17 January 2021 – St. John 1;35-51

‘Come and see!’ It’s  such a gentle invitation,  offered in such a way that the person who hears it is free to accept  or reject it. ‘Come and see!’ There’s no pressure on you to respond one way or another. ‘Come and see!’ It’s the gentle and gracious invitation of Jesus which lies at the heart and the start of St. John’s Gospel. It was extended to our patron saint, Andrew and his friend.

When they heard John the Baptist talking about Jesus, they were interested.  ‘What are you looking for?’ asked Jesus. And they replied, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ And it’s then that Jesus issues this intriguing invitation, ‘Come and see!’ And they did. They accept the invitation and they see where he is staying and they remain with him for the day. It was the beginning of a long and deep friendship and an unusual and life-changing  journey.

Throughout St. John’s Gospel, the importance of staying or abiding is confirmed by Jesus. ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.’ He says in his great prayer for unity. Images abound. There’s one about the house. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ he says. ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ There’s another about the vine. ‘Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.’

By staying with him, by abiding in him, they are united into an imaginative new world where water is turned into wine, crowds fed with five barley loaves and two fishes and the One who is Lord washes their feet as if he were a servant. There is a mystery surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. Was it a house or a villa, a mansion or a castle, or was it a simple butt and ben?

The mystery is important because it’s not the place  that is significant but the person staying there. It’s not the abiding in the house that is crucial  but the abiding in the person who lives there. And so it doesn’t matter where Jesus is staying. It could have been here. In fact, it is here. He is with us now in what we call our home for today it has become for us a veritable  House of   God!

16 January 2021

There are two dimensions to our abiding in Christ. The first is hospitality. He makes room for us and we make room for others. In particular, we make room for young people and those who do not belong.

Sometimes we forget that young people need us to make space for them because they have no means of making space for themselves. And people who do not belong may be estranged by what goes on in the kirk. It takes time to acclimatise.

 ‘I hope we will not be intruding.’ said a young couple to me. Whilst they were being respectful, I felt judged by the comment. The culture   we want to nurture in our kirks   is one  of welcome and acceptance and, above all, a spirit of generosity.

The second is discipleship. The basis for this is our abiding in Christ. This is established through our friendship with him.  The opportunity is available to everyone but we need to be more spontaneous   in extending the invitation.

‘Come and see!’ is Christ’s invitation to us and to them. It requires our spontaneity and fidelity. The fishermen gave up their nets and followed. Sometimes we are distracted by  something which appears to be more important but  which does nothing ultimately to enrich our inner life.

There is no price tag   on   this experience. We do not package it up for sale. It is free. That doesn’t make it worthless but priceless. What price friendship? What price the love of Him who suffers and dies for us all?

15 January 2021

Come on Daddy, come now, I hear them shout
as I put the finishing touches to this and that

in the safe confines of my study:
Hurry, Daddy, before it’s too late, we’re ready!

They are so right. Now is the time.
It won’t wait, on that you can bet your bottom

dollar. So rouse yourself, get the drift
before  you’re muffled and left

for  useless. Let’s build a snowman, then
a snow-woman to keep him company. When

that’s  finished, and with what’s left over,
a giant snowball that will last for ever,

only  hurry, Daddy. As soon as this poem
is finished, I promise, I’ll come –

essential   first, to pin down what is felt.
Meanwhile, the snow begins to melt.

The poet, Stewart Conn,  is distracted. He has a choice to make – stay in the study and  finish his work or go out and play with the children. ‘Come and see!’ they shout enthusiastically. The child within wants to go but the adult restrains him!

It’s one of these ‘Seize the day!’ moments. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. And we may miss the opportunity which the invitation presents because of pressure within or without to do something more productive!

‘Come and see!’ shout the children. There’s joy in being alive – building a snowman and a snow-woman to keep him company. Play opens a door into the imagination and we’re lost in what Jesus calls ‘life in all its fullness’.

‘Come and see!’ shout the children. There’s peace in being together – father, son and daughter enriching  relationships, enjoying a deeper communion with each other and the natural world of snow, gardens, rosy cheeks,  frozen hands and hot soup!

‘Come and see!’ shout the children. There’s love in being loved. That’s how it works, isn’t it?  No use saying, ‘Nobody loves me!’ Love and see what happens. The gift is in that ever increasing treasury of sustaining memories.

 

 

14 January 2021

Writing in New Scientist, David Adams makes this startling claim, ‘For every star in the known universe, there are at least 10 million viruses on Earth. They are so small that more than 100 million can fit on a pinhead.’  I liked  it better  when we were debating how many angels could dance on a pinhead!

Apparently, there is an estimated 500,000 animal viruses which are capable of jumping from the animal to human beings. Despite these numbers, it is highly unlikely. Although, it only takes one to bring the planet to its collective knees!

Scientists acknowledge that the natural barriers protecting us from viral threat are eroding. Adams illustrates this with a summary of the Hendra virus which is ‘usually found in bats but can be passed to horses and from them to people, causing fever, coughs and sometimes meningitis and coma’.

The Hendra outbreaks in north-eastern Australia are linked to periods of heavy rainfall. Raina Plowright, an infectious disease ecologist, illustrates  the trail:

‘In wet conditions, trees such as the eucalyptus produce fewer flowers for infected bats to eat. As a result, they are more likely to search for food on farms, where they may come into contact with horses. Hungry bats are also stressed and so tend to shed higher quantities of the virus.’

Clearly, the global weather pattern is changing. This affects the balance of nature. The food supply for the bat is threatened. This adds  stress to the mix. As an unexpected consequence, human beings suffer because the finely-tuned, balanced world created by God has been disturbed catastrophically!

13  January 2021

Michael Shaw has gathered together the correspondence between two Scottish literary giants – JM Barrie and RL Stevenson. It took place between 1892 and 1894. By that time, Stevenson was in Samoa and Barrie was living between Kirriemuir and London. They never met.

In 1922, Barrie contributed to a book of reminiscences about Stevenson. In it, he had to confess that he hadn’t actually met him. When he read his entry in the first edition, he was unhappy. For the second, he wrote an imaginary piece about meeting the Scotsman once.

They met accidentally on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Stevenson was wearing a characteristic velvet coat and sporting long hair. Barrie gives a look of disapproval at his dandyish appearance. Meanwhile, Stevenson moves away from him.

Barrie continues his imaginary tale. ‘He went on, stopped and looked again. I had not moved. He then returned and, addressing me with exquisite reasonableness, said, ‘After all, God made me.’ To which I replied, ‘He is getting careless.’

It looks as if humour broke the ice and softened the criticism for Barrie goes on to declare, ‘He raised his cane (an elegant affair), and then there crossed his face a smile more winning than I had ever before seen on mortal. I capitulated at that moment. ‘Do I know you?’ Stevenson enquired …’

12  January 2021

The unexpected assault on Capitol Hill has appalled Americans. People have been critical of the role President Trump allegedly played in it all. World leaders have joined in the condemnation of this attack on one of the world’s most stable democracies.

One of the commentators who took a more challenging view of these events was Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry. She drew a parallel with the storming to the Hong Kong Legislative Council by pro-democracy campaigners in 2019.

She observed that whilst the US media described the storming of the Capitol as a violent incident and described the perpetrators as rioters, they described those who stormed the Hong King city parliament as democracy fighters.  ‘It calls for some deep thinking why the languages used are drastically different.’ said Hua Chunying.

The implication is that the people making an assault on the Capitol may have felt that they were democracy fighters too. For the word ‘democracy’ comes from two Greek words  ‘demos’ meaning ‘people’ and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘rule’.  Democracy is government by the people through elected representatives.

Is it possible that some of those who stormed the Capitol did not think that they were recognised by the government of the nation? Michael Sandel observed that in the 2016 Republican primaries, Donald Trump did best in places that had the highest rates of deaths of despair.

This includes deaths caused by alcohol, drugs or suicide. Is it poverty which is fuelling the increase in these deaths. No! Apparently, it is being fuelled by those who are being left behind in what has become a meritocratic society in which those who rise to the top are credited with their own success and those who do not …

11 January 2021

Over the past few years, the number of religious cards we receive at Christmas has been gradually reducing. This year,  just over half the cards were religious. A third of them celebrated the shepherds and/or the kings. The kings outnumbered the shepherds by three to one. The exotic always overshadows the plain.

This year, I noticed that there was a significant increase in the number of cards which featured Mary alone with the baby. This is usually described as ‘The Madonna and Child’. Whilst it is a favoured image in most of Christendom, Protestants  have tended to favour the inclusion of Joseph in  the line-up.

There was only one card which drew our Christmas celebration into the orbit of Easter. It featured a wooden Latin cross standing in front of a decorated Christmas tree. On the horizontal arm of the cross, a robin was perching very comfortably. The baby grows up and dies – and rises again!

Of the secular cards, half of them painted a very  wintry landscape. Despite the scarcity of snow and ice on Christmas Day, Christina Rossetti’s, ‘In the bleak midwinter’ with its powerful, ‘Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow’,  is very persuasive in setting the impoverished scene.

The wintry cards are equally divided between landscape, robins and other wildlife. The robin still predominates with its historic association with Victorian postmen. Of the wildlife featured this year, we had the wren, the heron, the hare, the stag, the American cardinal and a flock of  geese.

About forty per cent of the secular cards celebrated Christmas customs. Half of them featured the Christmas Tree whose window lights have brought much Christmas cheer during the pandemic. There was only one Santa Claus, overshadowed by the Gothic windows of a lit church. The twelve days of Christmas is the favoured carol.

In addition, we had a few cards which sported words  but  not accompanied by any visual art. One read very cheerfully, ‘Eat, drink and be merry!’  It comes from Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, who commends mirth which helps to sustain us in our toil throughout the days which God ‘giveth us under the sun’. We will need it!

10 January 2021 – The Baptism of Christ

The second and last Sunday of Christmas is usually devoted  to a reflection on the baptism of Christ. We have celebrated his birth now we consider his baptism. It didn’t come to him when he was a child but an adult. His cousin, John, baptised him in the river Jordan. It was by total immersion and observed by many people.

Although the record is preserved in all four Gospels, each writer differs in the way  things like the descent of the dove and the voice from heaven are woven together. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus sees the dove descend from heaven when he comes out of the water and hears the voice, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

This word from God confirms the call of Jesus. It is significant that it should come to birth through his baptism. For in our baptism, God confirms our calling not to become the Christ but to become a part of the Body of Christ, the Church.

At the Reformation, Martin Luther developed this in a very interesting way. In his ‘Address to the German Nobility’, he wrote, ‘We are all consecrated as priests by baptism.’

In the New Testament, there are various terms to describe those who exercise a particular ministry in the church like bishop, presbyter, elder or deacon but never priest. This term is only used of Jesus, the High Priest.

So what is Luther talking about when he says that we become priests through our baptism? He is thinking about Peter’s words, ‘Like living stones,  let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood …’

Christians are called to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. This is not my individual calling but the church’s calling of which I am a part by virtue of my baptism. As the body of Christ, the church participates in Christ’s priesthood.

In many ways that’s the easy bit. The more difficult bit is working out what part we are called to play in order that the Church may effectively participate in the priesthood of Christ? We may start with a ministry of good deeds – and begin where we are, now!

9 January 2021

The Villages Group has sent a further update on what happened to the young Palestinian who was shot in the neck over the confiscation of an electricity generator. I reported it in my blog on Tuesday. The Palestinian is called Harun and was due to get married in two months time!

After  the shooting Harun was placed in a neighbour’s jalopy, Ashraf and Harun’s father, Rasmi,  tried to take him to hospital. However, the army jeep blocked the road and wouldn’t let them pass. Ashraf drove off the road and tried to bypass the soldiers. At this point, the soldiers shot his tires! It beggars belief.

Somehow they managed to drive to a neighbouring village and transferred the injured Harun to another vehicle. When they returned to the main road, the soldiers were there to obstruct their passage. Another off-road diversion and more shots fired at this makeshift ambulance! In the next village, professional help was at hand.

Another ten minutes’ delay would have cost Harun his life. The bleeding was stopped and the young man was sent to hospital in Hebron. Erella and Yair  visited him there. Because of Covid 19 restrictions, they could only see him through glass.

‘What now?’ asks Yair and Erella.  ‘In Israel Harun could get much better medical care, certainly when his rehabilitation begins. But since Trump declared annexation, the Palestinian Authority does not enable the transfer of patients to Israel nor finance the cost of their care and hospitalization in Israel.’

‘In a normal world, Israel would accept responsibility and care for Harun. But words such as “normal” or “responsibility” are not recognized by the occupation lexicon. We are trying to find a way to take Harun to an Israeli hospital. We shall update. In the meantime, Harun lies there staring at the ceiling. Alone.’

8 January 2021

The Word  which St. John celebrates in his opening chapter has two qualities. Firstly, it is marginalised. His own people did not accept him. Others did. They were fortunate because they became sons and daughters of God.

Secondly, it is beautiful. What John says is that it is ‘full of grace and truth’. If ever we wanted to test the genuineness of God’s work we could do no better than ask, ‘Is this full of grace and truth’.

Both words are important – grace, an undeserving love freely given and truth  comes from the Greek aletheia, what is unveiled. It is all about reality, what is real, what can only be discovered through reflection and discernment.

And where is this truth to be found but under the light. And where is the light to be found. It is on the margins in the place where ‘the world did not know him’ and ‘his own people did not accept him’.

It all seems paradoxical. The light which is born in Christ is both marginalised and beautiful. We can only understand this when we realise that his beauty is to be found in the humiliation and sacrifice which he endures on the cross!