On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (25th October)

Deut 34:1-12, 1 Th 2:1-8, Mt 22:34-46. By Rev Ellie.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. What two commandments? The first one ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Comes from the second part of Shema, which is the standard prayer that all pious Jews recite daily. Jesus then added another phrase that was popular amongst early Christian writers, but had never been used in this manner. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. The second phrase, Jesus says is ‘like’ the first. From that, we can infer that the phrases do not mean the same thing.

Your love of God, your following of Him is first and foremost. But a very close second is how you love your neighbour. Are you generous, kind, loving towards your neighbours? Then that abundant grace reflects your personality and your ease with yourself, and that you are comfortable in yourself. The opposite therefore must also be true. Stinginess suggests a miserly nature, one that begrudges others’ lavish abundance. We see that elsewhere in the Gospels, for example the expensive jar of nard that was poured on Jesus’ feet and Judas’ response.

Coming back to today… ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ In other words, Everyone is your mirror. Herman Hesse wrote in 1919’s Demian, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him/her that is part of yourself.” I am reminded of the saying from earlier in Matthew’s Gospel; “How can you say to your neighbour, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” That saying can be applied so often in our lives, in all sorts of different situations. Where it is pointed out to us that what we dislike about someone, is already an issue in our life. I use it as a check. What is annoying me about a person? I then ask God to show me where that same issue is in my life and work through that with Him.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Carl Jung is quoted as saying: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Everyone is our mirror. Yet, we are also asked to see Christ in everyone we meet. It’s a stark juxtaposition and can it make for uncomfortable bedfellows.

Kolyanne Russ, a blogger wrote that [sic]: “Most of the Times, We Hold Others to a Standard We Impose on Ourselves.” And that can lead us to despise others who don’t meet our ideal. Yet, that goes against what we know about God. He doesn’t ask for His ideal. He doesn’t ask us for our ideal. No. He asks us to come as we are, broken, ragged, hurt, despised. And he loves us just the same. And he loves each of us equally, without any caveats. He loves us with all his heart, unconditionally. So we come back to these two commandments.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. I’ve always had an image of a tree with a broken branch which represents the Law and the Prophets, and wondered why that branch was mostly broken. Reading about this passage in ‘Feasting on the Word,’ I think my image isn’t actually that far from the truth. These two phrases, that are ‘like’ each other, but not the same are represented by the tree. All the Law – what one is allowed or not allowed to do, and all the Prophets tenuously hang on to the love that God has for us and the love we have for God. 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ In this statement we’re asked to hold nothing else dear. There is no Law that comes anywhere close to the love that God has for us and that we should have for God. The phrase that is like this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ sets a standard, in that if you see everyone as a mirror and therefore see yourself warts and all, you are then able to see how you may improve yourself. Remembering of course, to take the log out of your own eye first before attempting to remove a speck from your neighbour’s eye.

So how much of the Bible is given over to the Law? We know that most of what we call the Old Testament is a social history of the Jewish people. But how much of that is Law? The traditional term for the first five books of the Bible is the ‘Pentateuch’ or ‘Law.’ The Hebrew word ‘Torah’ that is usually translated ‘law’ has a much broader meaning than what we have in English. Torah derives from the verb ‘to teach’ or ‘to instruct.’ Think briefly of the ten commandments. Think of the way you might have been taught them ‘Thou shalt not…’ or ‘You will not’ or ‘Don’t do…’ I wonder if it would change our perspective if we were to look on them as instruction. ‘Please don’t…’

All the laws and ritual legislation found in the Old Testament are not restrictions hemming God’s people in – rather they are part of God’s wisdom. Much in the same way that we conduct our church services today. We are provided with a liturgical framework to help guide our thoughts to the point of where we ask for God’s forgiveness, and having received of God through the Eucharist, we go out on His great commission. That is why all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Without these two commandments everything else is dross. The social history and Paul’s letters and the Psalms are nothing without love. 

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ What does that look like? It looks like this.

“I will worship, with all of my heart
I will praise you, with all of my strength
I will seek you, all of my days
I will follow, all of your ways

I will give you, all my worship
I will give you, all my praise
You alone, I long to worship
You alone, are worthy of my praise.”

                           Jeremy Camp.

Reflection for the 25th October

Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6,13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46. By Barrie Cran, Lay Reader.

Collect:  Lord God our redeemer, who heard the cry of your people and sent your servant Moses to lead them out of slavery, free us from the tyranny of sin and death, and by the leading of your Spirit bring us to our promised land; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

How often of you dreamed about something that you really, really want?  Have you worked for it, striven for it, given things up for it, done everything you can for it, just to have it snatched from your grasp just as it seems to be in sight?  The pain, the anguish, the frustration, the anger even, that we feel when that happens is raw.  There have not been that many things I have experienced like that; perhaps I have been lucky or perhaps I just havened dreamed big?  But I have had friends who have, for no fault of their own, had their dreams snatched from them.  I have seen the disappointment in their eyes, the dropping of their shoulders.  In those few times when it has happened to me, I have just had to go for a long walk all alone – just me without any platitudes or kind words, no matter how well meant.

 I wonder what was in Moses’ eyes as he stood there and looked over the promised land in the certain knowledge that he would not set foot in it.  After all that he had done from the time he was called, very reluctantly, to be the leader of Israel.  Through those difficult times with his own people, let alone with Pharaoh.  Through standing up for his people when they did wrong.  Through the wilderness.  Yet through all those things he was not to get the reward, in spite of being in rude health as they may say.  Instead he died at the Lord’s command.  The end of Moses’ journey is, in our eyes, so near and yet not quite there.

I wonder how many of us felt like that when the numbers started to go the wrong way and restrictions started to return?  Perhaps the better story is the return to the wilderness when Joshua and the spies returned from their trip and the leaders were afraid.  Either way the promised land has been shown and then taken away, in Moses’ case for ever.

As we go into another period of increased restriction, this time coupled with evenings drawing ever in and weather getting steadily more autumnal, the temptation can be to lose faith in ever getting out of this situation.  And it will seem like its going on for ever.  I can barely remember what a normal day was like, I can’t really remember what the old routine of a trip home every month with a late night drive back from the airport ready for Monday morning at work.  These are all distant memories now in an old world where things seemed so established.

But we should think back to what others have been through and they survived and indeed thrived.  And we have a promise that is implicit in Jesus question; a question in two parts.  What is the messiah and whose son is the messiah?

While this was a question aimed at those who thought they new better, it is also a question laden with hope for us.  We know that the Messiah is the route back to God!  We know that the Messiah is David’s son Jesus.  Maybe the religious elite of the Jews did not know this, but we do!

And so we must take comfort from that knowledge, we must have faith in that knowledge because it is wonderful news, even in the dark and cold evenings of October when the world around us seems hostile and dangerous.  Because knowing the messiah gives us hope beyond today, and tomorrow.  It gives us hope for the end of times because we have a loving Messiah, a redeeming Messiah.

So, I take comfort from Moses’ long journey.  He struggled, he thought himself unworthy.  He pushed back and sometimes gave up, well almost.  He even pleaded for himself and his people and led them through dark, dark days of hunger thirst, rebellion and uncertainty.  And at the end of times he did not, at least by earthly standards, get the prize of the promised land.  That prize was taken by another.  Like Paul he suffered greatly for following God’s ways.  But like Paul he was a man of God.

My inconveniences and annoyances are as nothing compared with what others have been through, and indeed go through.  We have been freed from the tyranny of sin and death by the Messiah and that is such a great thing that it can transcend all our current problems and cares and worries and concerns.  Whether they are about our lives, whether they are about our families, whether they are about our work and workmates, our finances.  Whether we feel isolate or afraid.  Whatever these cares we must remember that there is a promised land, and the Messiah will lead us there, even if we can’t see it at the moment.  We may not know the route or the timing but be can have faith that it does exist at the end of days.

So just as Moses sight was unimpaired and his vigour unabated when he saw the promised land so we can also have confidence.  Moses didn’t throw a tantrum and shout “darn” (or something similar), Moses had faith and we should have faith that we have the Messiah.

So as things get dark outside, and maybe in our hearts, let that glimmer of faith, let the light of the Messiah shine through and show us that promised land.  It is there for us, even if we can’t quite see it at the moment, it won’t be snatched from us at the last minute, we will cross over that river.

First service at St Peter’s following Lockdown

Ex 33:12-22, Ps 99, 1 Th 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22. By Rev Ellie.

To the church of St Peter & the Holy Rood, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Thurso and Caithness. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Caithness, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we have among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.                                   

Thank you for your faith. Thank you for your trust that your Vestry would seek to do due diligence in regards to opening for services. 

“God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to God, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you [God] go with us? 

There is a saying: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Comes from the psalms. There is an issue with this though, because opposing sides in wars have used it to justify their actions. A belief indeed that if we’re doing something that we consider right, then it has to be right in the sight of the Lord – whatever the outcome or consequence. Can we really be that arrogant? Well of course we can, as arrogant as the Pharisees in our Gospel reading. “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” My training in theological reflection asks that I try and find a Biblical context that reflects a situation that is contemporary. I recently received an email that could be slotted into this scenario. I have to see what Jesus did as a response, and like him, I choose love as a response.

I choose to look around me and seek where God is already at work in our communities and pray and ask whether that is something He would like me to partner with Him. I would ask for God’s wisdom and discernment in going forward in that venture knowing that if I am not partnering with Him then I am working in my own strength and that is not a good thing. I want God to go with me as I go with Him, not the other way round. I am not asking God to go with me on an adventure that I have conjured up for no reason. 

Where is God working? Perhaps it’s on the sports field and, shock horror, not in a church at 10 or 11am on a Sunday morning. Where is God at work, already in the communities of Caithness? What is He calling us to?

“The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

As we come into God’s presence in our gathered way, once again, let us remember why we come. Let us remember those who are unable to worship alongside us for one reason and another. In this new normal, let us think how we as the people of St Peter’s want to go forward. We have had a halt of all the activities considered ‘normal fare’ of St Peter’s. There is a clean slate ahead of us – what is going to be added to it that shows the people of Thurso who we are? Who we care for? How inclusive will we be? Will we welcome everyone regardless of gender, sexuality or faith? Will we look outwards? There is nothing to keep us looking in to the church – because that has all been taken away. In this new normal, what are our values? What will be our mission? Perhaps you think these are too many questions to pose in our first service back, but they are questions I need you to think about.

I finish with the lyrics of The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1X_ev2OILA

When the music fades 

And all is stripped away 

And I simply come 

Longing just to bring 

Something that’s of worth 

That will bless Your heart 

I’ll bring You more than a song 

For a song in itself 

Is not what You have required 

You search much deeper within 

Through the way things appear 

You’re looking into my heart 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship 

And it’s all about You 

All about You, Jesus 

I’m sorry Lord for the things I’ve made it 

When it’s all about You 

It’s all about You, Jesus 

King of endless worth 

No One could express 

How much You deserve 

Though I’m weak and poor 

All I have is Yours 

Every single breath

Harvest Festival, St John’s.

by Rev Ellie.

(Deut 8:7-18, 2 Cor 9:6-15, Luke 12:16-30)

What does Harvest mean to you? What does it mean to town dwellers? What do you think it means to those who live their entire lives in cities? Who perhaps have never left the council estates? Don’t tell me that no one ever lives their lives like that because there are families, generations who have never seen the countryside. There are ministries and missions that aim to take children into the countryside, to give them, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.

Because there is something that no one can really identify and put their finger on that aids are relaxation, allows us to ‘chillax’ by taking a walk through the countryside. Something that grounds us, seeing plants and trees grow without hindrance, nurtured yet untamed.

Perhaps it is primaeval, knowing that plants just get on with growing, or a turn into a state of dormancy over the winter months without the need for constant input from humans. Of course, there are very few parts of Scotland that are truly wild, that haven’t had any input from humankind over the centuries. Most of our land has been improved or semi-improved over the centuries, or perhaps the land has been desecrated and semi-desecrated depending on whether you view it as human progress or human invasion of land and habitats.

Our need for food and a wide variety of food for our discerning taste buds requires evermore exploitation of the land and seas around us. We missed the Sunday set aside for celebrating creationtide, but I think it ties quite nicely with Harvest. Celebrating the good things that God has provided for us. Okay, so the potato harvest for some of us (me in particular) hasn’t been ideal (I have handfuls of small and tiny potatoes). And over the past few weeks we have seen silage, cereals, hay and straw all being either bagged or trussed up ready for the winter.

Our farmers have had a few hard years. Long winters, with extra food needed while livestock has been kept indoors longer than normal, drought, floods, unseasonably cold and dry summers that have limited the root growth of crops, thereby starting growth and the maturity of grains. I wonder how much of that has come to our attention? So what does harvest mean to you? Perhaps you could take your pen and paper and write down what you think it means? 

Our readings today paint a discordant picture… One with ‘entry to the land of wheat and barley, vines and fig trees and pomegranates, the land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing;’ one that is about the cheerful giver, giving as he or she is able; and a reading that decries the storage of more and more for oneself.

Thinking about the Gospel reading where the wealthy landowner has his life demanded from him reminds me of the time that the Jews were in Exodus, and eating manna. If they gathered more than they needed, the manna turned unusable. There was enough for everyone, and no one went hungry. But by all accounts, the manna wasn’t exactly going to meet the desire of those with discerning taste buds. But the people of the Exodus would enter the land of abundance.

If we take the last two readings – 2 Corinthians 9 and Luke 12, and break them down into the basic components, we are left with the attitude with which one views God’s abundance. Either we are cheerful in giving away what God has given us (and this feeds into the parable of the talents were one person buries the one talent given to him/her, and the other two invest their talents) or we become miserly and overprotective of all of what we have. What feeds into that is suspicion, suspicion of others that they might take away what we consider ours.

The harvest, and a celebration of harvest must once upon a time, been such a simple affair – simply celebrating what has come from the land, and what we can store up for the winter. Communities would have worked together – tattie harvesting (labelled by some now as enforced child labour), scything, and so on. The community worked together for the good of the community. Because as a community we have the strength to withstand in a way that isolated individuals cannot. That is why, even with the dispersed and get a church model that we have today, we must continue to check in with one another. 

Harvest for me includes foraging from the hedgerows. For me that starts in summer, with elderflowers so I can make my own cordial for the rest of the year. Elderberries, plums, blackcurrants, cob nuts (if you’re lucky) and so on. What do you do with your harvest?

What else can be considered to fit in with this harvest theme? Let us look at the second reading again.

The point is this: the one who says sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who says bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.

Paul isn’t writing about an actual harvest of greens here. He is writing about the attitude with which one approaches life. Your gain will be little in comparison to the one who says bountifully. God does not judge here – Paul does not say that something sparsely is wrong, but it is how the sewing is done that concerns him. Joyful giving of money, of effort, food, or kind words, of positivity overflows with many thanksgivings to God. I wonder what you sow? What do you sow into each other’s lives?

In our reading in Deuteronomy, we see part of the speech given by God to the people, through Moses.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, the land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters, a land where you will lack nothing. You should eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Do not say to yourself, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth. “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Everyone can enter this good land, but not everyone will appreciate what they are given. The warning is there from God: your wealth does not come by the power of your own hand. It is the lord your God who provides for you. Let us give thanks in the words of the apostle, Paul:

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Reflection for Sunday 4th October 2020

By Alan Finch


Exodus 20:1 – 4; 7 – 9; 12 – 20; Philippians    3:4b – 14; Matthew 21:33 – 46


Give freely as we have freely been given from God.

When I read this parable of Jesus’ I thought, well I am sure that the letting agents across the land, especially the commercial property managers would probably explain today’s gospel parable from Matthew in two seconds flat. It is all about landlords and tenants after all. And there is an entire body of property and commercial law devoted to them and their sometimes numerous disputes.

In Jesus’ telling, a vineyard owner contracts with tenants for the use of his land – and then promptly leaves town for another country. The action happens at harvest time, about now I guess; when the same landowner sends his slaves or agents back to the vineyard to collect the rent – his share of the harvest in this case – from the tenants. But the tenants decide to take matters into their own hands. Apparently hoping to secure the property for themselves, they beat the first slave, kill a second and stone the third. Then they do it all over again, finally even killing off the landowner’s son in the hope of somehow gaining his inheritance.  What are we to make of this graphic tale of greed and mayhem, violence and murder?

At the very least we might be tempted to think the landowner in question ought to have done a more thorough background check before renting out his vineyard – the very source of his livelihood – to those scoundrels who ended up murdering his slaves and son.  Surely even in the ancient world people knew who was trustworthy or not.   Way before the Internet word got around, after all, and as it was based on first-hand experience more reliable than we get today across the web and certainly not a scam.

The question is why did they do it; the tenants that is?  They had to have been fairly bright people or they would not have gone into agriculture in the first place – then as now not an easy way to make a living. Did they really think they could get away with murder? Well, apparently they must have done, their greed got in the way of their common sense and reason. No doubt not the first time such a thing has ever happened – and not likely to be the last either.  

The point of the story seems so obvious to Jesus’ hearers that they leap to it without a moment’s hesitation. The landowner, they declare in moral outrage, “will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants.” The story must have also resonated with the early church community, for it is one of only a very few of Jesus’ parables recounted in all three of the so-called Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Alas, the news these days is sadly still full of just such parables of greed and corruption. We know them too well  With the current Pandemic still full on we see people taking advantage of the vulnerable, the lonely and those for whom everything has been taken away; job, income and even homes.    And many many people are and continue to suffer the consequences. So, yes, some people clearly do still think they can get away with it. And some indeed do. Sadly the world has not changed all that much in the time since Jesus told his parable.

We might conclude that it simply does not pay to be an absentee landlord. Better to stay home, lock the back door and mind the store. After all, there is no place like home. Surely, that is where one can feel safe and secure. Maybe so, but try telling that to someone whose has lost job, income and has been put under threat of potential eviction let alone those whose properties have been flooded, burned down by wild fires or damaged beyond instant repair and are likely to remain so for some time to come. Let’s face it. Even security at home is sometimes an illusion.

The parable, of course, is about us as much as it is about thieves – about us as much as it is about the “chief priests and the Pharisees” who come to recognise themselves in Jesus’ words. The priests and Pharisees want to arrest Jesus for his words and be rid of him. They knowingly seek to neutralise his potent message of God’s righteousness and Kingdom. What they do not know – and maybe we sometimes forget – is that it cannot be done.

No matter where we live or what we have, we are all no more than tenants in God’s Kingdom.  Everything we have comes from God nothing ever truly belongs to us. In the final analysis, everything we have has been given to us to look after as a tenant. Everything is borrowed for a time; we are as the saying goes living on borrowed time – quite literally. Like the priests and Pharisees of this story, we too might wish the world were different, that instead of being tenants we were owners and servants, masters. What is true and we need to remind ourselves of, is that through our faith in Jesus we are so much more than tenants or slaves because we have been made heirs to God’s Kingdom.

Unlike the landowner who wrongly concluded “They will respect my son,” when he decided to send his child as emissary after his slaves are beaten and killed. We may well have asked “What was he thinking?” It would have been much more sensible for the landowner to go to his priest, for then he might have been set right. “Do not send your son,” I am sure he would have been told and forcefully one would hope just “Call the police and report the incident. Begin eviction proceedings. Get back home.”

All good advice to be sure, but it is doubtful the landowner would have followed even his beloved pastor’s counsel. For the landowner’s economy is not that of this world. And perhaps it is just as well. He knows something we tend to overlook, that in the end it is not a matter of land, property rights, wealth, possessions or ownership. For a follower of Christ, it is ultimately not even a question of life and death. It is only the Kingdom that matters, a kingdom most decidedly not of this world.

“The Kingdom of God,” Jesus says in explanation of the story, “will be … given to a people that produce the fruits of the Kingdom.” And the fruits of the kingdom of which Jesus speaks have nothing to do with grain or grapes, much less pounds and pennies. If we miss that, we miss the point of Jesus’ parable entirely. We miss the Kingdom at work in our lives. For, the Kingdom is, in fact, ours – but only to the extent that we give in turn to others of all that has been so generously given to us. In God’s Kingdom, So that we follow the instruction to love others as you would want to be loved; giving all we have been given because all we have is given by God freely – we then must give freely all that we have.


Michaelmas. The feast day for St Michael is September 29th.  The timing of my ordination first as a deacon and then to the Order of Presbyters, along with those training for ordained ministry through the Scottish Episcopal Institute. 

Of course, this year, every person in those same transitions, and entry into the life and work of the church throughout the British Isles is being ordained at Michaelmas.

As such its importance in the calendar has grown for me. Its associated with beginnings, and endings in my ministry. It is also at a ‘hinge’ in the liturgical and seasonal year where we begin to think about Christmas – Christmas eve is only three months away – and as we enter harvest, we have the end of the growing season.

At my priesting last year, Bishop Mark spoke about the differences between being ordained at Petertide with that of Michaelmas. Those ordained earlier in the year were, in his mind, to be likened to an everyman for every person. They had to be all things to all people. This has been an incredibly traditional view of clergy – that they must be able to be the sort of person that every person they meet needs to see or talk to.

I agree that adaptation to different scenarios is important, but the request of being an every-man or every-person can be too great a burden for some. 

Michaelmas is, on the other hand, about the work that angels do for God. Celebrating the work that angels do isn’t exactly well received in Protestant traditions and certainly not by Presbyterians either. A summary of our readings shows that St Michael has four main responsibilities:

  • To combat Satan
  • To escort the faithful to heaven at the hour of their death
  • To be a champion of all Christians, and the Church itself
  • To call men from life on Earth to their heavenly judgement.

St Michael, one of the archangels, is mentioned in the book of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. And that’s it. 

I am very grateful that I am not called to be an everyman to every person as I would find that very difficult, particularly as I am not a man. But I do think the need for adaptation, flexibility and allowance for spontaneity are very important for every clergy person regardless of hierarchy. The ability to be actively present in every situation that calls for it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The ability to adapt, be flexible and adopt new practices is by the grace of God. Whether one is ordained at Petertide or Michaelmas, the call is the same. To become more Christlike, serving God by the grace of God.

We have missed this year the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows, where we, paraphrased: ‘combat Satan’:

  • Where we turn to Christ, turning from evil, repenting of sin. Where we actively say together: “I renounce evil; I repent of sin; I turn to Christ; I will follow Christ.” 
  • Where I ask you all if you will proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people? And your answer is “With the help of God, I will.”

To serve God by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit is not going to make an appearance where rules are adhered to at the detriment of human relationships. Loving each other, [and keeping no lists of perceived slights]. 

In our readings from Genesis and John, we are told that angels ascend to heaven and descend from heaven. I see this as a route of pilgrimage, and help. 

Heaven was part of the dome that covered the Earth. It featured in the mythology of many different religions in the Ancient Near East. The book of Genesis as we know was written after the first five, if not nine books of what we know as the Old Testament, and was written to place the Jewish faith and people with that of their God. Heaven has always been ‘up there,’ with an opposite ‘down there;’  – the theologies of which I am not going to enter into today.

Angels may be superior in intellect, have the capacity to praise God, and ascend to heaven as well as descend. But I put it to you that through Jesus’ resurrection, we also not only have the capacity to praise God, we can also find the presence of God, and sit with him awhile. Conversely, we can also choose to leave his presence, choose to turn our back on everything that God offers us, given freely and willingly by His grace. Yet, in our baptismal vows, we choose to follow Christ. Our route of pilgrimage is to ascend to where God is – yet he is so often not where we think he ought to be. 

God is out there in the turmoil, the agony and anguish of those who have lost family and friends, he is in the absent hugs, in the lack of laughter from grandchildren and grandparents who might have sat at the dinner table on a Sunday. He’s in the queue with you, in the muttering and exasperation. And he is in our fumbled attempts of adaptation, flexibility and spontaneity as we try to adopt new practices to enable us to gather in our church buildings and worship once again under the same roof.

So with the guidance of St Michael and all the angels, let us remind ourselves of our baptismal vows, and keep loving and championing one other through the stresses of strange viruses, and the way in which our leaders feel we should move forward.

Reflection for Sunday 20th September 2020 by Barrie Cran

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

It’s not fair!  We associate this with a playground yell or the tantrum between children.  But let’s be honest we all think it, probably quite a lot of the time, and certainly when we don’t get what we want.  Sometimes even when we do get what we want but then someone else gets even more!  Fairness is something we cherish, something we think is an important part of justice, something that the law of the land is meant to help sort out.  Fairness is biblical and Christian – well it should be!

So, today’s gospel is more than a bit shocking because it seems unfair.  And shocking it should be because, that’s right, the kingdom of God is not fair!  The Kingdom of God is built on Grace, not fairness.  Grace is not earned by time served, grace is not earned by labours, be they in the sun or the rain!  Grace is not dished out on a first come, first served basis.  Grace is freely given to all, whenever they respond to the call.

I guess the disciples were even more shocked by the unfairness of it all because this parable is aimed at them, not at the Pharisees or any other group.  They were after all the ones who responded first.  They were the ones who gave up everything to follow Jesus through thick and thin.  They could claim to have earned their place through loyal and even sacrificial followship.  I am not surprised they expected to be first when the rewards were dished out.  Indeed, we know that they argued about which of them would sit at the left and right of the Lord in his Kingdom.

But Jesus point runs counter to all that we hold dear in terms of fairness.  Things like a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work are meaningless in this story.  I am not sure that Jesus wanted to turn the labour market on its head and encourage people to think they would be paid for nothing.  But I think he did intend to turn the religious market on its head and promise us we would get paid, no matter when we accept the job offer.  The established workers had got their hopes up.  If these part timers are getting this much, then we must be in for a bonus.  But then there is disappointment.  They get their dues and that is it.  

We all get our dues from God but, in the words of Jonah “… I knew you are a gracious God and merciful”.  And Jonah, to be frank, was more than mildly miffed.  What Jonah wanted was a very earthly reward for his efforts.  Yes, he had tried to run away but, eventually, he had carried out his mission and brought God’s word to the people of Nineveh.  The outcome he expected was for them to be punished, that would be his reward for his labours, that is what he wanted.  But he succeeded and the people repented, and God was merciful.  And Jonah was extremely disappointed and upset because God’s vision of a positive, great even, outcome to Jonah’s mission was different.  God cares about the one hundred and twenty thousand people (and animals!) and he is delighted that they have repented.  Jonah has been a success.  God is delighted that the late comers to the event have accepted the offer.  After all Jonah’s trials and tribulations, recruitment has been a success.

But, of course, we are not like that.  We are generous of spirit and don’t mind someone else coming in and getting a slice of the cake.  It doesn’t matter to us that we have been faithful servants for years. We have attended services, bibles studies, courses, retreats.  I may have studied through early mornings and late evenings, done essays and summer school, had my sermons marked and all that.  Then someone just swans in and repents, and they are as good as I am!  I am sure we have all felt a little threatened when that happens.  When the new arrival upsets the apple cart and gets more attention, more action, more love.  To be honest I have been both sides of this.  I have been the established one who finds their position undermined; or perhaps more accurately PERCEIVES their position to be undermined by someone new with different ideas or a different style.  And let’s be honest, we may put a brave face on it, but we don’t really like it.  I have been the newbie who blunders in and makes mischief – even though I may not mean to.

So, when we get our hopes up about what is due to us, let us go back to the humility that runs through the Gospels.  Whether it is comparison of the generosity of alms from the rich to the poor widow, whether it is publicly overt prayers or humble contrition in private.  There is a consistent message that God is gracious and generous.  God chooses to be generous to everyone who comes, no matter when, no matter what we have been through to get to where we are compared to them.

I probably cannot prove this beyond reasonable doubt for the lawyers, but having met Christians in some strange places and difficult situations over the years, I am constantly humbled by the fact that it is those who have least who are the most generous.  It is those who face real, life threatening, persecution who are most welcoming and open minded. Those whose world appears most depressing and oppressive who are the most joyful and enthusiastic.  Those who have suffered long term illness or impairment who live life to the full.  Those for whom fairness is an abstract word because life has been unfair who celebrate and worship in love.

It is people like that who truly embody the words that “the last will be first and the first will be last”.  It is people like them who truly understand the Grace and Mercy of the Lord.  Oh, that I could be more like them……


Reflection: Forgiveness, September 13th, by Alan Finch

Readings: Genesis 50: 15 – 21; Romans 14: 1 – 12; Matthew 18: 21 – 35

Today’s story told by Jesus takes place in two distinct places: first, inside the throne room of a powerful king; second, just outside in a palace corridor. It describes two views of the world, one the world as we know it and secondly the world as God wants it.

We begin in the throne room in our world which changes in an instant to a world that God wants it to be. On the other hand in the palace corridor, things start out as the world we know but fail to become the world as God wants it.

The king in the parable acts with magnanimity and compassion and when the slave begs to be forgiven the debt he owes, the king releases him and forgives the whole of his large debt. So far so good, however the failure comes when the man who is forgiven does not have the same grace and compassion toward those who are indebted to him. In this parable we see the true meaning of our words in the Lord’s Prayer where we humbly ask: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Christian Faith is full of paradoxes because we first have to act and then God acts for us; we have to forgive others before we can be forgiven our own sins by God.  So instead of God starting the process of forgiveness we are instructed to start the process by making the first move; that is to forgive those who have sinned against us.   

I do not know about you but in my experience forgiveness is as much, if not more beneficial to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven.  Jesus told it as a story that fitted the context of his time.   As the human understanding of psychology has increased we now can see that the act of forgiving, letting go of feelings of revenge and retribution, can bring great healing.

Forgiveness is the most basic Christian quality. Without forgiveness, we wouldn’t have Christianity as we know it. Without forgiveness, we would all be doomed to hell, condemned sinners without hope of any kind.  Knowing this, a proper understanding of forgiveness will transform our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves.  The meaning of the word “forgiveness” is: to dismiss, to release, to leave or abandon. We hear of judges dismissing the charges against a defendant. That person is then forgiven of any wrong doing or that a person that is released from an obligation, such as a loan or debt. That person is then forgiven. 

The word forgiveness also has the meaning to restore someone back to their original condition. The person who has been forgiven of a sin then restored to the condition of not having sinned: the sin has been dismissed and he has been released from any penalty. The case against him has been abandoned or dismissed.

Forgiving people can be one of the toughest things that Christ commands us to do, but it is something that we are commanded to do. 

In the passage today I hope we can find some practical steps that will help make it easier for us to be a forgiving person.  It is easy to carry a grudge against a person, but if we belong to Christ, then we will learn to be a forgiving person.

There are some very clear words about this from Jesus that we all know:  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” or in the more familiar translation, “Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The door to joy and happiness is forgiveness.   First, when we forgive we join with God in doing one of God’s essential works.   Doing the will and work of God brings fulfilment to our lives.   Second, forgiveness brings peace to our relationships.   Any parent can tell stories of dealing with the injuries, offences, and disobedience of children.   Without forgiveness, children can’t be raised. Marriage, as our institution and way of being, can’t be sustained without mutual forgiveness. Married folk can’t keep from injuring each other and without forgiveness the injuries would become wounds and the wounds become fatal.

The cross is God’s ultimate act of love and forgiveness.  What God did through Jesus was pure love.  God said to all humanity, “There is nothing that you can do that will end my love for you.”  It does, though upset God when we don’t share the love and forgiveness we have received.  

Forgiveness is only possible if we remember God is within and our strength, and even when we cannot find the words He promised that the Spirit would help find the words, even when our act of forgiveness is rejected.   God knows our heart and so we can be forgiven.

Next time when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together, take the words “as we forgive those who sin against us,” into our hearts. Only then, can we begin to understand what forgiveness is all about.

So, forgive someone — today!

Praying in Community

Reflection for Proper 18, Sunday Sept 6th, 2020 by Sue Berry

ReadingsMatthew 18:15-20, Exodus 12: 1-14, Romans 13:8-14, Psalm 149.

All of the readings today look at different aspects of being part of a Christian Community, from obedience and unity to forgiveness and prayer.

In Exodus reading, we see the Israelites preparing to leave Egypt and begin their journey to enter the Promised Land. They obey God’s instructions to put blood on their doorposts and to share a community meal in their homes, before fleeing the horrors of slavery and oppression, endured in Egypt. God makes a way for them to move towards freedom, to a new way of living and being.

It’s a reminder of the provision which God has made for us through the work of Jesus on the cross; helping us to escape from our sinful nature. Each time we partake of the Eucharist it celebrates what Jesus has done and the divine exchange that takes place of repentance, forgiveness of sin and continuing transformation in becoming more like Christ. The meal is individual and communal.

The gospel reading in Matthew addresses conflict in the Church. It’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. Jesus knew how our sinful nature ensnares us and that left unchecked within our own lives and that of our community, division and wounded-ness happen. Jesus gives principles to address such situations.

Paul in his Letter to the Romans also addresses such community issues, stressing love and forgiveness as essential in the life of a Christian. He reminds believers to love one another, for loving your neighbour both fulfils the law and honours the ten commandments. He ends the chapter by reminding them to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no room for the sin that can corrupt.

When Jesus is Lord of our lives, temptation loses much of its power. However, we still need God’s guidance to help us the wider church family, avoid dead ends and blind alleys. If we seek to be right with Christ in our relationships, He will help us to avoid hurting others and ourselves.

Matthew the final verses of the gospel reading, also addresses the prayer life of a Christian community which is for the benefit of all. Jesus was and is a man of prayer. He models for us the way to approach the Father with courage, hope, faith and love. He promises us that where two or three are gathered, there He is also. He’s even present when we pray alone. God answers with wisdom and in love, although it may not always be as we expect.

One inspiring account of church members praying together can be found in the story of two ladies who prayed for the people on the Isle of Lewis, one was partially sighted, the other infirm both were saddened by what they saw in the lives of young people in their community and how far the community had moved away from God.

Over a period of months, they sought God asking Him to bring change – the result was a visitation of the Holy Spirit and it came to be known as the Hebridean Revival in 1949. People met God in new ways, people were touched by the manifest presence of God. Lives were changed. The stories of what happened to people are well documented.

The enemy works to divide church communities, to stop the advancement of God’s Kingdom and a sharing of the gospel of Jesus. When we come together in unity to reach others with the love of Jesus beginning and continuing in prayer and action as the Holy Spirit directs, it is powerful and commands a blessing.

In the pandemic it has been difficult to meet in person but we can come together in prayer wherever we are. 

In prayer we align our lives with His purposes for His glory. 

Prayer opens our hearts to needs. 

Do we long for people to meet God? 

Do we long for change in the world we live in? In our families, communities and nation?

It starts with the church coming before God in prayer and unity.

We can pray for each other, our homes, families and friends, the wider church family, schools, businesses, workplaces, community groups, as well as organisations like Local and National Government. 

Ask God to bring His Blessing, Protection, Love and Care to all the people we are prompted to pray for so that they will find God where they are.


Father, wherever our attention has wandered from your calling,

wherever we have fallen short of your will for us and failed to keep the spirit of the law of your love

Forgive us and transform us.

So that we walk again the path that leads to life.

Father we thank you

For the way you care for us and provide for all our needs

May we share the good news of your love by the way we respond to you and to one another. Amen

I AM:Moses’ encounter with God in the fire.

By Sue Berry.

Proper 17, Sunday 30th August 2020, Readings: Matthew 16:21-28, Romans 12:9 – 21, Exodus 3:1 – 15, Psalm 105:1-6,23 – 26, 45b

This week’s Old Testament reading highlights the story of Moses meeting God at the burning bush. For forty years Moses has lived a nomadic lifestyle, he raises a family, works for Jethro and tends and herds the sheep. A far cry from forty years earlier as a Prince in the court of Pharaoh from which he fled.

All that is about to change through an encounter with the Living God. On a day like any other he has taken the flock to the far side of the desert to search for watering holes and pasture. Wilderness terrain and its extremes are part of the daily experience. Life is fragile in this environment and experience is needed to traverse it. Moses prepares himself for the next part of his journey collecting the flock and walking through the Wadi’s towards the bottom of the great mountain. 

Suddenly something catches his eye a bush is on fire it remains alight. He turns aside to look at this sight more intently. God sees Moses’s response. As Moses walks towards the bush he hears his name called out loud from the bush itself. Moses responds with the words “Here I am.” Moses is told to stop and take off his shoes as he’s standing on holy ground. The enormity of the occasion begins to dawn on him. 

God tells Moses He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who has observed the misery and suffering of His people and that He intends to deliver them to a good land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. 

Moses’s task is to go back to Pharaoh and bring the people out of the land of Egypt but he begins to give God reasons why he can’t do this. However, God has a plan and Moses is part of it. God tells Moses who He is


This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

It’s a declaration of who God is. He is giving humankind the opportunity to receive the covering, protection and blessing that His name provides. It’s an invitation for relationship.Nowhere is that desire for relationship more evident to us than in His desire to send His Son Jesus Christ to earth to make a way for us to have a relationship with him. Whoever believes in Jesus and what He has done for us will not perish but have eternal life. 

The cross was and is a door to heaven, a door to enter and come to the Father through, bringing us into a relationship with Him. God loves to draw near to His children and give them the benefits of His name. The Israelites were to come to know God through His name. He was their Deliver, their Healer. their Provider, their Peace, their Mighty Warrior and much more. God describes Himself to Moses in Exodus 34: 6 and 7 as being merciful, long suffering abounding in goodness, forgiving sin. He was their shield and their great reward.  

John in his gospel tells us of the seven I AM’s of Jesus, who used them to speak about himself.                                                                         

When God speaks about himself as I AM it means I will be everything you need. 

Each and everyone one of us has needs, He can speak into our individual situations…..

I AM your Healer

I AM your Provider

I AM Your Wonderful Counsellor

I AM the Almighty 

I AM your Comforter

I AM your Deliverer

I AM your Shepherd

That name never changes. There are many names for God many wonderful names. He will always be all we need if we let Him. 

Each time we pray the Lord’s prayer we remember this. 

Take one of God’s names and worship Him, thank Him and meditate upon it in His word.

This reflection can only give a glimpse of the I AM of God. 

My prayer is that it will give you a hunger to know more. 

Loving Father

We praise you and thank you there is none like you.

You created each one of us to worship and be in communion with you.

As we draw near to You, You will draw near to us. 

Help us to discover more of who you are.

And in so doing share your love with others.

We ask this now in the precious name of Jesus. Amen