Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of the Kingdom – Christ the King.

The king will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Jesus in today’s Gospel Matthew 25:31-46.

“Thou art God; no monarch Thou throned in easy state to reign;

Thou art God, Whose arms of love aching, spent, the world sustain.” W H Vanstone on Christ the King, reigning as crucified Lord, in his poem Morning Glory, Starlit Sky.

Today’s Gospel is the last of three parables about being ready and being judged. In the first, about ten bridesmaids, five of them decide there is no rush and don’t have their lamps ready whereas the other five do. When the bridegroom is delayed, they all sleep but then word of his imminent arrival comes at midnight. Those who aren’t ready ask the others to give them some of their oil but they won’t as they need it themselves. While they are away getting more oil, the bridegroom arrives and the five who are ready go in to the wedding banquet with him, the others being shut out. They are unprepared and had decided there was no need to rush – even though they have been asked and agreed to be bridesmaids. Their judgement is poor and they are shut out of the banquet because they aren’t ready.

The second parable is that of the talents, where two servants double the money their master has entrusted to them but the third simply buries it in some ground for safe keeping. He wasted the chance he had to increase what he’d been trusted with by making no effort to do so and made his master angry in the process, who judged him to be wicked and lazy. 

The third parable is about the nations being separated like sheep and goats which, very often, looked similar and grazed together. Matthew makes it clear that this is being done by the king from his heavenly throne and that the selection will be based on how well they have cared for those in need, the sick and the imprisoned. Those being judged seem to be taken aback and unprepared for what is happening but any practising Jew would have known of the expectations to care for others as well as themselves. This king, however, is the one who came as a helpless baby needing human care, the one before whom the three kings of the Orient knelt in homage and the one whose crown was of thorns and his throne a cross when he was crucified. He is not a tyrant but one who, living as a human, knew what it was to be a refugee, an object of scorn and an outcast, being tortured, taunted and crucified with the crown of thorns a mocking acknowledgement of his kingship. His judgement is not from afar or remote, but from his own experience at the hands of the humans amongst whom he lived – those hands into which he still entrusts himself in holy communion today.

As the church year draws to its close and Advent begins next week, these three parables are still a reminder to his followers that the servant king calls us now as then to be ready and prepared for his coming again in glory even though it is not known when that will happen. Meanwhile, there is much to do and many to care for – will our readiness and judgement be better than those in these parables? As we think of the grandeur of the coronation of King Charles III this year, of the guests who attended from all over the world and of the glorious regalia he wore, it’s a foretaste of the kingdom of God that King Jesus with his crown of thorns identifies with those in need and calls us also to do this, reminding us that we do it to him too. To be a follower of Christ the King is to be a messenger of those kingdom values too because, as Jesus’ words today remind us, we also have the possibility of inheriting the kingdom too – if we’re active and ready like the wise bridesmaids, the two servants and those who are chosen when the time comes. So, are we ready and, this Stir up Sunday, are your Christmas puds ready too?!

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the Third Sunday of the Kingdom – talents. 

”Well done, good and faithful servant.” Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30. 

Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden, basketball coach.

These words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are sometimes used at the funeral service of someone who has worked hard throughout their life and has been regarded as a good example to other churchgoers . The difficulty with these words is that they originally refer to the use of money rather than gifts or time and the master sounds like a harsh man, as the third servant tells him.

Leaving on a journey, the master selects three servants and gives them five, two and one talents, or bags of gold, according to their ability. The first man doubles his five talents to ten and the second increases his two to four. However, the third man just buries his single bag in the ground – a valid way of keeping money safe in those days. When the master returns, he is pleased with the first two servants, telling them they will be put in charge of more things and that they should share his joy at what’s happened. Yet, when the third man tells the master that he was afraid of him and only buried his bag, that angers the master who is cross with him for not even getting interest on the gold by taking it to the bank. That was not allowed according to religious law and so the servant’s assessment of his master is right – he is unjust and gathers from others what he has not sown. Telling him that is not the best way to succeed, however, given the circumstances and so the servant is thrown out and his gold given to the one who already has most. He does not help himself, as do the others, and so is punished for not using the little he has, though even one talent was a significant amount of money. 

The same is true of us – nowadays, talents has come to mean gifts as well as money and we are not given gifts in equal amounts but are expected to use what we have. In the same way, the servant wasn’t condemned for not reaching the same returns as the others but because he did nothing with what he was given. His example reminds us to use what we have been given and not to waste gifts, time or money. 

In the parable, the servant making a return of two talents is praised equally with the one who made five more and they both give back to the master what they have made. It’s a reminder that we are entrusted with things that are not ours but can be used to work towards what God asks of us in his world and that, when we do this, we can take our place amongst the faithful and trustworthy workers on whom God relies. The return of the master is certain – but when he will come back is not.

This is the third of three parables where Jesus is telling his followers that they are living in difficult times and must persevere with what is asked of them meanwhile. In those challenging circumstances, the first two servants are faithful to that but the third is lazy and afraid to take a risk, even though his master had done so by giving him the gold in the first place. In the straightened and uncertain circumstances being faced today, which might be true of us, too?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for Remembrance Sunday – sermon preached at the Memorial Hall.

As a former chaplain to the Royal Marines Association in Nottingham, I’ve been watching the TV programme Celebrity SAS – Who Dares Wins, where the recruits are subjected to the challenges of selection for the Special Air Service. During the final programme, when treatment not allowed by the British Army is used, one of the staff mentioned his own experience of interrogation when he constantly heard the refrain boots, boots, boots, boots, so I looked it up. It’s from a poem, Boots, by Rudyard Kipling and imagines the repetitive thoughts of a British Army Infantryman on a forced march during the Second Boer War in South Africa, which ended in 1902. How amazing , then ,

to hear its use  with the SAS today:

We’re foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa—. 

Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa —

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!) 

There’s no discharge in the war!

Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’-twenty mile to-day—

Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before —

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!) 

There’s no discharge in the war!

Don’t–don’t–don’t–don’t–look at what’s in front of you.

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again);

Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin’ em,

An’ there’s no discharge in the war!……

We—can—stick—out–‘unger, thirst, an’ weariness,

But—not—not—not—not- not the chronic sight of ’em—

Boots —boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,

An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

I–‘ave—marched—six—weeks in ‘Ell an’ certify

It—is—not—fire—devils, dark, or anything,

But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,

An’ there’s no discharge in the war! 

There’s no discharge in the war – or from the war either. That was true for Kipling with the death of his son John who was killed in action at the Battle of Loos in September. At first, he was reported missing and Kipling and his wife went to the Western Front looking for him, visiting hospitals and dropping fliers about him. John’s body was never found and, like so many of the hundreds of thousands of parents whose children were killed in action, the Kiplings were left with no place to grieve. So, he joined the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he it was who chose Ecclesiasticus 44:14 ‘Their name liveth for evermore’ which is found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries. He also suggested Known unto God for the headstones of unidentified servicemen and the inscription The Glorious Dead on the Cenotaph in London. For him, in the loss of his son, there was no discharge in the war.

Neither was there any discharge in the war for local lads Privates Edward Jones and Richard Lewis, who were gassed during WW1 and survived it but died of tuberculosis afterwards, or for Private Thomas Lewis who died of influenza on Armistice Day 1918. Nor was there for Private William Lewis who served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the Middle East and survived the first and second battles of Gaza but died in the hand to hand fighting in the battle of Beersheba, where he is buried. There is no discharge in the war for the families and friends of those who mourned their loss either.

So it is in Gaza today where the warfare from three thousand years ago resonates in the ongoing conflict. In the Old Testament, in 1100 BC, Gaza – which means strong city – was the place where the strongman Samson was imprisoned and the scene of many battles; just as the Palestinians now inhabit this area, so their name is derived from a Hebrew word meaning land of the Philistines, the people so often at war with the then Israelites. Ashkelon, where so many journalists are reporting from, was a base for the Philistines and also the site of the last battle of the First Crusade. Across the years, then and now, as Kipling writes there’s no discharge in the war. 

That was true also for Sergeant Maurice Enser, who served with the First Army in Algiers in 1943. He wrote of a communion service held in a hut one Sunday morning by the Padre Captain Barrett: “We started the service. After a short time we heard the shelling start. When the service ended he said, “You had better take what cover you can……” Mr. Martin and Captain Barrett, the two officers went into a corner and I dropped into a slit trench with another soldier. The next minute a shell dropped. There was dust and cordite everywhere and I could hear moaning and groaning. I went over and Mr Martin was dying. Captain Barrett was in a bad way, his legs were shattered. Stretcher bearers came and took them both away so I went and found my Company Commander and he said,”Go back to your position. You are now in charge of your Platoon.” Poor Maurice, no words of comfort for what he’d just experienced, not even a cup of tea or a rest! “I hurried back to tell them and one young man named Paxton asked if we could have a bit of a service for them, so we did. I know Paxton was pleased about that. In the event he was killed in my presence two weeks later. I had no opportunity to have a bit of a service for him – I was taken prisoner at the time. But 54 years later I was with my wife in Belper and we saw a war memorial. I went up and had a look at it – and Paxton’s name was on it.”

Maurice did his duty at the time with the Sherwood Foresters but struggled with PTSD throughout his life as a result of what he’d been through. When I knew him, he was still having nightmares about it all and he was well into his seventies. For him, too, there was no discharge in the war. And, as we remember the sacrifice made by so many for the freedom we sometimes take for granted, and witness the resonances of it on the streets of London this weekend, for us too there is no discharge in war as we live with the consequences of it. We also face battles in our day as well as hatred and violence; we may be wounded at times by events or find ourselves hurting others – but although the resonances of warfare and division live on, so too does hope, love, faith and perseverance. As we pause awhile together to remember today, so our various journeys through life will shortly resume and we shall have opportunities ahead to make a positive difference and to live the lives others laid down for our sakes. So, make sure you’ve got ready your boots, boots, boots, boots, boots!

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the First Sunday of the Kingdom and Bonfire Night.

“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place…. For nation will rise against nation.” Jesus, in Matthew 24:1-14.

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always 

 an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” Former US President Jimmy Carter.

The reflection last week focused on time and one of those who replied to it wrote:

Ecclesiastes 3:7-8. Thee is a time for everything. Now is a time of war. A struggle between good and evil…..the fight will be to face down evil. In this context and that of the warfare in Gaza and Israel, Ukraine and Russia, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are a reminder that wars, like famine, disease and earthquakes, are part of history and human experience no matter when we live. They don’t necessarily mark the start of the end times but, as atrocities continue and there is no sign of hostilities ending, fear is growing today that the fight to face down evil in our time may yet intensify and spread. Such ongoing destruction and enmity – where could all this lead?

Although the Temple was at the heart of Judaism for nearly a thousand years, Jesus foretells its destruction when he leaves it for the last time in today’s reading. The building is huge and beautiful but he warns his followers that no stone will be left unturned, which became the case at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. As Roman soldiers besieged the Temple, a fire began and the many gold decorations in it melted into the cracks between each stone. To retrieve the gold, soldiers were then ordered to take the stones apart and the Temple was completely destroyed, as Jesus had predicted. 

Jesus makes other predictions as he speaks to his disciples: not only of wars, famine, disease and earthquakes but also torture, death, betrayals, false prophets, lawlessness and love growing cold. But, into this despair, he also prophecies endurance and the good news of God’s kingdom being proclaimed through the world. As his foretelling of the destruction of what was the Second Temple came true, so Jesus’ other predictions should also be taken seriously but be tempered with his reminder to “See that you are not alarmed; for this must take place.” He warns his followers that what he speaks of must be expected and they should not let anyone lead them astray. 

The same challenge applies to his followers today as we Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot and other insurrections that have also been part of the history of the United Kingdom, with the King just this week acknowledging the acts of violence committed against Kenyans in their struggle for independence from British colonialism. As the Kingdom season of the church’s year begins, that challenge is encapsulated in what Bishop Gregory asks of us all:

Please do three things – pray, campaign and donate. Pray for a just end to war, write to those in authority asking them to be active in the cause of justice and make a donation to those organisations which can make a difference in bringing relief, or working for justice…… The solution to the problems of the Middle East may still be beyond us, but we need to practise what we preach, and be reconcilers, healers and enablers in the neighbourhood which God has given us for our work. 

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the last Sunday after Trinity, Bible Sunday.

“The hour is come….” Jesus, in John 12:23.

‘Time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot!’ Michael Altschule, American attorney.

How times have changed! As the clocks went back last night, I remember that it used to take a while to reset all the clocks in the house when I was growing up but now so many are digital and they change automatically. The clocks didn’t change until 1916, when the Government introduced the idea at the suggestion of the builder William Willett who didn’t live to see this happen as he died of influenza the year before. It was done during the First World War when the conflict was taking its toll and productivity needed to be increased, Germany doing the same just a month before. 

Often, like Willett, we don’t see the results of our influence but, as the clocks are reset, it’s a good time to consider what we might want to change if we could literally go back in time and change the outcome of some of the things that have happened. What could be chosen? Today being Bible Sunday, the war ongoing now between Israel and Gaza has its roots in religious conflict thousands of years ago with the city of Gaza having Egyptian, Philistine and Israelite as well as Greek and Roman rule. People of many different nationalities began to live there and it was the place where Sampson was imprisoned, where the prophets Jeremiah, Amos, Zephaniah and Zachariah prophesied judgement upon it and where Philip shared the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch who was then baptised. A place of conflict and hope, then and now. If only the conflict then could have been fully resolved at the time…….

Set into the floor of the Central Lobby in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster are the words, in Latin, of King Solomon, who reigned over 900 years BC. He “had dominion over all the region ….. from Tiphsah to Gaza….. And he had peace on all sides around him.” 1 Kings 4:24. The words are from Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house the builders labour in vain” and are a reminder that the Bible has been central to the foundations of this country, as in many other nations too. Being an anthology of 66 books with different purposes such as history, poetry, teaching, biography and prophecy and sometimes termed Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth, the contents of the Bible are accepted by believers as the sacred word of God, enlightening every age with God’s word to his people. Here in Wales, the story of young Mary Jones walking many miles for a Bible in Welsh from the Methodist minister Thomas Charles in Bala lead to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society, local needs extending worldwide. From small beginnings, ripples spread out in response as action was taken by those who had influence. 

As the terrible situation in Gaza and Israel continues, as well as in Russia and Ukraine and all places of conflict and division, it can only be hoped that those with influence will be able to make a powerful difference. An Israeli woman, Yocheved Lifschitz aged 85, was released from being a hostage this week, her husband still being held captive, and as she was freed she shook the hand of one of the Hamas terrorists who had shown a little kindness during her captivity and wished him peace. A photo of that small sign of hope and generosity went around the world but, with so many displaced, injured and grieving people running short of essential supplies and enmity seeming to increase on all sides, will peace ever eventually prevail in our time?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity.

Today’s reflection is from Christopher Belk, who took the service here this afternoon. Thanks to him for sharing his thoughts about the readings set for today.

Exodus 33:12-23 

This reading is an episode which comes just after Moses first 40 day stay up Mount Sinai. God had given him the Ten Commandments (plus a lot more regulations). Then God told Moses about the people worshipping  a golden calfwhile he was away, and generally having a big party. God said he would destroy them all. Moses pleaded with God and God relented from that first reaction, though Moses in anger broke the tablets on which the 10 commandments were written and 3,000 of the people were put to death by way of example, and there was a plague as well. God also said he would no longer personally accompany such disobedient people in their onward journey, as he had been doing in a pillar of cloud by day or fire by night. He would just let them have an angel to guide them to the land he had promised them. 

So it seems God was moved by Moses prayers to relent still further, and to promise his continued presence after all. In Deutoronomy 9, Moses included his brother  Aaron in his prayers and God even forgave Aaron, though he was the one who originally made the golden calf. God’s mercy is not always logical by human standards  – “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 

But it seems that promise was still not enough for Moses.”Now show me your glory”, he prayed. So Moses went up the mountain for a second 40-day session, when he continued to pray for the people (Deuteronomy), the stone tablets were rewritten, and he received a great many more regulations to pass on, though many were the same as before. He had of course talked with God before, from the time of the burning bush, in Egypt before an during the Exodus, during his first session up the mountain, and in the tent of meeting where it says the pillar of cloud would come to the door of the tent while God spoke with Moses as between friends. Also, before the first 40-day session, Moses, Aaron and 70 elders were given a distant vision of God. 

But there was something different about this second session, because God did show Moses his glory as intimately as was safe for him, and when Moses came down again we read that this time his face shone because he had been talking with God, so much so that he had to wear a veil. The only other time when that happened was for Jesus during his transfiguration, unless you also count Stephen’s martyrdom when it says they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

Psalm 99

The psalm for today is based on the same story. You have to imagine this psalm being sung while people went up to Jerusalem in the time of David and after. They believed then that God particularly lived in the Jerusalem temple, where the two gold cherubim were fixed over the ark of the covenant, and the “holy hill” would have been Mount Zion. For instance, Daniel during his captivity in Babylon still prayed facing Jerusalem. But the motive for worship is not so much the geographical place as the holiness of God. The word for Holy implies separation or otherness as well as perfection– a spiritual dimension. In this spiritual dimension God reigns over and is near to all peoples, even where they do not recognise him, but particularly near to those with whom he is able to converse, prime historic examples being Moses and Samuel, and then par excellence Jesus.

Gospel reading Matthew 22:15-22

I guess millions of sermons have been preached on exactly what “rendering to Caesar” means in modern life. But Jesus was not interested in politics, or in laying down more regulations. This passage comes after Jesus had told several parables to show that the Jewish leaders had lost their way, and were more interested in regulations and laws and the temple than in coming near to God in the spiritual dimension. Moses and of course Jesus knew that the glorious spiritual presence of God was much more important than any amount of law; you could say the Pharisees had turned the law into their golden calf. Jesus is saying, forget your politics, and start asking God to reveal his glory (which of course he has done in sending Jesus, whom they did not recognise). Only after that will you be qualified to regulate others.

So do we dare now to ask God to show us his glory, when our attention is gripped by tragedies and struggles both personally and all over the world, not least in the Middle East? Of course we pray about these things, but we do need to remember the priority of seeking God just for himself, not just for what we want him to do. He reigns, and precisely how he reigns is up to him in the end. He is holy, we are not, but if we ask for his Spirit to converse with us we can be on the way, as Jesus promises to be with us always just like God promised Moses, but better because in Jesus we can see God without having to climb a mountain. Our first hymn is maybe too pessimistic in saying it is impossible for sinful people to see God: that tends to make us give up trying, but if we give up then Jesus came in vain.

Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity and Harvest.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field….you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.” Leviticus 19:9-10.

“The most powerful social media ….is not the internet…it is food. This connects all human beings.” Alex Atala, chef.

The book of Leviticus was probably written about three thousand years ago and this part of it indicates that provision must be made, literally in this case, for those in need and the stranger. All these years later, some may not be as closely attached to the land as used to be the case but shops and supermarkets are still places where donations can be made to local food banks and where food is sometimes pre-packaged for just that purpose. It’s a sign of the times in which we live that donations are diminishing in some places as people struggle with the cost of feeding their own families but, still, provision is being made for those in need and unknown to each other. 

At this season of Harvest Festivals, the services are often followed by a harvest supper, an echo of the time when those living locally would have worked together to gather the crop and then celebrate it. Storage of the crop would also be important – the reason that the firstborn died during the ten plagues of Egypt was because, as the eldest and heirs, they would have received a double portion of the grain that was going mouldy due to previous plagues. Today, it’s estimated that one third of all food produced is lost or wasted, about 1.3 billion tons worldwide, with 9.5 million tons of this in the UK despite 8.4 million people being in food poverty here and much of the food still edible. 

In the valley, the land’s yield has been taken in a different way as the trees on the hillside by the Centre have now been harvested. 130 lorry loads of tree trunks have been taken – the the skill and hard work of the harvesters has been impressive on so steep an incline and the thousands of trees felled will provide wood for all sorts of purposes. The harvesters have heavy machinery to do much of their work and, when they began, the beauty here seemed at first to have been devastated but, as in Leviticus, some areas have been left alone. That’s to leave areas for animals and birds to use or because the trees are inaccessible to the machinery and already new growth has appeared where the first trees were felled.

Harvesting takes many forms and, as terrible suffering unfolds in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine and Russia and other places of conflict or disaster, it can only be hoped that the food, water and basic supplies which are being withdrawn or running out will be restored on a humanitarian basis as so many displaced and traumatised people seek help. The author Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but the seeds you plant” but these fine words involve longer-term plans and outcomes. Food, supplies and help is needed now – what on earth can be done and what bitter harvest is being sown?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Prisons Week.

“Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.” Matthew 26:50.

“The White House is the finest prison in the world.” American President Harry Truman.

Today marks the beginning of Prisons Week, the theme of which this year is Look up! This comes from Psalm 19, verse 1: The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament declares his handiwork. David’s poem encourages its reader to look up and see God’s silent statement of hope and beauty, a message we are sometimes too busy to notice or unable to access if clouds obscure the heavens. It can take an act of will or circumstance to look up when we are downcast and I remember this happening to me when I first came here.

When I arrived, the house had been empty for some time and, as it was like a fridge when I moved in, I lit a big fire to get it warm. As I was unpacking, the fire alarm went off due to excessive smoke and I had to take outside the coals and open all the windows to get rid of the smoke and its smell. By 2am, I was not only wide awake but shivering so I decided to go for a walk to get warm and went out into the lane with some trepidation. It had been a long, difficult day – the removers couldn’t get the van down the narrow lane and everything had to be transferred in the village to a smaller van – and I was looking down to see that I didn’t trip over anything. But, when I glanced up, I was gobsmacked to see the skies above. There were no street lights and the inky blue of the heavens that cloudless night, the huge moon and stars like diamonds set in velvet and the glory that I simply hadn’t noticed was astounding. I remember quoting this psalm as a hymn of praise for the sheer beauty around and it raised my spirits as I stood there marvelling – without light pollution, it was a magnificent sight.

Glory and beauty were there all along but I simply hadn’t noticed it and, when I did, it made all the difference. That was so during my time as a prison chaplain, too. All too often bitterness, violence and misery would prevail for good reason but there was always hope that a positive difference could be made. Sometimes that happened – lives could be turned round with the will and circumstances for that to happen and the drugs, alcohol, reading and skills courses played a big role in rehabilitation. But I also remember the abused prisoner who said he’d never known parental love as a child so how could he show it to his own kids if he had them – did he find love eventually? There was the suicidal man over whose dead body I said prayers and the model prisoner who was said to have a hopeful future but died the night he came out when his mates brought him heroin which, having lost his tolerance, killed him. But there was also the prisoner who got married in jail because his partner was such a support to him, the lad who came to chapel services only because we had chocolate digestives but found faith as well and the pagan chaplain whose earrings were witches on broomsticks. In some cases, the cost was enormous – one prisoner had snatched a woman’s handbag to steal her pension with such force it had knocked her over and killed her when she hit her head on a lamppost. But, so appalled was he, his resolve was that her death would not be in vain – did that prove to be the case? Would that have been any comfort to her relatives? In all these lives, did hope prevail?

Does hope prevail in our lives too? In the chaplaincy, the fact that Jesus was taken prisoner, misjudged and forgave one of the criminals crucified with him spoke to the hearts of those men who wrestled with their consciences and wanted a fresh start in their lives. That can be so for all of us, especially where routine, bad memories, the actions of others or Covid restrictions can make our homes and situations places where we are not free. In those locked-up circumstances, Jesus can forgive and renew if we allow him to but, when we’re downcast, we need to look up and glimpse the beauty and wider horizons that are there when we look for them. That applies to governors and leaders whose hands may be bound by circumstances too – even in the White House!

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – authority.

“By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?”

The chief priests and elders questioning Jesus in Matthew 21:32-32.

“You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver.” Handforth Parish Council member.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has gone to the Temple following the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the healing of the blind and lame people who came to him and the cursing of the fig tree which provided no fruit for him when he was hungry. All this concerns the religious leaders of the Temple who challenge Jesus’ authority and its source but he refuses to engage with what they ask and begins to question them instead. He asks them a clever question about John the Baptist which ties them up in knots and then tells a story about two brothers who both change their minds about what they have told their father about work commitments. One says he won’t work but does and the other says he will but doesn’t and Jesus questions which was doing the will of his father. He then tells the chief priests and elders that tax collectors and sinners will enter the kingdom of heaven before they do – this is not the most diplomatic approach to queries about his own authority!

Authority is very much under attack today, too, in many ways. During the pandemic, a Zoom meeting of Handforth Parish Council descended into chaos as clerk Jackie Weaver intervened during conflict between the members. She was accused of not having the authority to do so, which was later proved correct, but with online meetings in their infancy, no proper guidance yet existed and the clerk did what she thought was necessary. The angry clip became an overnight sensation and a good example of both bullying and the UK’s woes at the time – guidance now available should prevent such absurd conflict in future. 

However, the authorities decided that churches must be closed during the pandemic, a decision many disagreed with and one which is still having great consequences for the congregations who have found their numbers depleted since. Lambeth Palace has also let it be known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is “shocked” at the refusal of the Home Secretary to meet him to discuss immigration and that this is considered to be “a big slap in the face.” (Daily Telegraph) The authority of the Prime Minister is also under question regarding taxes and the future of HS2 and, with local authorities unable in some cases such as Birmingham to meet their commitments, this is having profound repercussions. With the chopping down of the beautiful sycamore tree near Hadrian’s Wales by a youth of sixteen and a man in his sixties, the outpouring of anger and grief has questioned why they took authority to do this – though it seems that this vandalism may have been just  a TikTok challenge. 

Meanwhile, all this is happening at Michaelmas, the festival of Michael and the angels who act with God’s authority to bring messages of hope and assurance to a troubled world. In the chaotic times we are living through, there will be words of hope and guidance that will encourage us to persevere as we find our own authority questioned at times, too. Perhaps, like the two brothers in the story Jesus told, we sometimes need to change our minds or, like Jackie Weaver, take authority during its lack to do what is needed under the circumstances? The most frequent message of the angels is “Fear not” or some form of it – can we encourage those around us as well as ourselves by claiming and sharing these words in the complex and perplexing times we are all living through, taking authority to do what we can for those in need and finding our own needs met as we do?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian. 

Reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – pay and conditions.

“I choose to give to this last the same I give to you…… So the last will be first and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16.

“All I’ve ever wanted was a honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Steve 

Martin, in the film Sgt Bioko.

Jesus continues his series of parables about the kingdom of heaven with this story of a landowner who hired labourers to work for the day in his vineyard after agreeing the usual daily wage with them. At various times during the day, he sees other workers standing idle and agrees to pay them ‘whatever is right’ for working until finally evening comes and the labourers are paid. Those who were hired last were paid first and received the usual daily wage although they had only worked for an hour but those who had worked from the start received the same amount. Although they had agreed this with the landowner at the start of the day when they were willing to work for that wage, they grumbled because they had worked for much longer. Some might have sympathy for their complaint, but the landowner tells them that no wrong has been done because they were willing to work for that pay at the start of the day.

That may be true, but it’s understandable that those who have laboured all day are jealous of the good fortune of those who arrived late. Perhaps they think that, having worked for so short a time, they don’t deserve the full amount and haven’t earned it. In coveting what those last workers have received, the jealousy and grumbling of those who have worked all day affects their perception of the wage they accepted when they were hired – although they had been initially satisfied with it.

This parable about labour and wages has resonances in the context of the ongoing disputes about pay and conditions in the NHS, the railways, the London Underground and elsewhere. With the government pouring £500 million to prop up the Port Talbot Steel Works, pay, the cost of living, the difficult in getting a mortgage and the changes in the economy as well as the housing market means this is a topical issue currently. What would Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the other Union secretaries and leaders involved in the current disputes make of this parable?! 

However, the parable isn’t about pay and labour at all. Rather, Jesus likens it to the kingdom of heaven where all are welcome and those who seek it sometimes enter much later than others. All are welcome unconditionally – God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness are his to dispense, not ours to judge even though we may feel envious of blessings given to others that we might envy ourselves. 

Perhaps jealousy of others is an issue for us today? Do we covet the blessings others have been given, whilst not recognising that we’ve been blessed in different ways? If the last are first and the first last, rather than resentment being key, isn’t that a sign that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand? If so: alleluia!

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.