Have we understood enough to tell the truth?

Tomorrow I am leading our mid-week service of Morning Prayer, for which the lectionary Gospel is Luke 22:54-end – Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard and Christ’s appearance before the elders. I haven’t been able to give as much time as I would like to producing a ‘sermon’ so the following is more by way of a reflection, in which you are welcome to share:

Then seizing Jesus, the temple guards and elders led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.
Big brave Peter, he may have been the only one who dared to stay within sight of Jesus for this long. He kept his distance till the crowd who had arrested Jesus settled in the courtyard, and then he crept in to sit among them. Where are the rest of Jesus’ friends, Peter’s friends, those other disciples?
Peter is getting a taste of what it means to take risks for Jesus. He has told Jesus that he would go with him to prison and even to death (22:33) and it seems like he’s trying to carry out his promise – even if a little half-heartedly. Perhaps he thinks by being there physically he can in some way offer company or strength to his Master in this horrible situation.
And yet, Peter can’t seem to be there and remain inconspicuous. Perhaps its the way he looked or the way he was dressed (possibly still covered by the dirt of the road from Galilee). Perhaps it was his accent – like we’d recognise a Scouser or even a even a ‘ampshire ‘og like me! More likely there were just so many people who had been watching Jesus, seeing what would happen next, especially if they worked in or around the temple and religious authorities, that Peter’s face is known as one who is often at Jesus’ side.
I wonder, have we been recognised? Have we been spotted among the crowds for who we are – a follower of Jesus? What does it feel like?

“Woman, I don’t know him,”…
“I am not one of them!”
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Big brave Peter… does his nerve fail? The man who will be the rock on which the church is built, crumbling.

He was possibly just trying to stick it out near to Jesus for as long as he could – without risking too much! I wonder why? Is it really for Jesus’ sake that he’s there, or for his own? Is he needing to cling to the presence of Jesus in the hope of understanding the truth of what his friend has been saying? Perhaps Peter is hoping for some further revelation of what Jesus has been talking about, or to witness another miracle, something that he can boast to the others he was there to see?

Yet, he can’t turn his actions into words. We’re all used to the saying “actions speak louder than words” but in Peter’s case, it’s not true is it! His words actually speak far louder than his actions – and they are the wrong words! They are lies that show he doesn’t understand the truth. Peter breaks his word to Jesus, denies his relationship with Jesus in front of other people, and in doing so, denies that relationship before God.
How much do we cling to Jesus’ presence in such a way that we fail to proclaim the truth of our relationship with him to the wider world?
Just as Peter was speaking, the rooster crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Big brave Peter. It wasn’t fear that drove him from the courtyard – it was failure and shame, and the knowledge that Jesus knew about it. Because of course, Jesus was there.
Somewhere in the courtyard, among all that was happening to him, Jesus was aware of Peter.  He would have understood the sort of pressure that Peter had put himself under by being there. Even though he may not have been able to hear what was being said, Jesus would probably have recognised Peter’s voice, and tone of Peter’s third exclamation!… And, if Peter could hear the cock crow, so could Jesus; Peter wasn’t the only one who remembered Jesus’ prophesy of a few hours before!
Do we need to wonder what Jesus tried to convey in that look he gave Peter?
  • I know you’ve denied me like I said you would, but remember my other words from earlier tonight, because in them lies my task for you:  “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

  • I understand how much your own failure hurts you, but it hurts me too, because it means you still don’t really get what I’m doing here, and what I expect of you.

  • Let that be a lesson to you young man, that you will never forget! You must not forget it, because it is a lesson you will need to teach others in the weeks to come.

  • I know you’ve failed me, but I still love you.

Jesus’ cared for Peter in that moment of Peter’s failure, because he loved him; and he needed him to live with the failure long enough to understand it, and then receive the forgiveness that would come and reveal the whole truth about Jesus, so that he, Peter, could explain it’s importance to others.

However close we’re sitting to Jesus, do we really understand how much he is aware of each one of us? Do we know how much he cares, and understands? Do we know how much he expects of us, the task which we have been given?

Jesus is led before the council. “If you are the Christ,” they say, “tell us.”
Jesus answers them with these words:
“From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
So they exclaimed “Then you are the Son of God!”
And Jesus replies “You are right in saying that I am.”

Big brave Peter… isn’t there now!

But we still see and hear what Jesus had to suffer. We still know that Jesus doesn’t have to tell the authorities who he is, because he makes them work it out for themselves.

They know they are making him suffer, and they are probably enjoying their success – after all they’ve been trying long enough to get him to say enough to incriminate himself. But in doing so, they actually succeed in being the ones who proclaim Jesus for who he is, as well as being the means by which his place as God’s Son is to be fully realised. And the irony isn’t lost on Jesus!

All of Jesus’ ministry; his words and actions, his parables and miracles, the time spent sat on hillsides patiently teaching, are not going to be enough for those who need him most to really understand. Even when his enemies appear to hit the nail on the head, they don’t understand its significance for them – they just gleefully celebrate the fact that he’s finally given them the means by which to get rid of him. They don’t realise that theirs will be the final act that enables Jesus to reveal to the world who he really is.

Have you ever wondered how, even with Peter no longer there to witness what is happening, we know what happened and what was said? Someone was there who, perhaps later, replayed the scene in their mind,  heard again the words, saw their significance with what was to happen next, and finally understood enough to tell the truth.
Would it have been us?

Where does it say in law… canon law… or civil…

You’re welcome to marry in the Church of England whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and regardless of whether you go to church or not. It’s your church, and we welcome you!

As at www.’your church wedding.org

Now I have absolutely no problem with this  – except I can’t find where it says it in law – whether that be Canon Law or civil.

A friend and I are at opposite ends of the country, doing different course, but both with essays on marriage to complete this week. We’re both looking for the same bit of info!

The closest I’ve found is Canon B30.3 which states:

It shall be the duty of the minister, when application is made to him
for matrimony to be solemnized in the church of which he is the minister,
to explain to the two persons who desire to be married the Church’s
doctrine of marriage as herein set forth, and the need of God’s grace in
order that they may discharge aright their obligations as married persons.
So, there are things a priest has to say to the couple, and there’s a load of stuff about what rules there are regarding pre-existing relationships and age etc. but where is the

Spring

Sat at the dining table with lunch in the lull that goes before really getting to grips with writing the essay rather than researching for it, I am watching a Wren hard at work by the bird bath on a wash and brush up.

Spring is finally in the air and from the first narcissi flowering in the front garden, I sense the ground temperature is up.

Early on Sunday morning in Old Alresford G and I took a walk along the watercress beds. Among the treats was an Egret, a cobb Swan with his wings up, and best of all a gimpse of fast moving electric blue: a Kingfisher!

Later in the day a Brimstone butterflycaught the attention of us all as it flittered in the garden at OAP.

Yesterday the usual dog walk confirmed the return of male and female Stonechats and a Skylark. Today an increasing amount of gorse in flower and pine cones crackling open in the sunshine. Also the last week has seen the amount of pussy willow beginning to “furr” increase.

Enough to lift the spirits…

Marriage as Sacrament

As I struggle with the final bits of research before trying to hastily put together my University Essay, and hoping that this is not a complete ‘red herring’…

The essay title I’m meant to writing about is:

What theological themes should emerge within the preparation of couples for marriage and how might these influence the contents of a preparation course?

I find myself intrigued to know how much people think of marriage as sacrament, and where the sacrament within marriage lies, within solely the marriage service (undertaken by a priest) or continuing between the couple throughout their married lives? (Possibly an essay title in itself!)

I’ve been reading the online excerpts of “Marriage after Modernity – Christian Marriage in Postmodern Times” (because I can’t find a hard copy to borrow at short notice) and was intrigued first by the statement that marriage is

“a Christian sacrament, unique among sacraments because it is the only one which is administered by lay people to each other without a priest.”

Equally the author acknowledges that “marriage was not designated a sacrament of the church, equal in status to all the others until the Council of Verona in 1184”, and that Calvin and Luther didn’t regard marriage as sacramental because  “it did not confer forgiveness of sins”.

All these thoughts leave me slightly confused, so I set them aside and go on my CMD weekend. If you kind readers have any thoughts I would appreciate them via the comment facility to peruse on my return.

Birding note – still got Redwings on the field by the Red Cross centre, and thinking they probably need to migrate somewhere soon?!

Remembering that God put me where I am

"Bloom where you are planted" like the bluebells will, even in the shade of an overcrowded copse where just a little light shines through

I’m really struggling this Lent. Responding to the desperate cries for help of everything from Saturday’s bride (nothing more exciting than sorting the playing of a CD), through the needs of a baptism family where the Godparents need enough notice to book (cheapish) flights from the US, to the very real needs of a friend… all of which have seemed more urgent thanan essay (due now, two weeks today). I’ve really battled to remain committed too, to the CMD Storytelling booked months ago to share with my husband. But we are both leaving this afternoon, dog and son in the care of my Dad.

Today’s Holy Communion Gospel (Mark 12:28-34) talks about love of God and love of neighbour being more important that burnt sacrifices – I wondered if my essay is a burnt sacrifice… an offering that costs, or a waste of time?

And yet just now I’ve been reminded that God put me where I am, and presumably that’s the parish and the essay. More helpful than anything else this Lent has been the reflections of Fr Andrew Dotchin based on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams, posted by “amanbreathing“:

When faced with the challenges brought to me by other people’s journey of faith I need to remember that God put me where I am now. For this moment it is in this place that I must live out the love of God… Anything less would be unfaithfulness and demonstrate an unwillingness to be shaped by the One who made me.

I have to trust that I can do both, and pray that God clears the next fortnight of people’s needs enough for me to celebrate my freedom with them when the essay is handed in.

Just in case your interested, the essay title is:

What theological themes should emerge within the preparation of couples for marriage and how might these influence the contents of a preparation course?

PS There’s a Stonechat and a Skylark returned to the back of Blackbushe Airport – the first since all that winter snow!

Luke 13:1-9 – Frightened of failure or bearing fruit?

Given that there’s been some hits on my thoughts last week on the Lent 3 readings, you may be interested to read how it came out in the wash! I’m not sure that my previous thoughts bear much relation to the resulting sermon: it involves a real live fig tree (which I completely failed to photograph… will try to next month!), and rabbits in headlights, plus a little political comment – as well as updating the good folks of All Saints Basingstoke with a little of my current life!

FWIW: Are we so frightened of failure that we’re failing to bear fruit? Sermon Luke 13v1-9

It was great to be back with them, good to see more little ones in the congregation, and I loved every minute of it.

Paying and praying

I’m grateful to the webmaster of the campaign to save the chaplaincy at Southampton University for an update, showing that all parties (the students, the Diocese of Winchester and other parties) are all still working to save the post of Rev Simon Stevens for his continuing ministry. All the latest news is in their recent press release and its very encouraging – please pray that something really good comes out of all this, soon!

I was also pleased to read recently that the Diocesan Chaplain for the Deaf appears to have been given a parish post in Southampton, presumably from where he continue his role to some extent along side additional parish duties.

All this because those who can, aren’t always giving enough to support the work of the church that they worship in, especially in areas of outreach and pastoral need that they can’t necessarily see, and often don’t hear about in their parishes. Which is why the Diocese had to make cuts – if you want some of the background its here.

I was thinking only at the weekend when I had the joy of preaching at All Saints Basingstoke, how few churches use either the Anglican or purely Diocesan Cycle of Prayer – I know we don’t at St. Peter’s. I’m thinking that possibly if we did (and perhaps it had a bit more background info with it) awareness of the need to pray and pay might increase! Something for me to think about in a parish context, and perhaps talk about with the vicar.

Lent 3 – Where’s the good news?

The interior of All Saints Basingstoke
The interior of All Saints Basingstoke

It’s great isn’t it. You plan life so that things don’t clash and you can (just about) manage to achieve everything. Then someone changes a date, the goal-posts get moved and your back in “failing to cope” mode – at least almost.

Lent 3 is going to be one of those Sunday’s, with two things I was hoping to enjoy colliding in such a way that we’ll be back to simply trying to survive the day. However, thanks to husband and church friends it looks like the St. Peter’s stand at the wedding fair at Casa Dei Cesari is coming together.

I think I can walk away for the morning with a fairly clear conscience to preach at All Saints, Basingstoke where I served my Reader Training placement last year. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing the friends I made, and also to sharing the way that their more formal, high church, environment makes sharing in the Eucharist much richer in symbolism – there’s more for my mind to grab hold of and use to remember the significance of what we’re doing.

But oh woe, the lectionary gospel: Luke 13:1-9. With the words “where is the good news?” still ringing in my ears from Reader Training, and not wishing to be a total doom merchant when visiting as a guest, this is going to be an interesting balancing act. At least as their vicar has reminded me, this sermon isn’t going to be assessed, but I still want to share a good value helping of God’s good news.

The passage is strongly linked to the current affairs of the time that Jesus was speaking and less noticably the living memories of those to whom Luke was writing, which I guess, gives me some ideas for sermon illustrations. There’s plenty of ‘news’ out there that we’re all to willing to extrapolate the wrong conclusions from. But the passage is very stark, and prophetic – real “this is your last chance” stuff.

There is no mention in the passage of Jesus’ purpose in journeying to Jerusalem – basically, he was going to take the rap for his hearers failing to act on what he was telling them; he lost his life because they didn’t change their ways! And they didn’t really get it, till it was too late. Many of them still didn’t get it – which is why the Temple was destroyed in AD70.

We know Jesus has died and risen because we mess up and take the wrong implications from what is happening in the world around us. If we truly believe that, then we have to seek God, and stay close to him with the hunger and trust of Psalm 63:1-9 if we are to reach the heavenly banquet of Isaiah 55:1-9 (other lectionary readings for Lent 3).

There, that was therapeutic: does that look a bit like a sermon plan to you?

Afterthought; I don’t have the experiences that make this a great sermon; and I don’t know that I want them! But I wouldn’t mind the ability to write the ‘poetry’ of the penultimate paragraph 🙂