Monday, July 18, 2011


The Mustard Seed by Nelly Bube (Kazakhstan Artist)
Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128
1 Kings 3:5-12Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the most theological book of the Bible, is an intriguing mixture. It alternates between dense, often convoluted reasoning, and poetry of quite extraordinary power.  The Epistle for this Sunday falls into the second category, and it constitutes one of the finest, most insightful and most inspiring passages in all of Scripture – “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In this single sentence, Paul perfectly captures and expresses the meaning of the Gospel in the lives of ordinary Christians, both past and present, and the assurance that it gives.

But he also thereby illuminates the Gospel for today. The lectionary has omitted some verses from the 13th Chapter of Matthew and in this way intensifies its rapid listing of short parables about the Kingdom of God. Jesus uses these analogies to impress upon his hearers – and upon us – this thought: when we sign up to Christian faith we are making a choice of the greatest significance. Initially it may seem a little thing, but it can transform everything. To be offered faith that the world, despite so many contrary appearances and experiences, is under the control of a personal and loving God, and that even the humblest of us can be joyful participants in his kingdom, is like encountering a priceless treasure that is to be preferred to anything else we could hope to find.

Of course, to many people this Gospel is not new. Since they have grown up in the faith, been “trained for the kingdom of heaven” , through sheer familiarity they often lose this sense of its significance. So their task is to bring out of the treasure they have been given both “what is new and what is old”.

To gain or regain the gift of faith, however, is not to be given guaranteed protection against sickness and injury. Faith is not a kind of insurance. Rather, Paul tells us, it is to know that, whatever injustices, illnesses, and temptations befall us, “in all these things we are more than conquerors" provided we view them all "through him who loved us”.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Marc Chagall -- Jacob's Ladder -- Vanderbilt Divinity Library

 Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday recounts one of the most compelling and significant episodes in the history of Israel’s relationship with God – Jacob’s dream as he sleeps in a remote spot, his head resting on a stone. When he awakens from the dream he declares "Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!"
The possibility that we should be standing at “the gate of heaven” and yet be unaware of the fact, is the underlying motif of Jesus’ parable of the sower. The first version which provided the Gospel for Pentecost 4 alerted us to the spiritual dangers of indifference, passing enthusiasm and worldly projects. This week we have the second version, in which the ‘good seed’ of the Gospel confronts not merely human weakness, but the active agency of Satan.

Belief in Satan is not as common now as it was in times past. And yet, in the light of the horrors of the twentieth century, it is hard to deny that there are forces of evil that can take possession of the hearts and minds of otherwise ordinary people, driving them to wickedness beyond mere selfishness or indifference. Moreover, in the worst cases they have been inspired by radically alternative prophetic messages – the Nazis’ Reich, the Communists’ economic paradise, the Hutus’ ethnic purity, and so on.

So the world in which we find ourselves does seems to have Satanic ‘tares’ alongside divinely planted ‘wheat’. An important part of the parable, though, is that these are inextricably intertwined, and will remain so until God brings the harvest in. This warns us of another danger. One of Satan’s favored strategies lies in exploiting our inclination to leap to judgment and to sort out the world ourselves. But, Paul tells the Romans in this week’s Epistle, “we hope for what we do not see” and so “we wait for it with patience”.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The Sower by Vincent van Gogh
Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14

Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

‘A sower went out to sow’. In today’s Gospel, Jesus recounts one of the most famous parables ever told. It is a simple story made homely for most of us by its familiarity. Yet it has very serious import, a meaning we can miss altogether because it is so easy, and so tempting, to think of the sower as scattering seed on virgin land. No doubt this is what Jesus had in mind, 2000 years ago, but in our circumstances the Gospel is no longer being preached and heard for the first time. The soil, we might say, has been farmland for so long, that we take both the sowing and the harvest for granted.

Even so, the parable still applies. It is right to say that week by week in the course of an ordinary Sunday service, the Gospel goes on being ‘sown’ among regular as well as occasional church goers, and the different ways in which it can be received – carelessly, half heartedly, seriously – are not confined to the secular world outside the church but are possibilities in the heart of the sanctuary also. Indeed, there is an additional danger; the story’s sheer familiarity easily sustains an unspoken assumption that the Gospel has already found fertile ground in our hearts. But has it? We can set ourselves a simple test. On Monday, without the help of the weekly bulletin, can you recall the Bible readings from the day before, and especially the Gospel reading?

In a wonderful phrase Psalm 119, says ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’. This beautifully captures one way in which Christian faith can accompany our journey through life. But it applies only if casualness, complacency, daily distractions, or worries and anxieties have not prevented God’s word from properly taking root in our minds and souls. The real purpose of regular worship is to stop them doing so and allow us to hear the Gospel afresh. If only it can be properly rooted and regularly nourished, we can hope for life of a quite different order. As Paul says in this week’s reading from Romans “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”