit of God, so that we may live in the power of the Spirit through faith in Christ who has redeemed us, in hope of sharing his risen life by the power of God himself.

Faith provides us with a new vision of God’s work in Creation and Redemption, constantly at work in the course of history with his plan for the salvation of those whom he made to be his children, to be known and loved by him, so that we might know and love him and enjoy the vision of God for ever. The material world, despite all its limitations, points in many ways to its Creator who did not make us to abandon us, but longs to welcome home each one of his sons and daughters. If we become absorbed in contemplating only what is material, we will see and know only material things which have no eternal value. But God’s word, which is manifest in his Creation to those who seek what is spiritual, is written clearly in the scriptures for those whose hearts and minds and eyes and ears are open to God’s revelation of himself. When his word falls on fertile ground, which is not enslaved by the material desires and ambitions of the flesh, and faith springs up in the hearts of those who hear, the news is joyful beyond all human reckoning, for the Spirit is at work in us to multiply the gospel of Jesus Christ with all the generosity of God, bringing to harvest ” hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Rev Stephen Trott

Sunday Readings for Trinity 1 (Proper 6)

Exodus 19.2-8a

Romans 5.1-8

Matthew 9.35 – 10.23

Israel’s journey from Egypt to Sinai has been fraught with dangers and difficulties, but here in the wilderness they are at last on their own, in the presence of the Lord who has accomplished so much for them. Now like priests, they are to be set apart and sanctified to serve God as witnesses of his holiness among all the nations. However such honour and blessing is not theirs by right, for they have been chosen by the Lord, and his covenant is not unconditional. Israel in turn must accept God’s sovereignty and obey his laws as their part of the covenant.

God’s calling and choice of his people requires a response, a change of heart and a commitment to faithfulness which reflects in our own lives something of the magnitude of God’s generosity and love. We have nothing of our own to boast about, and we are certainly not entitled to take for granted the grace which we have received. On the contrary, it is by faith that we are privileged to live in peace with God and look forward to glory. We cannot expect a life of ease and comfort, however: grace is given to us to sustain our hope through suffering and trial, and it is possible only because Christ was prepared to die for us even before we heeded God’s call.

If we want an easy option, then God’s call is not for us. To be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” is to take a direction very different to that of the generality of the human race, for it is the way of Jesus Christ. Holiness of life and citizenship of the kingdom of God includes his call to labour among the harvest of the world. It can be a dangerous task and a thankless one, humanly speaking. The spirit of the age can be vengeful and hostile when challenged with the gospel. To be counter-cultural goes against all our instincts: we prefer to go with the flow, to be identified with the popular and the famous. But grace will sustain us to the end whatever the trials we face, if we are ready to accept God’s call to serve him in holiness and faith.

Rev Stephen Trott

Trinity Sunday 2017

Isaiah 40.12–17, 27–31        

2 Corinthians 13.11–13        

Matthew 28.16–20

Although the tradition of the Hebrew scriptures was that human beings could not look upon the face of God and live, such is His holiness and so weak is our mortal frame, yet God has chosen to reveal and make Himself known to us from the beginning of our scriptures. Isaiah celebrates the almighty power of God in creation, and all the ways in which his works reflect his wisdom, his knowledge, and his judgement. Nothing that we might claim as our own can begin in any way to compare with the majesty of the Lord and the vastness of his domain. We have nothing to offer Him that he does not already possess, and he has no need of our offerings. His glory is set before our very eyes as we contemplate the universe, from its far off expanses to the tiniest particles of matter. We owe everything to Him who is our Creator and Lord, who sustains everything in existence and provides our daily bread. He gives light to the stars, and counts every hair on our heads, so great is his love for his creation. We should know that we walk in his presence at all times, and live accordingly.

The scriptures often speak of the power of God at work, both in the beginning in Creation, and in the shaping of our human history through the nations which have come to inhabit the earth, especially those whom God has chosen to receive his Law and his Gospel. Throughout the ages, his Wisdom has guided kings and prophets, lawmakers and poets, teachers and priests, and although we may fail to perceive his grace at work in us, God is at work in the hearts of those who love him, and in the lives of many who do not yet love him, in order to draw us safely into his kingdom. Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to a wind, invisible to our eyes, yet we discern that it is blowing and changing the world around us. The signs of the Spirit at work in us are to be discerned where there is order, peace and unity among God’s people, for these things are characteristics of the God who created the world in place of chaos, settled his people in their own land, and taught us his law so that we might live as citizens of his kingdom. In the Holy Spirit we are united both with Him and with one another in the fellowship of the mystery.

The most astonishing of all God’s miracles, confounding all our human suppositions about the unknowability of God, or the eternal divide between the divine and the created order, is the Incarnation of the word of God in the person of Jesus, uniting heaven and earth for the salvation of the people of God. His blood shed for us on the Cross has broken for ever the bondage in which we were held captive by sin, reconciling us with his Father against whom we had rebelled and chosen our own way. Jesus stood among us, flesh and blood in fellowship and solidarity with our mortal nature, touching and healing us, preaching repentance for forgiveness and salvation, proclaiming new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, and declaring the coming of God’s reign among us. As he was sent by the Father, so by the Spirit we too are sent, to make known to the world the only true God, so that many throughout the nations might believe in his redeeming love and have eternal life in the presence of the Lord.

Rev Stephen Trott

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