Reflections: Trinity onwardsHome / Services and Events / Reflections: Trinity onwards
These reflections cover the Sundays from Trinity Sunday (7th June) onwards. Click on a day to see the reflection for that Sunday.
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Trinity 4 - Sunday 5th July
Today's reflection is based on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
Today is quite a landmark moment. It is good to meet here in Church this morning and remember that the last Sunday that the Church was open for public worship was on 15th March. Shakespeare in his play famously had Julius Caesar being told to "Beware the Ides of March." In our world, that is the 15th March. It would have been difficult to imagine on 15th March that nearly four months would pass before being permitted to worship together once again in this building.
Much has happened since then. First and most importantly we remember the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives to Coronavirus in this Country and the very many more, throughout the world. Whilst it is good that the Church is open today for us to meet for our act of worship, it is not life as we knew it before the beginning of the pandemic. We must continue to take care not only to protect ourselves but to protect others. Life is not the same now as it used to be before the pandemic and perhaps we need to remind ourselves that we cannot simply begin, as it were, where we left off; the world has changed and perhaps we need to change. In many ways, that is the message of the New Testament: that the coming of Jesus into the world brought about such a change that life would never be the same as it was before.
Our Gospel reading compares Jesus and John the Baptist. Neither was well-received by all his contemporaries. As parents know only too well, children want to set the agenda and often that agenda is not what parents want to do. It is the same in the religious world. Different groups have their own agenda. Matthew records that John the Baptist and Jesus are both refused a hearing because, either people are uncomfortable listening to what they have to say, or they fail to conform to the hearers' stereotypical position. Jesus' prayer of thanksgiving stands in sharp contrast to the deafness and blindness of the people of those places who had the opportunity of hearing him and seeing what he did amongst them.
Tragically, we hear much in the news about extremist views not least amongst religious groups. I do not think that the Bible or other Holy Books are simply textbooks in which one can look up answers to every question. For the Christian believes that the divine reign has begun with the coming of Jesus and that our present life is oriented to the completion of that reign with the return of Jesus at the end time, then it is axiomatic that one has reason to seek to be a faithful follower of the way of Jesus. Yet it is clear that the New Testament cannot provide an exact answer for every situation that may arise. One has to take the teaching of Jesus and try, with prayer, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to see how that affects our approach to any situation. What is clear is that even in the time of Jesus, many rejected his teaching and that of John before him.
The parable which began our Gospel reading is a little difficult to interpret but it is perhaps likely that the children referred to are John the Baptist and Jesus. The rest are their Palestinian contemporaries who reject both the severe way of John and the light yoke of Jesus. Jesus says, take my yoke upon you for my yoke is kindly and my burden is light, in contrast to the burden of the law placed upon people, especially by the Pharisees, who considered themselves the only orthodox followers of faith. The Rabbis spoke of the yoke of Torah – the law – and the yoke of the kingdom. Here it refers to Jesus' interpretation of the law.
Jesus says, "Come to me, learn from me." The word 'disciple' means 'Pupil'. A Disciple of Jesus is to be a life-long learner. And if we are to be life-long learners then we have to be open or our closed minds will be incapable of learning anything new. And we need to be life-long learners because, in contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees, the teaching of Jesus is much easier: because it is much shorter, and it is much shorter because it is centred on what is essential. However, although shorter, it is much more difficult because the demands of love of God and love of one's neighbour are inexhaustible! Let us ask ourselves: do we always find it easy to love our neighbour – our fellow-follower of Jesus? Sometimes love of one's neighbour means asking ourselves how good we are at listening; listening to those who have a view that does not coincide with ours; listening to those who are different in some way. Love of one's neighbour means being willing to accept that another person may be right, and we may be wrong! There is enough conflict in the world that we have no need of conflict within the body of those who seek to follow the way of Jesus.
With every blessing,
Trinity 3 - Sunday 28th June
Today's reflection is based on Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 6:12-23 and Matthew 10:40-42.
The ministry of the Prophet Jeremiah took place over a period of 40 years from about 620 years before the birth of Jesus. The times were very turbulent. Late in his prophetic ministry we read of Jeremiah saying, "May the Lord bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord and all the exiles." Jerusalem and the Temple had been sacked and many people taken into exile in the year 587BC. Psalm 137 (in the form appearing in our Prayer Book) says, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion." Those of us of a certain age will perhaps remember these words as set to music by Boney M in "Rivers of Babylon", rather than when sung to Anglican Chant!
Jeremiah was looking to the time when the exiles would return to Jerusalem bringing with them the "vessels of the house of the Lord." These past months, we have been like people in exile. It has felt that we have been living in "a strange land." We perhaps feel as though we are the exiles. Our Church has been closed to public worship for what seems a very long time. We have not even been able to go into the building. There has been some relaxation from last week and it has been permitted to open the Church for private prayer but subject to restrictions. Now we are told that we can look forward to the Church being open once again for public worship. There will be restrictions but, as I write, we do not know the full extent. I have no doubt that we will have to maintain some social distancing. It has been said that singing will not be permitted. I don't think that is a comment upon the quality of the singing – at least not here in Plumtree!
Matthew's Gospel has Jesus saying to his first Disciples – and, by extension, to each of us that, "When people welcome you, they are welcoming me and when they welcome me they are welcoming the one who sent me." Matthew then records Jesus' words that the one who gives even a drink of water to a someone because that person is a disciple – a follower – of Jesus, will receive a reward. There is a risk that the words of this passage can be read as creating or at least, encouraging, exclusivity – reaching out only to those who are followers of Jesus. In the Gospels we find that Jesus himself on many occasions reaches out to people who are not his followers as such.
Not too long before the "Lockdown" required Places of Worship to be closed, we had a service to which we welcomed a number of people from Derby Refugee Action ("DRA"). A huge number of items of clothing had been given by members of our congregation to DRA for the work of that organisation. We welcomed to our service some people who had come to our Country as Refugees. Hearing their stories in conversations, reminded us just how fortunate we are. Many who come may feel that they are "Strangers in a strange land." It is wonderful to be able to say that in Plumtree we have a congregation that seeks to reach out, in so many ways, to all who are in need, for in so doing, we live out what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
With every blessing,
Trinity 2 - Sunday 21st June
Today's reflection is based on Matthew 10:24-39.
This weekend Churches have been allowed to open, not for services but for private prayer by individuals. There are quite strict rules that have been set out for us and other Churches which are intended to allow access but to avoid a situation where the Coronavirus might be spread unwittingly. We look forward to the day when it will be possible to meet together to socialise; to have a cup of tea together and above all, to meet in Church to worship together. I am sure that we all recognise that restrictions are necessary and that we must play our part in bringing this pandemic to an end. Of course, that is not easy when we turn on our televisions and see what is happening in some places. However, I am sure that the responsible approach is to move carefully and not to do anything which might cause problems, perhaps not for us but for others. For the moment, it is a small but very welcome step.
We have seen football matches screened on television this past week but without any supporters present. No doubt the Manager will have given the Players the "Team Talk" before they went out on to the pitch. Our Reading from Matthew has something of a "Team Talk" about it. Jesus tells his "Players" – the Disciples – what they should do: proclaim the Good News from the tops of the houses!
Our Gospel reading also says something which, at first glance is somewhat surprising. Jesus tells of close family members being set against each other. The one whom we call the 'Prince of Peace' then says that that he has not come to bring peace but a sword. We hear of violence and threats of violence. According to Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that he has come "to set a man against his Father and a daughter against her Mother… and one's foes will be members of one's own household." What are we to make of all of this? Did not Jesus say that blessed are the peacemakers?
We see in our reading how Jesus called the twelve disciples together and prior to sending them out, told them, "A disciple is not above the Teacher nor a slave above the Master." This and the following verse are important for understanding discipleship in the Gospels. The word 'disciple' in Greek, in which the Gospel was written, means 'learner' or 'student'. The student is not above the teacher. The follower of Jesus is to be a life-long student of Jesus because what Jesus teaches is wisdom about life itself. In the background to this is the Jewish school relationship of the time but Matthew's account points to a danger in that model. In the 'normal' school relationship, once the student had learned what the Master had to teach, the student moved on to another teacher or indeed became a teacher. This is what the "Gnostics" of the 1st and 2nd Centuries did, for they believed, to put it very simplistically, that salvation came through 'knowledge'. In effect, the Gnostics made Jesus one among many teachers.
At first reading, the words of Jesus, as set out by Matthew, that he came to bring not peace but the sword, are very difficult for us. Is not this the opposite of all that we are taught about Jesus? We perhaps need to recognise that these words came out of the situation that the followers of Jesus found themselves in when Matthew's Gospel was written (around 80 AD).
Until the coming of the present Coronavirus, it used to be said that the weather was the subject about which the English would converse more often than any other! How often would a meeting of two people open with the statement, "It's a lovely day isn't it?" – or miserable, awful or whatever the weather happened to be. Therefore, let us try to draw an analogy from the weather. When cold air coming from the Arctic meets hot air coming north from the Sahara a front forms and the meeting is usually marked by very volatile weather. It seems that Jesus is making clear to the disciples in this passage that the encounter between the "new order" that he is inaugurating and the "old order" will be fraught with conflict, with division and with painful experiences. In other words, Jesus did not actually set out to bring "the sword" but rather that – almost inevitably – the new "way" of Jesus may come into conflict with the "old" ways that have previously been followed. Within families, some will follow the "new way", others will not. That meeting of the old and the new, like the two weather fronts, brings conflict. Some of us here may have witnessed it ourselves. To follow Jesus when others do not – particularly within a family or group of friends – is not easy. When the new challenges the old, as the weather-forecasters say, "precipitation is in sight." Actually, what Jesus is saying is that rather more than rain is often the result!
We need to understand the enormity of what Matthew was writing late in the First Century. For the Jewish people, the family was the most important unit and Matthew was making clear that it is in that almost sacred institution – where loyalties run very deep – that conflict will be found. To put it another way, the Good News of Jesus may actually divide rather than unite a household and other groups of people. Jesus is not saying that his followers should be anti-social for the sake of it! Rather, that they should live out their new identity as followers of the "Way" of Jesus. We may ask ourselves: what does that new identity require? Matthew writes that Jesus told his followers that what he had said to them in the dark, they must tell in the light; what they had heard whispered, they must now proclaim from the housetops. Now there is a challenge for us all.
With every blessing,
Trinity 1 - Sunday 14th June
Today's reflection is based on Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.
Matthew's Gospel introduces us to the twelve disciples. Imagine going to a Quiz Evening; a question is asked: "Can you name the twelve Disciples of Jesus? One point for each correct name!" I don't know about you, but I think I may have something else to do that evening! There are some names that readily spring to mind: Simon (or Peter as he is better known to us), Matthew the Tax Collector; Thomas of course – which Thomas has not been referred to as "Doubting Thomas" at some point? James and John and then there's Judas Iscariot – remembered for all the wrong reasons. I have a dread then, as all eyes seem to be looking at me, of memory failing as all in the room expect me to "rattle off" the rest of the names!
Perhaps what is more important than remembering the names of all the twelve Disciples is to have in mind the task that they were given. Jesus gives the Disciples their instructions. He tells them, "Go to the lost sheep that belong to the house of Israel." We perhaps need to continue reading further to find that Jesus makes the point that proclaiming the message will not be easy. At times they will find themselves at serious risk of harm. He tells them, "Beware of human beings – they will hand you over to Religious Councils and flog you." He then tells them that they will be like "sheep among wolves."
This Gospel was written long after the death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus of which we have been reading in recent weeks. The story tells us what it was actually like for many who tried to be faithful followers of Jesus in the late First Century; how those who tried to shape their lives according to the teaching of Jesus were persecuted. Indeed, many gave their lives because of their faithfulness to Jesus.
Matthew's Gospel was written at a time when Roman power controlled great swathes of lands both East and West from Italy. Peace – the so-called 'Pax Romana' – was maintained by the power of the sword. Yet Jesus told his Disciples that as they went on their way – as they went through life – they should proclaim a different sort of peace: the Biblical "Shalom" – which has to do with justice and what we often speak of a "life in all its fullness."
Life for many people has in recent months seemed quite the opposite of "fullness." There has been a great feeling of emptiness as 'Lockdown' has kept many confined to their own homes without contact with other family members or friends. There has been some relaxation in the restrictions as some shops have opened. We are told that from this week, Churches may open for 'Private Prayer.' There can be no gathering of people together and services cannot take place in Churches. It will be difficult – particularly when our natural inclinations and instincts are to "gather together." However, we cannot yet do this for, to borrow and adapt a phrase from our Gospel for today, we are still like sheep in the midst of the Coronavirus wolves. Difficult though this may be for us and other Churches, we must continue to play our part in trying to bring this terrible time to an end.
Until we can meet together once again; until we can worship together, to borrow and adapt words from a prayer for today, may we be built up in hope and grow in love for the sake of Jesus Christ.
With every blessing,
Trinity - Sunday 7th June
Today's reflection is based on Matthew 28:16-20.
At times I find it quite hard to believe that the 'Lockdown' has been in place for such a long time and what we previously considered "normal life" has been, as it were, put on hold. We have seen some easing of the restrictions, but I suspect that many people still feel unsure what they should or – perhaps more importantly – what they should not do at this time. There is still, for entirely understandable reasons, much anxiety. We ask ourselves: what can we do and what should we not think of doing. I find myself thinking: "If only we could get back to normal life." In the final Chapter of John's Gospel, we read that Peter was with some of the disciples. He said to them that he was going fishing and these disciples joined him in the boat. Peter was, in a sense, going back to his old "normal" life but whilst on the water, he saw Jesus on the shore. He dived into the water and swam ashore. Once on the shore, we read that Peter was told three times by Jesus to "feed my sheep."
The Gospel reading for this Trinity Sunday comes, not from John but from the final Chapter of Matthew, who tells us that Jesus put the command (delivered at a mountain in Galilee) rather more explicitly: "Go and make disciples of all the Gentiles." This ending of the Gospel is often referred to as the 'Great Commission.' Jesus told the disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. We then read what may be called the "Trinitarian formula." It seems that these words could well have been in use in baptisms within the early Christian community at the time that Matthew's Gospel was written – perhaps some time between the years 80 and 90 – in other words long after the events which are recorded in the Gospel. But to go back to the Great Commission: "Go, and make disciples of all nations" – as our translation for today puts it.
Morna Hooker, at one time Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge wrote that misleading words can generate misleading thoughts and practices. "Go" sounds very much an imperative, indeed it is in our translation which we have for today. However, in the original, the tense is not a command and unfortunately we have no exact English idiom which expresses it succinctly. I think that the original word used in the Gospel here means – to put it more fully, "As you go on your way, indeed as you go through life then it is imperative that you make disciples but start now!" We all know the old saying that "Actions speak louder than words." A very important requirement in life is that what we say should match what we actually do. In that way, as we go through life, may our words and our actions encourage others to come to be followers of Jesus.
The concept of the Trinity speaks to us of relationships. I imagine that all of us in this continuing time of 'Lockdown' – even taking into account the lifting of one or two restrictions – long to be able to resume normal relationships – to meet with people without restriction; to go to the houses of other people. Some will even say that they look forward to resuming shopping on a 'normal' basis! Many of us long to be able to meet together once again in Church. We think of the Father Son and Holy Spirit in relationship: one God but three natures. So too we are called to exist in relationship one with another. What is important is that as we go along our way through life, we make disciples. We will do this by our words but probably more by our actions for as is often said, actions speak louder than words.
With every blessing,