Hope for the World

Today’s reading is Isaiah 2:1-5Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Sam.

We’re beginning advent by looking at some of the words of the prophet Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Which tell of a promised hope.

The first five chapters of Isaiah are largely setting the scene. They tell the story of a people who have walked away from God.

These first few chapters make for bleak reading, repeated mistakes and intentional times they have gone away from what is right. Abuse of the poor, mistreatment of foreigners, and a complete change of direction from a family called to be a blessing to the world to a group of individuals who are focused entirely on themselves.

We see parallels of this in our world, in our country and if we’re really honest, in ourselves.

And in between these bleak messages of condemnation, sit these tiny glimpses of hope. A faint whisper that all is not lost. Specks of gold shining in the dirt.

These five verses we have read today are a picture of that hope. That knowledge that a rescuer is coming, the dream they are longing for deep within is being birthed and it will come to fruition.

Let’s look at this passage verse by verse and then we’ll pull out what we can learn from it.

Verse 1

Isaiah, the person who wrote this book, son of Amoz, not to be confused with Amos, saw this vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

At the time Israel, as we think of it in the Old Testament, had been fractured in two. After King David’s son Solomon died, there was a push from several parties to rule the land. From army generals, from members of the royal line, it was a complete mess and they eventually split into two nations, Israel in the North, and Judah in the South.

This promise was for the southern kingdom of Judah. That’s not vital to know, but it alludes to one of the names of Jesus, who *spoiler alert* is that promised rescuer. He’s the Lion of Judah, and we’ll see time and time again in the book of Isaiah that his coming is alluded to. There are these little hints that we go back to in the Old Testament and they show that of course this is the man who was also God and it builds up that the story of the Bible was always pointing to him.

Verse 2

‘The mountain of the Lord’s temple.’

Isaiah is talking of God’s presence being visible to all. This mountain being referred to here is Mount Moriah, it was visible to everyone no matter where you were in Jerusalem. What this is saying is that God’s presence will be for all, rich or poor, lucky or unfortunate in life, it doesn’t matter whether you live on the right side of town or the rough side, everyone can see the mountain.

‘All the nations will stream to it’

People will not be attracted to it because it’s pretty, it will be attractive because it is where God is. It is obvious that something is different about this.

Verse 3

He goes on to unpack this attractiveness in verse 3. Notice the difference here between what our experience is, the experience of historical parts of the Bible and this promised future. When large crowds are gathered to follow God and are attracted to him, they almost always dissipate when they are actually required to change. Think of the Hebrew people in the desert, initially attracted to the spectacle and drama of Moses going up the mountain to receive word from God but who ultimately turn away when they are required to actually change. Or Palm Sunday, when there are crowds walking with Jesus up the hills from Jericho in the Valley, to Jerusalem way up on the hill. Again, this very visual idea of them journeying up to the mountain with God, they celebrate and worship Jesus when he is a celebrity and spectacle entering Jerusalem but by the end of that week, Good Friday, almost all of them have almost deserted him when the teaching is too tough.

But this promises a future where people will both be attracted to Jesus’ presence but will also want to follow him and ‘walk in his paths’.

Verse 4

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples

The promise here is a world that is fair, where nations do not steal and plunder from nations they invade and oppress. Where national policy is not set by whichever political party is popular, but by a higher eternal perspective. Where we, on a macro scale, first examine what would be best for others around the world before we make policy.

That feels so far from our reality. It’s taken a back seat to COVID but imagine if these brexit negotiations first started with how we as an independent nation can best ensure that Europe thrives? How counter cultural but how beautiful could that be? That’s the world that Isaiah promises is coming.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

This is a beautiful metaphor of the weapons of war being repurposed, remade into farming equipment. That which brought death becoming that which brings and encourages life. This speaks of both the physical things but also the innermost parts of our lives. Nothing good will be lost in this future but all will be repurposed in an irreversible way.

Notice the way that the passage in verses 3&4 twice moves from our individual change to a corporate change. From us receiving the law, to the nations accepting the law. From individuals laying down their arms, to nations declaring as they join in this everlasting peace.

And that is our part, as followers of the way, those who have seen this hope, to be those individuals and lead the way. To be pioneers of this incredible hope amidst the backdrop of our broken world.

How then do we live in this tension, those who have seen this hope or who are maybe struggling to see this hope in the world?

I have a photo on my desk of a retreat I went on with some friends in February. We climbed up Waun Fach in the Brecon Beacons on this stunning Spring day. It was a time of refreshment, of bathing in the beauty and of listening to God for the season we were in, reflecting on what God was calling us to and doing in us while were at college. It was also a lot of fun.

But for us the reality is that we couldn’t live up there. That was right for the day we were there, and time and space were vital for hearing God in a way that we couldn’t in normal city and family life. But if you look at the mountain landscape, it’s sparse, it’s empty and it’s not full of life.

God invites us in this period of waiting, this in between times, to climb the mountain and join him. But it’s in the valley where life grows. It’s in the messy, the loud, the real life where we will see God at work. And so as we wait, as we build towards Christmas, take time to climb the mountain, to be alone with God to seek him and his presence. And bring that hope with you back down into the valley, to your work, your friendships, your family life.

And that is the season we’re in. A season where we can see a promised future but it’s not here yet. Advent starts today. This is a season of waiting, of expectancy.

In the very earliest version of the Advent tradition, the build up to Christmas, it was a 40 day period, much like lent in the lead up to Easter. 40 in the Bible is a number which symbolises a period of change. 40 days of flooding for Noah, 40 years in the desert for the Israelites, 40 days of taunting from the giant Goliath, 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. After these periods, the world was never the same again.

And as we journey with this over the next four Sundays, we look towards a time when God came down, became a fragile baby and joined us in the valley, in the messy, uncomfortable real life, that we might know him and be able to climb the hill of God and meet him face to face.

I’ll end with verse 5 from our passage.

As we wait for this promised hope, what does God require of us. It says this.

“Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

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Come away with me… and get some rest

Today’s reading is Mark 6:30-32Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

I like to be organised—and generally I am pretty good at this. I’m a visual person—seeing things helps me to remember, and so I have a well organised diary—where I can clearly see the week before me; I use lists like this—a ‘Things to do today’ list. Once on a training course, we were urged not to use e.g. Post it notes, as they just got everywhere, and led to more confusion. But I confess, that the visual person in me does still like using bright coloured notes sometimes, stuck on the top of my diary, or on my computer, reminding me urgent things.

When the system works well, it’s ok. It keeps me focused and ticking things off the ‘to do’ pile. When it’s not working so well, I find the list too long to see clearly, post it notes have appeared everywhere, and I am just chasing down endless tasks—some short term and immediate, others medium or long-term planning stuff.

The point is, that the lists never end, and we can be chasing after this end forever—the ‘hamster wheel of life’ so to speak, which we just keep on turning. When I examine my own life, especially during a time like this, I see the risks clearly—of focusing too much on what I think I need to accomplish every day, rather than responding to what God is doing in the world and in my life.

St Augustine of Hippo said of God, ‘You have created us for yourself, and our heart cannot be stilled until it finds rest in you.’

‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,’ said Jesus to his disciples.

Jesus said this to his friends at a particular time and for a particular reason. If we read back in Mark chapter 6 to the verse preceding our short reading today, we discover that the disciples had just returned from a mission to various places all around Galilee. Jesus had been in the region of Nazareth, and from here he sends out the Twelve, with a specific commission to preach the good news of repentance—turning away from our old lives of self, and turning towards a new life with God; and also, with the specific authority of Jesus himself, to cast out evil spirits from people’s lives. They were sent out in pairs, and they were to take nothing with them, but to completely rely on God for all their needs.

We don’t know precisely where the twelve went. But we do know that the crowd of five thousand people who converged on Jesus and the disciples later—as a result of this mission, ‘came from all the towns’, and so the area they covered must have been considerable. It’s therefore probably that this mission lasted for quite some time.

We hear from Mark what the disciples did in the name of Jesus—preaching repentance, driving out demons, anointing many sick people with oil and healing them in Jesus name. It was clear that the Kingdom of God—of grace, love, wholeness, forgiveness and healing was overcoming the dominion of darkness.

We can see in this mission, the purposes of Jesus for these people—from his initial call to the disciples to first follow him, onto his commission to his followers to take the good news of Jesus not just to Galilee, but to the whole world—a commission for all followers of Jesus.

So the disciples return—and they would have been exhausted. Does Jesus hand them the next long ‘To Do’ list? No, he says to them, ‘Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.’

Later verses show this didn’t work out quite as planned, and I’ll comment on this in a moment. But the principle and the practice of what Jesus said are as vital and important as ever.

In our desire to get everything done and more, it’s easy to forget the importance of Jesus’s solitude, silence, prayer times, rest times. All of us have so much to learn from Jesus’s intimacy with God—times spent in a quiet place, to be restored by God’s grace. Jesus continually withdrew from people, from the activities of daily life, from the demands of his ministry, to be alone with the Father, to rest in his presence. This is a priority for him which we see clearly from the Bible. It’s how he managed the demands of his calling, how he taught his disciples; it’s how he prepared for all the big challenges he faced. And Jesus invites you and me to join him, so that we can know this intimacy with our father God too—and so better manage our own lives.

It is so clear in the Bible that it’s a wonder we miss it!

In Marks Gospel alone, we read, ‘Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, and said, ‘Come follow me…’; ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’ Both these texts are from Mark 1Open Link in New Window.

In all the gospels we find many times when Jesus sought space and quiet. Here are a few more…

‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.; Jesus goes out beside the lake where people find him; He was walking through the grain fields, where his disciples joined him; He went up to a mountainside to pray; He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place; He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray; When evening came he was there alone; They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray”.
(Mark 14:32Open Link in New Window)

And there are lots more. Jesus invites us, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,’ Jesus lived it, modelled it, invited his disciples and invites you and me to do the same.

Last week, Richard spoke on the passage in John’s Gospel chapter 7, where Jesus invited us to quench our thirst for meaning in life with the invitation, ‘Come to me and drink’, and streams of living water will flow from us, as we are filled by the Holy Spirit and can therefore pour out the love of God towards others—as we overflow with his love. We fill up by spending time resting in the presence of God.

Our passage today actually plays out a bit differently from what we might at first expect. After their long and tiring mission, the disciples return to Jesus, and he invites them to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ But there was a little hitch. The mission had clearly had so much impact that they were followed by a crowd of 5,000, and they all ended up in a solitary place together with nothing to eat. The compassion of Jesus meant that he revealed his glory in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. But it was Jesus who did this, and not the disciples.

An Anglican clergyman called Eric Abbot once said, “Because God is the Ceaseless Worker, we can afford to stop and to rest and to commit to him the arrears in our work, as well as the work done. We do not ‘bear up the pillars of the world.’ God does that.”

In other words, as Jesus did himself and as he invites us to, we are to regularly come away to a quiet place to rest with God—but we need never fear that God has packed his bags and gone on holiday. The grace and love of God is always here for us.

So, do you need to put your lists aside, and come away to a quiet place with Jesus? To finish, here is a picture of the place at home where I usually go. Find yourself a place—and go there—often.

Ian Tomkins. 22 Nov 2020

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Rivers of Living Water

Today’s reading is John 7:33-39Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Water—it is as they say, is the stuff of life and without it, we would not live long. In this country we take it for granted that we can turn on a tap any time and have safe drinking water. Perhaps next time we have a drink we might spare a thought for the 1 in 3 in our world for who don’t have regular access to clean safe drinking water and sanitation.

Because of where we live, we are rarely really thirsty unless we have been unprepared.Can you remember when you were last really parched?For us as a family it was on a walk in the summer in the French Alps, we had one bottle of water between 4 of us and had taken a wrong turn and had subsequently run out of water. I will never forget that feeling when we got to a café—I think I downed a litre of water in a matter of seconds. I have never made that mistake again.

In our Bible reading today Jesus is at the Festival of Tabernacles one of the three main feasts, the others being The Passover and Pentecost.The Festival of Tabernacles had a dual purpose.

  • Firstly, it was a reminder of God’s provision during the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert following their escape from Egypt. During the festival people lived in temporary structures or booths to remind them that they had been homeless wanderers in the desert.
  • Secondly, it was a harvest festival on a grand scale to thank God for his provision and goodness to His people. The rules of the Festival are set out in Leviticus 23Open Link in New Window and they are quite specific.

    On the last day a priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher, then carry it back to the temple and pour it into a silver bowl next to the altar, accompanied by musicians and choirs. As the priest poured out the water he would pray to the Lord to send rain.

It is in this context that Jesus declares (v37 and 38) ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’

If you read chapter 7 without knowing the context then Jesus words appear quite random—why was he talking about water? As always, Jesus uses illustrations from everyday life and his daily encounters.

You may have spotted the similarity between these words of Jesus and those spoken to the Samaritan women at the well in John chapter 4. You will remember Jesus asked her to draw water from the well and in the ensuing dialogue Jesus promised that he could give her ‘living water’. She asks where can she get this living water? His reply in verse 3 is: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

We have to remember that life in Jesus day was tough. It was a hot dusty country where water was a precious commodity. The idea of never being thirsty again is very appealing to a woman who had carry water from a well on a boiling hot day.But of course Jesus is referring to belief in him being the source of eternal water or eternal life.

It is easy to read this passage and only concentrate on Jesus being our salvation. I confess that for years I have done this… but to do so is to miss half of a very important point. The second part of the promise, having received the water of eternal life we in turn become springs or rivers of living water which in turn will lead others to eternal life

John who is narrating the story explains what this means in verse 39. “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

The water in other words is the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer. John wrote this after Jesus death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When John says ‘there was no Spirit’ it does not mean the Holy Spirit did not exist until Pentecost; it was just that believers had not received the Spirit until that point.

There is great abundance in Jesus words: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” You will notice it is not a trickle but a great volume of water—imagine the greatest river you have seen.

It is worth noting this outflow from our ‘heart’ is a modern translation. The original word used koilia really means “stomach” or inner most being. This was considered the seat of emotions in Jewish thought.

It is from this deep place comes this Spirit filled outpouring which blesses those we encounter each day.

When you really think about it, if we all lived lives like this then the world would be transformed around us. This should raise questions for each one of us:

  • Is this our experience?Are we so full of the Holy Spirit that God’s goodness is affecting the lives of those around us?
  • Are we in the words of the hymn attributed to St Francis—a channel for God love and peace?

One of the wonderful aspects of walking in hills and mountains are the streams and rivers that flow from them, sometimes ending up in cascades and waterfalls.

Some of this of this ends up being bottled a long way from its source. An advert of a bottle of water in front of a picture of the Alps, Brecon Beacons or the Highlands of Scotland does not translate into a wonderful experience when you drink the water.

Each day we have access to the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. He eagerly desires to make us more like Jesus. He wants to pour His goodness on us to overflowing, like streams in the mountains. However do we metaphorically bottle the Spirit and only release His power in our lives when it suits us?

Bottled water eventually gets stale, it has a use by date. Without the constant flowing through of the Holy Spirit we can become stale and dare I say ineffective in our Christian witness to the world. One of our previous vicars, Mat Ineson, used to say; we needed to ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit each day.

Let us get into the habit of doing just that—saying a simple prayer at the beginning of the day. Here is a suggestion:

Lord fill me with your Holy Spirit, use me in your service this day.

I can guarantee if you pray that prayer every day, you will be someone from whom living water will flow in abundance.

God bless

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Todays reading is Ecclesiastes 3:1-15Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

When I was at secondary school our very tall, austere head teacher started every year with this reading and her reflections on it. She wasn’t a Christian but seemed struck by this. She was right to be struck as this is a powerful passage that can brings tears to our eyes, sometimes joy, sometimes grief. How you feel as you read it will define which bit stands out as most salient to you.

Today we reflect on and remember those who have died in service of our country during all wars. The wars we remember most are ones where the fallen, those who died gave their lives to fight against an evil force that threatened the tenants of our free society. There are still people who die for freedom on a daily basis, many are involved in invisible wars, fighting against evil dictators, cruel regimes like in North Korea and prejudice and intolerance where people die or are punished because they don’t hold the majority religious, political or economic view.

There is a time for everything under the sun but that doesn’t mean we need to like it or accept it. If our country and many others had not stood against the oppression of Poland then the Second World War may never have happened.

I recently was in the Peak District in a small town and the number of names of people who had died from that town was enormous. There were up to 6 people with the same surname, families ripped apart for a greater good, that is why when you enter the town there is a Shadow picture of a soldier and the words… Lest we forget.

This caused me to think. Lest we forget what… lest we forget their lives given for us, lest we forget their families traumatised by their loss, lest we forget the evils of war, lest we forget that oppression and cruelty must cease, lest we forget who we want to be.

My grandfather was a Captain in the army in the Second World War. He didn’t talk about the war much, only in regretful terms of the horrors experienced and how his and many other lives were dramatically changed in direction by the effects of the war. He had been training as a lawyer, he became a farmer instead to provide food for the country and they played their part in repopulating the country with 2 girls and 2 boys.

My Grandad persevered until the end with his high morals, his high standards and expectation of his own behaviour. Even at the end of his life he kept a scrupulously tidy bedroom, he would sometimes have to spend an hour putting on his socks but he didn’t give up. He remained in his own home, running the farm, doing the accounts up until a week before he died.

Lest I forget the person I want to be.

What type of person do I want to be? I want to be like the people of the war generation, Scrupulously honest.

You can laugh at me for returning your pen but it’s not mine.

Unswervingly just and seeking out the causes of others, particularly the vulnerable.

Passionately loving even when under pressure.

Dazzlingly pure.

My Grandad told a tale when I was younger and he told a tale of how a lovely young lady was pushed into his room by his army mates and he asked her to leave because he was having none of that. We too have to push the lovely ladies and gentlemen that we aren’t married to out of our bedrooms, out of our computers and out of our minds.

Lest we forget the people we want to be.

I know the type of person I want to be. I want to be like my Grandad who served his country, then he was on the parish council for years. They dedicated a bench to him in the parish for all his hard work.

Traditional morals and values.

It’s time for us to wage a war on ourselves, on our sin. We have let our guard down and been bashed around by our enemy the devil who wants to destroy everything and everyone.

Who is the enemy in this world?

It’s not Kim Yong Un, Myra Hindley, Trump or anyone else that is the enemy. It is the devil who wants to wage war on all of us and destroy the human race. We underestimate the war maker, the one who wants to destroy our very souls. We need to fight against the right enemy.

Today on Remembrance day we remember the dead because they fought against the forces of evil that sought to overcome the world and so we could have a free society. But just because we aren’t in a war now, don’t be fooled there is no battle to fight. It’s time to rise up against the enemy.

We need to decide the people we want to be, lest we forget those who went before us.

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