Trinity 11: Crumbs

Trinity 11

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Matthew 15:21-28

How is everyone doing this morning? Let us check in with one another. Are you doing okay? Is anyone bothered by anything or anyone? I will spare you the list of things that could be potential bothers at the moment.

If you are in a state of bother, fear not! You are in good company with our Gospel reading as Jesus seems hot and bothered too. Bothered by travelling around, the Pharisees and scribes are on his case in an attempt to catch him out, the disciples are slow to understand, hungry crowds that keep following him around! And now a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter has turned up and is shouting the place down with her demands.

What is up with everyone?! A question we might be asking ourselves about others these days too. I want to focus on Jesus and the woman for a few minutes. I think that we see Jesus at a point in his ministry where he is trying to test his disciples in their reactions (one explanation for his response to this woman). We also see something of his humanity as Jesus comes to understand his own ministry more deeply as well as the frustrations that being human brings.

The woman is looking for some good news, some help and relief in a deeply troubling time. At the outset, she does not receive the welcome that one might expect from Jesus! Anybody else a little short of love and goodwill these days?
We are living in a world that is hungry for good news, maybe even starving for it. It seems like all the news is bad; wild fires threatening homes and livelihoods in many countries, the economy, the climate, migrants are washing up on our shores, students are struggling with their grades, racism and injustice blight far too many lives. Where is the good news?!

As Christians, we are to be the bearers of, not the hoarders of the good news of a God who loves and cares for us. In every situation, no matter how bad and terrible it seems, we must share the promise that God’s liberating, saving and reconciling power is available for all people, in all places, all the time. This is a hard calling. It is easy to proclaim it theoretically, much harder to live it out in real life, which is the exact place where it is needed most. I think that in this complex and often confusing Gospel reading, we can find some hope in working out the call to share the Good News.

Jesus, like us, seems to be working out his calling. Jesus and the disciples have been sharing the message mainly with the Jewish people. They were God’s chosen people from the beginning, and this does not change in the New Testament. Israel had to hear the message first. Along the way, other people like the Roman Centurion, the Samaritan woman at the well, hear the message of Jesus too. The future is breaking into the present and it seems to take Jesus by surprise.

I wonder how this poor mother heard about Jesus. The news of Jesus was spreading. Who told her about Jesus? Maybe someone who had been at the feeding of the 5000? Or at the Sermon on the Mount had told her and the neighbours about this Jesus? Clearly this woman has heard about Jesus even though she is a Canaanite – a Gentile, an outsider to the good news. Whatever she had heard obviously had made a deep impression and gave her some level of faith.

Jesus’ first response is silence and then when the disciples urged him to send her packing, Jesus refused to help her. She does all the right things, she addresses Jesus by his Messianic or Jewish title – ‘Son of David’ – so she acknowledges his Jewishness. When he finally does answer – it seems harsh. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’

It helps to remember that Matthew is the most Jewish of the four Gospels and he is trying to get his first readers – Jewish Christians to know and believe that Jesus really is the Messiah they have been waiting for. Jesus is trying to explain that he came for Israel first.

Then the exchange about taking the children’s bread and throwing it to their dogs. The children here mean the Jews and the dogs are the Gentiles. I don’t think that many people would take kindly to being referred to as a dog! This would have been a derogatory remark, suggesting that she and her children were inferior because of class and race.

Yet she presses on and gives a brilliant rebuttal; ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Here she is saying that even if Israel were to be first, the promised people, then the Messiah (Jesus) will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world.

The Isaiah reading: (v6-8) ‘and the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to love the name of the Lord, will be accepted on my altar’. This woman is joining herself to the Lord. Jesus’ countenance seems to change in her answer, he sees her faith and grants her request.

What is also so great about this answer: if we think back to the feeding of the 5000. What do the crumbs of Jesus look like? 7 full baskets! This woman wants so badly what she believes Jesus can do, she will take the crumbs off the table to help her daughter. She just wants a few crumbs, not the whole loaf bread. And for a few crumbs she is joining herself to the Lord. This is the faith that she is rewarded for. Back to mustard seeds and pearls, small things that get made large in the hands of Jesus. This is good news!

Sometimes we need reminding that even God’s crumbs can satisfy us completely! Her daughter was healed from that very hour. In our hot and bothered states, we too can lose sight of the bigger picture, the good news that we are meant to share, the promise which we have been given in the great love of God. What do we need to be reminded of today? What do we need a crumb for? Take a few moments to bring those things to the Lord and ask for some bread!

Lord God, we thank you that you hear our prayers and feed us with your bread of life. Thank you for your abundance of love and grace. Help us to have faith in every situation that we face – today and always. Amen.

Trinity 6: Sower, Seed and Soil


Isaiah 55:10-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

We have some extraordinarily rich readings this morning! The images provoked are beautiful, full of joy and yet have a shadow in them. A warning for us. The easier option would be to ignore the shadow warning and carry on with joy. Really who could not use a little more joy at this time? The fabulous images of growth and freedom, the work of rain and snow, the earth being watered, joy, peace, the mountains, and hills singing, fields clapping their hands. Lovely!

Paul starts probably the most difficult chapter in his letter to the Romans with the bold and joyful declaration that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is in the Spirit where true life and peace are found! Jesus told the vast crowd before him about the sower who flung seeds all over the place with joyful abandon. There is not much we do these days with reckless abandon.

Everything we do seems to require advanced planning and preparation. Risk assessments, I am sure we can remember the days of taking along gloves, masks, and hand gel. We had to be vigilant of everything we touch and who is around us. The freedom of the sower to go wherever they like is shocking! His freedom makes me envious of the freedoms that we had, that seem a distant memory. I need the boost of joy that the sower gives!

There is also something about the extravagance of God shown in Isaiah and Matthew. Again, we are not living in extravagant times. Many are in financial hardship if not ruin, people will be losing jobs and then living with the consequences that follow. Prices are rising as incomes fall ; hardly a time to be thinking of extravagant or wasteful spending.

In Isaiah, God is generous with the rain (maybe a bit too much this week) and the snow to water the earth, bring forth the sprouts to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. God has an endless supply of these things and he is generous with them! I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that God is somehow stingy or a minimalist.

We can trust God is good, he is the sower. The seed is also good. It represents the word of God. The good sower is scattering good seed and it is not growing. Why not? The seed has the conditions that it needs – there is water, there is a purpose for the seed. All the seed has to do is grow but its growth depends on the conditions around it.

The soil needs to be considered. In this parable, Jesus was referring to the crowd and us as the soil. We, our hearts and minds, are the soil in which the seed falls on. I would also suggest that we can carry many types of soil within us. Sometimes we can be rocky on some things and thorny on others. Sometimes we are just hard. I also strongly believe that we all have good soil within us too.

We all need time to consider the condition of our hearts and what is growing in them. Of course we do. There is nothing wrong with some honest and humble self-assessment. There are also times when we need to consider the love and lavishness of the sower who we often overlook in the quest to be better, less rocky, or thorny or hard. We tend to forget there is good soil too! This is a place that hears and understands the Word and ultimately bears fruit. We all have places in our hearts that bear good fruit. And we can overlook these parts as we get overly wrapped up in where we need improvement.

American essayist Debie Thomas writes: ‘…maybe like me — you’ve read this parable and walked away, feeling bad about your own faith life. Feeling judged. Feeling inadequate. Feeling anxious. You’ve wondered how to make your spiritual soil less hard, less rocky, less thorny. You’ve designed all sorts of self-improvement projects to fix what’s “wrong” with you. More prayer. Less Twitter. More Bible study. Less cynicism. More church. Less television. You’ve read the parable as an indictment of your relationship with a Sower who just can’t seem to find an appropriately hospitable environment in your messed-up heart.’

Consider again the sower as they sow the seed everywhere. Everywhere. In all types of places and circumstances – hospitals, prisons, grocery stores, schools, flat blocks, fields, meadows, car parks and playgrounds. They do so with an open hand and endless supply of seed. There is no way to sort it or save it, it will scatter everywhere. And you know what?

The sower does not seem to mind in the least! The sower in Jesus’ parable is wholly unconcerned about where the seed falls or lands or settles — all he chooses to do is keep sowing. Keep flinging. Keep opening his hands. Why? Because there’s enough seed to go around. There’s enough seed to accomplish the sower’s purposes. There’s enough seed to “waste”.

I think that as Christians and as a Church we need to reflect on our view of God as the sower in these times. How do we view God in the wake of Covid, the financial crisis and all the other issues at the moment?

God has not changed; he is still in charge of the storehouses of snow and hail. He is still watering the earth. True life and peace are found when we set our minds on the Spirit. There is still no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He is still the most generous and lavish sower and giver we can ever imagine. Our hearts, our mental health, our sense of security, our finances may have taken a pummelling in these last few years, but God is still good.

The sower, I hope, reminds me and us that despite our own stinginess of Spirit or belief, God is still generous. I hope, that despite a lack of confidence that is His word will go out and achieve his purposes, no matter where it lands – that it really will. I hope that God’s ability to clear or soften whatever ground there is of rocks and thorns – outstrips the doubt I have (Debie Thomas).

I will finish with Isaiah: ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving the seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’

God’s word will not return empty to him and shall accomplish its purpose and it will succeed. Let us receive the seed that He is sowing, the lavish gifts of love, joy, peace, grace. God is at work in the world, through Jesus and through us and this work continues. Sometimes it takes some time and thought to work out what exactly this means for each one of us. Trust the sower and his seed!

We have been freed from sin and death to live in the Spirit – to have life and peace. To have hearts that are soft and not hard, hearts that are free from rocks and thorns – but full of good soil with seed to share.

Trinity Sunday: So What?!

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-31
Matthew 28:16-20

Today we are marking Trinity Sunday. It is always the first Sunday after Pentecost where we are meant to celebrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three-person Godhead. Celebrating foundational Christian doctrine might not sound all that exciting, but it is!

It is good, I think, to remind ourselves about the essence of our Christian faith after the events and activities of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Phew. The church year now opens up and rolls along until Advent as the big festivals are now complete. The Church has marked Trinity Sunday since the mid 800’s. So it is not new. It was instituted to speak against the heresies of the early church as they worked out how to understand the concept of one God in three elements. Three does in fact equal one!

Reference to the Trinity is woven through our services; each time I or we say ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The entire Christian story is retold in the Eucharistic prayer before Communion, we repeat it each week in the Creeds.

It is difficult to understand and at some point needs to be believed as part of the mystery of God. But don’t simply jump to that conclusion as tempting as it is!

From Debbie Thomas, an American essayist: If you’re like me, you’ve been at the receiving end (or the giving end) of many well-meaning but inadequate attempts to explain the Triune God: “Oh, well, the Trinity is sort of like water! You know, liquid, vapour, and ice? Three phases, one entity? The Trinity is like that!” Or, “Think of a tree! The roots, the trunk, and the branches. Three parts, one tree. Or an egg. The shell, the egg white, and the yolk. Or a triangle. Or St. Patrick’s shamrock: three petals, one clover. Or (courtesy of John Wesley), three candles in a room, one light by which to read.

All of these analogies — beautiful though they are — fall short, and none of them address the deeper question: Why should we care? What difference does the three-in-one make? Fine, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So what? Given the state our world is in right now, why should the Christian doctrine of the Trinity matter?

Trying to deepen our understanding of the Trinity, should help us to deepen our faith and expand our ideas of what it is to be a Christian.

Firstly, it should challenge us with the truth about God. Being a Christian is not solely about turning up to church or simply being a good person. The truth of God will always be more than our minds can cope with. The truth of God will always convict and remake us. We are created in God’s image – everyone is. We cannot remake the image to suit ourselves. It is an image we are to grow and mature into.

Secondly, the Trinity shows us that God is dynamic. God is on the move. He flows, he dances. This is a challenge for people who do not particularly care for change. The Church is notorious for its slowness to adapt and change. We like to start sentences with ‘well it has always been done like…’ Yes and let’s look at where we are!

Jesus’ final commandment to his disciples is to Go! Make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They were not to stay still in Jerusalem and never change. Thank God they did go! God is always waiting and watching over us. He wants us to move and change; to become the people He created us to be. We do that by following the example of Jesus and being open to the work of the Spirit in our lives. What might that look like for you?

Thirdly, we see that God is communal. It’s one thing to say that God values community. Or that God thinks community is good for us. One of the great things about the Hambleden Valley is the sense of community. We see that in our village activities that have re-emerged since Covid. Church Teas is Hambleden & Fingest, the Open Gardens in Medmenham today, an upcoming fete in Turville. Friday Prayers in Fawley. Our afternoon services in Frieth and recent services in the village hall. We are willing to try new things. We value relationships and connection.

It’s altogether another to say that God is communal. That God is relationship, intimacy, connection, and communion. All of the things I mentioned above hang together because God is relationship.

It is easy to forget though. Isaiah is addressing a group of people who are totally worn out. They do not even have the energy to reject God and go somewhere else for comfort. All they can do is sit around and complain. They have come to believe that they are worth nothing and forgotten by God. He does not care about them at all. Isaiah counters their downbeat state by insisting that God did not advise when making the world, He does not need to be told what to do. This is not a swipe at the lament of the people; it is to be a comfort, a source of joy.

God is not forgetful or careless. No one who measured the water in the hollow of his hand or weighed the mountains on a scale is careless. When they and we are too tired and bewildered to find our way out of the situation we are in, remember that God is inexhaustible. God is unending energy. Jesus is unending energy. The Holy Spirit is unending energy.

In these upcoming months of change, can I suggest that we need to lean into God. Maybe again, maybe for the first time in a long time or ever. Lean into God for comfort and encouragement. Lean into Jesus and follow his example. Lean into the Holy Spirit and ask for energy and imagination. Lean into each other as we continue to learn and grow together. May we be transformed by the Trinity.

Epiphany 2: What are you looking for?

3rd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

In this Epiphany season, we are being encouraged to look, see and find afresh. The wise men saw a star, followed it and found Jesus, King Herod saw a threat and tried to eliminate it. In John’s Gospel this morning, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him – two days in a row! John called those around to ‘look and see’ the Lamb of God. The Christian life is a continual cycle of looking, seeing and finding; it is part of what we are called to do.

It is rather fitting then that the first recorded question Jesus asks his disciples is ‘what are you looking for?’ I think it is still a relevant question for us today too. In terms of your faith, what are you looking for? In those deep places within, what are the desires and drives of your faith?

As we move into a new year what are you hoping for, expecting, asking for, looking for in your Christian life? Anything? Nothing? Something? Do you know? It is worth giving some time this week to ponder the question as though Jesus was sitting in front of you and asking ‘what are you looking for out of your faith?’

It is not an easy question. Fear not if it has thrown you already! The disciples gave a rather lame answer to Jesus. The best they could come up with was ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ As though Jesus was asking them if they had lost their keys or a jumper! No, his question is much deeper than that. The disciples had just heard John the Baptist’s exclamation of ‘here is the Lamb of God!’ and had started to follow Jesus; at least physically follow Jesus if not yet spiritually.

‘Who are you really?’ is more likely the question they were trying to ask. The disciples, as good followers of Judaism, would have been waiting for the Messiah. The reading from Isaiah this morning is among the oldest and best known parts of the Old Testament. There are 4 passages in Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. These Songs introduce and share the profound idea of salvation through suffering. This was not how people thought about suffering or salvation at that time. If you suffered you had done something wrong; think the Book of Job.

The identity of the servant is revealed gradually from song to song but it is still concealed. In Isaiah 49, the servant speaks for the first time in his own voice and in a very individual way. He has been chosen by God to carry on the mission of Israel where Israel had failed. The mission was to restore the people of God (the Jews). God is going to give the servant as a light to the nations, that salvation may reach to the end of the earth. This means to everyone – not only the Jews.

If the disciples recalled any of these passages, it would have been an overwhelming experience and would most certainly require something of them. Jesus’ answer also required something of the disciples as it was an invitation to ‘come and see’. So they went and saw where Jesus was staying and spent the whole day with him. What a day that would have been! The disciples obviously saw something that day that changed them forever. If the answer to ‘what are you looking for?’ ends up being ‘come and see’, will you be willing to go and see?

What about this year?

As a church you will be looking for a new Rector. I need to tell you that it is unlikely to be me. What will you be looking for in that person? Avoid disappointment by looking for perfection or a clone of a past Priest you happened to like the most. What will you be looking for in that person?

How about you as a person? Are you looking for more life? Time? Money? Health? Belonging? Certainty? Affirmation? Consolation?

Jesus’ invitation to come and see is an invitation to leave our comfortable places, an invitation to challenge what we think we know and change our perspectives. Come and see is an approach to life that is expansive, dynamic and exposes us to new experiences and ideas. When Jesus offers this invitation it is to be fully seen and fully loved by the one who created us.

Like all invitations that come to us, we have the option to turn it down. To stay where we are and not see anything new. We have a choice of what we look for, what we prioritise. When Jesus looks at us, He sees our deepest desires, hungers, curiosities, needs and wants. He saw it in those first disciples and called out to them. Jesus is still calling us now. As followers of Jesus we are to take the braver path, the follow where He is leading us.

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.