Sunday June 11th is remembered as ‘Trinity Sunday’ in the churches calendar. A day when the church considers the mystery and wonder of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There is a story of St Augustine walking along the beach considering the mysteries of the Holy Trinity when he came upon a young boy filling a small hole in the sand with a bucket of water. When the bucket was empty he filled it again and emptied into the hole. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked – ‘I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole’. ‘That’s impossible’ said Augustine ‘It will not fit’. ‘No more so than you trying to fit the Trinity into your tiny brain’, the boy replied and then he disappeared.
Trying to explain the Trinity is like trying to empty the ocean with a small bucket, but perhaps that’s because God is not interested in us explaining it. He wants us to experience it.
The early church may have developed the idea of the Trinity as a means of encapsulating the nature of God but scripture constantly reveals the plural nature of God, eg the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: ‘Then God said, “Let us..” or in the opening verses of John’s Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the word and …’
The Trinity is an expression of unity. The Father sees himself in Jesus – John 1:14, Jesus sees himself in the Father – John 10:30 and the Holy Spirit unites this love – Mtth 3:16 – Or it is as if the Father says, ‘If you want to know what love is, look to Jesus.’ Jesus answers, ‘If you want to know what love is then look to the Father and the Spirit replies, ‘If you want to know what love is then look to Jesus and the Father and I’ll give you the ability to see and understand’.
The Trinity is an expression of the unity of God and of the unity of His purpose which is to bless. In our Gospel reading Jesus gives the instruction known as ‘The Great Commission’, to make Disciples of the whole earth and to baptise them in the name of the ‘Father, the son and the Holy Spirit’. What a challenge and what a privilege! To be effective in this calling we need a full experience of the different facets of God and that certainly includes the power of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us. Praise God that whenever he calls us He always equips us; ‘I am with you always’ and the promise that He will ‘renew their (our) strength’.
The PCC’s within the Benefice are to be considering what God’s mission looks like for us in this beautiful part of His creation; why we’re here and what He is calling us to do together in these days. The unity of God as expressed in the Trinity is an example to us all of the power and the strength there is when we are in union and agreement with one another and with God. If we are to be so then this always begins and ends with prayer.
I’d like to invite you and encourage into continuing to pray for this wonderfully exciting and privileged work that we are all called into together, for His glory.
Whenever I hear the account of the Holy Spirit coming on that day of Pentecost, I am always considering what must it have been like? What did it look like I wonder? What did it sound like? How did the crowd react as they asked the question: ‘What does this mean?’
It meant that it was God’s plan for this to happen, that it was the end of waiting, that we don’t need to live lives in our own strength anymore and that we now have the power to live our lives as God originally intended us to.
The Holy Spirit is a gift. It’s a gift from God and it’s a gift that makes a difference, but a gift isn’t a gift unless it’s received. It’s a gift that God wants us to receive and it’s a gift that He wants us to want to receive, both personally and corporately.
Personally: so that we might live our lives to the full, free from things that would seek to harm us and drag us down or stop us fulfilling our God given potential.
Corporately: so that the church might be the body that God intended it to be. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, things changed: hearts changed, language changed, desires changed and outlook changed.
We all have gifts and abilities that God has placed within us and His desire is that we might use them in His service. Left to our own resources, however, we soon run out of strength and can quickly ‘dry up’. We’re like a teapot. A teapot is designed to be full and pouring out tea to refresh those around it. When it is empty it is not fulfilling its purpose as a teapot and if the pot is to be refilled, then the lid needs to be removed. If we are to receive the refreshing of the Holy Spirit then we need to make a conscious decision to ask him for that refreshing and to ensure that our ‘lids’ are off so that we are open to receive from him. Then, the Holy Spirit can fill us up and we can continue to pour out God’s blessings to those around us.
I wonder, in which areas of your life and mine are we still keeping the lid on? Perhaps we need to ask God to reveal them to us in order that we may open ourselves to Him and his Holy Spirit.
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Two key themes appear in our readings today; unity and the importance of prayer.
Psalm 133 tells us that where there is unity, there the Lord will bestow His blessing. Blessing and unity exist hand in hand. One cannot live without the other.
The unity Jesus speaks of is the unity that exists between himself and his Father. It is a unity that is built upon love and obedience. A love that binds and strengthens. Jesus’ prayer is that ‘they’ – his disciples, the church .. you and me – may know the same unity as Jesus and His Father experience. Isn’t that amazing?
The practical demonstration of that unity we can see in the verses from Acts and, in the way they chose to live their lives. We are told that they ‘joined together constantly in prayer’.
The focus of our Lent reflections was upon The Lord’s Prayer, and as a church we are joining with the Benefice, the Deanery and the nation in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – a prayer initiative from our Archbishops, calling the church to pray, that many would come to know the love and the joy and the transforming power of a relationship with a living Jesus. Prayer changes things. When we pray, things happen. We pray, not so that God’s will can be aligned with ours but that our will may be aligned with His. The difference is crucial.
For those involved in the 24-hour vigil of prayer on Ascension day, a common experience has been shared; that the more we prayed, the more we wanted to pray. As we gave ourselves in prayer (and in some cases at sacrificial times of the day and night) the Holy Spirit began to take us on a journey that drew us closer to God and to His heart. When we begin to pray in line with God’s heart … things happen.
Prayer must be at the centre of all we do. For the early church it was, quite simply, a way of life. Prayer can take place in lots of different ways. There are times for sitting down or kneeling in prayer, times for walking in prayer, times for quiet prayer, times for ‘loud’ prayer, times for reflective prayer and times when we are praying on the move - in the car, walking the dog, doing the shopping, getting the children ready for school. Prayer is conversation with God so the main thing is that we just pray. Prayer binds us one with another but, more crucially, prayer binds us with the Lord Himself.
As disciples of Jesus we are called to action to be ‘witnesses’ for Jesus. To be a witness requires a public declaration and a declaration that is built upon our own experience. As Jesus leaves the earth in a glorious ascension, he promises his disciples that they will receive the power to fulfil his commission – more on that on Pentecost Sunday, but it is when we are in conversation with God that we receive from Him and we all need to experience that by the bucket load.
God is not hiding and his desire is that everyone should know eternal life - Jn. 17v3.
Disciples of Jesus live their lives as resurrection people, full of the power and purpose and promises of Jesus. That comes down to an initial decision to commit our lives to Him and then a lifetime of decisions to stay ‘on programme’ and experience the joy of eternal life every moment of every day; but it begins and ends with prayer.
The story of the journey and encounter on the road to Emmaus is one of those stories in scripture which you just know must be true because of the way it’s written. If you had wanted to create a story to prove that Jesus had risen from the dead, surely, you wouldn’t come up with this one. I’d have wanted to include a story about Jesus appearing in a blaze of light, with a fanfare from heaven, accompanied by legions of triumphant angels, before a very large crowd of credible witnesses. Yes, Jesus did appear in front of large crowds, but in this account, we get a stranger walking with two disciples at the end of the day explaining scripture and awaiting an invitation to spend time with them. It’s just got to be true.
Yet they didn’t recognise him. Why was that? I’ve often puzzled over that. Why didn’t they know who it was? One thing for sure is, that if they had, they wouldn’t have listened to a word he had to say. They would have been too excited to take any notice!
It got me thinking. What stops us; what stops me, I wonder, from seeing Jesus, hearing Jesus or recognising Jesus today? Why might we struggle with this?
Have you ever had a moment in your life where you have failed to remember a name or a face? It usually happens when we have not spent time with someone for a while. After 33 years of working in classrooms you would think I would have developed a memory for names, but the truth is, if I’m not seeing them or using their name regularly, I can swiftly forget it. If we’re not spending time with people regularly, the memory of their face, voice, character or name can swiftly start to fade.
The same can be true in our relationship with the Lord. We need to be spending time with Him regularly to develop and strengthen our relationship with Him. How do you get to know a person’s voice or character; by spending time with them, listening to them regularly and recognising them when you hear or see them again. If we want to recognise Jesus’ voice we need to spend time with Him and be listening to Him. He just loves it when we want to spend time with Him. Jesus never forces himself on anyone. Look again at this account: Luke tells us that ‘he acted as if he were going further’ … he waits for an invitation and once it is given, he enters their lives in a new and vibrant way.
The events described by Luke from the second chapter of the book of Acts speak of 3000 people hearing the good news of Jesus and trusting in His name that day. Do I believe this can happen again? Certainly. Does this involve me? Yes. Does this involve you? Yes. But to help others we first need a clear understanding for ourselves of who Jesus is, why he came and what he has done for us. This can be achieved by listening to him, spending time with him, reading scripture, spending time in public worship, engaging in discussion and learning, but also in private prayer and devotion. Do I spend enough time doing this? No. Do I want to spend more time doing this? Certainly. It is only by doing so that we will grow and we will help others to discover the joy and the truth of Jesus. It is an utterly compelling message and we need to keep it so. Not camouflage it or hide it – Our spirits are hard wired to respond to God’s word, but first, we need to give ourselves, and others, an opportunity to hear it.
Why not join me in a challenge in the coming weeks? To create some specific time to sit with Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak with you, help you, assist you in that time. It doesn’t have to be hours but God loves it when we put Him first and desire to spend time with Him. ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him’
The Easter holidays have started for many and that will probably mean some travelling to see family and friends or preparing to receive family and friends and enjoying some time together. I wonder … how do you prepare to receive visitors?
My mother would always have the house clean and the brasses shining .. she still tries to do so even now she’s 88. Jerusalem was getting ready to celebrate the Passover and the streets were heaving with people. They came from all over the known world, they still do, to remember and to celebrate and so every available space and room in the city would be taken and those in the outlying villages.
One census taken at the time recorded over 256,000 lambs sacrificed, and as the practice was for a lamb to represent up to 10 people that would put over 2 million people in Jerusalem. Quite a squeeze!
Into these overcrowded streets arrives Jesus. The story of him raising Lazarus from the dead has gone before him and he now has a large crowd walking with him from Bethany and another that comes out to greet him from Jerusalem. Two masses of people converge together like the tributaries of a mighty river. The noise must have been deafening; certainly, too loud to speak over and so Jesus ‘speaks’ through symbolism. The crowd welcome him as a conqueror yet Jesus rides through the city gates on the back of a Donkey. Any self-respecting ‘conqueror’ would ride in mounted on a large horse, but the conquering that Jesus has in mind is very different and is designed to last for eternity, not the short lived military gesture that may change things for a temporary period only, and so he arrives on a Donkey, a symbol of peace but a clear and deliberate claim that he is fulfilling an ancient prophecy that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in just such a way.
And so, the crowd welcomed Jesus into their city. How might we welcome him into our homes I wonder? How welcome is Jesus beyond the front door? Do we keep him just for Sunday’s or is he spoken of regularly and with affection every day? Do we want to welcome him into our daily routine? Do we welcome Jesus when we gather to eat, when we have a big decision to make, when we’re celebrating good news or facing trouble?
Billions of Christians alive today can testify to the life changing power there is in welcoming Jesus into their lives. He makes a difference. Yet, within the week, the fickleness of human nature will be displayed despite Love’s last appeal to mankind.
We would do well to remember how easily we can sometimes be moved by the pressure of others to reject him, stay silent and keep the ‘door’ of welcome, well and truly closed.
There is a story told of a very eminent University Professor who was called to give evidence as an ‘expert witness’ in a very legally significant case at the High Court. Normally very modest and retiring in regard to his knowledge, he was asked in court why he was qualified to speak on the subject. He replied: ‘I am the world’s single and greatest source of information in this area.’
Outside of the court a friend expressed surprise at his candid and un-characteristic comment, to which he responded: ‘What else could I say? I was under oath!’
The truth has always fascinated mankind; the quest for truth in a dispute or perhaps in a scientific discovery. I’ve always marvelled at the fact that a truth remains a truth whether we understand it, accept it or haven’t even discovered it yet … it still remains the truth. The world is not flat … it’s round, we’re all travelling at approx. 1000 mph right now, 150 people a year are killed by coconuts and a baby’s eyes are the same size now as they will be all their life – the truth remains the same even if we don’t understand it, accept it or know about it yet. So …. What about the ultimate question? Is there a truth to life? Does it exist? If it does, surely, we owe it to ourselves to investigate? Is it there but we just haven’t discovered it yet?
Jesus got into trouble because he said there was a truth, and that he was it!
Billions of people alive on the planet right now can testify to the life changing, life empowering truth of knowing Jesus in their lives. The Bible tells us that God is not hiding and he’s there to be discovered. Paul in our reading, reminds the church in Rome of the truth that God’s Holy Spirit is available to live in every one of us and should we ask him to enter our lives he does and when he does, we become the people we’re truly meant to be. Jesus said that he was life and he had come to bring us life.
I love the line in the Gospel reading where Jesus fills Lazarus with physical life and then tells his friends to ‘let him go’ ; that he should be unfettered to live life with freedom and that we, like him, should not be restricted by the things in life that bind us and limit us like guilt and shame and unforgiveness and separation from God.
In many ways, we are like a hand puppet. On the outside, we can look fine; bright, happy, all the bits there, successful even, but when the reality is investigated, there is nothing substantial on the inside; there is no life.
Jesus said that he had come to fill us with life and when we discover him and ask him into our lives it changes everything. That’s the promise of God on offer; it just requires a decision to be made and when we make it, then just like the puppet and Lazarus we can be filled with new life and be set free to live our lives in the fullness that God intended for us.
Mothering Sunday traditions in the church can be dated back to the 16th century. It is told that this was the day when people were encouraged to return to worship in their ‘mother church’ where they had been baptised. People who usually attended the local parish church, would make a longer journey to the ‘mother church’ or cathedral of the Diocese. On this day, many girls who were in domestic service were allowed time off from their chores to visit their mothers and their family. A tradition arose where they would bake a gift to show their mothers their new skills and that this was often a Simnel cake.
Today Mothering Sunday is a popular day when Christians choose to use the occasion to think about all things which concern motherhood. We give thanks for the Church as Mother, the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus, we remember that God cares for us like a mother and, last but not least, we give thanks for our own mothers.
In our readings today we see that ‘mothering’ is not a role reserved solely for those who have given birth; if it was, I believe that it would be very hard to ensure that all the required nurturing, protection, teaching, loving, guidance etc that is needed to make us the people we are meant to be, would be delivered. Our own children have benefited enormously from this extended love and care; indeed, it was just this kind of care present in the local church that encouraged us to keep our home in the old mining town in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
They are the richer for it and have a long list of ‘honoury’ Aunties and Uncles who helped us to speak the truth and love of Jesus into their lives and they still do.
Moses received the motherly love and care of three women: Jochabed, his birth mother, Miriam his sister and the Pharaoh’s daughter. The richness of personal experience they brought to him and the sacrifice and bravery of these women helped to create Moses into the man that God required him to be.
At the foot of the cross where all the men bar one have abandoned Jesus, we see faithful, grateful, courageous and loving women remain. It would have been a dangerous thing to associate yourself with a man sentenced to death by the Roman authorities and yet it is they who remain.
Mother’s in the Bible are never twee or sentimental; they are brave, and determined and given to their role. In their love, they exhibit so many of the characteristics of the love of God himself and of the sacrificial and servant role that the Church is to give to the community it serves.
Bill Hybels, the head of Willow Creek Church with an average weekly attendance of over 24,000 states that the ‘Local Church is the hope of the world’. As the church of God here in Upper Wensleydale, we are called to display all of the qualities present in these women and to love the community around us with the love of God himself. ere to edit.
As I stood on the top of the Austrian mountain, I believed that the parachute would work. I had read about parachutes working and I had seen films of parachutes working but now, as the man I was strapped to started walking swiftly towards the edge of the cliff, I had to decide if my belief was well founded; and then we jumped.
I understood that day that there is a big difference between knowing about parachutes, understanding the qualities of a parachute and placing your trust in the parachute to save your life.
Nicodemus was a very learned man with considerable responsibility for the Jewish community in that area but he was also a very puzzled man, a man with something missing in his life and a man with something missing in his experience of God. Nicodemus knew of God, he knew a great deal about God but he didn’t truly know God and so he seeks Jesus for help; the perfect place to start.
Jesus’ instruction is simple but challenging. The flesh is born of flesh but the spirit must be born of the spirit. For anyone to enter the Kingdom of God they must experience a rebirth. You can’t enter the Kingdom trusting in your own goodness, your own knowledge or your own works. It’s all about Jesus. He is the way in. As we respond in obedience to His call our relationship with God is put right. It’s a decision to be made.
Our readings have a common theme in that they are all extolling the fruits of a right relationship with God. Abraham trusted God and was blessed, Paul in his letter to the church in Rome reminds us that a right relationship with God is based upon trusting Jesus and the psalmist directs us to turn away from self-reliance and to trust in God. It’s all about perspective and looking to God.
Abram’s obedience leads to a blessing and those who are blessed by God are then directed to become a blessing to others. It’s a physical as well as a spiritual truth that a person cannot give away what they do not first possess and so Jesus directs Nicodemus towards the truth of what he needs. The greatest act of obedience towards God is acknowledging and accepting his son Jesus – who He is and why He came. To continue my opening analogy; Jesus is our spiritual parachute. He is the only one who can save us from falling towards our death: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Jn.3:16
Lent is a wonderful time of the year to re-examine our understanding and our gratitude as to why Jesus came to live amongst us; that we might have life and life in abundance. Now and for ever.
Temptation is big business. Last year the UK spent a record £20Bn on advertising in the sole aim of getting us to succumb to their temptations and to part with our cash. Some of the adverts are great fun to watch with McVities biscuits and Specsavers topping the bill.
The account of the events surrounding Jesus’ time in the wilderness is told in three of the gospels and must have come from Jesus himself, telling his disciples what took place. He clearly thought they needed to know how to handle temptation and the subject matter is still very relevant as it deals with contemporary subjects of greed and power and the danger of compromise.
Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of consequence, but the Bible teaches us that temptation isn’t the real problem; no, the real problem lies in what we choose to do with it. There are two basic responses to temptation and we see them in the extracts from Genesis and Matthew’s gospel.
The world’s way is shown clearly in how Eve responds to the temptation of disobeying God’s guidance and instruction and then there is God’s way of handling the situation, shown in how Jesus deals with it. The outcomes are very different.
Eve makes a fundamental mistake right at the start; she enters into conversation with her tempter. Once this has begun she has given permission for that voice to continue to speak into her situation and to say the things she wants to hear even though she knows they are not what she should be listening to. Been there? I have. I know when I shouldn’t be thinking or considering certain things, but once I allow the voice to take even the smallest hold on me it’s an easy downwards slope into allowing it to happen and to take root in my imagination.
Eve is manipulated very skilfully. The surest way to persuade someone into doing something that they shouldn’t is to attack their personal identity; to undermine the truth of who they are and what they are capable of.
Verse 5 in Genesis chapter 3 reads: ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God’ – Her ignorance of her special identity is used to attack her. How? Because she was already like God. She had been made in God’s image and as such had all the resources she needed to rebuff the temptation. After that initial acceptance, it is then easier for her to be drawn deeper in and she begins to reinvent the truth into a form that is more convenient for her argument. Been there? I have. She says that God told her that she ‘must not touch it’, which is not what was said at all but reinforces her sense of indignance against not getting her own way.
Contrast this with the way in which Jesus deals with the same tempter. Notice in the account from Matthew that the voice starts straight away with the same method of attack as had been used on Eve. He attacks Jesus’ identity: ‘If you are the son of God’. Jesus knows exactly who he is and doesn’t waste a single breath on entering into discussing it. Instead he rebuffs the voice with a piece of spiritual truth that cannot be answered and so the tempter tries again with a different situation but using the same method. Eventually he realises that this isn’t working and so leaves Jesus alone until, as Luke’s account puts it; a more ‘opportune time’.
Whatever our battle ground is; physical, emotional, spiritual, food, finance, morals, doubt, anxiety etc., follow the example of Jesus. Don’t enter into conversation with the tempters voice; instead, speak God’s truth and life into your situation. That’s why knowing scripture and the truth of who God is, is so important to us.
Jesus responded just as scripture tells us to: ‘Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ – James 4:17. So when that voice next makes an appearance, do as Jesus did. Declare that God is in control of your life, speak the truth out loud and he will go.
I’ve always been able to find something to do. Even as a child I can honestly say I don’t think I ever experienced boredom. This ability to constantly find an activity to engage myself in can be very beneficial but it also has its problems, for I can always find something else that I think needs doing that will delay me from doing what I really ought to be doing: e.g. during my training, my desk and study would always be cleaned and polished and the room just had to be vacuumed before I could start writing any essays!
I’m confident that I’m not alone in this character trait but it can be real problem when you’re wanting to spend time with other people and especially when you want to spend time with God. All too easily, other things that ‘just have to be done’; the washing, phone calls, emails, looking after the children etc. can all start to take priority and before we know it, the opportunity to enjoy some quality time with God has been missed and we will always be the poorer for it. The other things are, of course, important, but we need to learn how to prioritise and, if I’m honest; I don’t always get it right.
Our readings today draw us into the importance of putting aside some quality time for God, to make a conscious decision to spend time with Him and to listen to what He has to say to us. For some folks, the idea of spending quality time with God sounds a nice idea but in their mind, it swiftly becomes an activity that is more suited for other people rather than for themselves.
A reason for not doing so may be: ‘I wouldn’t know what to do’. The truth is that what we do, is actually far less important than the decision to honour God by doing something and setting aside some time that is devoted to Him and to nothing else.
‘I’m just so busy with such little time to spare’. On the news bulletin this week I heard of one Catholic churches’ response in Ireland to the busy modern lifestyle. This Ash Wednesday they are offering a ‘Drive through’ blessing lane at the church where a Priest can pray with them as they wind down their car window as they travel on their way to work or to the local shopping mall. We seem to be missing the point here. Spending time with God is not meant to be endured and crammed in or rushed over, but enjoyed. God wants to bless us with good things, to guide us and to instruct us, but just like any human relationship, if we don’t invest time and energy into it, the relationship becomes one sided, deteriorates and we are the ones who lose out.
The wonderful truth is that we can spend time in God’s presence anywhere we like and at any time we like but sometimes it’s good to get away from other distractions, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and enjoy some special time with Him. Moses took himself up a mountain away from the crowds and then had to wait six days before God began to speak to him. Perhaps that was the time God knew it was going to take Moses to get his head ‘sorted’ and into a place where he could be still and be prepared to listen and hear what God wanted to say to him. Sometimes we just need to be patient and allow God to minister to us, to rest us and to still us before we’re ready to hear his voice.
Jesus often took himself away to gain some quality time with his Father. In the reading from Matthew’s gospel, he takes three of his disciples up a mountain to escape the crowds and there has an amazing time. Peter, however, immediately wants to engage in activity and do something, whereas God wants him to be still, to enjoy the moment and to receive from him. Peter is interrupted, Jesus is affirmed and all the disciples are given clear advice: ‘Listen to him’. We would do well to do the same.,
As we enter the forty days of Lent many of us have become accustomed to giving something up to help us focus on what is truly important in our lives. How about taking something on in its place? Start to put aside some special time to sit, be still and to listen to God. I always thinks it’s good idea to spend some time at the start of the day as it gives God an opportunity to get involved and sort me out before I go charging off in my own direction and in my own strength! As you wake up try ensuring that the first conversation you have is the one you have with God.
‘Morning Lord. Thank you for being with me in the night. I’m here to let you know that I need you and that I love you. What can we do together today?’
Give time to read his word and to think over it. It’s there to bless us, guide us and to bring us peace and victory but we will not know any of that unless we start to spend some time with it. Thank God for his goodness and ask Him through his Holy Spirit to help you as you read it. Perhaps you might join us at St Margaret’s on a Tuesday morning at 10:30 for prayer and ‘Bible time’, or at one of the Lenten reflection meetings on the Lord’s Prayer. There are so many ways we can spend time with Him and there are plenty of studies available as booklets or on the internet to help us. If you have access to a smart phone you might like to download the Bible onto it and use some of the study guides there. Any time spent in His presence always changes things and it always changes things for the better.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale