Easter 2: Time for Renewal

My response to the Bishop of Oxford’s call for theological & spiritual renewal in word and sacrament. No better place to start than the resurrection accounts

Raphael Cartoon, Christ’s Charge to Peter (Matthew 16: 18 – 19 & John 21: 15 – 17), cartoon for a tapestry, by Raphael, about 1515 – 16, Italy. 


Easter 2 (3rd Sunday)

Acts 9:1-6
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

In the Easter season, of which we are still in, despite the lack of chocolates, we are encouraged to contemplate the events of that first Easter again. In these weeks the Lectionary guides us through the Book of Acts and the various Gospel stories of those people who met the resurrected Christ. Those who met Jesus in the days and weeks following the resurrection were forever changed. We too are forever changed when we meet the resurrected Christ.

Bishop Steven of Oxford visited the Wycombe Deanery this past Thursday to meet with the clergy, primarily to get a sense of how everyone is doing. He visited various projects being led by churches in the Wycombe area; the day ended with a celebration for the work of the rural review. The Bishop’s message to us and to the wider Diocese is that there is a need for spiritual and theological renewal in the church. He believes that this started before Covid. This renewal comes through word and sacrament. We have been doing this – each week as we come together to worship when we hear the word of God read and we break bread together. But this needs to go deeper. People are coming to the end of themselves and their resources. We need a different place to look to be sustained.

During the morning clergy-only session when the Bishop asked us how we are, one clergy colleague observed that no one had brought up the war in Ukraine or the real threat of World War 3 and nuclear warfare being far more possible than any of us want to admit or even think about.

We have distracted and busied ourselves with many other things – all good and noble – but we are still looking away from the real and present evil in the world. I want to call on us this morning, as a Church community, to look at our own need for spiritual and theological renewal. If our faith does not have anything to say into the current situation then we are well and truly lost.

There is no better place to start than with the resurrection. It is the defining moment of Christianity, of our faith. You cannot call yourself a Christian and deny the resurrection. It is not an add-on. We are reliably told it was put into the tomb and sealed. It wasn’t there the next morning; Jesus’ physical body had moved, changed, disappeared overnight. He then begins to appear to people in small and large groups. Fortunately, in the church we have a few weeks to contemplate the events of Easter, meet the people who were there that first Easter day and see the effects that Jesus’ resurrection had on them and the rest of the world for the last 2000 years.

It started last week with the story of St Thomas, the dogged disciple often accused of being slow on the uptake, the doubter. Poor Thomas. Many a sermon has been preached as a warning to not be like Thomas. Thomas the 50% believer; the one who needed everything proved before he could believe.
Don’t doubt, just believe. So easy! Sure, if you don’t want to think too hard about anything! I believe that Thomas is the 110% believer. The one who wants to give everything; the one who has so much riding on his commitment to Jesus that he just has to know that he is right. If Thomas is going to give it all, he needs to know he is not making a fool of himself. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails…‘ insists Thomas.

This is not a man of weakness but rather one we can learn from, even if uncomfortably. The things that make Thomas seem weak or doubtful are what makes him strong, his willingness to press on and ask the questions that others won’t. Thomas shares his doubts willingly and Jesus responds and meets him where he is at. Thomas gets a mention in the gospel reading this morning, he’s in the boat with Peter, Nathanael, James, John and two other unnamed disciples. Thomas is no longer missing out in case Jesus pops up again.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears to those who needed to see him, needed to encounter him. Jesus goes to them which says a lot about how much Jesus knew and loved those who had persecuted him (Paul) and denied him (Peter). We don’t get any indication that either of them wanted to see Jesus.

Paul’s ‘Road to Damascus’ is the defining moment of his entire life. It is dramatic, light from heaven flashed and Paul was knocked off his donkey and fell to the ground and struck blind. Paul had been so sure he was right in his persecution of disciples. He was a man of high intelligence and deep conviction; but he was convicted of the wrong things. We see in Paul that a person can be sincere in their beliefs yet sincerely wrong.

Yet Jesus still pursued Paul. What does this say about his love? No one is beyond the reach of it. This is good news! This should give us hope for those people in our friendship groups and families, world leaders who have not yet seen the light so to speak.

Peter. He too needed an encounter with the risen Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of the crucifixion as it was predicted he would. Is there much worse than being told what you are going to do (before you do it), then you deny you are going to and then do it anyway? The crowing of the cockerel must have been deafening for Peter! Peter was at the tomb that first Easter morning but didn’t see Jesus there, only the emptiness. Peter was there at Jesus’ first appearances to the disciples. He probably witnessed the conversation between Jesus and Thomas and maybe he longed for a similar experience. Peter had some making up to do.

At this point in time, the disciples didn’t really know what to do with themselves. They had been told to wait for the Holy Spirit with no idea of how long they had to wait for. They have left Jerusalem and gone back to Galilee which was home for some of them. Peter, James and John have seemingly gone back to their fishing boats, back to what they know as they probably tried to work out what has gone on and what to do next. I’m sure we’ve all had those times in life when we have no idea what the next move is.

It is in that moment that Jesus appears to them, standing on the beach, knowing that they have caught nothing. The faithful carpenter tells the fishermen how to do their job. Peter’s reaction is a bit odd; he was naked in the boat, so puts some clothes on and immediately jumps in the water, leaving the others to bring the boat in. Peter must have been beside himself! Breakfast is cooked and Jesus eats with them. There are many people who have come to faith based on Jesus’ eating of bread and fish with the disciples. It occurred to them that ghosts do not eat solid food!

After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and it is time to do some business. Jesus asks Peter three times ‘do you love me?” This is significant because Peter denied Jesus three times, and this was part of Peter’s restoration. Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter ‘why did you deny me?’ or ‘will you do that again?’. Jesus asked Peter ‘do you love me?’ because no other motivation will last. Only love does.

If we are going to follow Jesus in the power of the crucified life, it is only love that will last, carry us through to the end. Peter doesn’t need to have his faults and failures held over him and neither do we. These will not motivate us in the long term, they are not what Jesus is about. Jesus wants to know that Peter loves him because it is love that will drive Peter on to ‘feed the sheep’, spread the good news and build the church. The other reason that Peter’s love was so critical is that Jesus tells Peter what kind of death he would suffer. Peter too would be crucified. It is only love for Jesus that would compel Peter to follow through with us. Peter is then invited to ‘follow me’ by Jesus.

Where does that leave us this morning? Not every encounter with Jesus is dramatic like Paul’s although I know many people who have had dramatic ‘Damascus’ like encounters. Equally I know many people who have not but still know that they have encountered the risen Jesus. Maybe like Peter, Jesus came alongside them in a moment of quiet. It wasn’t an easy quiet though.

That encounter on the beach that morning changed the course of Peter’s life and the lives of the disciples with him even if they didn’t know it at the time. No more fishing nets for them.

The good news for us in the weeks after Easter is that Jesus still meets us where we are at too. He is not afraid of our Thomas-like doubts, our sincerely held but sincerely wrong beliefs like Paul or our Peter-esque denials. If we want to work on our theological and spiritual renewal, then we need to set some time aside to think and reflect, contemplate, read or study, whatever you want to call it, our understanding of the resurrection and where Jesus might want to be meeting us. All we need to do is ask.

Easter 1: Thomas


St Thomas

Acts 5:27-32
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred
open the doors of our hearts today.
Help us when we are slow to believe, bring us to a place where we can say, ‘My Lord and my God’,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

The tomb is empty, Christ is risen, death has been defeated, love wins, we are a resurrection people, nothing on earth will ever be the same again.
That was last week! Right?

But this week…the Easter lilies are wilting, the chocolate has been eaten, the eggs have been found, it feels wrong to eat hot cross buns and the rest of the world has moved on. Welcome to the Week After.
Now what? Where do we go from here?

Fortunately, in the church we have a few weeks to contemplate the events of Easter, meet the people who were there and see the effects that Jesus’ resurrection had on them and the rest of the world for the last 2000 years.
The Gospel for the first Sunday after Easter traditionally features the story of Thomas. I find Thomas to be a rather interesting character. There is very little mention of him in the gospels; he first appears as a name on the list of the chosen disciples. There is no information about what he did for a job, where he came from or his family, only that he was a twin. Thomas is usually portrayed as the dogged disciple, often accused of being slow on the uptake, the doubter. Poor Thomas. Many a sermon has been preached as a warning to not be like Thomas. Thomas the 50% believer; the one who needed everything proved and crystal clear before he could believe.

Don’t doubt just believe! So easy! Sure if you don’t want to think too hard about anything. We live in an age where doubt has become the predominant form of belief. Fake news, fake images, filters to make photos look better, everything needing to be verified due to a lack of trust. There is so much more government legislation now than at any other time in history due to a breakdown in trust.

Daily we put ourselves in a high number of situations that we should doubt more than do. We doubt both what we see and what we don’t see.
I think there is another side to Thomas; he needs another look in. Maybe Thomas was the disciple who was asking the questions that everybody had but didn’t want to ask out loud. Before his comments that made him the poster-boy of doubt for all eternity, Thomas is quoted on two other occasions.

The first is found in John 11 as the news of Lazarus’ illness reached Jesus and the disciples. The authorities are looking for Jesus and it was dangerous for him to be travelling around. The disciples are trying to dissuade Jesus from going to be with Lazarus, Mary & Martha; Jesus is not concerned with the threats to his life. In the middle of this Thomas declares, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’. The other disciples were ready to run the other way but not Thomas, he was prepared to go to the wire with Jesus. This doesn’t sound like a man who doubts. Maybe Thomas was the disciple who didn’t say much but when he did everyone else listened? Know anyone like that?

The second account is in John 14. Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he is going to leave them. The chapter starts with the reassuring words ‘do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house…’ Jesus is explaining where is going and what he is going to do there; he also tells the disciples that they know the way. It is Thomas who says, ‘we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?!’

Jesus responds to Thomas with some of the most beautiful words ever to fall from his mouth. Jesus tells Thomas ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Thomas has been told; he has seen the Father in the Son.

So where was he on the evening of that first day of that week when Jesus appeared? The news of the resurrection was fresh and raw, the disciples were living in fear of the Jews and had locked themselves away. As we know the end of the story, their confusion and grief can often escape us. Maybe it was all a bit too much for Thomas? Some people stay away and hide when life gets tough. The disciples were together but Thomas was not with them.

That following week must have been torture for Thomas. The disciples had received the Holy Spirit (a whole sermon on its own for another day!) and were in much better moods! I am sure we have all had to miss events due to circumstances. Then those who did attend the event talk incessantly about it, down to every last detail, the play by play of every moment. And no matter the minutia of detail – you still weren’t there!

It would be reasonable to believe that Thomas became more entrenched in his declaration to see the nail marks and the side wound. Jesus returns again. This time just for Thomas. Thomas, the one who doesn’t get much mention, says a couple of brilliant things that we know about, was there through it all and then disappeared in grief and confusion. In a moment in the presence of Jesus, Thomas’ excuses and defences are dropped. Jesus invites Thomas to put his fingers in his hands and on his side.

The text doesn’t say if he did or not. All it gives us is Thomas’ verbal reply of ‘My Lord and my God.’ In this moment, Jesus firmly but gently reminds Thomas that he believes because he has seen (at least twice). Thomas is responsible for the blessing that the whole rest of the world gets for not seeing and yet believing.

I want to finish off with a final observation:
Thomas was part of a community where he openly voices his doubt. Like I said, Thomas has been portrayed negatively as the doubter, one of weak faith, the cynic, the holdout. These are often seen as spiritual flaws. I don’t see Thomas as weak, I see him as a man who wanted a living encounter with Jesus. Thomas wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection but wanted his own. Thomas was willing to admit his uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. This is bravery.

How does this community respond to doubt? Is this a place where they can be shared openly without fear of judgement or silencing?

When Jesus’ wounds met Thomas’ doubts, new life erupted. In Acts 5 the apostles are performing miraculous signs and wonders among the people of Jerusalem, people were believing in Jesus and being healed. I wonder how many times Thomas told people ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed?’

What happened to Thomas? Tradition holds that when the apostles were dispersed after Pentecost, Thomas was sent to evangelise the Parthians, Medes and Persians before he ultimately reached the Malabar coast of southwest India. There is a large native population there calling themselves ‘Christians of St Thomas.’ Unlike most of the other disciples/apostles who were killed for their faith in quite gory ways, it is thought that Thomas was killed in a tragic peacock hunting accident when the hunter missed the bird and hit Thomas instead.
This is not a man of weakness but rather one we can learn from, even if uncomfortably. The things that make Thomas seem weak or doubtful are what makes him strong, his willingness to press on and ask the questions that others won’t. Thomas shares his doubts willingly and Jesus responds and meets him where he is at.

The good news for us the week after Easter is that Jesus still meets us where we are at too. He is not afraid of our doubts, our wavering or our slowness. We, like Thomas, can hope for more. So let’s.

Lent 3: Comfort & Discomfort in the Asking

March 20th, 2022

Isaiah 55:1-9

Luke 13:1-9

Luke 13:1-9

As it is Lent, I need to start with a confession this morning. Sermon writing this week was a challenge! I have never preached on this passage on Luke, I didn’t really understand what it was about and my great temptation was to go lightly on it and emphasise Isaiah because it is so lovely and comforting. However much I delayed and tried to do it this way, my thoughts were directed elsewhere.

What is happening here? Jesus has been given some shocking news. Pontius Pilate had ordered the slaughter of a group of Jews from Galilee. He had then had their blood taken and mixed with the blood of the sacrificial lambs.
Lives have been lost and sacred religious practice has been desecrated.
The next bit of news is that a tower has collapsed and killed 18 people. The bearers of this bad news want to know why. Why did these things happen? Why is there so much pain in the world? Why does God let suffering happen?
These are the same questions that many people are asking now in light of the situation in Ukraine. We feel small, helpless and even hopeless in the face of so much suffering. We may take our questions and prayers to God and seek an answer to our whys.

Jesus, however, does not give a direct answer. Instead, there is a short parable about cutting down a dying tree. Why this?

What does this have to do with people being senselessly killed?! Jesus is looking for a different question. A direct, clean answer will not help the situation. We do live in a world where suffering exists, is unavoidable and likely will be until Jesus comes again. We want a theory to explain why bad things happen. We can’t stop asking the question every time something happens. So often we are left wanting.

Any answers that we get, hold us apart from those who are suffering, take us away from communal humanity, keeping our distance to shield ourselves.
Jesus challenges the assumptions of those who came to him that day as he continues to challenge ours. He tells the listeners to ‘repent’ before it is too late.

Debie Thomas, ‘When Jesus challenges his listeners’ assumptions and tells them to “repent” before it’s too late, I think part of what he’s saying is this: any question that allows us to keep a sanitised distance from the mystery and reality of another person’s pain is a question we need to un-ask.’

Jesus then tells the parable of the man and his fig tree. There are three characters in this story who need to be considered. First is the man who planted the fig tree and then stood back from it. He only came to look for the fruit, he had no part in the care of that tree. It didn’t give him what he wanted, so he demanded that it be cut down. How often do I stand apart from a situation, giving only my judgement that I am in no position to make? Do I call it quits too early in situations?

Second is the fig tree. It has been planted but seems unable to produce any fruit. Is it undernourished? Am I helpless or hopeless, ignored or dismissed? How can I come back to life?

Third there is the gardener. He defends the tree, pleads for another year of life for it. He is willing to go the distance, put in the work even when a positive outcome is not guaranteed? Will I give up love, time and effort for someone else? Why is not a life-giving question and Jesus knows this.

This is where Isaiah is helpful. Chapter 55 is the end of the second major section in the book of Isaiah, which up to this point has been the prophecy for the people of Israel before, during and after their exile to Babylon.
This section of Isaiah (ch 40-55) is dominated by the theme of salvation through suffering, known as the Servant Songs. Christians have long identified the suffering servant with Jesus as there are many NT references connected to this portion of Isaiah. In Ch. 55, an invitation to the whole world into the new world is extended. ‘All you/(everyone) who are thirsty’ brings before us the worldwide consequences of the Servant’s work.
What is on offer?

First on offer is free provision for every need (v1-2) through three invitations.
Come to the waters – water is essential for life, we die without it. There is a life-threatening need and an abundant supply. This first provision is for survival both physical and spiritual.

The second invitation, come, buy and eat is extended to the one who has no money and highlights inability and helplessness. We know that we can’t buy anything without money; and nothing can be had without payment – someone, somewhere along the line has paid. The implication here is that the suffering servant has paid the price.

The third invitation, come, but wine and milk, without money, stresses the richness of the provision: not just the water of bare necessity but the wine and milk of luxurious satisfaction. God is the god of luxury, of lavishness. We are to seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him when he is near. We have come to the fundamental issues in the next few verses of Isaiah. So far it has been come, come, come, listen, listen and now the full meaning of come and listen is found in the call to seek, call, forsake, turn. There is an urgency to the message of Gospel.

Seek here doesn’t mean to look for something that is lost, it means to come to the place where the Lord is to be found. Jesus is calling us to repentance now.
Forsake and turn speak of true repentance, turning from and turning to. In turning to the Lord, he will have mercy, he will abundantly (theme of luxury) pardon.

Debie Thomas, ‘Why hasn’t the fig tree produced fruit yet? Um, here’s the manure, and here’s a spade — get to work. Why do terrible, painful, completely unfair things happen in this world? Um, go weep with someone who’s weeping. Go fight for the justice you long to see. Go confront evil where it needs confronting. Go learn the art of patient, hope-filled tending. Go cultivate beautiful things. Go look your own sin in the eye and repent of it while you can.’

Church & State: Buckinghamshire Council Civic Service

It was a great privilege to host the annual Buckinghamshire Council Civic Service this morning in St Mary’s, Hambleden.

The Visitation, Holy Family Catholic Church

Buckinghamshire County Council Address
Luke 1:39-56
Surah 19 – Maryam
The Visitation by Malcolm Guite


Again it is a privilege to welcome everyone to the Hambleden Valley this morning.

Civic Services such as this are somewhat niche as Church and State come together to share time and space, to give thanks both collectively and as individuals, and to celebrate all that we hold in common.

Civic life and the council services provided offer a stable foundation for communities (both large and small) to grow and flourish. This life often involves the things that we take for granted and do not give much thought to. We simply expect them to be there when we need them to be. The same is largely true of the Church. It is usually when we do not meet expectations (real or imagined) that we get attention!

A life of service, whether that is national, civic or religious, is not an easy one. The work is hard and the tangible rewards can be few. Why and how do we do this? I will suggest that to live a service-orientated life, we need to take a view that is both short and long term.

I have recently returned from my hometown of Cochrane, just outside of Calgary, Canada. Growing up both my parents were involved in local politics and at different times served on the town council and its various committees. Civic duty and responsibility were ingrained at a young age. I was reflecting on this service while I was there and thought about who would be here today.

I looked around Cochrane and recalled the projects that my parents had been involved with. Planning permission, building applications, sewage treatment, dog bylaws, pothole repair, working with the local RCMP, fire & ambulance services, rubbish collection and the myriad of things you have to do to get things done. Around the dinner table, these things at times, seemed insurmountable and also rather dull. At least to a child!

However, a few decades on, there is now evidence of what was worked so hard at then. Housing developments that started as a few houses in a field are now established communities, the new library is not so new, the sports complex is booming and expanding. The industrial site in the middle of town has been cleaned up. A second bridge across the Bow River finally got built – if ever there was to be a miracle in Cochrane, this is it! None of this happened quickly but with the dedication, perseverance and vision of people who wanted something better. Please be encouraged in what you are doing, play the long game.

The recent events in the Ukraine also played into my thoughts about today. Cities, towns, villages and infrastructure being destroyed needlessly; the work and legacy of people like you, coming down in a heap of rubble. It is heartbreaking. Not only the physical structures but the work of people to put them up in the first place, the planning and vision that was required. How ever do you start again? Where? When?

The question that materialised was: If it all comes down tomorrow – what is left?


That is what is left. Everything you do in your civic life, job, the work of the government, council, the police, the RAF is for people. I read a quote from President Zelensky’s inaugural address in 2019 where he told lawmakers: ‘I do not want my picture in your offices: the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photo instead, and look at them each time you make a decision.’

The chosen readings for this morning have a similar thread running through them. They are about love and relationships between people and family. We have the same characters portrayed from different angles; younger and older, different generations with similar issues (unplanned pregnancies) all coming together to love and support each other.

Mary is 14-ish and pregnant. Elizabeth is well – old and pregnant. Both in impossible situations; socially and medically this is a nightmare. The men of the story are absent: Zechariah is mute at this point, the result of his earlier disbelief at the news that his wife Elizabeth would have a baby in her advanced age. Joseph was at home, likely considering whether to jump ship (or not) on Mary. There are also the babies and at least one of them, John (who would become John the Baptist) is leaping in his mother’s womb. It was at the voice of Mary’s greeting and being in the presence of Jesus that made unborn baby John leap in this well-known story of Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting.

Mary has gone in haste to see Elizabeth after Gabriel has appeared to her with some shocking news. I think that haste is a good word – it means ‘excessive speed, urgency of movement or action; hurry’. We often say ‘don’t be hasty’ when cautioning others (generally not ourselves) about making decisions too quickly. Haste is probably not a word bandied about in the County Council offices or Westminster! TVP and the RAF likely have a better idea about haste.

Mary has good reason to go in haste to see her cousin Elizabeth. She was probably terrified, anxious, unsure. When she arrives at her cousins’ home and goes into the house, Mary receives the most wonderful response to her greeting. Elizabeth too is overwhelmed in that moment, not in fear but in humility and kindness.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had played the long game in life, they are noted for their right living before God by following blamelessly his commandments. Zechariah was a faithful priest, who was carrying out his duties, getting on with it. Then one day his prayer was answered, a child would be coming. They had to wait their whole lives for this. We are so impatient, attention spans are getting shorter, fuses are faster to blow. Yet in Zechariah and Elizabeth we see them receive the reward, the blessing of faithfulness and integrity.

Young Mary set off from home in haste and found refuge, love and kindness in the home of her caring cousins. This is more short-term. Mary, unsure of what to do, went to the people that she could count on to help her. Elizabeth was able to confirm what Mary had been told by the angel Gabriel (come back at Christmas for the rest of that story!) Mary’s response is the beautiful song The Magnificat in which she proclaims the greatness, faithfulness and goodness of God. God is our ever present help in times of trouble. Sometimes we need some reminding that God looks on us with favour; even when circumstances don’t look like it or we don’t feel it. Like Elizabeth and Mary we need humility and faith that God will act.

So friends, as you go from here today, God bless you in the work that you do. Play the long game in all things, your work matters even if you can’t yet see the results. Show love and kindness in the short-term. Do all things in humility and kindness for the imperfect human beings that you serve. Remember God’s favour and his great love for you.

3rd Before Lent: Living Between Blessings & Woes

Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6)


Proper 2

Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. This week’s Gospel in a nutshell.

What are we supposed to do with this?! Those of us who are comfortable and privileged may want to question what Jesus means, maybe edit or rationalise until we can tolerate what is being said. We may prefer Matthew’s Beatitudes over Luke’s plain speaking about actual hunger, thirst and poverty; material issues over spiritual. If we want to know where God’s heart is and who receives blessing then we need to to look to the poor, the wretched and reviled.

From the essayist Debie Thomas, ‘So, again. What should we do with this Gospel? Wallow in guilt? Romanticise poverty? Avoid happiness? I don’t think so. The very fact that Jesus prefaces this hard teaching by alleviating suffering in every way possible suggests that he doesn’t valorize misery for its own sake. Pain in and of itself is neither holy nor redemptive in the Christian story, and in fact, Jesus’s ministry is all about healing, abundance, liberation, and joy.’

It is helpful to hold that we are not being told how to behave or think; Jesus is telling his audience simply how it is going to be. Also, every blessing and every woe is addressed to every person. This is very much a human pattern and where we live – between woes and blessings. We invite blessing when we are hungry and weak and mourning. We invite woe when we are prideful, forgetful and distance ourselves from God.

Wherever we put ourselves between blessing and woe, God is faithful and can be trusted. Trust happens to be a golden thread that runs through our readings this morning.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s message was that he wanted his people to trust him alone. No other gods, idols or even humans could replace him. So determined is God to have their trust – he is prepared to curse those who trust in ‘mere mortals and make human strength their only strength.’ Over time the Jewish people had gradually come to trust in other things, in themselves, in novel religious rituals, in wealth. Basically anything but God and they are paying a terrible price.

People like these live ‘like a shrub in the desert.’ There is no water, nothing to feed them. They won’t see relief when it comes. Think about for a moment when you are hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction? Can you think clearly? Living like this means a life of constant worry, anxiety and inability to focus on anything other than survival.

Jeremiah uses water as the image of God. God is as essential to life as water is, and to choose to live without him is as dumb as it would be to choose to live without water. Instead of being cursed, those who ‘trust in the Lord are blessed, like trees planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.’ These people are constantly being fed and watered by the stream that is God. They don’t have to fear and be anxious when things get difficult; they bear fruit always. They knew where their roots were; by the stream, planted by the water that is God. Can we check our root system today?

The message of the Gospel is where we need to put our trust. Sometimes it is a hard message but first and foremost it is about love. The love between God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all equal parts. This is the love that we are invited into, that we were created for.

Both Luke and Jeremiah have messages of woe and blessing. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. Again this is about trust. What is our trust in? Being rich, full and popular? These are good if used in the right way, not to be taken lightly or misused for our own personal gain. Woe to you if this is what your trust is in.

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why are they blessed? God’s favour falls on those who have nothing to fall back on – no pension, no credit line, no NHS, no social care, no credit card.

Jesus is standing with people who are hungry to benefit from the power that streams from him, and he announces through his healings and his words that God cares for the poor, the hungry and the suffering. The power of God is a power that is used to comfort and renew. It is the power of the cross and resurrection.

Where then is our trust today? Maybe in light of what has happened it has been shaken – but that doesn’t mean that God’s power is less. Ever so fortunately, God’s power and love is not conditional or contingent on how we might be feeling in a particular moment. There is no better alternative to his power. Until we are powerless ourselves; we cannot truly understand his power. Find your roots again today and stay close to the waters where fear and anxiety are taken away.

Debie Thomas, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why? Because you have everything to look forward to. Because the Kingdom of God is yours. Because Jesus came, and comes still, to fill the empty-handed with good things.
May the God who gives and takes away, offers comfort and challenge, grant us the grace to sit with woe, and learn the meaning of blessing.’