Lent 3 B Cleansing the ‘sacred’

1 Mar

I think when I was taught R.E. years ago, I would have been able to recite the 10 commandments but now I had to look at the first reading to be reminded what they are.  The full reading includes the rule that we shouldn’t have images or religious statues – which Catholics particularly ignore.  But it also says that later generations will be punished for the misdeeds of predecessors, and this I think is certainly born out by our history – past carelessness about the environment is seriously damaging us now, and even causing the early deaths of lots of us.  But even the shorter reading means you shouldn’t covet what your neighbour has, yet I would love to be as good as some of the people I know.   So lets be careful about taking past rules as too applicable when taken literally in our situation today.

Paul, fairly near the beginning of his 1st letter to the Corinthians passes over the wisdom  and the miraculous in favour of preaching about our saviour being crucified.  But I think we should not so much celebrate this, as regret the circumstances that brought it about.  It was the majority of the enthusiastic followers of Jesus who misunderstood him, thinking he would release them from Roman domination and bring them – the chosen people – to be dominant in the world.  Jesus’ trouble making in the Temple over the misuse of religion, gave many of His followers the expectation that He would cleanse their religion of its selfish leaders and of the dominance of the hated Roman authorities;  it was this attitude that would contribute to Jesus’ arrest and execution – crucifixion!

Whereas the other gospels place the ‘cleansing of the Temple’ (as the incident is called) just prior to Jesus’ last days, John’s gospel has it at the beginning of a three year period of public ministry.  When wondering why this seemingly unlikely timing we must realise that John is not writing history but preaching about Jesus’ impact on people wanting to live ‘good Christian lives’ as we might say.  In John’s gospel it comes immediately after the story of the marriage feast at Cana and I think John wants to contrast the two events.  The wedding at Cana is really a secular party in someone’s house, celebrating the marriage and love of two people, with friends and relatives – with feasting and wine.  This contrasts with the celebration of the feast of Passover in the sacred temple with the need to buy offerings as gifts and to change money to donate to the Temple; a celebration controlled and encouraged mostly by the priests, scribes and Pharisees, at which people were expected to attend.  At Cana Jesus’ presence and contribution is quite subordinate to the celebration – even His miracle of water into wine is only knowable by the servants.  In the Temple scene Jesus’ activity is ‘unavoidable’ and He has a good bit to say.  At Cana the servants just quietly do what Jesus suggests but in the Temple the ‘religious leaders’ are indignant at His actions.  Let’s try to be like the guests at the wedding celebrating the beautiful things in life – though knowing they are all due to the influence of Jesus!

Lent 2 B Transfiguration

22 Feb

The general story of the first reading told to us today is one that would have been related time and time again by the older members of families as they sat around their evening fire as nomads, hopefully on their way to a land which Abraham had been promise by God.  But it was not really until they were settled there that they began to write down some of these tales.  The written stories in the Bible show evidence of earlier drafts over several centuries clearly elaborating the story to suit their situation at that time.  So the story of the sacrifice of Abraham should be seen as a story in a kind of sermon trying to tell listeners something about how God related to people then and how their audience should regard God.  But since the story is God’s despite being transmitted by humans it will have something at least of a universal truth within it and hence something to say to us.  Certainly there had been human sacrifices in the distant past, but that now one should treat one’s own life by living for the good of others, but also that we should trust and do what God asks of us however demanding this seems to be – He only wants the best from us and for us.

The reading from Romans shows us how God Himself having Jesus as a human son, experienced this sacrifice of life for the truth and the good of others.  We should, however, beware falling into the trap, that Christians often do, of thinking that the death of Jesus – God’s Son –  was a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God the Father.  This would be thinking of God as a mean and strict overlord rather than as a loving creator of free humans who themselves are sometimes a disappointment to Him by their mean ways and selfishness; for such selfish thinking was the cause of Jesus’ crucifixion.  It is hard for us to see things this way because we just can’t imagine what God is like – we only really know what an over-confident human can be like – we are at times like that ourselves.

But there are moments, I think, when we glimpse something of the actual reality of the world we are in – it seems transformed!  We might see this in the beauty of nature and its phenomena, or in the remarkableness of the things people do, say and even just what they are.  God is invisible but can be seen in His ongoing creation – in things, in people and occasionally just in our own ‘grasp’ of reality.  The readings show something of the activity and the plans and activity  of God in our world.  The gospel gives us an account of this kind of insight that we might have – it is told in the story of three of the disciples seeing Jesus “for what He is.”  And this is in the context of the whole bible early history of encounters with God (especially by Moses) and of the foretaste that the people had of God’s life in the preaching of their prophets (lie Elijah).  The wonderful key  stage in this revelation is the vision of the reality that Jesus is – He is the presence of God in our world as one of us even here and now but also to some extent in all of nature and especially people at their best.

Lent 1 B The kingdom is near

15 Feb

The weather is always a good topic for conversation, and even when we are isolated it’s one of the first things we look at each morning and even if we have no one to talk to we think about it – its always part of the news on the radio or television.  The story of the flood in the Bible probably originated from some pretty exceptional weather, and other civilizations also had stories of this kind.  Really bad weather is something to talk about for a long time afterwards – and this exceptional flood story was even past down through generations.  The Bible that we have, went through a number of ‘revisions’ which we can recognise by the different style and also the use of different names for god.  The bible we have now is the text that was settled upon just a few centuries before the time of Christ.  The reading for the first Sunday of Lent this year (Genesis 9:8-17) refers to God’s relationship to us humans and indeed to the whole of creation as a covenant – an important and binding relationship.  This has been, is now and always will be throughout time, a sure relationship we, as creatures, have with God as our ongoing creator.  We Christians believe this and should be aware of it and the flood story reminds us of our responsibility of caring for ourselves, our fellow humans and the whole of creation.  What can we actually do about this?

The second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) considers this story of the flood to be reflected in the ceremony of Christian baptism – which in those days was more usually total immersion – more like a flood.  They would come up out of the water refreshed and relieved but also committed to play their part in their relationship with the Creator – with God.  We Christians who have been through this ceremony, especially should be aware of caring for the environment and thus showing concern for others, for later generations and for the whole of God’s creation.  It is a process that from our standpoint is ongoing but from God’s is timeless – a status that we shall all participate in after completing this life here on earth.  And we believe that applies to all not just to us Christians.  In the gospel for this Sunday (Mark 1:12-15) it just tells us that after His baptism by John and resisting the devil in the desert, Jesus began His public life of preaching, teaching and helping people.  His message in summary was “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.”   

You might think that you knew what the kingdom of God meant, but it’s not so clear.  Does it refer in some way to the whole of creation?  Is it the final completion of God’s act of creating?  The early Christians hearing of this kingdom may well have thought it meant self-rule would soon be restored to them and freedom from Roman occupation, or maybe that this heralded the end of the world and they – their nation – would pass into the heavenly state of life with God  free from occupation and any other troubles.  But we should heed the other part of the announcement that – the need to repent and heed the good news.  Though I have to say that this English (and the usual) translation doesn’t capture the original Greek sense of ‘repent’ which is more like “change your way of thinking” or even “be converted.”  To repent is just to be sorry for any past mistakes you have made, but the original word really asks one to begin to think differently – a much more suitable message for the enthusiastic Jews at the time of Jesus whose chief wish was freedom from Roman rule and then maybe their elevation to a new life with God in heaven.  But surely Jesus had a message applicable even to this day and to all humankind (if not all creation).  In which case the “kingdom has come near” or as it might be put “is at hand” might imply that heaven is accessible to us, to all. In which case this message of the kingdom’s proximity and  of thinking differently, the question might be asked to whom is this addressed.  Would it be the Jews who were interested in the Baptist, or all the Jews in that area centred on the Temple, or the early Christians who were the recipients of this gospel of Mark or the rest of the Church in those early days?  We might also ask does this rethinking apply to us who are followers of Christ today?  If so what do we need to rethink and what does it mean that the Kingdom is near to us even now?

Laws and rules

8 Feb

If we allow the life of Christ in us to drive all we do, then all things are permissible, because all we do will be based on the love of others and through them the love of God.  Also I think, it tells us something about ‘uncleanness’ and the laws and rules that we encounter from our church authorities; they are there for good reasons generally, but are entirely of secondary importance compared to the law of love – love for God’s world and especially for all the people we encounter and the good we can do for them with the Spirit of Christ in us.  There are many examples of Jesus’ attitude to the rules of the Jewish religion in His time. He was critical then and broke them for some higher good; we should follow His example.

Job’s lot in life

1 Feb

A Story like the story of Job in the Bible by Jeff Bagnall  (30th January 2012)

There was this jolly farmer, whose name was Job, he was always happy and singing. Job had a fine farm with lots of cows that gave him buckets of milk to drink and to sell to others. Job had cuddly, woolly sheep, and pullovers and jumpers for him and all his friends to wear. Job had oodles of hens and one cock a doodle do, and so eggs to make omelettes and cakes. And, oh, I forgot to say, Job had a lovely wife and lots of well-behaved children who all helped or just had fun on the farm.  And Job had three special friends called comforters – don’t forget them! – grown ups call them Job’s comforters.  That was all long ago in a far, far country were the sun always seemed to shine.

Meantime, up in heaven, a long way away and out of sight, the angels gathered.  God had called a meeting to see how His creation was getting on, down on earth.  One of the angels was called HaSatan but no one could ever remember his name.  He always asked questions like why do pigs have curly tails and why do cockerels sing cock a doodle do early in the morning;  as well as really awkward questions like why can we see Job on earth , but he can’t see us in heaven.

Anyway, God said look at Job, he’s such a good man, he helps everyone on earth – that makes me happy; and every Sunday he comes to sing Gloria and Alleluia, to thank me for everything.  But HaSatan said, I don’t think he would be so good if he didn’t have such a fine farm or lovely family.

So God said to HaSatan, we shall see. Go and take away his farm and lovely family for a week or two.  So Job’s cows stopped giving milk, hens stopped laying eggs, sheep even stopped growing wool; and Job’s children became naughty and his wife argumentative.  Job had a long face, a sad heart and was feeling utterly rotten all week – he didn’t know where to put himself; but on Sunday he went to church and sang Gloria and Alleluia, but said quietly to God, “Why on earth is all this happening to me?”  But God just said, “You’ll see.” 

The next week Job’s comforters, his special friends, came to see him, and saw what a mess he was in.  Job’s comforters said to him, “You must have been very naughty for all this to happen to you, you’ve made God cross.”  Job shouted back, “No I have not done anything wrong, I am a good man” – but he didn’t feel good.  They came three times and said the same, but he always replied I am a good man – but he didn’t feel good.  But on Sunday he went to church and sang Gloria and Alleluja, but said loudly to God, “Why on earth is all this happening to me?” But God just said, “You’ll soon see.”

After a few weeks, up in heaven God called another meeting, and said, “You see HaSatan, Job is a good man, even though he doesn’t feel good – he’s just puzzled about what’s happened to him, so go now and restore his farm and family back to him.”

And so Job was a jolly farmer again, always happy and singing and singing Gloria in excelcis Deo and Alleluia to God but he never understood why it had all happened to him – because he didn’t know this story.


25 Jan

This word initially refers to images (sometimes partly 3d) of Christ or other religious figures.  They are used largely by Eastern Christians.  However there are other images and objects that can focus the mind on significant, important or even dramatic realities.  Such might be a full moon, and impressive sunrise or set, some snow-capped mountains etc.  But as well as these natural phenomena, human constructions can do the same; I think of grand buildings like Mosques or Cathedrals  or even elaborate secular constructions like bridges, statues or other artwork.  But more than these might be photos of loved ones, or memorable settings.  You will surely have your own such icons.  What all these various items point to and elicit in us is a richer, deeper and even other-worldly/spiritual presence which initiates, supports and enhances our belief in reality together with expectation and concern for it all which Christians call faith hope and charity


18 Jan

As we all grow up, we are forming and developing our understanding of all we experience and with it, all we expect from life in this world.  People can have slightly different ‘takes’ on all this – different ideas about it all, depending on what experiences they have – different upbringing and education, difficulties and pleasures.  For a religious person, this attitude to the whole of life is what we should call faith – which can sometimes be associated with others of similar backgrounds – we share faith with others (whether Hindi, Islam, any other religion or even none).  For Christians this faith is influenced, directly or indirectly by the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, as well as the teaching and experience of belonging to a particular denomination, Catholic or otherwise.  Our faith is how we experience – what we make of the world around us and the interpretations we are taught or think out for ourselves.  We accept our faith, but should also be reflective, that is, considering how it does or ought to affect our choices and attitudes in the way we live – questioning to what extent we live up to our faith and in what ways we fail to fulfil and fall short of how we know we should be.  As we grow up and later even grow old we need to continue questioning as children do, what we think and what we do, what we believe and what we practice, because until we are a saint (complete our life) we need to develop, improve, recognising our deficiencies and flaws and humbly addressing and even overcoming them as much as we can – again and again until we are saints, are complete!


11 Jan

The practice of our religion has seemed to be restricted during the Coved virus lockdown, but we know that the practice of our religion is not just keeping our church’s rules like weekly mass, confession, pilgrimages, we know it means doing good works.  But this general term needs to be seen as some special acts not just general terms like love one another and care for the world.  Our practice must be practical in as far as it can.  This is illustrated in the Salvation Army founded by William Booth, where it shows in all sorts of communal good works and we see this even in the sort of occupations some people have, the NHS, carers of all kinds, the bin collectors and bus drivers etc.  and for an individual like me it might just be saying hello or smiling pleasantly to someone whom we may not even know – it will certainly mean following guidelines ‘religiously’ with care for others and ourselves.  The phrase ‘practicing Catholic ‘ used to refer to a regular church-goer, but now we can see clearly that it is not only much more than that, but may even not include church-going or even ‘devotions’ so much as being devoted to other people and the care of our environment as best we can.


4 Jan

Some people – Catholics especially – are keen on devotions.  They might regularly light a candle, pray to a particular statue or picture, recite a well known prayer like the rosary, bless themselves with Holy water  – I guess you know the sort of thing.  Now I don’t decry any of these but I am aware that they can sometimes delude oneself into thinking that practicing these devotions is being religious.  Now I want to say that what really are religious practices are our activities of a different kind;  they may be something like caring for others, such as doing something to please them, to make them feel good and cared for, even important – or maybe caring for the environment of our world by not wasting fuel, food or littering our very local environment, which we ought to care about as it is God’s creation as well as our context for life – ours, others and future generations.  This doesn’t mean we have to give up any devotions that we practice, but I am suggesting that they alone are not positively doing anything God wants of us unless – and this is important –  they encourage and support us in doing these ‘other things’ that I have suggested.  I say all this because I know we can easily think we are doing good just by our devotions, by doing these ‘religious’ practices religiously (regularly).  It’s like a parent being devoted to her children, which doesn’t just mean admiring them or being proud of them, but actually doing something to help, encourage and value them.  But lets not forget that self-help is important  – looking after ourselves and trying to better ourselves – and devotions can help this for some people.                             Am I right in thinking like this about devotions?

Bethlehem here and now

28 Dec

Bethlehem did not celebrate When Jesus first was born;

For who could know that he was there? Or on a census form?

A couple far away from home, And shepherds, it is said,

Welcomed a new-born joy to them. – and stars the Magi read.

The centuries have told the tale. – he was born with little fuss;

festivities and lights they had, but now he comes to us.

He quietly rings the heart-strings; He’s waiting in the queue;

So put on hold those many things, And let him come to you.

If you don’t see him in the shops. Or in the Christmas fare,

Then open what the presents mean. – the love of God is there.

Quite right to celebrate this night, For see he comes again,

And you are now his welcomers, Your heart’s his Bethlehem.

By Jeff Bagnall 2003