Category Archives: Religion

All Mine

A bonus mini sermon this week, written as part of the postal ministry in our Circuit for those who can neither access online worship or physically worship in a building at the moment.

Matthew 21:33-46
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

All the right preparations

In our garden we have some raised beds at the perfect height where I can sit and gently plant seeds, pull up weeds and lovingly tend the plants.  We have had some successful vegetable crops over the years – this year less so, with the sum total of two beetroot in four meters of beds… 

In a more successful year

When we go away, we arrange for someone to come in and look after them for us – water them and make sure no pests are getting at them.  We are more than happy to share the bounty, but I would be a bit upset if I found that they had claimed the crops, the beds and all the tools for their own, in return for a few days caring.

In today’s gospel reading, we have the picture of a beautiful vineyard.  Well established, well equipped, well maintained and in good fruit.  The owner brings in tenants to care for his property.  The vineyard owner provided the very best equipment, all that was needed. It is not a rundown vineyard in need of repair, but well equipped and productive. It was not given to the tenants but left in their care. No doubt their contract laid out both what was expected of them – and what they would receive in return. It did, however, remain the property of the owner.  But these tenants decide to hijack it for their own and turn away anyone who comes looking for the owner’s rightful share.

Jesus tells us a parable about God’s world, and about his kingdom.  Psalm 24 tells us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.  He is the owner; we are trusted to care for all he has given.

We are very aware of the bad effects we have had on the earth that God has left us to look after.  Collectively we have been poor tenants.  In terms of a vineyard it is overrun with weeds and pests, we have overworked the land, mistreated it and we have failed to water and feed it.  We have much to repent of, much wisdom to hear and much more to do in terms of how we are good tenants of the property we have been given.

But this parable is about much more than that.  Jesus is in Jerusalem; these are the closing chapters of Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus is working urgently to get his message across – and he knows he is going to be rejected.  Many have come before to bring God’s message to share what God longs to say to his people, to share with them how they should be living for and with God – and they have all been rejected.  Now in God’s final attempt, he has sent his son.  If they will not listen to others, surely, they will listen to him.  If they will not listen, surely, they will look at how he lives and get the message.

The Old Testament Reading for today is The Ten Commandments. God had already laid out the rules, the best way to live, the way that would honour God and be best for the people.  Everyone knows how to behave, it is there, quite literally written in stone, yet people had not got it.  They had wandered a long way from it, despite God’s many attempts to remind them, to call them out on their avoidance of and disobedience to those Best Guidelines for Living.  They had continually refused to hear the message and wanted to do things their own way.

They did not want to listen, and they did not want to go that way.  They rejected God’s messengers and the message.  Now they are in danger of rejecting the most important one, God’s own son – the one who was in fact the cornerstone of life, living and all that we should be.

So, what about us?  What questions does this raise for us in our life and faith today?

Firstly, what has God left us caring for? We are God’s representatives, God’s tenants in the world God made.  God created a perfect world and left us with all the tools we need. 

> We are left to care for the earth.  To tend it lovingly, as if it were our own.  We hold it and use it on behalf of God, but also on behalf of our fellow humans, in this generation and the many to come. 

>We are also left to care for the church.  It is no more ours to own and claim than the earth.  We are stewards of it.  We are not to use it for our own purposes, but to hold it in trust for everyone.  It is God’s church and any growth and fruit it produces are God’s and to God’s glory.

>We are left to care for justice.  Making sure that everyone gets their fair share is not just about the vineyard; it is about the whole of the earth.  A fair legal system, good health care for all, a voice for those who cannot be heard, an equitable distribution of wealth, support for those who cannot support themselves.  They are all part of care and making sure that The Landowner, God, gets God’s share of the wealth.

My second question is, who comes today to collect God’s share? Who should we be sharing God’s bounty to us with? What in our lives is rightfully Gods?  I know, that’s three questions, but they are all wrapped up in one: what do I have, that God has given me, that I am meant to share with those God sends my way?  God has blessed me with so much, not just in monetary terms, but also community, the unique people I meet that others may not, my personality, my gifts – how do I share those?  You will have your own list of blessings, how will you share those, to offer them back to God as God’s due?

And finally, the stark question in this passage is who do I turn away, reject, or fail to listen to? Who do I reject because I do not like what they say, or they ask more than I want to give?  What am I in danger of missing because I rejected the most important person?  Perhaps I did not recognise them, because they did not look like I was expecting, I thought they were unimportant, or I thought I could get away with not doing what was asked or expected.  And in doing so, perhaps I rejected Jesus and his place in my life.  Perhaps I missed an opportunity to in part repay some of what God has given to me.  We reject people at our peril.  For we do not want to be turning away God, missing the opportunity to share all God has given to us and returning to God all that he is due.

How often Lord
have I rejected
those you send to me? 

Tried to keep 
what you grow 
just for myself 
and my group? 

How often 
have I turned away 
people sent by you, 
eager to keep you to myself? 

How often, 
if I am honest, 
have I turned away Jesus 
when he has tried to come to me? 

How often 
have I refused to give you your dues, 
your glory,
what you deserve of my life
and tried to keep it myself.

How often Lord
have I missed you,
the most important of all?

Forgive me I pray.
Receive
all I offer to you.

 

Longing For Dry Land

This is the transcript of my Going Deeper devotions for today. If you want to see the video it is here:

10+ Free Noah Ark & Noah Illustrations - Pixabay

God had not forgotten Noah and all the animals with him in the boat; he caused a wind to blow, and the water started going down. The outlets of the water beneath the earth and the floodgates of the sky were closed. The rain stopped, and the water gradually went down for 150 days. On the seventeenth day of the seventh month the boat came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range. The water kept going down, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains appeared.

After forty days Noah opened a window and sent out a raven. It did not come back, but kept flying around until the water was completely gone. Meanwhile, Noah sent out a dove to see if the water had gone down, but since the water still covered all the land, the dove did not find a place to light. It flew back to the boat, and Noah reached out and took it in. 10 He waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. 11 It returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. So Noah knew that the water had gone down. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent out the dove once more; this time it did not come back.

13 When Noah was 601 years old, on the first day of the first month, the water was gone. Noah removed the covering of the boat, looked around, and saw that the ground was getting dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 God said to Noah, 16 “Go out of the boat with your wife, your sons, and their wives. 17 Take all the birds and animals out with you, so that they may reproduce and spread over all the earth.” 18 So Noah went out of the boat with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 19 All the animals and birds went out of the boat in groups of their own kind.

Noah Offers a Sacrifice

20 Noah built an altar to the Lord; he took one of each kind of ritually clean animal and bird, and burned them whole as a sacrifice on the altar. 21 The odor of the sacrifice pleased the Lord, and he said to himself, “Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of what people do; I know that from the time they are young their thoughts are evil. Never again will I destroy all living beings, as I have done this time. 22 As long as the world exists, there will be a time for planting and a time for harvest. There will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”

Genesis 8:1-22

In theory I love boat trips.  I love any kind of water, and who wouldn’t want to be on it?.  The problem is I do not like rough water – and by rough water I include taking a ferry across the Mersey, the car ferry to the Isle of White or the short hop from Dover to Calais…  The Channel Tunnel was built especially for me so that I no longer had to brave the boat trip.  I can just about survive a harbour trip if it doesn’t go outside the harbour wall but much prefer a river or canal trip. 

We will not even speak of the night ferry to the Isle of Man in 1970 – it still haunts me to this day. And least said soonest mended about the time I made my family drive the entire length of the North France coast, past the port that we had a return crossing booked and paid for from, to the Channel Tunnel to pay the exorbitant drive-up price for a single ticket, and then drive back through Kent – because the outward trip was more than enough and I had seen the weather forecast for the journey home and was having none of it.

So, I think I would not have done well in the ark with Noah and his family.  I would have been desperate for journey’s end.  I would have been begging, “are we nearly there yet?”, please can I get off, or is there a non-boat alternative.

As I read this passage it occurred to me how much it could be a metaphor for where we are today, there are many parallels.  We are confined, if not physically at the moment as we were in the full lock down – and who knows when that might happen for anyone of us again? – then certainly by rules and restriction.  Where we can go, who with, and what we can do.  With my lungs I have made a personal choice to go to as few places as possible and mix with as few people as I can get away with.  Within reason, I am choosing to keep my risk to as low as possible. I am in a pretty small boat bobbing by itself.

We might feel that we are each confined in our own space – and we do not know when it will end.  Neither can we know what the landscape will be like when we eventually return to dry land.

So, some thoughts from this passage:

God had not forgotten them.  Noah, his family and the collection of animals – those in whom the future of the earth is held, may have been floating on the waters, confined in a boat, not able to get off – BUT they were not forgotten by God.  He sees them.  He is still with them.

The water didn’t stop going down until long after the rain had stopped. This feels so much the case.  Just as we thought life might be returning to some kind of normal, restrictions are tightened again.  The threat is not over.  It may take a very long time for the waters to go down.

Slowly the tops of the mountains appeared, but it was not time to get out of the boat.  Whatever their impatience, they had to wait until the land was completely dry. Even if we think we might be safe, others may not be.  It is our Christian call to love others, to be mindful of their care, and wait for them.  Just because me might be able to fly and sit in the tree or are ok with walking through the squelchy mud, not everyone is.  We have a collective responsibility.

Then, and only then, were they charged with leaving the boat and creating a new life – not recreating the old one, for that is what had got them in this situation – but trusted with a whole new world, and called to live in it with and for God.  That is where God is leading and calling.  We need to listen carefully to what that call is and will be.

Reminded me of that old hymn, Glad That I Live am I,  “after the rain the sun”.  However we feel, it will stop raining, the boat will come to rest and the earth will dry out – and for that day we wait and pray, whilst living faithfully on the boat.

Thank you Lord
that you are with us
in this storm,
in our vessel.

Thank you
that you have not forgotten us
but are here.

Thank you
that there will be a time to leave the boat,
that we will know.
That it will stop raining
and the sun will shine again.
That then
you will put us
on dry ground,
renewed by you.

That you will task us
to live there
for
and with you.
That you trust us
and call us
to find your way,
to be new.

We pray for that day Lord
as we continue to live
where we are now.

Being Holy

This is the transcript of my Going Deeper devotions for our Circuit today.

Beginning with Psalm 121

for which we were provided with a disabled parking space next to a bench 🙂

11 Since all these things will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people should you be? Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God, 12 as you wait for the Day of God and do your best to make it come soon—the Day when the heavens will burn up and be destroyed, and the heavenly bodies will be melted by the heat. 13 But we wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home.

2 Peter 3:11-13

There is not much to today’s reading, just two verses… but I guess what there is to say is important!

What is life all about?  What does a life well lived look like?  It looks Holy and dedicated to God.

As we spend these moments each day ‘Going Deeper’ that is our aim – to become more holy, more like God.  That’s not ‘holier than thou’!, but dedicated to God.  Our every action being God’s, living his ways, which may be different to our gut reaction.  Pausing and considering, what is God’s way in this?  And doing it.

As we wait for God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth (which may well look similar to the vision in Psalm 121…) this is how we are called to live – for God.

Lord, may everything I think, do, and say
be your way,
reflecting you
and your love.

Lord,
I long to be holy,
work your holy way in me.

The song that immediately came into my mind with this passage was Refiners Fire:  “My heart’s one desire, is to be holy, set apart for you, Lord.  I CHOOSE to be holy”  Let’s pray that as we sing it today.

And may God bless us as we seek to live dedicated to him.