Jesus is once again tackling the issue of religious rules and the Pharisees fixation on their observance instead of focussing on the attitude of the heart. I wonder how many times this week you and I have done something because we thought we should rather than because we wanted to? I can often find myself falling into this situation all too easily. How many times have I said “I’ve got to go to … ” or, “I’ve got to do this ”or, “I’ve got to do that.” If the person I was on my way to visit heard me speaking like that, they may end up thinking that I didn’t want to be with them and that just wouldn’t be the case at all.
The truth is that when we do something out of love rather than out of compulsion, we respond in a different way. Negative thoughts and attitudes are replaced with positive ones. Our attitude is right. Our desire is right. When these things are right we begin to live our lives in a different way, for, as Jesus tells us, what comes out of our mouth matters as that is a reflection of what is taking place on the inside of our heart; and the state of our heart comes down to what we decide to feed it – what we focus and build our lives upon.
It was the French scientist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826 who first made the connection between our diet and our behaviour. "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. But as Jesus reminds us, physical food is eaten and then it is discarded. Its benefits are temporary. What truly matters is what we feed our spirits on. We need to feed upon God himself and this will change the way we live fundamentally.
The attitude of the Canaanite woman is attractive to Jesus. She is sincere, passionate, honest, persistent and full of faith. Notice what happens to her during her conversation. She begins by pursuing Jesus yet ends by worshipping Him. She begins with a demand yet ends with a prayer.
She begins by grabbing his attention yet ends on her knees.
Jesus’ words may seem harsh here, but the term ‘dogs’ in this context is ‘Kunaria’ which refers to a household pet and not the scavenging, diseased animals of the street. I see the compassion in his eyes and his smile as he speaks to her and the delight at her typically Greek, quick witted response.
So, what does this teach us? That we need to pursue all that will make for a clean heart.
We need to pursue Jesus. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman experiences a revelation and moves from an academic understanding to a spiritual one. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from accosting attention to worship. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from demand to prayer. Persistence in pursuing God’s influence on our lives is critical to our fruitfulness and prayer is a crucial factor.
When everything seems to go wrong … just P.U.S.H
When the job gets you down … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t react the way you think they should … just P.U.S.H.
When your money is gone and the bills are due … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t understand you … just P.U.S.H.
P = Pray, U = Until, S = Something, H = Happens
With the Lord’s Blessing
I wonder how many times you’ve been asked for your identity this summer? Purchasing tickets, checking in at hotels, writing name tags for your suitcase or perhaps presenting your passport at the security gate. Names are important. Letting people know who we are and what belongs to us is important. I’ve always liked giving names to things I own. My cars have all had names; Penny, Elsie, Lara, Hattie and ‘Looby Loo’ (my present old Freelander) to name a few.
It is in Matthews Gospel that we discover that we have two names; an earthly one and a heavenly one and the two are crucially linked. A name may identify us but do we truly know who we are? It is only when Simon understands, acknowledges and declares the identity of Jesus that he then begins to understand who he – Peter - really is.
Jesus asks his disciples a crucial question: who am I? It is a question that every human being during their lifetime is given to answer. We could ignore it, but until and unless we address it, we will miss out on the possibility of living life in all the fullness that God intended us to and that scripture and Jesus promises us is possible. Once Simon identifies Jesus for who he really is, then Jesus bestows his heavenly name and identity upon him. ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’ Jesus is using two words for rock. The Greek word ‘petros’ refers to a stone or a pebble, whereas ‘petra’ (rock), is the mass of connected rock to which the pebble belongs. We may pick up a stone or a pebble from the beach or a hillside, but it doesn’t exist on its own, it belongs to something much bigger. When that is identified we know much more about it; where it came from, how it was created, its properties and qualities etc. In a similar way, once we recognise and receive Jesus for who He is, then and only then, do we begin the process of learning who we truly are and all the possibilities and potential that God our creator has placed within us.
Paul in his letter to the church in Rome states, that once we have recognised the truth about Jesus, our identity is changed and as such we need no longer conform to the pressures that the world places upon us, but instead, our lives can be, ‘transformed by the renewing of your, (our) minds’. What a wonderful thought and promise, that with God’s help, a new way of living is possible.
One way of helping with this, is to soak our minds in the word of God, to know the truth about Him and to speak this to ourselves when we need to hear it. We might be facing a difficult time with tough choices, challenges or temptation, but declaring God’s word over our lives at that moment fills us (and the situation) with the truth God has for us and it has the power to transform the place we are in and how we are feeling about it. For example; the last verse of Psalm 124 reminds us that, ‘Our help is in name of the Lord’, or 2 Timothy 1, v7 declares that, ‘the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’
May your lives be filled with the knowledge and the truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour, enabling you to enjoy and live your life in freedom and with the power and joy that God intended was always yours to know.
With the Lord’s Blessing
Some theologians feel that this is perhaps one of the most practical parables that Jesus ever told. It tells us that there is a hostile power in the world and that this power can skilfully camouflage itself as it goes about its business of destroying ‘good seed’, it warns us to be careful about making swift judgements on others and reminds us that God himself is the judge and a time is coming when he will exercise that right. What matters is how we will stand before Him.
Jesus speaks of an enemy so let’s not be hoodwinked into thinking that there isn’t one – that’s the greatest tactic he has – that he doesn’t exist. There is an enemy and he seeks to undermine, confuse and destroy all that God is about and doing in our lives and in the world today. The weed mentioned in the parable is ‘Darnel’. In its early stages Darnel so closely resembles wheat that it is very difficult to tell them apart. It is only when the heads appear that they can be identified, but by then the damage has been done, it has deceived the farmer and it is now too late to separate them out as the roots have become intertwined with the wheat. It must wait for the harvest.
As disciples of Jesus we need to be mindful of the spiritual soil we are in and what is growing around us and influencing our environment. It’s all too easy to suddenly find ourselves in a situation where the culture around us is beginning to dictate our growth and our spiritual health rather than the other way around. Things that at first we thought quite harmless, may suddenly reveal themselves as a threat to our spiritual health and our relationship with God himself.
When my wife left her teaching post last year she was given an apple tree from her class as a gift. A few weeks ago, I cleared and prepared some land in the back-garden ready to plant it but then events took over and the tree remained in its pot until this week when I had an opportunity to place it in its new home. When I re-approached the ground, it was completely covered with weeds, thistles, grass and nettles. All the good work had been undone because I had left the ground unattended and had ignored its need. I then had to spend many more hours of very slow labour digging up the weeds by the root, in an attempt to ensure that they would not reappear.
The weeds had taken over the good soil and if we’re not vigilant the same can happen in our lives. We can allow negative attitudes such as greed, bitterness, envy, selfishness etc, attitudes that have got nothing to do with God’s desire for our lives, to take hold and to begin to suffocate God’s best for us; for many, the enemy smothers out the very reality of God’s existence and His love for us. We can become swift to pass judgement on one another and lethargic to the idea of prayer, worship and studying His word; anaesthetised to the reality that one day we will all meet God, and it is He and He alone who will pass judgement on our lives.
What will matter then is whether we lived our lives in and for Christ and have been made righteous (right) with God through his son Jesus. It’s a decision we make and this is the hope that Paul refers to in his letter to the church in Rome.
Every day is a good day to check over our lives and to ask God’s Holy Spirit to reveal where there may be weeds encroaching and threatening the health of our relationship with God. Once identified, we need to ask for His help to remove them and to keep our spirits free from their influence in the future.
I remember being told that there are three statements everyone likes to hear.
The Jewish tradition was that when you received a person’s envoy or ambassador it was as if you were receiving the person themselves. To pay respect to the ambassador was to pay respect to the King who had sent him. Conversely, if you failed to treat the ambassador with respect and honour then you were showing great contempt and disrespect to their master.
This was particularly so for those who taught God’s truth.
Jesus’ call is for us to recognise and respect his presence in one another, to support and to encourage one another in our walk with Him and to reveal His love to those around us as we demonstrate His love in us. We’re reminded that we are ambassadors for Jesus and should behave and be seen as such. There are plenty of examples in scripture where we are reminded about the importance of sharing hospitality as a witness to the love of God in our lives, eg - James 2:15-17, Romans 12:13 – and that we may even entertain Angels by doing so – Hebrews 13:2
Our simple acts of hospitality can create a pleasant atmosphere in our homes, in our lives and very importantly, in our places of worship.
I love walking amongst the perfume counters in department stores or sampling the scents coming from the different diffusers and sprays on the various counters. Smells matter, (ask any parent of a teenager) but our actions also have the power to change the ‘aroma’ of a place or a situation for good or for bad. We may have to identify and remove something negative in our lives that’s preventing a good atmosphere from developing and taking hold. A bad attitude, a misunderstanding or a prejudice of some kind can create considerable problems in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.
Last week I offered my wife Sarah a lift in the car (I’m all heart!) but as we got into the car we were faced with a dreadful smell. It caused immediate comment from her (blokes, you’ll know what I mean) and certainly made my nose curl. I drove with the windows open but it was still there. I emptied the contents of a can of air freshener into the cab, but it was still there. It wasn’t until I discovered the source of the problem - a plastic bag in the boot, full of rotting flowers – that I was able to begin to change the atmosphere. Once they were removed, the car could begin to offer the welcome and hospitality that I initially intended and desired it to. In a similar vein, we need to be vigilant of anything that might be tainting the aroma of Jesus in our lives and affecting the spirit of his generosity and welcome.
We sang ‘King of Kings, majesty’ by Jarrod Cooper this week. The line: ‘God of Heaven, living in me’ reminds us that our actions should be a response to his love at work in our lives. Simple acts of kindness and thoughtfulness matter and can make a great deal of difference to the lives of others. I wonder who we might be able to bless with our welcome and hospitality in the days that lie ahead?
With His blessings
This is one of those readings where you ask yourself; have I read that right? and then go and read it again to make sure. Doesn’t the prophet Isaiah speak of the Messiah as ‘Prince of Peace’, so why is Jesus saying that he will not bring peace? There are some strong words here from Jesus and they should grab our attention. The Messiah brought the opportunity for man and God to be at peace once more, but the focus of Jesus’ teaching here is all about choice.
Where do we, where are we, placing Jesus in our lives? It’s about putting him first in every area of our lives and as we do so, being mindful of the wonderful gifts he brings; eternal salvation, restored relationship, grace, mercy, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, freedom from shame etc and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But when we do place him first we must expect opposition for there is no such thing as a neutral reaction to Jesus. His spirit challenges each and every one of us and the way we choose to live our lives so often for ourselves.
It’s not as if he is saying, ‘I’m here to take away all the fun from your lives’ but he is challenging our priorities. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Matthew 6:33) says Jesus. God’s desire is to bless us with good things but for that to happen we must ensure that we place God in his rightful place; at the head of all things, for there we will find ‘life.’ We must then, put God F.I.R.S.T. Maybe this will help as an aide memoire to some of those key areas to give to him.
Jesus first in our F inances
Jesus first in our I nterests
Jesus first in our R elationships
Jesus first in our S chedules
Jesus first in our T hanksgivings and Troubles.
With God’s blessings
Last year this country produced over 777,000 tonnes of soft fruit with a value of nearly £700 million. Strawberries alone accounted for £284 million of sales. The soft fruit industry is growing with an increase of 3:5% in 12 months  but there are challenges. The fruit needs care and attention; protection from pest and disease that would damage it, nourishment from a good soil, adequate water and a healthy environment. But there is a problem. With an increased expectation in the quality of working conditions, changes to the law and an unknown future surrounding Brexit, farmers are struggling to find the labourers to harvest their valuable crops. At present, mechanisation can only go so far and the picking of the delicate fruit must be done by hand with sensitivity and with careful attention given to individual situations and condition if it is to be brought in successfully. Those willing to engage in the work are becoming harder to find.
In our reading from Matthew, Jesus draws a close parallel as he identifies a similar problem; ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few.’
We’re told that he had ‘compassion’ on the crowd as they needed care and attention and leadership; ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ They were not receiving the spiritual nourishment they required from their religious leaders who saw the common people as a problem. Jesus saw them as people in need, people who needed guidance, people for whom he was prepared to give everything to help and to save.
What a very special sight it was to view the sheep following a lead down through the village of Askrigg in April with the tractor in front and James and Heather at the rear steering them to the ‘maternity wing’ for lambing.
Most followed the others easily enough but there were some who looked confused and unsure, raising their heads for guidance and here the onlookers gave a gentle signal with an arm outstretched to which the ewe duly responded and moved back into the safety and care of the flock. A lead had been given but the combined efforts of the team and their faithful dogs ensured that all went well.
It is one of the great Christian truths and supreme Christian challenges that the sheep will not be shepherded, nor the harvest reaped unless there are enough workers in the field to ensure that it takes place. Jesus Christ draws us into the incredible privilege of working with him to transform lives and we can all play our part.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stand on a street corner with a placard calling out to those passing by, but it does mean we take opportunities where we can to witness to his love and his life and the joy that there is in knowing him. It may be a simple act of love or kindness – a phone call, a visit, a meal taken to a housebound neighbour or it may be a conversation, a comment, the offer of praying for someone in need or inviting to accompany them to a service. Every such act is participating in the harvest that Jesus is drawing us into.
It’s worth remembering that if we know Jesus it’s because someone, somewhere at some time blessed us by responding to his words and telling us about him.
Why not ask God’s Holy Spirit to show you where you’re needed today, enjoy the privilege of responding and feel the joy of the Spirit in your heart when you do.
With God’s blessing
 DEFRA 2015 statistics.
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.
ere to edit.
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’
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale