Advent 2: Prophets

Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.

I love the season of Advent. I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent, big wreaths and candles in the church, special prayers and calendars at home all made for a growing sense of anticipation for Christmas. Marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialisation of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today.

If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means, then how can we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others? The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. This focus gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem.

Within these two main sections there are further identifiable sections. Ch 1-12 (where we are this morning) is characterised by prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem which alternate between judgement and salvation.

The line of David had been devastated during the exile and many people had no hope of restoration. Isaiah is prophesying that a new shoot will spring up. The shoot will be in the form of a Davidic king who will bring a new age of righteousness and justice for Judah. Hope is on the horizon! Isaiah’s prophecy is telling the people of Israel what kind of person to look out for and what kind of changes to see in the world. The King is coming!

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation. Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land.

The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This does not sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John the Baptist bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John also wants us to prepare spiritually for this coming. There are two things, according to John, that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, it’s been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like, what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread? Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path. I have taken the long way around! I vividly remember a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’

Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. We also need to clear that path of debris; this can be anything that stands in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully.

There are ways that we can make a beaten path. I will suggest two that I came across from a friend’s blog reflection on preparing spiritually for Christmas.

Firstly, meditate on the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus.

Ali in her blog writes: ‘My friend recently confessed that growing up in a Christian home, she has never really understood the depth of her need for a Saviour.

Another friend, after battling addiction for years, knows and relies daily on her desperate need for a Saviour, the very giver of her sanity, health and life. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.’

I know that I need to deepen my awareness of God in areas of my life. It is embarrassing how short my memory can be sometimes.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

My friend Ali again in her blog, ‘This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination).

Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong. Yet if we don’t get serious about stopping sin we cheapen forgiveness. It becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Remembrance Sunday 2022

Remembrance Sunday – Hambleden
10:50 am

1 John 3: 16-23
Moina Michael’s Poem ‘We Shall Keep the Faith’

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

The British Legion’s theme for Remembrance this year is focused on service through commemorating military and civilian service through a variety of anniversaries and events. The Legion writes, ‘Service, the act of defending and protecting the nation’s democratic freedoms and way of life, is rarely without cost for those who serve. Physical, mental or emotional injury or trauma; the absence of time with family; or the pressures and dangers that come from serving, highlight why the Remembrance of service is so important.’
The anniversaries and events being remembered include the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, the 78th anniversary of D-Day, as well as Commonwealth Day, South Asian Heritage Month and Black History Month. Each of these events highlight the service of people who are often overlooked and whose stories are not told. However, their service is commendable and needs to be recognised. None of us have a monopoly on service.

I wonder what your first experience of community or public service was beyond your family? Mine came through the Guiding movement; and as a good Canadian Brownie and Girl Guide, I spent many a November 11th shivering in my uniform at the local Cenotaph. November can be a rather frigid month in Alberta! It had to be a full-on blizzard with sub-arctic temperatures (hell would have to freeze over first) before any consideration would be given to moving indoors. Those old Canadian Legion members were a tough bunch!

I remember thinking about what was happening on Remembrance Day in other countries and feeling that somehow the world was joined on that day. And it is.
It is important to consider the cost of service, the cost to those who serve and the cost to those who support those who serve. Although the cost is often high, it is undervalued. Some pay the ultimate price and that is what we, of course, remember today. We should not discount the service of others in current times such as military and civilian service during Covid.

This past summer I had a very interesting conversation with a young, serving (3 years in) officer in the British Army who was a wedding guest here. I asked him about the current state of the army. He started by telling me about the ‘civil’ work that the forces have been undertaking. He told me about his driving NHS ambulances in Manchester during Covid and relief work in areas of the country that experienced terrible flooding.

His pride in these jobs was evident. He acknowledged that some members of the public felt this is not what the armed services should be doing. However, he pointed out that 20-30 years ago, almost everyone would know someone in the armed services but this is no longer the case. The majority of people now do not know anyone in the forces given the reduction in the number of serving personnel. His view is that the public seeing the army serving the nation is actually a good thing. There is also a very low public appetite for sending personnel into active combat.

There has been a change in societal attitudes to service, both civilian and military. Government spending cuts, the rise of social media, the pursuit of one’s personal comfort and convenience over the collective good have all contributed. Covid can be partially to blame as everything stopped. But activities/events have restarted but many volunteers, those who serve, have not come back. There are many good reasons for this and I am not seeking to blame or guilt anyone into service. Let us be honest about the changes and seek to find solutions rather than only lament.

Moina Michael’s poem ‘We Shall Keep the Faith’ is a beautiful response to John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’. Just as an aside: you probably know McCrae was a Canadian soldier, doctor and poet and there is a strong national sense of pride towards him. As a Canadian, you cannot leave primary school until you have memorised this poem, given a public recitation while demonstrating correct punctuation usage.

Anyway, Moina Michaels came across ‘In Flanders Fields’ in 1918 and hastily wrote this response on the back of an envelope. She was not the only one to pen a reply to the McCrae poem. A quick Google search and many others can be found. Her words still present a challenge to us. If we do not want the past to be forgotten and this day to fall off the calendar; have we caught the torch that they threw? Have we cherished the poppy red? Have future generations been taught the lessons that ye wrought?

Why do people serve? Think of a few words or phrases about the why.

Loyalty, commitment, purpose, meaning, desire to help or care for others, sense of justice, the greater good. Love.

How do we respond to those who serve? Admiration, respect, awe, but above all I would hope with love.

This is what St John is trying to get across in his three letters at the end of the New Testament. John is thought to have written his letters as a very old man not long before his death. The end of John’s life was hard. All of his friends (including Jesus) had been killed or crucified in horrendous ways; he was probably present at their deaths. John had been exiled to the Greek island of Patmos under extreme conditions. John had dedicated his life to the service of others by telling the Good News of Jesus and was now being punished for it. Despite the hardships, pain and grief, at the end of his life John knows that it is love that got him through. He was extraordinarily dedicated to his cause (as many people can be), his passion is evident in his writings. And at the end, it was all done for love. Love for God and God’s love for John.

As we remember again today those who have died in the theatre of war, we can be reassured that because of the resurrection of Jesus, it wasn’t for nothing. The love, the life, the sharing of burden and suffering, the service required to work together for a greater good is not lost in death.

I want to finish with some words from Sue Ryder. There is a great connection between Sue Ryder and the Hambleden Valley which is St Katharine’s Parmoor.
Sue Ryder lived a life of service both in this country and in Europe. She joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1940 before being ordered to report to the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive in London to work on secret operations for the remainder of the war. Sue was a teenage girl working with men and women who knew they faced grave danger and possibly death.

It was the courage and service of these people that would inspire Sue, not only during the war, but in the following decades as she sought to catch the torch they threw. Sue Ryder spent the rest of her life perpetuating their memories and honouring their sacrifices with her work.

In old age she wrote: ‘I am conscious of my own immortality, and that whatever we do, does count, not only here and now but in that great future for which we have all been created. It may sometimes be that we are given that certain opportunity only once and if we fail to respond it will not be given to us again. But if we seize the opportunity, even if we should not succeed in achieving our goal, the effort involved can be offered up to God who is our judge and who is able to turn every defeat into victory.’
(Sue Ryder: A Life Lived for Others, Joanna Bogle (pg. 100))

We need to tell the stories and keep the memories alive as a warning to present and future generations to avoid the mistakes of the past. Catch the torch that was thrown and throw it forward! Prepare the next generation to catch it. Continue to cherish the poppy red. It is one of the greatest acts of service we can undertake. Do it for love.

Trinity 17: Giving Thanks


2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

The weekend, the second in October, is one of my favourites of the year. It is Canadian Thanksgiving! Tomorrow is a national holiday in Canada; we don’t watch football or go shopping like our neighbours to the south. It tends to be more of a family time, the weather is generally nice so time can be spent outdoors before indulging in large turkey dinners and pumpkin-based desserts.

My family will all be gathering to do just this today and tomorrow. We have the tradition of going around the table (at the insistence of my Mother) so each person can say what they are thankful for. I think that there is something around this time of year, around harvest, that reminds us again of the need to be thankful. To reflect on the words ‘thank you’ whether that is to God or to those around us who may need to know of our thankfulness to them. There is certainly no shortage!

We have two responses to giving and receiving thanks this morning in the OT and the Gospel readings.

The story of Naaman in 2nd Kings is fascinating. There is a lot going on in it. Naaman is a commander of the Aramean army, he was a great man and in high favour with the king. He also suffered from leprosy. Leprosy would have been seen as a sign of God’s judgement in the days before medical microbiology and understanding of bacterial infections. It was a source of great shame and uncleanness. However Namaan was not shunned or made to live apart from society, let alone hold a high position. Maybe because he was deemed to be more important than other people?

He does, however, need help. The help that Naaman needs comes from an unlikely source; a young girl taken captive to serve his wife. Was she thanked for what she did? She likely took a big risk in speaking up in the first place; seeking to help the very person who had taken her into captivity. Maybe Naaman and his wife were a really lovely couple who showed kindness to this girl to the point that she felt comfortable speaking up. She was obviously convincing as her suggestion was taken seriously. Potentially out of desperation yet acted upon.

Sometimes help comes from the unlikeliest people. Are we aware of where our help comes from? Yes, it comes from God; thinking of Psalm 121.
However, God more often than not uses unlikely people to bring the help that we need. They, along with God, need to be thanked!

In the Gospel story of the 10 lepers, are we to be surprised by the one who returns to say thank you or the nine who don’t.

Which surprises you more?

The 10 lepers are clearly the outcasts of society. They kept their distance when Jesus came near to them as they had to call out to get the attention of Jesus. These ten had to live within the rules that had been imposed on them. On the surface they don’t have much to be thankful for. As a group they would have been instantly recognisable. Independently they would have been even more isolated and in greater danger. Maybe living the life they did had worn them down, made them suspicious, lacking trust and had given up on anyone caring about them.

Then they encounter Jesus and call out for mercy. There is no indication of how physically close Jesus came to them or if he even touched them. In fact, Jesus sent them away. They had to go and show themselves to the local priest to be declared clean. It was as they went away that they were made clean. I cannot begin to imagine the shock, the excitement, the overwhelming emotion that must have occurred when the ten realised they had been healed.

Maybe the nine didn’t go back because they were so eager to be declared clean and go home to their families that they simply did not think to go back and look for Jesus. But one did. Perhaps he had a greater need for gratitude. Luke doesn’t say that the other 9 were any less cured, but he is suggesting that they were less grateful. There is a message here for all of us who fail to thank God ‘always and for everything’ as Paul puts it. We can know with our heads, if we have any Christian faith at all, that it is God who gives us everything.

Every mouthful of food, every breath of air, glass of water or wine, every smile on every face and a billion other things. This runs counter in the world where too many people assume that they have an absolute right to health, happiness and every comfort imaginable. When we think like this, we easily lose any sense of thanks as it is replaced with entitlement. What is the antidote? Being thankful.

Naaman and the 10 lepers were given new life. The word for ‘get up’ used by Jesus at the end of the reading has to do with resurrection. The man who came back ‘was dead and is alive again’. New life had come through Jesus. Naaman recognised that he had been healed and he returned to Elisha to offer thanks and gratitude to God.

We also need to remember to thank the vehicles, the vessels, the flawed but beautiful people who He uses to help and assist us. Let’s also not forget that God uses us to help and heal the people around us. We need to accept thanks with grace and gladness and then return it to The One who gives us a new life.

The temptation can be to become very self-effacing; no need to thank me, etc. Actually accept it. God graciously receives our thanksgiving; we should be able to accept the thanksgiving of others. It is right to be mindful of our attitudes and motivations (doing something solely to be thanked isn’t great). If we have done something that another person feels is worthy of thanks and offers it; then we should accept it graciously.

The giving and receiving of thanksgiving all comes from God. We are kidding only ourselves if we think it does not. He is the one who we need to thank and keep on thanking for every good and perfect gift that comes from above.

Harvest Sunday: Jesus the Bread of Life


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
John 6:25-35

Happy Harvest Sunday!

There is no more fooling ourselves – the season is changing! Anyone else got the heating on? Have you noticed more yellow, red and orange leaves than you might want to? The children are back at school and hopefully settled in. I think that there is more change in the autumn season than at New Year. This is the time of year when most changes happen; new things/activities start. The party might be better when the calendar changes, but the change is less. Now is the time to make resolutions!

It may feel difficult to ‘celebrate’ given these recent events but also after the summer we have had. The heat waves and lack of rain that damaged our crops locally, nationally and internationally. The anticipated lack of food in many parts of the world from the war in Ukraine and floods in Pakistan. The impact of this can feel very close to home and worlds away. Harvest this year feels somehow more poignant; there is a maybe a deeper need to be thankful for what we have.

We remember the farmers at this time of harvest and think about where our food comes from. We remember those who do not have as much as we do. We support both One Can Trust and Community Matters with donations of needed items or financially.

Remembrance, thanksgiving and action are very much part of harvest; they are also very much part of any season of change. There is a theme of change running through the readings this morning.

In the final section of Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the Israelites for their move into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey by giving them some guidelines for life there. The Israelites were to remember what God had done for them when he freed them from Egypt. In return they were to give some of the first fruits of the ground, the harvest and give them back to God. They were his anyway!

Change was coming for Israel; the big move was ahead of them. They were not to forget about God. It’s so easy to do that isn’t it? When a lot of change comes all at once, we can forget that God doesn’t change and is always with us. God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
When we are faced with change, we should be thankful, remember who knows what that change will bring. Even if we can’t see it or understand it – God does.

We know that the Gospel changes things! When people know the Good News of Jesus, lives change, families change and most importantly eternities are changed. The Gospel will bring change.

We are transplanted this week out of Luke and back into John; right into the middle of an interesting chapter too. John 6 starts with the feeding of the 5000 by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish brought by a small boy. Later that same day Jesus walked on the water and calmed the wind.

Our reading this morning happened the next day; Jesus and the disciples are being stalked by the crowds who want more from them. The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was likely the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with loaves and fishes. They are back today for more. Jesus knows why they are following him, and he calls them out, ‘Hey guys – you are not following me because of the signs but because your bellies were filled yesterday!’ They clearly saw the sign; the loaves & fishes multiplied but they missed what it signified. The Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life.

Jesus came to change people’s minds. He is starting by trying to change the crowd’s understanding of who He is and what He does. Jesus came to give us a different perspective, to see beyond what is right in front of us. Jesus then tells them ‘do not work for the food that spoils, perishes – but the food that lasts for eternal life – which the Son of Man will give you.’

The crowd does not quite get it again. They ask Jesus what they have to do: what work, activity does God require in exchange for more bread? Tell us and we will do it. Jesus’ answer startles them, and it should startle us a bit too or at least remind us. ‘This is the work of God – that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

The crowd, sticking to its original demand, still wants another sign! They are bringing up the past, their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects their history; it wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread; it was God. They want physical feeding and Jesus is offering them spiritual food, the bread of heaven that gives life to the world – that is Jesus himself. This is better bread!

Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life. Those that come to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. What do we think about when Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’?

Is Jesus the bread of our life?

The crowd still think they will be physically fed. This is not what Jesus means. Of course, they needed physical food as we all do. I think what Jesus is talking about here is our priorities. Do we need to be eating different bread? We can be distracted by many different types of bread.

The next time you are in a grocery store, take a slow walk down the bread aisle as a metaphorical exercise. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available; shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains. Danish, French, Italian. It was really quite overwhelming!

I also found some fun bread facts:

*According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK.
*99% of households buy bread.
*Men eat more bread than women.
*44% of men eat bread twice a day – only 25% of women do.
*White bread accounts for 76% of all bread sold in the UK.
*About 200 different types of bread are made here
*Sandwiches account for about 50% of bread consumption
*People in the UK spend about £3.6 billion pounds/year on bakery items, mostly bread

However, there is really only one bread that we need. Jesus the bread of life. He will take away the core emptiness that we all have. We will need to feed on him, be dependent on Him for everything we need. We need to go to Him daily, hourly – sometimes minute by minute. If we harvest from Him by learning from him, receiving from him, hearing and seeing Him. Taking up what is offered to us we will not be hungry.

How is the harvest looking today? Are we harvesting the right things? Eating the right bread or is it mouldy? Sometimes we can be harvesting in the wrong fields! Collecting rotten produce? Maybe we are trying to harvest in a field that is barren?

Are we celebrating a harvest that does not last? Working for bread that cannot and will not satisfy? As we celebrate harvest today it is right to give thanks for the material goods that we have; for food, clothes, homes, beds, clean water, gas, electricity and the means to pay for it all.

In this season of change, there is much to be thankful for. Even if you can’t see it or understand it. Let Jesus guide you in the changes of this life. He is the real bread, feed on him. If you want the real harvest then let Jesus be the bread of your life.

Trinity 15: Life That is Really Life

September 25, 2022 – St Mary’s Turville & Hambleden

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

It is probably something of an underestimation to comment that the impact of these past 2 weeks have brought up so much emotion; especially bereavement and grief for many people. This is on top of the normal ‘everyday’ grief that many people carry around. I hope that it was comforting to watch the State Funeral at Westminster and Committal Service in Windsor. I was reminded that many of the words used for The Queen are used across the Church of England day in day, week by week in funeral services all over the country. There has been a spate of deaths in the parishes recently too.

Both of the readings this morning speak of death among other important topics. Paul’s letter to Timothy begins with the stark reminder that we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out. Paul then goes on to give instruction on how to live out the rest of our lives. We are urged to take hold of “the life that is really life’; beyond all the treasures and trappings of this life.

Luke’s Gospel reading does not make for the most comfortable reading in the best of times; let alone in a period of national mourning. We see in this reading there is a separation after death and not everyone ends up in the same place.
In this section of Luke there is an assortment of rather pointed parables designed to teach about stewardship of money, time and talents; the importance of forgiveness and faith, and the primacy of prayer in a disciple’s life. Time is short with Jesus; he knows this although the disciples don’t.

One of the examples is a rich man who held what seemed to be a godless view of wealth and righteousness. He has died and is being tormented in Hades. Hades in basic biblical terms is a subterranean underworld where souls of the dead went after death. Jesus is explaining that there is a chasm, a separation at the time of death between the wicked and the righteous dead.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that those who want to be rich will fall into temptation and will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires that ultimately plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is what appears to have happened here. The actor and comedian Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

Each of these readings, letter and parable, at their roots are about attitudes. Jesus was trying to teach that material possessions are a trust, on loan from God. They are to be used responsibly for the good of everyone. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the view of wealth as God’s blessing and poverty as God’s judgement. Maybe we feel this way too sometimes when we look at the culture and world around us.

How is our attitude to the Lazarus’ of our day? They are out there and not so far away.
-What goes through our heads:
-Is it their own fault?
-They have chosen to live like…?
-There are agencies to help?
-They should go and get a job?
-If I give money they will only spend it on drink or drugs?

It is clear that the rich man had ample opportunity to ‘do good’ to Lazarus as he sat in his front garden day in and day out. But he did not. The rich man comes to the end of his life and finds himself in a place of eternal punishment. Not because he did not help Lazarus but because he was lacking a relationship with God. This man’s love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. This is Paul again. The evil was selfishness.

At some point during the rich man’s torment he is able to lift his head and he sees Lazarus in a position of honour at Abraham’s side. A place that the rich man was no doubt used to occupying during his earthly life. What I am really interested in are the requests that the rich man makes of Abraham and the responses he is given. His first request shows that old habits die hard as he asks something for himself. Given his circumstances I don’t think that this is at all unreasonable!

We get a glimpse here of what it is to be judged by our own standards. The rich man was so shielded by his riches to the point where he could ignore Lazarus at the gate. He would have had servants to do the errands, he probably travelled in a carriage or on a horse, so he never noticed him. The rich man took no notice of Lazarus’ physical needs and now no notice is being taken of his.

The man’s second request shows greater awareness for others; as he is concerned for the eternal wellbeing of his five brothers. In Jesus’ time, tales of reversal of fortune in the next life were common. Jesus is not doing anything new here. However, in these tales, when someone asks to send a message back to people who are still alive on earth, permission is granted.

Jesus does not allow for that in this parable. This says something about the nature of death; it fixes our destiny and suggests there is no further opportunity for repentance. The response from Abraham to this second request is that ‘the brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man knows that his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets as they need a little more excitement or wow factor. Jesus suggests here that humanity is so sinful that it is unlikely even to listen to someone who returns from the dead in this manner.

What were the take home lessons then and now? There is an age to come and our attitudes and actions from this life will catch up with us. At the point of death there is no longer an opportunity to repent or make amends.

This leaves us in the present age! We must take seriously what Paul wrote to Timothy in the closing chapter of the letter: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Take hold of life that is really life. ‘

What is life that is really life for us? We know that this life ends in death. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell opened his sermon with the “For many of us in the United Kingdom, there were two people whose deaths we could never imagine. Our own and the Queen’s.” I suspect that many of us do not want to contemplate our own deaths. The alternative is to take hold of life, that is really life. Show generosity and love. Pursue righteousness, godliness and faith with endurance and gentleness. Not because it will save us from the torment of Hades but because God first loved us. Ultimately there is no fear in death when we place our trust in God.