"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.

During Denise’s absence, Campbell and Janice will contribute some thoughts each week.

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

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The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Collect
God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The First Reading - Acts 16: 9-15
The Psalm - Psalm 67
The Second Reading - Revelation 21: 10, 22 - 22: 5
The Gospel Reading - John 14: 23-29
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website.

Post Communion Prayer
God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

In the gospel reading (above) we find Jesus saying to his disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ John 14:27.

These are amongst the last words Jesus would be speaking to his disciples before his death which John has recorded for us. I think it is true to say that we give cognisance to the last words loved one say to us, they are often very precious, very meaningful and very poignant. Indeed these last few chapters of John’s lovely gospel are amongst the most weighty and sacred in all of Holy Scripture.

How often have we not heard v27 above recited at funerals here at St Anne’s and elsewhere? Jesus here is offering words of comfort and reassurance and assuring them of a peace that he alone can give.

We very often pray in our daily services for peace in troubled parts of our world, be it Syria, Nigeria or elsewhere - there is an absence of peace, whether in Paris, Brussels or sadly even in our own land, both North and South. And of course there can be an absence of peace in our city, in our communities and in our homes.

We all long for peace, but what gives us peace really?
• Is peace just an absence of any trouble or problem?
• Is peace just an atmosphere of quietness or serenity?
• Can it be found in the quietness of our parks, forest walks or sitting in our gardens?

If peace is the absence of any noise, problem or trouble, then peace is a product of our surroundings.

Yet when we look at what Jesus said here, this is not what true peace is all about.

He said: “peace I leave with you…” which indicates that He is the SOURCE of peace.

Not only that he adds; “my peace I give you…” which means He is the GIVER of peace.

Furthermore he explains; “I do not give to you as the world gives…” – it means only in Jesus can we find TRUE peace - something that the world cannot give.

In order words, the peace Jesus offers has nothing to do with us, it has nothing to do with our surrounding or the absence of conflict or war - welcome though that may be.

Paul writing to the Church at Philippi (Philippians 4:7) speaks of: ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’.

The peace that Jesus offers therefore cannot be compared to the peace we speak of in everyday language.

But to know the peace of God we must firstly have peace with God. Again Paul writing to the church at Rome explains ‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). We are justified through faith in Jesus, again Paul explains ‘yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16).

Coming back to what Jesus was teaching his disciples, he knew what lay ahead for them after his crucifixion, he knew they would be bewildered, uncertain and afraid and he assures them of a peace in the midst of all of this. We read of the effects of this in the Acts of the Apostles for example, in spite of the persecution they encountered. We read of it in the history of the early church in spite of the terrible persecution by Nero and the like in those turbulent years.

And we today can enjoy that peace which Jesus offers in spite of all the challenges, fears and uncertainty we might have to face – By surrendering to him; by trusting in him; by leaning on him.

Many, many have proved it to be true!

Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel wrote these lovely lines, may they encourage each of us.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Revd Campbell Dixon MBE

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The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Collect:
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Readings:
First Readings: Acts 11:1-18
Psalm: 148
Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
Gospel: John 13:31-35
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website.

Post Communion Prayer:
Eternal God,
in word and sacrament
we proclaim your truth in Jesus Christ and share his life.
In his strength may we ever walk in his way,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

There has been a lot written about love, for me one of the most memorable is the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

This may have been written during her courtship with Robert Browning, with whom she was clearly very much in love.

When two people love each other it is often visible, you can see it in their eyes and on their faces as they look at each other, you see it in the way they behave towards each other. We say of such people that they are in love.

At the end of the gospel reading for today we read Jesus’ instructions to his followers “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) Does this mean that we have to be “in love” with everyone else? Clearly such an instruction would be incredibly hard, if not impossible, to obey.

Jesus says that we should love others in the same way that he loved us. Pause for a moment and think of the way that Jesus showed his love for his followers. He healed the sick among them; he ensured that they were fed when they had followed him so that they could hear his teaching. He even calmed the storm when his disciples were so afraid. He did this because his love for them meant that he had compassion on them. We may not be able to do those actual things but we are capable of showing love and compassion to others. When I was a teenager, many years ago now, I remember our minister saying, “you can still love someone even if you don’t like them” From time to time we will meet people that we find it hard to like – but we can still show love to such people – and sometimes when we do that we even grow to like them.

The following hymn reminds us of many aspects of Jesus’ love:

Love is his word, love is his way,
feasting with all, fasting alone,
living and dying, rising again,
love, only love, is his way:

Love is his way, love is his mark,
sharing his last Passover feast,
Christ at his table, host to the twelve,
love, only love, is his mark:

Love is his mark, love is his sign,
bread for our strength, wine for our joy,
"This is my body, this is my blood' -
love, only love, is his sign:

Love is his sign, love is his news,
'Do this,' he said, 'lest you forget
all my deep sorrow, all my dear blood' -
love, only love, is his news:

Love is his news, love is his name,
we are his own, chosen and called,
family, brethren, cousins and kin,
love, only love, is his name:

Love is his name, love is his law,
hear his command, all who are his
'Love one another, I have loved you'
love, only love, is his law.

Love is his law, love is his word:
love of the Lord, Father and Word,
love of the Spirit, God ever one,
love, only love, is his word:

May our lives be characterised by that love.

Revd Janice Elsdon

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Collect
Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
Raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The First Reading - Acts 9: 36-43
The Psalm - Psalm 23
The Second Reading - Revelation 7: 9-17
The Gospel Reading - John 10: 22-30
Click here to view the readings via the Oremus Bible Browser website.

Post Communion Prayer
Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again.
Keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Psalm appointed for this Sunday is, I suspect, for many, the most well known and loved of all Psalms. It has brought assurance, comfort and blessing to many in times of need.

I suppose the image of a shepherd today is usually of a man with a dog making strange whistle sounds whilst herding sheep towards a sheep pen on a television programme or, if in the country, a man on a four wheel quad bike rounding up sheep together with a dog. I suppose too there are many in industrial societies who have never even seen a shepherd!

The image or picture of a shepherd however during Jesus’ earthly ministry was so clear and simple that any child could immediately understand it. And that image is much different to ours today. What was that image or picture?

The first thing was the shepherd had no dog - his dress was familiar, usually rough clothing covered with a sheepskin robe with the fleece on the inside to keep him warm. His equipment was usually a scrip, which was a leather bag which held his simple food. He had a sling which he used with pin point accuracy, for example if a sheep was wandering too far away the shepherd he could sling a stone to the front of the sheep’s nose to make it turn back or to keep wild animals at a distance. He had, as our Psalm describes, his rod and his staff. His rod was more like what we call a stout club which he used to ward off wild animals or robbers. His staff was a long crooked stick which he used if a sheep needed help to pull them back from a dangerous ledge or if they wandered too far as they journeyed along in search of pasture or water – which were often difficult to find.

Another feature of the shepherd's life was that sheep were kept for milk and their wool and it appears that both shepherd and sheep were together for as long as 8 or 9 years. So much so that each sheep was given a name and actually responded to that name. In those days the shepherd did not drive their sheep but rather went in front with the sheep following. In this way he could protect them from danger especially when leading them through dark or gloomy narrow valleys where wild animals or robbers lurked.

At evening the shepherd would construct a sheep pen or sheep fold of stones or branches with one narrow opening where the sheep would enter and leave one by one. Each evening he would place his staff across the narrow entry point quite near the ground under which each sheep would pass so that the shepherd could examine them for any injury that might have happened during the course of the day. When all his sheep were safely in, the shepherd would then lie down across the entrance point so that no sheep would escape and no robber get in.

There is much more that could be said about the shepherd and by understanding his work and role we can see how Jesus uses the illustration of a shepherd to describe his purpose and role. He was indeed the good shepherd who tends for and keeps his sheep, who wants to lead us in right paths and is with us in our dark valleys( whatever they may be) to protect, sustain and comfort. Like a good shepherd he will lead us safely to our heavenly home.

I love these verses from John’s gospel, Jesus was responding to his religious critics who, despite all his teaching and miracles refused to accept or acknowledge him as the Messiah.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand’.

Jesus still calls, still wants women, men and young people to come in repentance and faith to him, to follow him and to be assured of a home in heaven. John in his divine Revelation provides this wonderful assurance:

‘They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
And He is mine forever.

Revd Campbell Dixon MBE

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The Third Sunday of Easter

Collect
Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord

Readings
First Reading: Acts 9:1-6
Psalm 30
Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
Gospel: John 21:1-19
Click here to view the readings via the Oremus Bible Browser website.

Post Communion Prayer
Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Have you ever said something on the spur of the moment and lived to regret it? So often we do say things without thinking and almost as soon as we have said them we wish we could take the words back. But words, once spoken, cannot be taken back! Such moments leave us feeling guilty – aware that we may have hurt someone with those words. The feeling of guilt may go on and on long after those concerned have forgiven us because it is hard forgive ourselves.

Peter may have felt a bit like that, he had been a keen follower of Jesus and Jesus was arrested he had declared that he would go with him anywhere, even if it meant going to prison or being put to death. Jesus warned him that he would deny him before the day was out and the cock crowed to herald a new day. But Peter paid no attention to Jesus’ words.

And then when Jesus was arrested Peter was asked three times if he was one of Jesus followers, each time he denied it, and then, immediately the words were out of his mouth for the third time, the cock crowed and Jesus turned and looked at Peter. How Peter must have regretted his words, how he must have longed to take them back but as we know so well that’s not possible.

And then at the end of this week’s gospel reading we have this conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus had cooked breakfast for the disciples and the small of the charcoal fire was still in the air, the same smell that was in the air when Peter denied that he knew Jesus. It may be that even the smell had brought that memory back in the way that smells sometimes do.

And then Jesus asked Peter if he loved him – this was no casual question because it was repeated three times in slightly different forms. Each time Peter responded that of course he loved Jesus and each time received an instruction from Jesus. The words may have varied slightly, “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep” but the meaning was clear, Peter was being instructed to care for those who would follow Jesus Christ.

The fact that this was repeated three times balanced the three times that Peter had denied Jesus. It would have been an assurance for Peter that those hasty words had been totally forgiven. Peter was now free to move on and obey Jesus.

If we are feeling guilty over words said in the past we, too, can be forgiven. We may well have told God we are sorry, if not we need to do that. We may also need to say sorry to anyone affected by those words. But then we can know, as Peter did, that we have been forgiven. We can now move on.

Prayer
God of mercy,
we acknowledge that we are all sinners.
We turn from the wrong that we have thought and said and done,
and are mindful of all that we have failed to do.
For the sake of Jesus, who died for us,
forgive us for all that is past,
and help us to live each day
in the light of Christ our Lord.
Amen

Revd Janice Elsdon

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The Second Sunday of Easter

Collect
Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Readings
The First Reading - Acts 5: 27-32
The Psalm - Psalm 118: 14-29
The Second Reading - Revelation 1: 4-8
The Gospel Reading - John 20: 19-31
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website.

Post Communion Prayer
Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was supposed to be a pleasant day out for Christian visitors and indeed many Muslims, a fun way to celebrate Easter Sunday in Lahore. But a terror attack by Taliban extremists turned a happy family occasion into tragedy for the families of the 74 (including children) who were brutally murdered and the 370 or so wounded. This attack and others indicate that Christians are being increasingly persecuted for their faith, many in violent circumstance yet others to placate apparent political correctness.

Persecution of Christians is no new phenomenon, our reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32 above draws attention to the persecution of Christians in the fledging church all those years ago. The religious Jewish hierarchy were alarmed at the growth of the Christian church. Prompted by jealousy (Acts 5:17), they had arrested the apostles and subsequently had them appear before the council (Acts 5:27). Here they were questioned why they (the apostles) were disobeying the diktat by the Chief Priests not to share the good news of the gospel (Acts 4:18). Furthermore they complained that the apostles were now placing the responsibility for Jesus’ death on them (Acts 5:28)!

When you think of the conviction of the apostles in proclaiming the gospel so fearlessly, knowing the dangers, and indeed the lengths the religious authorities could go to silence them, you can only but be amazed at their courage ‘But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:29-31).

After the apostles appeared before the council they were flogged and forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus yet, ‘As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.’ (Acts 5:40-42).

The enthusiasm of the early church, and in many ways its persecution, resulted in its spread throughout the Roman Empire. On the surface, the early Christians appeared powerless and weak - they were an easy target for scorn and ridicule. They had no great financial resources, no buildings, no social status, no government approval, no respect from the educators. And after they became separated from their first-century association with the Jewish synagogues, they lacked institutional backing and an ancient tradition to appeal to.

But what finally mattered is what they did have. They had a faith. They had a fellowship. They had a new way of life. They had a confidence that their Lord was alive in heaven and guiding their daily lives. These were the important things. And it made all the difference in laying a Christian foundation for all of Western civilization.

Perhaps we all just might have a wee think of the impact regarding our witness - as a local fellowship, as individuals, has on the world surrounding us. Do we for example, ‘ …lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing each other in love?’ (Ephesians 4:1-2). How much persecution might we be prepared to suffer in proclaiming our faith?

Revd Campbell Dixon MBE

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