Thursday of Week 2 of Lent

Jeremiah 17.5-10; Psalm 1; Luke 16.19-31

‘The arm of flesh will fail you; ye dare not trust your own’ a once-popular hymn declared in an apt condensation and paraphrase of this reading from the prophet Jeremiah.  

Alongside his scepticism about human achievement, the prophet reminds us that our hearts need to be educated, to be formed.  ‘The heart is more devious than any other thing’ he writes pessimistically.  But the heart (which of course in Hebrew thought is the centre of thinking and decision-making) can be taught, and when it has learnt devotion to the things of God, the heart can bring peace, refreshment and fruitfulness to human life.

The prophet reminds us of the inescapable judgement of God, who will give every person ‘what his conduct and actions deserve’   In the teaching of all the prophets, doing the will of God is not confined to obedience to ritual prescriptions: to love and serve the Lord entails on us a responsibility to attend to the needs of the least and the lost amongst us.

Wednesday of Week 2 of Lent

Jeremiah 18.18-20; Psalm 30; Matthew 20.17-28

Christian interpreters usually list four ‘major’ prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  (Jewish readers don’t usually class Daniel as a prophet.)  Jeremiah’s sustained melancholy makes him particularly apt reading for the season of Lent.

Jeremiah insisted that the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the best and brightest to captivity in Babylon were the inexorable will of God himself, a punishment visited on his people for their sins and apostasy.  Interspersed through the book of Jeremiah are autobiographical anecdotes which reveal that Jeremiah wasn’t a popular figure; indeed he only barely escaped the death penalty and only survived being thrown down a disused cistern by a dramatic rescue.  He contended against kings, priests, false prophets and the nation itself to proclaim a divine message which he complained burned within him. [20.7-18]

The book of Jeremiah as we have it is a bit of a jumble, with the various oracles not always in chronological order.   But though his words often seem harsh and bitter there is a fundamental thread of hope that runs through them: the prophet’s conviction that the Lord’s punishment of his people would come to an end, and that out of their travails would emerge a New Covenant (New Testament), ‘since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.’  [31.31-34]

Tuesday of Week 2 of Lent

Isaiah 1.10,16-20; Psalm 49; Matthew 23.1-12

The book of Isaiah as we have it in our Bibles is a pasted-together compilation of the writings of at least two, and probably four or more prophets who lived across two centuries.

The original, 8th-Century, Isaiah, to whose reputation later prophets evidently attached themselves, was a member of the hereditary Temple priesthood, a man of lofty vision with a surpassing sense of the transcendence of God.  He displayed an acute awareness of the consequence of sin to the relationship between God and human beings.  Despite his connexion to the Temple, though, he concentrates not simply on ritual violations but rather understood sin as pervading the inequalities of social life.  He is fearless in his denunciations: ‘A sinful nation, a people weighed down with guilt, a breed of wrong-doers, perverted son.’ [1.4] is his description of his country.  (A rabbinic tradition has it that Isaiah was put to death by King Manasseh by being sawn in half as a punishment for Isaiah’s reproofs of the nation.)

Equally, though, Isaiah sees God’s offer of forgiveness: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ The prophet sees a coming age in which a remnant of the people who survive the fall of the nation of Judah will survive to rebuild peace and justice.

Monday of Week 2 of Lent

Daniel 9.4-10; Psalm 78; Luke 6.36-38

Concerning each of us there is an outward self, a face we show to the world, and an inner self, a ‘heart’ as the Scriptures conveniently summarise it, which is hidden from most of those who encounter us, even from those closest to us, sometimes even hidden from ourselves, but which is open and exposed to the gaze of Almighty God.

Sometimes, though, even the most experienced gambler, the most practised liar, the most lauded actor, cannot disguise the thoughts of his heart.  Sometimes you only have to look at a person's face to recognise his mendacity, his cowardice, his duplicity.  ‘Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today’.  

Coming to a deepened Christian faith sometimes gets expressed in terms that sound much like play-acting; we hear ourselves be encouraged to 'clean up our act', to 'improve our appearance', to 'put a better face on'.  But the right outcome of the searching moral inventory that Lent demands of us is not that we wash, repair, and rejuvenate.  What is called for is the harrowing of our very hearts.  And what we find when we permit a wise and uncompromising God to dig amongst the hidden contours of our hearts is that he is fundamentally a father, keen above all else to see us returned home, that he is fundamentally compassionate, keen above all else to pour into our laps riches beyond our wildest imaginings. 

Friday of the 1st week of Lent

Ezekiel 18:21-28; Psalm 129(130); Matthew 5:20-26

"Let us offer each other a sign of peace" are words I am now asked to say at Mass, just before we receive communion together. They stem from todays Gospel in which Jesus urges us to make peace with one another, over even the trivial things like name calling. Way more difficult and demanding than ancient jewish law such as 'thy shall not kill', Christ is concerned if we are even feeling angry with another.

Hopefully, and in practical terms, we come to church having made peace with our neighbours on the way in.. but that moment before we come to the altar together to share in the healing gifts of the Eucharist, we say publicly 'Peace be with you' and shake hands (or any other suitable, and reverent greeting to each other). Far from being a moment of bustle and distracting noise just before the high point of the Mass, the sign of peace has the power to bring us all to a calm, long peace and finally, ready to receive Jesus who can and does heal the hurts that lie within us.

Saint Peter’s Chair – Feast

1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 22(23); Matthew 16:13-19

'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church". There are a number of puns here - Peter means Rock, for one. They were at Caesarea Phillipi which is close to the location of where a river springs from a rock - although that was a site of pagan worship, the river being named for the Greek God Pan. That rock had many niches, in which statues of the Greek gods were placed.

It seems not probable that Jesus would ask Peter to build his church on a Pagan Deity's temple - more likely that Jesus' "rock" was himself, and that Peter would build the church upon Jesus. The Greek word used is Feminine, whereas Peter (Petros) is masculine, and from early times the church was often known as the bride of Christ.

When you given something a name - for example, a pet - then you are taking that thing into your control - you name it, it is yours. So, with Peter, Jesus names him 'Rock' and claims him as his. Now, when he asks Peter to build his church, Peter can not refuse. When we name someone at their baptism, we are naming them for Jesus too - and so we all become rocks upon which Jesus builds his church.

We are all rocks in this living church, the church of Christ.


Wednesday of the 1st week of Lent

Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 50(51):3-4,12-13,18-19; Luke 11:29-32

Luke uses Jonah as a sign, or pre-figuring, of the way in which Jesus would bring salvation to the world. Not as a warrior - saviour, but as a quiet, suffering but irresistible force.

Jonah was tasked by God to go and save a sinful nation, but refused, perhaps believing himself to be unworthy. When God did convert them, Jonah was not happy, because they were not Jews - they were the other, not us. Jesus was crucified because he also was a sign of contradiction, and this riled against the hearts of many. The contrast between the unwilling but successful servant of God, and the willing but (in human terms) failure that was Jesus.

Solomon was thought to be the seat of all wisdom - even the heathen queen of the south came to hear him - and in another balance, Jesus is shown out as a fool. The author Luke is using these balances of opposites to emphasise the important difference between all those that went before, and the one true saviour, Jesus.

Jesus overturns all this - by rising from the dead he lifts us all out of the traps we have set for ourselves by relying on ancient wisdoms and ancient sets of values. We do not have to be wise, nor do we have to be strong.

We just need to accept that Christ has saved us.

Tuesday of the 1st week of Lent

Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 33(34):4-7,16-19; Matthew 6:7-15

Tonight we begin a series of talks based on the well known - perhaps the best known of all - prayers, the Our Father.

The Our Father is so familiar we easily miss its importance. Matthew places it right in the middle of his long account of the sermon on the mount. It is therefore of the utmost importance, given the pride of place in the key section of Matthews Gospel in which Jesus teaches us the way to live a full life.

Come, if you can, each Tuesday evening in Lent at 19:00 to St Thomas more Church, Princess Elisabeth Way, and learn in detail this tremendous prayer, where it comes from, and where it can take us on too.

Monday of the 1st week of Lent

Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18; Psalm 18(19):8-10,15; Matthew 25:31-46

The imagery is striking - there will be a dividing up, the goodies will be let in to heaven, the bodies left to rot and burn in hell.

We need to caution ourselves, as Christ came to bring salvation to all who will accept it. So expect to see some surprising characters in heaven - as everyone can be healed and transformed by Christ. There may not be nearly as Manny goats as one might imagine!

And then look at this parable again. It twice says - thereby emphasising - that our actions to the weak and needy in the world are what God is looking for. So ensure that when you can, you act for them. You will then be acting out Christs' salvation in you, and also bringing it closer to others. Remember next time that you buy a homeless person a coffee and a sandwich, or next time you choose to walk rather than use a car and thus reduce your carbon footprint, that little good you did is 'done unto me'. And Christ will remember.