What is love?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”                                                                                  John 13:34-35

On Sunday we explored these three sentences. What it means to love one another without hesitation, or resistance. A command that sounds so simple, yet can become so incredibly complex when human emotions are factored in. As the Easter people, why is that we find this so hard to do?

To place these verses into context, we discover that they are part of the discourse that Jesus has with his disciples immediately after the Last Supper and before leaving the upper room for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene. Judas has just left the room and now there is no going back. Jesus talks to his remaining disciples and tries to explain to them what he means, but they just don’t get it. They haven’t got the rest of the Gospel or the rest of the New Testament as we do, and what Jesus was talking about wasn’t part of their perspective. The bigger picture for them involved Jesus coming in and rescuing Israel and fighting those who were the oppressors. Not this talk about being with them for only a little longer. Their faith was in a Messiah who would rescue their nation from their woes. Jesus needed to radically transform their understanding of what woes they really had and how they would be rescued for them to be able to speak to others. He needed to change their ideology from fighting talk to loving talk. He needed to change their aggression (and denial) to that of love. He needed to change their perception of us and them, of Jew and Gentile, to that of God’s children, regardless of creed, colour or race.

All of the Gospel of John points to the cross. This is where understanding and illumination happen. God is seen in Christ, and Christ in God. What is revealed in the cross is the love of God in Christ. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Love. To love one another. Yet, we also seem to find such difficulty in doing so. Most of the Hebraic Scriptures is about love. Just as Israel was designed as a loving community, who treated those who came into contact with it with respect and care, so it is with what Jesus asks of the disciples. They and we are to be a community from which the love of God shines across and out. 

Here is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s one hundred and sixteenth sonnet:

“Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. 

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

This goes to show that the complexities of love are woven through the centuries. Poets have wrangled with how to describe love and what it means in our lives for millennia. What is this love? It is love that knows no bounds, that does not alter or bend. It bears out to death. Jesus’s love for us that goes beyond human expectation or knowledge, that takes us just as we are, warts and all, specks or logs in our eyes, and loves us. 

This great new commandment can fill us with a great sense of hopelessness and failure, if we do not read the Gospel carefully. We know that we are wholly incapable of showing the love of God in the way that Jesus asks us. This is a commandment given to a group of disciples who seem utterly incapable of grasping the message and are also about to run away when the going gets tough. Jesus entrusts his message to them simply because they are loved by him and by God. There is no other qualification required. However, our love for others is dependent on our ability to accept love, and to love ourselves as God loves us. It is love that knows no bounds, that does not alter or bend. This, then, is where we begin to struggle. Who knows what we despise in ourselves and think that cannot be forgiven? Who knows how much we are capable of ‘beating ourselves up’ over something said or done that was in some way hurtful? Who knows what ‘love’ was shown to us in the past that turned out to be a sham. It is things like this that make us withdraw from others and from God. We begin to question how these things could be allowed to happen and why did it happen to us? How could God love someone who is frightened, in denial, outspoken, frequently puts their foot into their mouth and hurts others on the way? This was Peter, and God chose to build his church through Peter. A man who denied Christ three times in a single night and God still believed in him.

Knowing that we are loved and trusted by God is the beginning of fulfilling this commandment. We do not generate this love in ourselves, because it is already there. We do need to cultivate it of course, and that is material for another day. As Christians we know that God is love, not a set of tasks, or works, or rituals, but simply love. We’re not better at loving than anyone else, but God has loved us from the very beginning and trusted us, even before we began our journey in Christ.

It takes time to allow God’s love to seep into our souls, our hearts and minds. We have a choice to allow God in, to explore where God was in those moments that we felt bereft and to follow Him. Or we could choose to carry on, being very much in control of our lives. What does it mean then, to love one another without hesitation? Having allowed for our emotions, one can see that God himself has made allowances of our emotional and mental state. In fact, one could say that he has thought of everything. 

My challenge to you this month is this: will you, as a member of the Easter people, show the light of Christ in you to others without hesitation? The light of God that we carry inside is a precious cargo: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, and give glory to our Father in heaven.”

The Asst. Curate’s letter: Easter.

Happy Easter to you all. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

As I write this, the sun is shining and birds are singing. There is wall to wall blue sky and children are outside playing in the warmth of this April morning. We are so fortunate to have land that we can access so easily and to enjoy the diversity of His creation.

One of the weeks of the Lent course that was run in both Wick and Thurso explored Orthodox theology and our role in that. Being part of the created cosmos and seeing God in all created things. We learned about the art of iconography and one person’s discovery that she could pray an icon into existence, using her paintbrush. Another week, we explored how to use a finger labyrinth and how that can be used to still our hearts and minds and focus on God.

We have explored and discussed deep and meaningful quotes by some of our earliest theologians and practised different ways of connecting with God. All of which are provided to help us determine how each of us as individuals connects with God on a deep and personal level. Because there is no ‘one size fits all’ in the journey of Christian discipleship. So it is with our journey with Christ as we lead to the Cross and reflect on our part in that story.

This, combined, with my questions for previous letters, “Where do our priorities lie?” and “where does our future lie?” gives us a springboard to launch into the post-Easter future. What lies ahead? The easy answer is that the liturgical year of the church is already mapped out for us. We begin to look to Ascension Day and Pentecost. However, how do we use what God has provided for us in terms of ministry and mission in and around Caithness?

I was very aware, in running the course on Christian Spirituality and Mysticism of just how much spiritual hunger there is in Caithness. The course in Thurso was held in the Community Caféon Harbour Road in Thurso and that allowed various people to come to the course who would not have attended otherwise. What other opportunities do we see around us, but don’t necessarily think are relevant to the Church in Caithness? We can no longer think of the church continuing as it has done for decades, Now is the time to think outside of the box. What initiatives have you seen elsewhere that might, given the very specific geographical nature of Caithness, work in reaching out and spreading the Good News of the risen Christ? 

Can we choose intentionally to be as radical as Christ? N. T. Wright wrote: “If someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people seeing Jesus, they wouldn’t have dreamed of giving the star part to a woman.” In a heavily patriarchal society, no thought was given to a woman being party to the first resurrection appearance of the risen Christ (John 20:16-18). If you read from Luke’s Gospel, the men thought an idle tale was being told to them by the women (Luke 24:11). These were the women who stuck with the Lord through thick and thin, who catered for his needs, who were there at the cross, and who had the courage to go to the tomb with spices on the third day to prepare his body for burial. They were not expecting to see the risen Christ, but they did. And they went and told the others. 

My point is not to raise one gender up over the other, but to ask where you might have seen, noticed or thought of a way in which to reach out to others that you have then put aside as being a nonsensical idea. I would like to know what those ideas are. We are the church in Caithness, as a corporate body, but we are also individually searching for God on our own spiritual journeys. Different viewpoints and different ideas carefully and respectfully shared enrich our journey together as we search out radical opportunities to be a witness and light to the many different nationalities that we meet every day in Caithness.

We meet in Christ’s name. Let us share His peace.

Curate’s Letter: Easter

Last month I asked where our priorities lay. I asked if we choose to be outward focussed? Who could choose, whatever the cost, to reach out to others? Who would choose to help others in poverty, despair or addictions so that they may come to know the love and peace of Christ? 

This month I am asking you where does our future lie? This is a multifaceted question, with many different answers possible. In one sense you may well be asking how the question this month is any different from what I asked in Lent’s Outlook.

I would like us to begin by spending some time on some of the verses of our reading from Isaiah 55:

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The first two lines remind us of a situation that Jesus found himself in, described in John 4:1-15 where he meets a woman who has come to draw water at the well. Our bodies need actual water in order to survive but our spiritual needs can only be nourished by the water God gives us. It is so easy for us, as the people of God to forget how much we need God. In the passage above, the people are beckoned forward to eat and drink from what which God is offering us, freely and without charge. How often do we forget God does not charge us for his overwhelming abundance and grace? Jesus says that everyone who drinks of the water that he gives them will never be thirsty again. 

I wonder how many of us have searched high and low, for many years for a certain amount of satisfaction and it has never quite appeared. The search goes on and on and the void inside has never been quietened or stilled. 

We go on labouring for that which does not satisfy. We make ourselves busy because we’re too afraid to stop. We’re too afraid to make space to listen and seek God, because we’re afraid of what we might find. But I put it to you that fear should not hold us back, because all we need is a mustard seed of faith. To be able to look forward to the future. To partake the rich feast that God has for us, to incline our ear to him. To listen, so that we might live.

Do we trust God? Do we trust that he knows our future, and that he wants only the best for us? If we do, can we place our worries, anxieties, needs and wants in his hands? Can we have the grace to allow God to work in ways that we don’t think are the way we would do something?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Dare we allow God to reside with us, alongside us, in all that we do and say? Our deeply held traditions and set ways of doing things must be done with grace and reverence otherwise there is a very real danger that these duties become nothing but automated tasks that have no spiritual purpose. Can we allow ourselves to acknowledge that God does not think like us and never will?

Would it be possible for us to actually allow God to lead us? As individuals and as a Church? Will we be as welcoming to all as the writer of the book of Isaiah is, in his greeting to all? Will we welcome the very young as well as the very old? Will we be as gracious to those who make any sort of noise in church, regardless of their age because we trust that God knows best? Even though we may not be able to remain focussed.

What does this have to do with our future? If we think back to last month where I asked about our priorities, then the question was whether we would choose to live and hold on to the way things have been done for as long as one can remember, or whether we chose to live like those rooted in streams of water, drinking deeply of God’s grace and wisdom. In that sense, water is a recurring theme and the need to refresh oneself is stated again. I believe it is stated again because we are such obstinate creatures and we forget, continually, to drink of the life-giving water that is presented to us, free of charge.

In a more physical sense, does our future lie within the confines of the church building? Or does it lie in the chaos and spontaneity that we sometimes find in our churches? Does the awkwardness of such stark differences to the easy going well rehearsed routines of our services startle us out of our reveries? If so, then I say that is good. Because that means the Holy Spirit is with us, and we are present with the Holy Spirit. Our future lies with allowing God to lead. With allowing the noise of exploration to occur throughout our church buildings, however uncomfortable that might be. 

God knows where our future lies, quite literally.  We might be abruptly removed from our comfort zones to make space for the Holy Spirit to move, and we need to be okay with that. We need to be welcoming of everyone into our churches, regardless of their dress, or age, because the future of the Church lies with them. Not us. Can we allow them to become accustomed to the presence of God without imposing our wishes or preferred style of worship on them? Can we seek God together as we realise that both ourselves and the stranger we meet are both represented by the woman at the well? Our future, and the future of the Church in Caithness lies in our hands. Are we prepared to hand over to God the ways and means with which he wants to move and allow the water that we seek to become a spring of water in us, that gushes up to eternal life (John 4:13)?

March 2019: Curate’s Letter

I wonder where our priorities lie? This was my opening gambit of Sunday’s sermon. Three texts of the Beatitudes from the Bible, of which two were from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Jeremiah 17:5-10 illustrates a curse as a shrub that is parched that will never see relief and then immediately shows the reflection of one who is rooted in God’s grace. This person is like a tree planted by water that continues to bear fruit. Psalm One is also a collection of Beatitudes. It begins with a positive statement where people who follow God are once again likened to trees planted by water. Whereas the opposite image is likened to the chaff of wheat that blows away when the grain is being prepared on the threshing floor. The Gospel reading from Luke (ch 6:17-26) is part of Jesus’s Beatitudes and as such is the most well-known. It is full of blessings and woes that illustrate the opposite of each other.

Beatitudes were a common way of expressing spirituality in Jewish and Hellenistic traditions. A contrast is drawn between the ways of wisdom and of irrationality. Wisdom that belongs to the Kingdom of God and what happens or can be expected to happen when one steps outside of that sphere of grace. All three texts of Beatitudes can make for uncomfortable reading. However, the two sides of the coin are there to see the choice in following God or not, as the case may be. Regardless of the route chosen, we are all on a spiritual journey and God may or may not be a large influence on that journey at this time in your life. 

I come back to the question, as to where our priorities lie. Do they lie in the way that things have always been done? Are our priorities to hold on to the traditions that occurred somewhere in our lives and for some unknown reason, will we hold on to them as if our lives depend on them? Do we intend to keep hold of negativities because somehow, we have become accustomed to the reaction they incite? If we choose to live like those rooted in streams of water, drinking deeply of God’s grace and wisdom, then inevitably, our choice will be to turn to God. Our mourning will turn to joy. Our despair will turn to laughter. 

In last month’s Outlook, we were asked whether we can be Christ’s hands and feet and I wonder how this can work with what I have asked in the paragraph above? Perhaps, we each need to make a choice in how we approach God before whom we pray, praise and speak our devotions? Perhaps as we approach Lent, we can consciously make a decision to be rooted more in the stream of God’s grace and allow that to wash over us. Particularly as we begin a time of preparation to renew our baptismal vows.

What are your priorities? Is it to know God more deeply? Is it to see a Christian presence on the streets in your neighbourhood? Is it to share Christ with those around you? Looking once again at the Beatitudes, we see that nowhere in each of the passages does it mention that life will be easy, or comfortable. The way of life that God is calling us to will have its fair share of hardships, but in community we have the opportunity to share those hardships with others. We do not travel on this journey alone. We are part of a community, and as spiritual beings, we find fellowship together. This enables us to grow and deepen our relationship with God. 

In Caithness, this does not just occur in the two Episcopal congregations in Thurso and Wick, but will occur elsewhere in the county, such as cafes, supermarkets, pubs and castles. In order that we may grow deeper into who God is calling us to be, we need to ask ourselves what our priorities are. Will we choose to be a people who are outward focussed? Who choose, whatever the cost, to reach out to others? Who choose to help others in poverty, despair or addictions so that they may come to know the love and peace of Christ? 

Our priorities should reflect that of Christ, who always reached out to the lost and the broken. He knew that the greatest need was beyond the four walls of the buildings he found himself in, which is why so many of the stories in the Gospels are of Christ as he walks from village to village. To be able to share Christ throughout Caithness requires an understanding that Christ’s model has to be echoed in the here and now. 

As our priorities become more like Christ’s we will find solace in God. We will find peace, and we will find rest. Anxieties will disappear because they have no foundation in God. The peace of God that passes all understanding.  What is there about this that we do not want to share? So, therefore, I finish this letter with one question. What are your priorities?

On the eighth day of Christmas… What’s in a name?

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.                Luke 2:15-21

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet?” from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Is a name just a label to distinguish one from another? Does it have worth? In Romeo and Juliet the question is about love. Can two people from families who dislike each other, fall in love and be together? In our passage above, a name is not just a label. It garners identity. Possibly, it is the first thing we learn about another person. Their name is part of their identity. Tied up with identity, we find respect, dignity and personality. All of which, if you use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would come under the psychological needs of a person. Without a name, a person cannot identify themselves, or be identified.

Up to the point of Jesus being presented in the temple, his name may not have been shared with the shepherds or other family members. We simply don’t know. Or there may have been heated arguments over the decision that he would receive the name that had been received from the angel before he had been conceived. Was it a family name? Does it matter? In a way I think it might. Jesus was given a name that was fairly common. It didn’t mark him out as being special or being in the bloodline stretching back to David.

Jesus’s birth, his childhood, his refugee status and his name don’t set him apart to be king. His unremarkable name is another part of the story that allows us to share and identify with a man who shared his life with us, in the grime and dirt of our everyday lives.

On the seventh day of Christmas…. trusting God

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.                                                                                              John 5:1-9.

Below is an excerpt from one of my paintings. It recently had an outing to Wick when it was on display for Midnight Mass. This painting can be many things to different people, it has many different layers and was painted in response to an extremely persistent nudge from the Holy Spirit. I could have ignored that nudge. That persistent feeling, but I felt it was important to obey. I could have said something along the lines of “If only I had the skills…” or “If only God would provide someone to teach me…. or help me…” One of the phrases I have heard over and over when I have presented this painting at various venues is “If only God would give me the breathing apparatus I need to dive into the depths…”

The diver in the painting quite deliberately hasn’t a snorkel and mask and oxygen tanks  because the breathing apparatus is man-made. We don’t need something made by man to go deeper into God. The man lying by the pool didn’t need someone to lift him into the pool. I didn’t need someone to show me how to create this painting. That sounds arrogant, but what I mean is that my dependence on ‘man’ was greater than my dependence on God. My focus was not on what God can do, but rather what I could do if ‘man’ showed me the way. I needed to change my mindset and trust that God would show me how to paint. The strokes and the way in which I would paint might only be as good as a three year old’s but it certainly wasn’t going to be like an old master’s. I had to trust that what I did would be good enough. I had to trust that God would provide the skills. The man by the pool had to trust Jesus when he was told to get up and walk.

Dear Lord, we struggle to place our trust in you. We often think that others are praying on our behalf so we don’t have to. Help us to change our focus from ‘man’ to you. Where we struggle to hand things over to you, help and guide us to keep our eyes focussed on you. Where we think we can do better, gently remind us that you are God, not us. Help us to discern that small, quiet voice of calm and everything around is raging and clamouring for our attention. Where an inkling or thought comes to mind, supposedly out of the blue, help us to discern whether that is from you and whether we should act on it. Thank you for the freedom and peace that we find in you.

On the sixth day of Christmas… whose culture?

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Every reading of the Scriptures carries a certain interpretation. Too often, we in the western world apply a western view to the Scriptures. There are of course, many other types of bias that we apply as well – for example, our own experiences will also inform what we read in the Scriptures. This passage is a good example of that. Those of us who have grown up in a western culture, and have not spent considerable time in another culture, getting to know the traditions and ways of that culture see the way that Jesus addresses his mother in a derogatory way.

It is true that the culture of Jesus’s day was highly patriarchal. However, we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus loved his mother, to the point of asking one of his most loved disciples to care for her when he was dying on the cross. The cultural reading of this passage would suggest that although there is a sense of exasperation on Jesus’s part when he answers “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me,” there is also the use of a colloquial word of endearment. Throughout Jesus’s teachings we learn of a different, radical way of thinking that turns the world’s thinking upside down. We should therefore be very careful when reading this story through the lens of our own culture.

Lord as we come to you, reading and searching your Holy Scriptures for guidance and how to apply them to our own lives, we ask that you show us the different facets of each story. Help us to uncover the truths that you would like us to know. Gently lead us to understand the historical context in which these Scriptures were written, so that we might be less judgemental when applying them in our own culture. Thank you Lord, for the ways in which you taught that show us that there is another way, that is generous, loving and kind.

On the fifth day of Christmas… rivers of living water

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” John 7:37-39.

Included in the reflection today is part of the reading from John for today, and also the reading from Isaiah. Although the reading from John appears to be an astounding claim, it does reflect that which had been written hundreds of years previously and is included below.

Though we feel that we may experience the wrath of God, he is always forgiving. I feel it is important to remember that much of what we do experience is not the wrath of God, but the wrath of man. In God alone I will find my salvation. Humans cannot give that to me. He is my comfort and in Him I place my trust. Trust leads into joy, and joy leads into giving thanks.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Equally, when you are thirsty you are invited to drink from Jesus because in Him there is a well of salvation. We hark back again to the invitation on Christmas Day where we were invited and are continually invited to allow God to dwell in within. To allow the well of salvation to dwell within. Only then, will rivers of living water flow out of us, as believers.

You will say in that day:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

and you comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid,

for the Lord God is my strength and my might;

he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,

call on his name;

make known his deeds among the nations;

proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;

let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12


On the fourth day of Christmas… we remember the Holy Innocents

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2.13-18

On the 28thDecember we remember those whose innocent lives were taken from them through violent means. Traditionally, we remember the numbers of toddlers who were killed by Herod in and around Bethlehem as he was trying to remove any possibility that Jesus might one day take his, Herod’s place, as ‘king.’

More widely, we remember all those who have lost their lives through violence. Not just children, but any soul whose life has been cut short. Anyone who suffers at the hands of others and those who do not feel that human life should be valued. Those who have lost their child, and close family members too who grieve for the loss of a family member.

We ask God to hold these people close and in return that these people may feel the closeness of God. We ask for safety and security for children that they may grow up knowing the love they receive is healthy and nurturing. We ask for grace upon those in care and for those looking after them. We ask for wisdom and discernment for those in positions of power and authority that they act accordingly when action is required to ensure the health and safety of all those whose lives may be in danger. We thank you God that you ask for all the children be brought to you and that you bless them.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:14b-16.

On the third day of Christmas… we celebrate John, Apostle and evangelist.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night,

My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;

my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the Lord;

they flourish in the courts of our God.

In old age they still produce fruit;

they are always green and full of sap,

Psalm 92: 1-2, 11-14.


The 27this the day that we celebrate John, Apostle and Evangelist. Although it is unknown if John the Evangelist and John the Apostle were the same person, the Church honours John who proclaimed that Jesus is the Word who became flesh. Someone who was present at many events throughout Jesus’ ministry, and lived and died following in the footsteps of the Christ who he loved.

John’s faith can be likened to that described in the psalm above. He appeared to be solid in his faith and walked with reverence alongside Jesus of whom he described as the Word. He flourished in his ministry, with deep roots in the Scriptures.

The psalmist above describes how to thank God for His love and faithfulness, by giving back exactly that which is given freely in the first place. Morning and night. Those who walk in His paths are described as the righteous, who are growing in the house of the Lord.

If we hark back to Christmas Day where I spoke of living in God and yet also having God live within us, we too are planted in the house of the Lord, and are able to flourish in the courts of our God. I am thankful too of those of riper years who are still flourishing, producing fruit and appear to have enough energy to serve God.

I pray that God continues to supply the sap that each of us needs in our own unique way to interact with each other and to serve God in the way that He calls us. I pray for those who struggle and feel that they may not have as much energy as they did the day before or the week before. I thank God that through His Scriptures and our interaction with them that we too can be part of the dynamic of living in the house of God, yet also having God live within us.