"Consider this ...." by Canon Denise

 

Canon Denise Acheson

Years ago I came across a poem which basically said – the more you learn makes you realise how little you know! Becoming a Christian is the first step of an eternal learning journey.

With the Holy Spirit’s guidance along the way one learns new things about oneself, about God and about others. We may outgrow some of the things we learned in the past as we grow closer to God through faith in Christ.

Faith is not static – and there are many things which we are called to think upon as we journey. 1 John 4 v1 says to test the spirits in order to recognise the Spirit of God.

So as we journey together let’s make time and space to consider this …….

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The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Collect

O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The First Reading - Exodus 3: 1-15
The Psalm - Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45c or Psalm 115
The Second Reading - Romans 12: 9-21
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 16: 21-28
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
Lord of all mercy, we your faithful people have celebrated the memorial of that single sacrifice which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace. By our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel and preserve us from all sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Love must be sincere”- Romans 12 v 9

The dictionary defines sincere as “proceeding from genuine feelings” or free from pretence or deceit.

I think I prefer the second option because sometimes it is not always easy to recognise the genuine article. Look how easy it is to be accept counterfeit money and not realise it until a shop refuses to take it- only the trained eye can spot the difference!

Every time I see the word “sincere” in front of anything I am reminded of the saying, “He/she may be sincere- but they are sincerely wrong!” So sincerity by itself - or should I say one’s own feeling of sincerity may not be true sincerity.

But instead of saying that love must be sincere Paul goes on to give evidence of what sincere love is. And I think this is important- because an individual can think his or her love is sincere, but then when it is measured against something concrete the question may arise, “Is this really sincere love that I am feeling?”

Families show love in many different ways. As a mother I look back and I think “Are my children confident that I love them sincerely?” When my daughter was at University she and her friends were sitting round the dining table regaling each other about their mothers’ concerns and worries about them now that they had left home. Some of them received weekly food parcels. Some of them received constant phone calls. Some of them got visits during term time from their parents. Some of them spoke of how their parents worried constantly about their off spring away from home. All of them had good Irish mothers!

And what contribution did my daughter make to the conversation?

“My mother wouldn’t worry about me travelling the world as long as I am spiritually alright!”

I know a parent’s job is to encourage their children to be independent – but had I done my job too well?!

Anyway, she is a mother herself now and maybe looks a little more kindly on my efforts at being a mother!

Let’s get back to love which is sincere as opposed to love by itself. Genuine silver has a hallmark- and the hallmark of a Christian is a life of love.

And it is a tall order.

Read through verses 9 to 18 slowly and think – is the Apostle Paul talking to me?

Can I honestly say that this is the way I see love?

Is this the way I show love?

When you read what love should be like then you would be forgiven for thinking that if you live this way all will be well. But, surprisingly, Paul adds the comment, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”- if it is possible?

It looks to me as if there is a warning here from Paul. Genuine love can be rejected. Genuine love can be misunderstood. Maybe genuine love is so rare that it appears to be the fake article?

The term unconditional love is used to describe love given without any conditions imposed. When it is offered take it, accept it, nothing has to be given in return- honestly! That makes us nervous, on our guard - there is a catch here somewhere! At Christmas time when someone is standing in the street handing out freebies the passer by takes it somewhat hesitantly- what will they be asked to sign up for if they accept the toy dog?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,” makes me think that though others may want to fight with me, disagree with me, have bad intentions towards me, act unlovingly towards me –I still continue to love them. Don’t take matters into my own hands when my love is misunderstood. Let God sort things out.

I am not sure that this is as easy or straightforward as it sounds.

Jesus lived a life of love. His love was unconditional, freely offered to all. Others wanted to fight with him, disagree with him, had bad intentions towards him, acted unlovingly towards him –and Jesus still continued to love them. His love was misunderstood. Others could not live at peace with him. They crucified him and yet, even in death, he reached out in love, “Father forgive them.”

As followers of Christ He has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit. By ourselves we can never sincerely love. We may cross some of the t’s and dot some of the i’s , but we will never cross and dot all of them. But with the Holy Spirit teaching and guiding us we are moving towards perfection. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are not the person we used to be and we are not yet the person we can be in Christ. As we grow in faith our capacity to love sincerely increases.

Prayer. Heavenly Father, we ask you continue to help us grow in love. May our actions and words be always loving, even towards those who do not love us. Keep us joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who gave his life that we may find true life. Amen.

Canon Denise

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The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Collect
Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The First Reading - Exodus 1: 8 - 2: 10
The Psalm - Psalm 124
The Second Reading - Romans 12: 1-8
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 16: 13-20
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
O God,
as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Matt 16v15

How many times has one been to a funeral of a friend or relative – someone whom you thought you knew pretty well- only to find that after listening to the tribute you heard something new about the person – something you didn’t know- even though you thought you knew this person pretty well!

A rector once said that he never gave a tribute to a person unless he had lived with them. I have some sympathy with that stance. It seems to be the best way to get to know someone really well!

In this passage we have Jesus asking his disciples, people who know him very well, what are people saying about him. Did they answer him? The question preceding that was, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Is it the same question just put in a slightly different way?

Many of the Jew’s in Jesus’ day believed that God would send an anointed king who would free Israel from oppression and bring peace and justice to the world. They longed for and eagerly awaited The Messiah. The phrase “the son of man” was closely associated with the Messiah. The fact that Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say the son of man is?” and then in the next breath “but who do you say that I am ?” does this somehow imply that Jesus is identifying himself – albeit in an indirect way- with this Messiah figure. “They” replied John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets . Were “they” answering a question with a question or making a statement? Who were “they”? Was it a unanimous answer from the disciples or only the opinion of some of them? Which of the disciples answered Jesus? But when the question was asked “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter answered. Had the question been directed straight at him or was Peter merely the first one to speak and was prepared to nail his colours to the mast? Because if Jesus was the Messiah, then not only Jesus, but those who followed him, would be under suspicion and in danger from the Roman authorities. This was serious stuff that Jesus and his disciples were talking about- matters of life and death.

“You are the Christ, the son of living God”- there it was – out in the open. Peter and the others were in effect saying to Jesus - You are the one Israel has been waiting for, you are Israel’s true King you are God’s adopted Son, the one the Psalms and the prophets of old foretold us about! It was a dangerous thing to realise and openly admit to and for the moment it must remain a secret.

Fast forward the story and Jesus is crucified by the Romans with the announcement, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

So much for prophecy some would say.

The resurrection changed everything!

Jesus hadn’t come to tear down temples and take up arms against the Romans! Jesus wasn’t going to build a new temple – or a city- he was going to build a community of believers who recognized Jesus as God’s anointed King – God’s church would be open to Jews and non Jews.

The apostle Paul puts it this way, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Col. 3v 11

Peter is the first to discover exactly who Jesus is! It was a revelation from God and Peter’s faith would be the driving force behind the foundation of the church.

Peter, and all believers since then, would be and are living stones called by Jesus to work together, building up God’s kingdom.

Jesus himself would be the rock - the corner stone - the stone that holds everything up- the One on whom God’s church depends.

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus turns and looks at each one of us and asks us,

“Who do you say that I am?”

Can we reply to him,” You are Lord and Saviour of my life.”

Peter’s recognition of Jesus brought him privilege and responsibility, joy and sorrow, service and sacrifice . Peter would play a leading role in the decision making about the Church’s life and practice decisions which would have far reaching consequences.

But he would do it because he knew Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Jesus asks again-, “Who do you say that I am?”

And on discovering, like Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, like Peter

can we,

will we,

give Jesus our everything? Amen.

Prayer. Heavenly father, we thank you for your promises revealed to us in scripture. Help us to live by your teaching and instruction. Help us to daily follow Jesus, to name him as Lord and Saviour, to daily give him first place on our lives. Amen

Canon Denise

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The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
Collect

Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church:
Open our hearts to the riches of his grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The First Reading - Genesis 45: 1-15
The Psalm - Psalm 133
The Second Reading - Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 15: [10-20], 21-28
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: In that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

11Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”Matt 15 v 10.

Surely what goes into a person’s mouth does matter? Nowadays the public is bombarded with pictures of obese people, gorging on fast food, takeaways and all sorts of ‘bad food!’ A diabetic epidemic is just around the corner if the nation keeps on getting heavier and heavier. ‘Watch what you put into your mouth or it could end up killing you!’ is what we are hearing.

So certainly what we put into our mouths can make us unwell physically – so we need to keep a check on our dietary habits.

But Jesus is not talking about food when he says what goes in ‘defiles’ a person (NIV uses the word ‘unclean’). Nor is he talking about other bodily secretions that might possibly come out of the mouth- particularly if a wrong combination of food and drink go down to the stomach! Bad as it could be even that mix doesn’t defile a person!

Rather Jesus is thinking about words. The words that we speak in anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment, envy, jealousy, the comment with the barb attached! But even the ‘better’ words that we utter may not be as sincere and well intentioned as they sound. We can use words to bring advantages solely for ourselves. I love this quote from the Book of Proverbs- ‘“It’s no good! It’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.’ Prov. 20 v 14

Some of us were talking the other day about the value of visual aids when it comes to making a point – the downside is that people remember the visual aid but not the point that was being made! But one demonstration I always remember is this very simple one. The toothpaste is squeezed out the tube and a volunteer is asked to get it all back in again- impossible!

The point? Once words are spoken – even written – they can’t be put back in again! Regret may be expressed over their release- forgiveness may be sought for the hurt they caused - but the words cannot become unspoken ever again!

But to remain silent does not mean that those words of ‘defilement’ are not sitting there in the heart and mind- they can be given ‘a voice’ in thought and given life through action.

Way back in Genesis 4 in the story of the two brothers Cain and Abel one of them gave away their true thoughts – not by what they said – but by their facial expression. Cain’s offering to God was not acceptable whereas his brother’s was. Cain became angry and it showed in his face- ‘his face became downcast’. He did not say anything – but the true state of his heart was revealed in his face.

And it was the anger and resentment in his heart that grew and grew that eventually led him to murder his brother !

The outward actions which make someone ‘unclean’- ‘defiled’- unfit to stand in the holy presence of God are things like murder, adultery and the rest. Those are the most easily identifiable ‘sins’! But it is the motivation to do such actions that comes from thoughts and feelings from within. No matter how respectable, good or “Christian”, we may appear to the world- God knows what is going on in our innermost self. We all fall short. It is this innermost self that needs to be changed and it is the innermost self that Jesus wants to help us change.

The Apostle Paul puts it like this in 2 Cor 4 v 16

We do not lose heart- though we are wasting away outwardly, yet inwardly we are being renewed DAILY.”

Or Colossians 3 v 9

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.”

Through Faith in Christ the Holy Spirit will renew our hearts and minds. We can be cleaned up-not just on the outside but through and through to our very core. Christ gives us this hope.

Recently someone was telling me about a car that they were interested in - ‘Sold as seen.’

It was clean, polished and gleaming inside and out. New tyre trims gave it a ‘sporty look’ and it definitely looked good on the outside. But on closer inspection the tyres were ‘bald’- the engine had seen better days the clutch was dodgy and one of the windows was stuck! Not as good as it first appeared!

We are like that car. We appear to the world and onlookers to be ok on the outside and the assumption is the inside is as good.

God knows us and loves us – but offers us hope in Christ. We can become ‘a new creation’ who will be worthy to stand before a holy God because of what Jesus has done for us.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, when we come to you in faith and repentance we thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit. Give us the courage to see ourselves as needing your cleansing, renewing touch. Daily build us up into your people so that we may love and serve you and build your kingdom here on earth. Amen

Canon Denise

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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Collect
Blessed are you, O Lord, and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart, to delight in your commandments and to walk in the glorious liberty given us by your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

The First Reading - Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28
The Psalm - Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
The Second Reading - Romans 10: 5-15
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 14: 22-33

Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit; may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love shine with the light of hope; and may the bodies which have been fed with your body be refreshed with the fulness of your life; glory to you for ever. Amen

Lord, if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” said Jesus. (Matt 14v 28-29)

What made the headlines 3 weeks ago, 2 weeks ago? It is hard to remember as they keep changing so quickly! We are seeing pictures of the terrible destruction in Gaza. We read about the horrific murders of medical students while on placement abroad. Parents fear for their children playing outdoors unsupervised- people start to feel more fearful, more suspicious, more anxious than they really need to be.

Statistics show that people are convinced the fear of a crime happening is unrealistically high compared to the chances of it actually happening! And this fear of what MAY happen can dominate people’s lives to the extent that tit interrupts all normality. After 9/11 tourists to London dropped dramatically. Our own province is not always no 1 destination because of the history of the troubles. People think twice before travelling to Israel or Palestine.

And yet, our natural feeling of fear in one way contributes to our sense of self preservation- it prevents us from doing things that would ultimately harm us- and we do instil a sense of fear into our children.

DON’T PUT YOUR HAND IN THE FIRE!

DON’T GO NEAR THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF!

DON’T RUN OUT ONTO THE ROAD!

On one hand fear can be destructive and on the other it can be positive.

Christians sometimes have a problem admitting to fear. If they say they are afraid then it looks as if they are caving in. “O ye of little faith!” accusing voices will quote and fingers point at them!!! And yet- if they say they have never been afraid or fearful others will doubt because that is not the experience they have had.

How do we resolve this dilemma? Maybe if we state what fear IS NOT we may move the discussion a little further.

OZ Guinness puts it this way-

Fear is not the opposite of courage- cowardice is.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the CONTROL of fear. “

This control channels fear into positive and productive actions and does not allow fear to paralyse people so that they are afraid to live.

We have recently commemorated the start of WW1- many people signed up, fought and even won the VC because they controlled their fear. They channelled it into positive and productive actions which often saved the lives of many of their comrades and the rest of the world.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the control of fear? Has Oz Guinness got it right?

The gospel reading assures us that to know fear, to be afraid, is not a shameful thing.

Jesus shows us how we can admit to our fears and yet by holding on to his hand not allow fear to be a chain that ties us to lives of quiet desperation!

While the disciples are battling against the wind and waves the passage doesn’t say they are afraid- a situation like that was not unusual for seasoned experienced fishermen.

But then something happens- they see something that is different, unusual, very unfamiliar to them -- it is then we see the word – terrified.

They cried out to Jesus and He shouts back to them “Take courage- it is I – be not afraid.”

Jesus understands that yes, they were seeing something new seeing something new and they were frightened – but His presence and his voice tells them that He was there with them in the terrifying situation and He will give them courage even in their fear.

Peter takes him at his word and shouts back to him – his voice maybe carried away on the howling wind…

“Lord, if it is you – command me to come!” “Come!” Jesus shouts back at him

Peter Jumps out! If Jesus is telling him to do this – then he will and can!!!!!

Straining to see Jesus in the dark with the wind and battering rain Peter makes headway towards him- but suddenly becomes aware of the wind and waves pounding him and Peter thinks, “Oh No, what am I doing?” He looks at himself in this new situation and thinks he can’t go on- and he starts to go down!!!!!

It is the call of Jesus that had got Peter into this mess.

But it will be the hand of Jesus that will save him in this mess.

Peter realises that the only one who can save him is Jesus and he doesn’t hesitate- his life is on the line- “Lord, save me!”

It was Jesus who had got Peter into this situation and it was Jesus who rescued him in his situation.

Whatever the situation Jesus will come when asked. Jesus came to Peter IN the storm.

The call of Jesus can lead one into treacherous waters but the call of Jesus will be accompanied by the hand of Jesus.

We may never be asked to go out in a boat and get caught up in a storm on a lake or sea, but the storms of life whirl and batter us as we progress on our earthly pilgrimage

We may find ourselves in terrifying situations that may seem impossible to bear – even to contemplate.

The storm of bereavement, the storm of cancer, the storm of terminal illness, the storm of shattered relationships, the storm of unemployment , the storm of sectarianism, the storm of loneliness- to name only a few.

Jesus is praying for you and his followers IN the storms

In Spirit He is there, and when we, like Peter, cry out in fear, cry out to Jesus to save us – He offers us his hand.

With Christ as the foundation of our lives we can know His presence with us… as we are in and pass through the situation.

Christ’s spirit can transform fear into a courage that allows one to live with the fear and yet have a life of hope and purpose.

There are no guarantees of a storm free life this side of eternity.

Only Christ’s guarantee of his saving hand on lives as He leads His followers through this life and into his eternal presence.

Prayer- Lord Jesus we ask for your presence to hold us and sustain through all of life’s ups and downs. Thank you for your saving love that reaches out to us when we feel we are going under. For your strength in our frailty, for the hope you bring when all seems lost. Gracious and loving God, help us to not take our eyes off you so that we never lose sight of your hand to bring us through to your eternal presence. Amen

Canon Denise


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