The Lord’s Supper is a concentrated form of the ministry of Word and Spirit that enlivens and strengthens faith. The Lord’s Supper involves both divine and human action: the risen Lord offers himself in the word of the gospel by his Spirit, and believers participate through call and response, by coming forward and giving one to another, and then eating and drinking in faith. The whole event of the Lord’s Supper communicates Christ, not simply the bread and wine. Without the gospel proclaimed, without the presence of other believers, without faith given by the Spirit, we cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
During this period of physical distancing, I have been cautious with our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I have done this to observe both the directions of our Archbishop and also for theological reasons. 1 Corinthians 11 provides warnings about not treating the supper lightly, including ‘discerning the body’ rightly (11:29). This ‘body’ refers not to the elements on the table but to the gathered community sharing the meal. This is about discerning the real presence of Christ in our fellow believers around the table. The Lord’s Supper is a physical, embodied celebration of our spiritual unity. But while our spiritual unity remains during lockdown, we are unable to physically embody the normal actions of this ritual-meal.
On Easter Sunday we lamented that we could not physically feast together as we prayed words from the Great Thanksgiving, with no one sharing the bread or cup. Similarly, when we were able to have up to 20 brothers and sisters physically present some were able to share in the sacrament, yet we continued to grieve the diminished physical presence of that time. While a computer can do a good job of transmitting video and sound, it cannot transmit the physical experience of hugs, handshakes, face-to-face conversation, food, drink, touch, taste or smell. It is very difficult to ‘break the same bread’ and ‘drink from the same cup’ over the Internet. That is why loathe to suggest that we can properly re-member Christ through this Supper when the members of Christ’s body are physically separated.
Having said this, other churches do frequently video the priest sharing bread and wine despite the wider church not being physically present. To some extent this is understandable, because Christ does promise to be present whenever two or three are gathered in his name. And I suppose we are still gathering, albeit virtually. So perhaps we can ‘discern the body’ through our online connections even though we cannot fully embody this ritual-meal while physically separate. Yet I still prefer patience, because the command to discern Christ’s presence in our fellow brothers and sisters at the table includes ‘waiting for each other’ until we can all eat together (1 Cor. 11:33).
But despite this physical limitation, our spiritual union with Christ and each other remains. Alongside our patience, I encourage you to keep connecting and supporting each other via phone and online, ‘discerning’ the body as best we can. Christ remains present whenever you share with other Christians through prayerful conversation, speaking the word to one another with hearts lifted to the Lord. I have also prepared a liturgy which may assist your practice of spiritual communion at home. You can access it here.
During this time of increased stress and anxiety, I’ve realised the importance of reminding myself of the storyline given by God instead of being consumed by my daily newsfeed. Let me explain…
When Coronavirus entered our headlines in February and March, I was happily indifferent to the news. But in the space of a few weeks, my work and responsibilities completely changed. I soon had responsibility to ensure safety through measures like physical distance, extra hand sanitiser, closure of buildings, and closing All Souls’ activities. (Perhaps your life has been impacted far more, through home schooling, separation from loved ones, work stress and other significant changes.) Yet over time, my active involvement in this new storyline of COVID-19 began to shape my heart.
Recently I’ve reflected on how I was being internally shaped by this constant barrage of negative news. I began to check the news several times a day, increasingly identifying with the negative storyline of announcements, restrictions and diocesan policies. Gradually, I was becoming more fearful, anxious, stressed and less loving. But by God’s help, I can change this trajectory.
God invites us to remember the good news of Jesus repeatedly in our days, identifying with the biblical storyline that Jesus fulfils. I don’t actually need to check the news headlines several times a day or even every day, despite COVID-19 affecting my life. God invites us to keep identifying with a bigger storyline, that has a bigger impact on our lives. Indeed, when I do choose to occasionally check the latest COVID numbers or restrictions, I should do so prayerfully as a participant in Christ’s body and in reference to the Bible's bigger story.
Of course, it would be inappropriate to completely ignore the current bad news and restrictions around us. Loving our neighbours at this time includes staying at home, wearing face masks, and keeping the rules. But at the same time, beware that powerful ideologies can undermine our faith. The constant reinforcement of godless perspectives will increase our anxiety, fear, cynicism, negativity and resentment toward others. But as we read the Scriptures and interpret our lives in reference to God’s grace revealed in Jesus, we should seek the Holy Spirit to increase our love, joy, peace, patience, forbearance, gentleness/kindness, goodness, and faith/faithfulness (Galatians 5:22-23). This is something I need to remember amidst these COVID changes!
Don’t let the current bad stories and headlines consume you. The story of God revealed in Jesus, experienced through the Holy Spirit is our primary storyline. Remind yourself today of the headline of our faith: Jesus’ sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, a past event that changes the future and incorporates us into Christ’s body and resurrection life through the Holy Spirit. This story invites us to actively participate as Christ’s body as we engage with the Scriptures and pursue the true source of our identity, peace, joy, hope, love and life.
I have been enjoying the weekly meetings at which we have undertaken The Prayer Course. The group has been small; usually about ten in attendance, although last week there were thirteen. Slowly we have been considering different aspects of prayer with a focus on The Lord’s Prayer to guide us.
Last Wednesday we considered “listening”, which is probably what we do least in prayer. The line from The Lord’s Prayer was, “Give us today our daily bread.”
A number of years ago now, when I took a weekly service at Firbank Grammar School, I was asked to talk about The Lord’s Prayer. As we considered this line of the prayer, we appreciated that it wasn’t just about bread or even about food. The line helped us to focus on our dependence upon God and his many provisions – yes our food, but clean water, good medical care, our education, friendships and so on.
Something else that we must consider is how God communicates with us. We are dependent upon his word to us. There is his Word (the Bible), as well as advice from Christian friends and our own common sense. The presenter of the series, Pete Grieg, suggests that when listening to God we remember ABC – Advice, Bible, Common Sense.
“Give us today our daily bread” might mean we are eager and listening for God’s voice.
And we must also note that despite the fact that many of us say the prayer quietly and privately and individually, that the pro-nouns are plural. Give us today our daily bread. We might be praying for ourselves, but the prayer is for all humanity.
The Lord’s Prayer is a great prayer, but it is more than a list of requests. As we offer the prayer slowly, we will find God speaking to us. The challenge we ask ourselves: are we listening?
Bless you as you listen
Luke 13:1 makes it clear that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Today’s gospel reading is about a healing that takes place that day. We read that a spirit had crippled a woman for 18 years.
The miracle itself is hardly described. Some miracles go to great lengths to show the run up and the miraculous action. Here Luke rushes past the description of the miracle to get to the conflict with the synagogue officials.
The only thing Jesus does physically is to lay hands on the woman. The power of the miracle is in what precedes and follows it: Jesus announces her freedom from the crippling spirit (“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”) with a word and when she is healed, the healing happens in the form of the divine passive (“she stood up straight” actually reads in the Greek as she “was straightened up” - assuming God as agent). All Jesus did was to lay on hands between the divine announcement and the divine action.
Jesus is keen to show God’s concern to heal, liberate and unbind his people. Jesus wants us to have life in its fullness, and sets out to free us from everything that holds us captive. This means sickness, but also human attitude and judgements which imprison or constrict us.
For Jesus mercy and compassion are paramount. Ask for a heart that is like the heart of Jesus, always compassionate and ready to defend the poor and suffering.
Do you notice how easy it is to give a helping hand when it suits and find reasons to do otherwise when it doesn’t? Do you criticise how others go about aiding those who are less fortunate? What can you do about it?
Most of us have had experiences that have forever changed our lives, either for the better or for the worse. We didn’t know when we got up that morning that before nightfall, our lives would be different, but that’s what happened. Maybe you were in an accident that left you permanently impaired. Or, positively, may-be you met a person who would become your lifelong friend.
Hearing about the Lord Jesus Christ is just such a watershed experience, whether a person recognises it or not. To hear about the unique person of Jesus Christ and what he came to do is a fork in the road of life. From that point, either you go down the path toward eternal life or you turn away toward the complete opposite. You cannot hear about Jesus Christ and remain the same. He draws a line in the sand. Either you cross that line and receive the salvation he offers, or you stay on your side of the line and eventually face his judgment.
Last week we heard of the necessity to be ready for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour. Now (Luke 12:49-53) Jesus shows that his purpose was to cast fire on the earth and that fire would cause division, sometimes even amongst family members. So, the disciples need to be prepared for conflict.
Then (12:54-59) Luke records Jesus’ words to the whole multitude, where he chides them for being able to analyse the weather, but unable to recognise the signs of the times, namely that the Messiah is in their very midst.
Since Jesus draws a line that forces us to take sides, we have to ask ourselves which side we prefer. And your answer is?
A task that Margie has commenced in retirement is the sorting of recipes.Some have been cut from magazines and others have been typed out on sheets of paper. Many years ago we bought a copy of the Brighton Grammar cookbook and the only recipe used is for a chocolate cake – its called One for the Boys. Margie bakes this cake so often that she must know the recipe by heart, but I suspect she is afraid that one step or ingredient might be omitted. Why keep a whole book when only one recipe is used? And, of course, for many things now we go online and actually watch
something being prepared step by step.
Today’s gospel reading is giving some good teaching for the Christian life. It might seem demanding, but have you read this story before?
A parishioner bumped into a man who hadn’t been seen at church for a long time. This led to a greeting and the man asked the parishioner why the world was in such a state with signs of poverty even in his suburb. The parishioner really didn’t have all the answers and so suggested that the man pray about it. The response was, “I’ve thought about asking God why he allows poverty to exist, but I’m afraid he might ask me the same question.”
We have asked God this question at Parish Council and this has led to our connection with BayCISS. This doesn’t let us off the hook as individuals. Margie and I talk about donations that we might like to make to charitable agencies annually, but then there other opportunities we have to give to individuals.
The two points that stood out for me were at the beginning and the end. Firstly, “Do not be afraid.” Lastly, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
“Do not be afraid” suggests to me that this is something I can do. Hence a recipe is good for those specific steps and oven temperatures, etc. that will ultimately produce a delicious chocolate cake. I’m not wanting to undermine the gospel by likening it to a recipe, but I do believe that God gives us teaching/visions/ideas and specific commands for many aspects of life. The challenge is to be open to him and obedient.
“… the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” is a reminder to me that God’s grace is sufficient for me and that I can be ready to meet him. It takes me to the beginning “Do not be afraid.” It doesn’t load me with heaps of guilt, but it makes me stay in communication with the Lord Jesus so that I keep following him and hence be ready when he comes.
Talk to the Lord about the next step in your life.
When I was a school boy (okay many, many years ago) the popular lunch-time club was the English Club. The head of English, Mr Walkie, was a fantastic teacher. We would write poems, limericks (to read aloud and laugh uncontrollably) and have debates. My first foray into the English Club debating, when in form 3, was with the topic, “It is the opinion of this house that money is the root of all evil.” I argued the case and much to my embarrassment and pleasure a couple of older boys said I did a good job. Who asked for their opinion?
Of course, today’s gospel reading brings it all back. I appreciate that none of the
passage from Luke should ever go to the back of my mind. Who doesn’t like money? Who could do with just a little bit more? The Bible has quite a bit to say about greed. I know that greed might apply to things apart from money, eg power.
Elsewhere we read “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal” Matthew 6.19 and “You cannot serve God and wealth” Matthew 6.24.
And concerning power we read “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10.43-45
It is the love of money, and not money itself, that is the problem. The love of money is a sin because it gets in the way of worshipping God. Think of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. This man could not follow Jesus because he was following money. His love of this world interfered with his love for God.
Greed refuses to be satisfied. More often than not, the more we get, the more we want. The gospel reading today reminds us that money and possessions will not protect us. Matthew 6.33 says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
A song I used to sing in youth group was:
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you , Allelu Alleluia.
Ask and it shall be given unto you,
Seek and ye shall find,
Knock and it shall be opened unto you, Allelu Alleluia
This chorus links well this week’s reading with that of last week.
Bless you as you seek to follow the teaching.
Our gospel reading today is short and sweet and a story to which we find it easy to relate. Sometimes we ask: are we/you a Mary or a Martha? As if there is a choice.
Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as a disciple would do. She was undertaking a role usually reserved for men. She was keen to be a disciple of Jesus. True, she left Martha with all the work.
Martha, grumpy with all the work left to her, approaches Jesus for help to persuade Mary to get up and help. What sort of hospitality is Martha offering? Where is the gracious host? Can you imagine arriving at a house of friends for a meal and the comments before the food is served include, “I’ve had a busy
day, been rushed off my feet, but now that you are here we may as well sit down for a quick bite to eat.” How welcome would you feel?
Martha is both distracted from the message of Jesus and from her role as a host.
James offers a word of support for Jesus in his letter: “… be doers of the word, and not merely hearers …” Ja 1.22
We have the opportunity to be doers of the word with our gifts to BayCISS.
We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service. There is need of only one thing: attention to our guest. As it turns out, our guest is also our host, with abundant gifts to give.
Will you, men and women of All Souls, be both Martha and Mary?
I recall hearing the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5) as a child. I think I was stunned to think that a leper had to walk along and call out “Unclean, unclean.” How embarrassing! How frightening!
In Biblical times leprosy was incurable and it was feared. Yet, of course, leprosy is a sign only visible on the skin’s surface. The disease would have taken hold internally ages before it was visible. Leprosy was incurable in those days just as sin, which like leprosy takes hold internally, was incurable too. By ourselves we can do nothing about the problem of sin.
The leper was isolated from his/her community. Sin separates us from God and often from our community.
Lepers start to see discolouration of their skin before areas become numb or muscles atrophy. Sin is like this. Humans become separated from God, their hearts harden and spiritually speaking they die. Often we are not aware of this, but we become insensitive to all that God desires for us.
As the Lord healed Naaman the picture became obvious. His power to cleanse the leper demonstrated he was the solution to human sin and defilement; he alone was and is the means of reconciliation.
The term “cure” in 2 Kings 5:3 literally meant, “to receive back.” This provides us with a fitting picture of our reconciliation to God and to one another.
Namaan held a high position, but had a very great problem. We need to understand that God often uses the personal failures, sicknesses, and problems we have as a means to bring us to the end of ourselves and to a knowledge of the Lord and His salvation. God uses problems in life to force us to face our deeper problem, the problem of sin, and the need of God’s forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
So much from a sweet story about a servant girl and an illustrious leader. To the small boy that was all it was, but as I read it now I see so much more there.
The cover of our pew sheet displays the nine Gifts of the Spirit, which is a Biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit, according to chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (5.22) The fruit is contrasted with the works of the flesh which immediately precede it in this chapter.
The first fruit is love. This love in Greek is agape and denotes an undefeatable benevolence and goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behaviour. It is a love that gives freely without asking anything in return. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world and which all have experienced. We have to ask ourselves if we display it in daily living.
Of the other eight we have some understanding of the words and qualities under discussion. They are grouped together and likened to fruit, which is the natural product of many living things.
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Spirit, not by the Christian. The Greek word is singular, showing that “fruit” is a unified whole, not independent characteristics. As we grow, all the characteristics of Christ will be manifested in our lives. Yet, like physical fruit needs time to grow, the fruit of the Spirit will not ripen in our lives overnight.
As we give the Spirit more control of our lives, He begins to do in and through us what only He can do - to shape us and grow us to look like Jesus. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being trans-formed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Our task is to be open to the Holy Spirit and so allow him to do his work in us.
Bless you as you open yourself to him.