All posts by David Brain

Sunday 18th October

Matthew 22:15-22

The authorities in Jerusalem are on edge. It’s the season of Passover and it holds ancient, dangerous memories. Jesus has already caused a stir by entering the city in procession and causing a scene in the temple, so the religious authorities meet and plot against him. They try to fix Jesus on the horns of a dilemma by asking this explosive question: ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?’ Jesus recognises the attempt to discredit him: Tell the people to pay up – and he’s on the side of the Romans – tell them not to pay and he is guilty of sedition. In a corner what can Jesus do? Well, he asks for a coin embossed with Caesar’s image and gives this answer: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” – i.e. everything.

Now, we should not read too much into this passage. Jesus is not providing us with a political programme. It’s really a plea by Jesus to the Jews to get right with God. Yet it does provide us with an opportunity to think about Christianity and politics.

In traditional Christian theology, Jesus is understood as Prophet and as Priest and as King. Let’s start, then, with “prophet”. What it might mean for the church to be a prophetic community? Often the prophet speaks truth to power and to a community of faith based on common convictions. But that doesn’t work with a society that no longer believes in our God. Christian belief that human beings are made in the image of God is one basis for belief in human dignity. We bear the stamp of God just as that coin that was given to Jesus bears the stamp of Caesar. But if you don’t believe in God then convictions about the image of God are meaningless. There is also the uncomfortable fact that if the Word speaks first to the people of God, then it is hard for the church to expose injustice and wrongdoing when the world looks at it and sees imperfection. ‘Let judgement begin with the church!’ is the fundamental message of the prophet.

That brings us to another of Christ’s offices – Christians are called to bear witness to Christ’s sovereign rule. And that means opposing everything that resists or contradicts his rule. Jesus’ realm is founded upon justice and peace and so we work for justice and peace in society. As Christians we have to accept that the rule of Christ in the world is contested and not yet complete. And that means that at times we have to accept compromise: the world is not yet as Christ wants it to be.

The problem that Christians themselves do not agree on what is sinful. And it’s not enough just to appeal to the Bible. It’s all in the interpretation. Actually, there’s a place for leaving to the Emperor things that are the Emperors and keeping God well out of it. Indeed, there is danger in claiming God for our causes. If you think about the Ten Commandments, there is that command about not taking the Lord’s name in vain – maybe it’s about avoiding tying God’s name to our crusades.

What, then, about the third of Christ’s offices: Christ the priest. This, of course, is at the heart of the Church’s ministry to the world. When we gather together to worship God, we become a place where earth is open to heaven. It’s maybe not so exciting a ministry. We might prefer to be campaigning and protesting and manning the barricades. But it’s the one thing that is distinctive about the church, the one thing the world needs us to do for it.

So, give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s. In an increasingly post-Christian, secular world the place of the church is not what it was. By virtue of Christ we are a prophetic, a kingly and a priestly body. But let us acknowledge that the prophetic word addresses us first and holds us to account for our commitment to Jesus. And let’s above all be faithful to our calling as a priestly community who unite in praise and worship, in prayer and in supplication for our world, and who bear witness that Jesus and not the Emperor is Lord.

Revd Sabrina Groeschel

Sunday 11th October – Mission Sunday

Prison Fellowship

 ‘Keep in mind those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them’ – Hebrews 13 v3.

Firstly, thank you very much for adopting Prison Fellowship as your charity for the year – it is greatly appreciated.

Briefly, Prison Fellowship (PF) is a national group of Christians from all denominations, including the ‘free’ churches, who are trying to show God’s mercy and loving kindness through prayer, letters to prisoners, prison visiting, joining in their church services, leading Bible studies where requested, organising presents for prisoners’ children at Christmas (Angel Tree) and delivering a course called Sycamore Tree whereby prisoners face their crimes, say sorry to the victims, forgive themselves and positively move forward.

To be able to go into prisons we are attached to the Prison Chaplaincy who makes all the arrangements with the prison Governor.

The money you raise supports Angel Tree and the Sycamore Tree courses.  So thank you.

Going into prison and meeting the men and women there I realised how vulnerable they were; mainly due to their childhood experiences.  I read an article in the Church Times recently that illustrated this point, but also showed that change was possible.  I thought I would share this one man’s story with you.

Paul Cowley wrote “My childhood was a war zone.  My parents were alcoholics.  I was bullied at school, expelled at 15 for truancy, thrown out of the house by my father at 16 and went to live in a squat.  I got involved in petty crime.  I went to prison at 17 and joined the army at 21 where I served in Northern Ireland and the Falklands.  Before I was 29 I had married, divorced twice and abandoned my son.  I lived by my rules.  I took what I wanted and did not care who I hurt along the way.”

Paul came to experience God in his life through his ex Sergeant Major, and went on to join a church where he met Amanda whom he married in 1997 and they now have a family.  He studied the Alpha Course (an introduction to Christianity) which he decided to share with prisoners.  It is now running in 70% of UK prisons.  He also founded Caring for Ex Offenders in 2005, which offers support and mentoring and where possible they are introduced to a church whose members will nurture them.  During this time Paul studied for the ministry and became a priest, so the Rev’d Paul Cowley is now Bishop’s Adviser for Prisons and Penal Officer, London.

This is Prisoners week 11th – 17th October which will hopefully focus all our minds and our prayers, not only for the prisoners and their families but victims, prison officers, everyone in the legal system and those who make policies.

Prayer is the most valuable thing we can do in a very difficult time for the whole justice system and those it affects.  So we ask that you join us in prayer – especially this week..

Books you may like to read:

‘Thief, Prisoner, Soldier, Priest’ by Rev’d Paul Cowley.
‘Jail Bird’ by Sharon Grenham Thompson (This book recounts Sharon’s life as a prison chaplain in HMP Bedford)

Jan Heptinstall 

[If you are reading this on-line, do go to the PF website  click here ]

Sunday 4th October

In our Reformed tradition we are less concerned with the status of the minister presiding, that the celebrant has to be authentically ordained; we are less concerned as to the status of the bread and wine which we share, that it can be the body and blood of Jesus only when the priest makes that happen; we are less concerned with the worthiness of any of us to ‘do this in memory of me’ as Jesus said, as though even after a prayer of confession and a word of forgiveness we are ultimately worthy of what God has done.

And yet this remains the distinctive Christian act of worship; to miss out on Holy Communion is somehow to miss out on the fulness of God’s grace in Christ. So it is especially hard when circumstances deny us the opportunity to do this, to do this together.

Essential to the whole doctrinal debate around the Communion is the invitation to recognise Jesus as Christ, as Emmanuel God with us, as a living presence with his people whoever and wherever they are. For me, and for those in our tradition, the word Communion best sums up what we do here. There is a togetherness which is timeless in significance.

To call Jesus Lord is to worship him. We do not worship the bread and wine; nor do Orthodox and Catholic Christians even though it may look like it sometimes. It is just that these elements uniquely represent Jesus and his living presence with his people. His own command ‘remember me’ is not nostalgia or wishful thinking, dreaming of how things ought to be, but a recognition that Jesus is Lord and that therefore God is Christlike.

Before we come to the Communion a word about the two readings we heard (Isaiah 5 vv1-7 and Matthew 21 vv33-46). I suspect they need very little unpacking. The old picture, spelt out by Isaiah, of God’s people as failing stewards of the vineyard is taken up by Jesus. He almost repeats what he said on another occasion ‘today is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing’. God’s people have not produced what God requires and – crucially – they think they have. But the grapes are sour; the religion is bitter and empty; self-righteousness has replaced righteousness; the verdict is due.

This challenge is a message for the Church in every age, including our own. Have we produced the fruit of the Spirit in such abundance that God’s goodness can be seen in the harvest of our lives? Put like that it is hard to answer ‘yes’. But there is plenty of evidence of God’s Holy Spirit blowing, unseen as the wind but evident by its effect. Perhaps society is a bit more polarised in this corona-time, between those whose selfishness has become more marked and those who have found grace to help others in a time of need. Let’s commit ourselves as Christians to live as we are meant to live. And let’s never forget the inner strength of God’s forgiveness and encouragement.

So then, one outward and visible sign of the inner grace of God is the sacrament of Holy Communion which we will share. Sometimes this is called the Eucharist which, as you may recall, derives from the Greek work for thanksgiving; we come as thankful people.

Revd Peter Brain

Use this hymn as a reflection:

An upper room did our Lord prepare
for those he loved until the end;
and his disciples still gather there
to celebrate their Risen Friend.

A lasting gift Jesus gave his own —
to share his bread, his loving cup;
whatever burdens may bow us down,
he by his cross shall lift us up.

And after supper he washed their feet,
for service, too, is sacrament;
in him our joy shall be made complete—
sent out to serve, as he was sent.

No end there is! We depart in peace;
he loves beyond the uttermost;
in every room in our Father’s house
he will be there, as Lord and Host.

F. Pratt Green (1903 – 2000)

Sunday 27th September

The Human Factor

You know all about algorithms, which have hit the headlines this summer, don’t you? Personally, I confess my ignorance. My dictionary tells me algorithms are ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer’. They’ve been around over 4,500 years and contributed hugely to civilization.

However, like any human invention or device, algorithms are open to abuse and can  become our masters rather than our servants. As happened spectacularly this summer in the attempt to resolve the A level and GCSE ‘results’ crisis when inadequate input led to cruelly unjust outcomes for many thousands of students, even if teachers’ assessments were eventually given due place and the human factor took its rightful place as ultimate arbiter.

Significantly, computer-managed algorithms are coming under stricter scrutiny as the limitations of automated decision-making are recognised. Whilst we should be grateful for the massive contribution cyber technology has made to human well-being, it’s becoming increasingly clear that people, with their incomparable mental and emotional capacities, their critical thinking and potentially wise judgment, must always be in ultimate control.

But we well know that people like you and me do evil as well as good – either directly or through agencies like algorithms or robotics. The human factor is fickle, as the Bible consistently shows.

The early Genesis myths suggest everything in Creation is intrinsically good yet susceptible to the damaging threats of human misconduct. The prophets chastised their compatriots for their failure to heed the promptings of God. Jesus supremely recognised the fickleness of the human factor – how readily we clamour after material riches rather than spiritual, Mammon instead of God. The Bible testifies that unless we choose good rather than evil, people and planet inevitably suffer.

Today, the crucial choice remains. Each and every man, woman and child has to choose between attitudes and behaviour that cherish life and those that imperil it, between heeding and ignoring the ever present ‘still small voice’.

As we face gargantuan challenges – the pandemic most acutely, the climate crisis surpassing all others – we shall need super computers and commensurately elaborate
algorithms. But our greatest need will be for leaders and citizens infused with the kind of wisdom and love Jesus of Nazareth sublimely expressed and embodied. It seems to me, the human factor remains of paramount importance. What do you think?

Edward Hulme

Sunday 20th September

Reflections on Matthew 20: 1-16

 Watch a group of children play and it won’t be long before you hear someone say,Thats not fair!

It’s not just children. We all believe that ‘fairness’ counts. Too often, however, ‘fairness’ — in the sense of what we deserve is the measure we apply to life. We believe than ‘fairness’ gives us some assurance of order, predictability, control, and establishes a ‘pecking order’.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard would, on the face of it appear to be unfair. That those who had worked for an hour or two should be paid the same as those who had toiled all day was hardly just! However, that may be to misunderstand the meaning of the parable.

Let’s take a closer look at the Parable.

This parable was addressed directly to the disciples and we need to go the previous chapter (Matt.19) to see it in context. There we read of a wealthy man who came to Jesus asking about the secret of eternal life.  He was a good man, he had kept all the commandments from his youth. Yet one thing he lacked. Presumably, because he was completely dependent on his assets, Jesus suggested that he needed to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. That was a step too far and he went away feeling sorry for himself. Jesus warned the disciples that the wealthy find it very difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.

Then Peter, unaware of his self-righteousness, compared himself and the disciples with the rich man. He said, what about us? We’ve left everything to follow you. How shall we fare?”  Jesus responded that they, and all others who make great sacrifices will be repaid many times over. But lest Peter get the wrong impression, Jesus hastened to add “Many that are first will be last, and the last first.”

Some have suggested that the parable was a warning to those who for centuries looked upon themselves as the favoured people of God. They were bound to God by a special covenant, and they were the exclusive recipients of God’s special promises. Very early they’d entered the Lord’s vineyard. All other nations were latecomers. So according to this view, Jesus is saying that the Jews, like the early workers in the Vineyard thought they deserved better and resented the gentiles being treated equally. Jesus’ parable emphasises the reversal of fortunes. .The Gentiles who were last to enter the kingdom would be made first; and the Jews, who were first, because of their delusions of superiority, would be last. This interpretation has some merit, especially considering the parable stands in a series of parables that have to do with the Jews’ rejection that the kingdom of God was present in Jesus.

There are two opposing views hinted at in the parable. One centres on ourselves and upon human ingenuity to improve our lives, bring satisfaction, and happiness. The other centres on the generosity of God. The first is about individuality, independence, human effort and achievement. The other’s about receiving, sharing, inter-dependence, the recognition that there’s something far greater than mere human endeavour, that life’s dependent on God, on the love of God who in Christ calls us to live now as citizens of his kingdom by living in relationship with God and with one other and I would add, in harmony with the whole of creation.

The  popular and moving musical Les Misérables Is the story of a French peasant called Jean Valjean, who is convicted and imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. After serving nineteen years in jail he’s paroled. But he breaks his parole and is hunted down by Javere, a former prison guard who has become an inspector in the police. Now a fugitive on the run Valjean is offered shelter in a monastery. But he abuses the Bishop’s hospitality by stealing a pair of valuable candlesticks.

Instead of turning him in, the Bishop forgives him and refuses to testify against him. Valjean is overwhelmed by the Bishop’s action and his life is changed by this man of grace. He vows to live up to the Bishop’s love and trust and sets forth to build a new life, one of service to humanity, and thus to God.

It’s notoriously difficult to speak of Grace. How can we speak of that which we don’t deserve but which is freely offered? How can we speak of God’s incomprehensible love which is always present with the power to transform us and bring us into a renewed relationship with God?

The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard suggests that human endeavour and grace stand in opposition to one another. The labourers in the vineyard, especially those who’d slaved all day, thought they deserved the reward they received — after all they’d worked hard for it! Those who came later, who’d worked only a few hours but were equally rewarded, would, we’d like to think, be so full of gratitude for the generosity shown for they received far more than they deserved.

So the last will be first, and the first will be last..”That’s not how our world sees it. The world says the last are last and the first are first because they deserve it. It’s what’s ‘fair’. Our understanding of ‘fairness’, however, doesn’t seem to have priority in God’s kingdom – where grace is the rule not the exception.

Grace looks beyond our productivity, our appearance, our dress, our race or ethnicity, our accomplishments, our failures. Grace recognises there is more to life than what we achieve. Wages reveal human effort. along with achievement, success, reward, and makes distinctions, many false and brings separation. Grace just happens and seeks to be inclusive and creates unity.

Too often we diminish our understanding of ‘God’s grace’ by associating it merely with the forgiveness of sin.  As such we limit its effectiveness. I, by no means, want to deny the reality, or the impact, that forgiveness has on those who truly repent and pray for forgiveness nor on the freedom, joy, and renewal that God’s forgiveness imparts. But, I want to go further.  Too often the concentration on human failure and sin can be too inward looking & self-centred  and can make for an unhealthy preoccupation with human wretchedness and a wallowing in guilt!

I want to change the focus to a celebration of the ever-present love of God that enables the transformation of whoever or whatever it touches, creating something new, positive and good even out of the worst of life’s adversities and human failure and evil. ‘Grace’ is that divine love which by its very nature transforms and redeems. The only precondition of grace is that we show up and open ourselves to receive what God is giving. When we do we begin to see our lives, the world, our neighbour in a different light and we begin to see the possibility of, and potential for, change / transformation.

Rev’d Michael Diffey

 

Sunday 13th September

A ‘wild’ harvest       (Psalm 114, Matthew 18: 21-35)

 This harvest of all harvests, we cannot think we live in a world which is tamed and controlled – this is a wild harvest.

In giving thanks for the harvest, we should remember our part in the living systems of the planet. More and more scientists reject the term ‘environment’ for the natural world – as if it is the backdrop for our human play. There is one world, one order of inter-dependent living systems, we are just a part of the life of the earth, and called to live in it and alongside other parts with care and with gratitude and appreciation. For too long the human race has sought to subdue and exploit the earth – we need to find ways to remember we are part of the life of the earth.

So I want to challenge us this harvest to engage in some “rewilding”. I can recommend a book by Simon Barnes – “Rewild Yourself”. It contains simple suggestions of ways to become more aware and more appreciative of nature – and I would add, more grateful to the creator God who made it all. Harvest can be a chance to thank God for the beauty of wildness.

We can find God’s work when we look closely at nature – and even find God himself. But as we work to make ourselves wilder to appreciate nature, we also need to allow God to be wild. If harvest makes us think that nature can be neatly lined up like carrots on the window-sill, and God with them, we are not looking carefully enough. Nature can be wild and strange – and our God is bigger and wilder than his creation.

So Psalm 114 – as well as giving praise to God for caring for and saving God’s people, is also clear that God is not to be tamed – he is to be treated with awe

“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob..”

This wild harvest, as we try to re-wild ourselves, we remember the wonder and the wildness of God.

So where does the Gospel reading and Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness fit in?

Well, we could certainly reflect on the forgiveness that we should seek for all the ways in which human beings have harmed the wild world.

But I think Jesus is saying something more than pointing out our need for forgiveness – he is also reminding us of the kinds of people we are meant to be in relation to others.

Being wild does not mean we do exactly as we please. We do well to remember that we are creatures who are part of the order of the created world – but that doesn’t mean we are just ‘brute beasts’ who cannot be expected to behave in ways that are loving and just.

One of my Methodist colleagues was telling me last week about a church where many new people have come to know God’s love in Christ in recent weeks. It was a great story of growth and hope – but, he said, one woman in particular was starting to realise that being full of the joy of being loved was not enough in her discipleship of Jesus. She was feeling loved, and was understandably joyful about that – but she had not yet learned to love and care for others.. that was her next goal in life.

I thought of her when I read this part of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is clear that being forgiven should lead us to being forgiving.

Being wild and relating to a wild God teaches us how to be truly alive.

But being truly alive is not just pleasing ourselves and wildly throwing caution to the wind – we respond to the life that is in us in ways that are full of joy and delight – but are also peaceful and just and caring.

May this harvest fill us with life and hope – and produce in us a harvest of love so that God’s Kingdom may grow – wild and free and abundantly for all.

Rev’d Ruth Whitehead (Synod Moderator)

Sunday 6th September

Four hundred years ago on September 6 1620 a mixed crowd led by some Reformed Christians set sail from Plymouth on board the Mayflower, to establish a colony in the New World built around their principles of religious and political freedom. Their descendants helped draft the Declaration of Independence: it starts with this familiar flourish:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.

I will leave you to discuss whether you feel that the current administration of the USA honours this claim! But freedom is what they wanted and, to a great extent, freedom is what they achieved, for better for worse. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Pilgrims clearly felt strongly that freedom of worship and belief was worth risking everything for. There is a hymn based on the parting words of Pastor John Robinson when
these Pilgrims started out from Holland: ‘The Lord hath more light and truth yet to break forth from His holy word’. More light and truth – that is a vision we might share.

Freedom to change is in the air, some of it triggered by the ‘shut-down’. In many areas of life we need to see and grasp new opportunities and options. This is as true for the church
as it is for any area of life. The Lord hath more light and truth – and not just light at the end of the tunnel either. Not fantasy or wishful thinking. We can do some things differently and if we can, then we should. The Pilgrims have a lesson for us – and it isn’t ‘go and become the United States of America’! Certainly not that.

In their Reformed tradition we too can cherish our freedom in worship, our determination to read and study the Bible, our authority as a Church Meeting to govern ourselves as an
organisation, our responsibilities to build a good society. More light and truth is the Reformed agenda, something Glenorchy should be known for.

In short, for the Pilgrims God was telling them to trust Him for tomorrow. For us too, there will be tomorrow; God is calling us to make it according to his will, accepting the risks, looking out for more light and truth. That message, that gracious promise stays the same after 400 years, indeed after 2000 years. Follow me and trust me, says Jesus, with all that that implies.

Revd Peter Brain

Sunday 30th August

As we approach the end of the first phase of lock-down – not knowing what the autumn and winter will bring – we shall be able to gather next week (September 6) in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day for a service of worship, reduced in numbers able to attend and also reduced in length.
Everyone, including those who are not able to attend or who prefer not to, will continue to receive the weekly reflection, which Geoff has been nobly circulating and which Elders have been delivering over these past months.

For this Sunday, August 30, one of the recommended Bible readings contains Paul’s clear instruction to the church in Rome and to us:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12, vv9-13)

This is a kind of checklist of Christian attitudes and practice. We are to live like this. As Sabrina wrote last week, it’s not that Christians have a monopoly of this kind of determined unselfishness, but it is certainly what we should aim for as we seek to follow Jesus who, as Paul writes elsewhere, ‘loved me and gave himself for me’. We are to be thankful people, sustained in faith, hope and love.

Nor do we need to be in a congregation week by week to live this life – it’s just much more demanding when we cannot meet, as you and I surely know by now. Our morale and our faithfulness is certainly strengthened by meeting regularly, sharing in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I have often prayed for ‘the housebound’ but not really understood their plight until lock-down forced us all to experience it, even partially. I also need to acknowledge that I have not been on the phone as much as I intended; nor am I the only one, I guess. So apologies to those who may feel at all neglected as ‘housebound’.

Somehow September feels as though life ought to be starting up again – and it isn’t. So patience and hope, good Christian virtues, are still required. Plus all the suggestions made by Paul in the quote above.

And why not check out Matthew 6, v6.  God bless.

Peter.

Sunday 23rd August

Reflection on Mark 7,24-30

Are you familiar with this situation: Someone starts talking to you and it is completely the wrong moment? Along comes this woman, you don’t even know her, and she wants your help. You are not at all responsible for the matter she is seeking help with and it really isn’t a convenient time for you to have to deal with anything else. Doesn’t she realise that she is bothering you? How many chances does this woman have to change your mind? What would change your mind about wanting to listen and help – neediness, cleverness, charm? Would how attractive she is or how she is dressed make a difference to your reaction? And what if this woman wore a headscarf?

Jesus meets such a woman. The woman is a mother, a worried mother, and she is certain: this man can help her daughter. This man has to help her daughter. That is her goal and it pursues this persistently. But he rejects her in, contrast to our image of Jesus, a terrifying tone. Interpretations of this story, despite various attempts, cannot deny the fact that it presents a deep insult to the woman. If at this point in the story there was a full stop, it would presumably not even have been included in scripture. But we do find this story here in Mark’s gospel, because it doesn’t end here and because it continues in a way one might not have expected.

We probably would have expected reactions such as the woman withdrawing from the scene disappointedly, that she leaves muttering to herself “there is no point”, that she turns away indignantly and tells everyone how rude this Jesus is, that she becomes aggressive and insults Jesus directly, possible even swears at him. But she reacts unexpectedly. She stays with Jesus. She has a goal and is not giving up yet. What it does is
take his negative reaction and convert it into a positive one. She reacts in a way we have many times heard Jesus do in his arguments with the Pharisees and scribes, quick-witted and astonishing. She takes the image used here to another level. Unfortunately, not many Bible translations make this particularly clear and unless we look at the original text, we might in fact miss it.

The word used by Jesus for child in v27 is an expression for child in the broadest sense. It could include grown up children and loved ones in its meaning. The word the woman uses for children though can only be used to refer to small children. The change of word therefore stands for a change from an abstract picture to the real-life problem the woman and her daughter are experiencing. The woman initiates this change by expressly addressing Jesus as who she needs him to be. “Kyrios”, she says to him, and if we rephrase her words to suit our modern way of expressing this: There is a little child that needs your help. After that Jesus no longer tries to ward her off. The woman has convinced him. He gives her the help she asked for. “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

We do not know what the woman in this story associated with the term “Kyrios”. It is an enigmatic term that could mean anything from a mere polite greeting to a confession of belief. We therefore do not know exactly what she believed in or not. We do know though that her words caused Jesus to change his viewpoint and actions after initially rejecting her. So we learn from this story that we can expect help regardless of whether we believe in the “right way” (if there is such a thing) or whether we belong to the “correct” (faith) community. We can expect help when we are sure that we have turned to the right one. Then we don’t need to give up too quickly, even if at first it might seem that our pleas for help are not heard.

Of course, the lesson doesn’t stop here, as this also means that others can expect help from us. As Christians we have a duty to help others when they are need, even those whom we might prefer to distance ourselves from. Whether to us these people represent homeless people, refugees, people addicted to alcohol or drugs, politicians, church leaders, homosexuals, feminists,… each of us has their own limits of whom we feel comfortable or uncomfortable with and this story reminds that if someone is in need we are called to overcome those limits in order to help those in need.

Sabrina Groeschel

Sunday 16th August

Isaiah 56: 7b … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Slowly, our churches are opening up again: some for private prayer, others also for
spoken worship but with careful distancing and new rules. These moves are in
addition to continuing services on Zoom and Youtube, offering a rich choice of styles
and settings. However you are worshipping at present, Isaiah’s words are an inspiring
prophetic vision – and a challenging one.

‘For all peoples’? The invitation comes from God; it is not ‘us’ inviting ‘them’ into a
holy group. His doors are open wide and the parable of the sheep and goats suggests
that we may be surprised at who goes into his house of prayer. Have you caught a
glimpse of this, perhaps as part of a congregation encompassing a variety of ages,
nationalities and denominations? I have found it heartening that online worship is
attracting more people and from many places and backgrounds. Zoom offers access
by digital means or telephone with no pressures and you choose how much you
participate. The technology ensures a degree of informality and you can see the
names of participants instead of trying to remember them! Although not the same as
the direct fellowship that we miss, such open equal access (albeit still limited) is
valued.

Yet we live in a society which does not give equal open access to all. Although it is
hard to admit it, ‘white, male, heterosexual’ is still regarded by most people in the
UK as the norm or even the best; we have unconscious bias. To face up to this AND
act upon it is not easy. Even in the churches, we produce reports and make rules but
the actual patterns of behaviour and networking do not alter much. I was heartened
to see that of the 15 Methodist ordinands this year, 8 are women and three are
Malay, Nigerian and Chinese.

Lockdown changed our view of society and perhaps of God: some found God in
nature, others saw the Holy Spirit at work in the kindness of neighbours, the
dedication of carers and the cheerfulness of those delivering essential services. Many
of these people did not fit that ‘norm’ and I pray that having acknowledged their
selflessness, we will continue to value them.

As Christians we are called to act justly and ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. We are
good at helping others: foodbanks, support for asylum seekers, apps to detect
exploitation. It is much harder to truly accept everyone as our equal but with
differing abilities and views. We do well to remember that God chose to come to us
as a Palestinian Jew, a refugee who worked with his hands and died a shameful
death.

Caroline Keep