Please see Reverend Vivien’s Lock-down Diary in the Community drop-down menu for daily reflections during the week.
Fourth Sunday after Trinity 5 July 2020
Genesis 24.34-38; 42-49; 58-end
Trust in God through the ministry of others
We’re all either married or at least familiar with the concept. So how does marriage come about? Do people just make a rational decision to do this? Or is there a sense of something preordained happening? That you are meant for someone, because you love them, which is essentially a mystery? Is it a bit of both? If so which is the more important?
In lock-down, I watched Pride and Prejudice yet again. Miss Elizabeth Bennett rejects the cringingly embarrassing Mr Collins because she’s convinced they would not make each other happy. Charlotte Lucas then makes the exclusively rational decision to marry him, to provide her with security. The love story of Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy is at the heart of the story of course, with two people’s rational animosity against each other overtaken by love. Both unions seem to have had satisfactory outcomes. So we conclude that in each case, however they came about, they were meant for each other, with a greater hand at work bringing this about.
What of Isaac? Does Isaac have nothing to do with his own marriage decision? Is it all being managed by others? Or does the story really centre on Isaac offstage, as a complete act of trust by him? Essentially not in his dad or his dad’s servant or his prospective wife Rebekah or her family but in God; God using all these people to fulfil his loving purpose for the future of the whole world really, through Isaac’s trust. The Genesis stories we’ve heard recently have all been about trusting God in challenging circumstances. Sarah’s mistrust, God’s faithfulness to Hagar, Isaac’s trust in his father, Abraham’s faithfulness to God. And today, Isaac’s trust in God through a series of people also trusting themselves to God, who does not betray that trust. Isaac takes Rebekah and she becomes his wife and he loves her.
It’s another archetypal story of humanity with faithfulness and trust as the redemptive elements. It says, if our marriage is not founded on trust & faithfulness in God through each other, it’s no marriage at all. If our life is not founded on trust in God through each other, it’s no life at all. Now is the time to found our corporate life, our church family life on trust in God to work in us and through us for the well-being of the world. It’s never been a more important time.
Third Sunday after Trinity 28 June 2020
Trust in God’s faith in us
It’s hard to work out where God stands in relation to some situations in life, and what he asks of us.
The only way to fulfil God’s promise to my husband for his offspring to be innumerable like the stars in the sky is for my handmaid Hagar to bear him a child, because I’m definitely too old for this myself, said Sarah last week. Her prime example of mistrust in God is offset this week by Abraham’s example of unwavering faith, the extremity of his faithfulness reflected in the extremity of the situation he faced. How can my offspring be so many, when you want me to kill my beloved son? Though if you ask it of me, no matter how bad it seems, I will trust and obey. Sarah’s pragmatic alternative plan B is bad, & Abraham’s dogged adherence to God’s plan A is good; because in a situation which looks like God has got it wrong, one is a story of someone trying to take over from him, and the other of someone sticking to God against all the odds.
But how do we know what God’s plan is, when it doesn’t always look like a very good one? It’s dead easy to trust in God’s loving purpose when all is well. Trusting God when you are having a hard time is the real challenge. It’s important to realize God’s plan for the world is rooted in the individual, not the individual situation. If a person trusts in God through thick and thin, the outcome of that faithfulness will reveal God’s power to save, whatever the situation, most often in surprising and unexpected ways. Not trusting in God is a fundamentally hopeless situation whatever the scenario, because one person alone can’t see the biggest picture and human resources always become exhausted eventually.
It’s a relief to place our trust in God, in his faith in us, and see the fruits of that appearing in all kinds of ways around us; innumerable pricks of light, like Abraham’s stars in the sky, illuminating the darkness and restoring hope. I’m seeing these lights in Graffham all the time now, and not just when I look up at the beautiful stars at night. Amen
Second Sunday after Trinity 21 June 2020
Open for Prayer
Yesterday afternoon, the West Door of St Giles Church swung open to welcome people again into our church. In a restricted way for a restricted purpose, to be sure, the freedom this allows is not generous; open, nonetheless. Though to be honest, not many were beating a path to the door to take advantage of this opportunity. I was grateful we could do it, though not overly encouraged as I returned home. We still have a long way to go before it feels like church in any way we can recognize as a gathering of a Christian community. I asked myself if it was worth continuing to provide this private prayer facility. Better to wait maybe, until services could be offered again. Even then, changes that have taken place, and those which necessarily continue may impact on the viability of face to face worship, I have to admit, and had to look hard for encouragement here.
We’ve been given Hagar’s story this morning. She had been asked by Sarah to save the day. Sarah had not believed she could herself provide a child to fulfil God’s promise to Abraham of his fathering a great nation. So, taking it upon herself to manage it, Sarah gives her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to fulfil that purpose; which they duly do. Then against the odds, Sarah gives birth to Isaac, proving her own lack of trust in God. Hagar and Ishmael are cast off by Sarah as a threat & embarrassment. Abraham sends them away and they find themselves in the wilderness with little hope of survival. God is not careless of his promise however. They are rescued and Ishmael becomes the first of those stars in heaven beyond number which God promised would be the extent of Abraham’s progeny.
I’ve two abiding memories of yesterday’s church opening. The scent of sweet peas from Betty’s beautiful flower arrangement, and the sight through the West Door of a single votive candle still burning in what seemed a darkened church. The church today is in the midst of a wilderness experience. It is challenged in away that sometimes seems beyond us. God is in control though, not us, as Sarah learned. And not careless of his promise to us either. While our church is filled with fragrance and a single star burns in our heaven, we are still here. Amen
First Sunday after Trinity 14 June 2020
Prayer of Humble Access
All People Matter
I’d like to reflect with Guinness the dog on the crumbs she found under the table in Izzy’s cartoon on Facebook yesterday. Did you know, Guinness, that ‘dogs’ was slang for non-Jewish, Gentile people in Jesus’ time? That’s why the Gentile Syro-Phoenician woman in another gospel story, requesting healing for her daughter, said ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ For this courageous comment her daughter was healed, & we learn ‘Gentile People Matter’ or better, ‘All People Matter’, in Christ’s world.
In the Prayer of Humble Access though, prayed before receiving communion, in all humility we don’t even claim that much, as Izzy’s cartoon quotes, ‘We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.’ Maybe that’s because too often we behave as if ‘Only We Matter’. Thankfully, this is followed by ‘…though you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he is us.’
Can that include us today, though, who are prohibited from eating Christ’s body or drinking his blood?
Are we though? When we abstain for such a reason, to protect others from harm, because they matter so much, therein lies our spiritual integrity, and effective communion with Christ, despite our physical abstinence. These are true crumbs of comfort until we return, Amen
Trinity Sunday 7 June 2020
Trinity of Prayer
Trinity Sunday is a day clergy fear the most, so they say. When they attempt to explain how God can be three persons while still remaining one God.
Because I don’t have a logical, scientific kind of mind I’m perfectly happy with the mystery of it all; so my apologies to you if your faith hinges on such explanation. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples, not analyse him, and a disciple is just somebody seeking a relationship with God, which comes about fundamentally through prayer. So instead of an explanation of the Trinity I offer a prayer.
O Lord our God, help us to know you when we pray. Help us to know you as the one to whom we pray; help us to know you as the one with whom we pray; help us to know you as the one in whom we pray. Help us to know you, and to love you, and to live our lives for you, with you, in you, One God in three, Holy Trinity.
As we pray, we are here and God is there, beyond us, around us, above and below us, so we pray from us to God. As we pray, we are here and God is beside us, praying with us, intimately supporting us, so we pray in companionship with God. As we pray, we are aligning our prayer with God’s loving purposes, entering God’s very heart in prayer, so we pray within God. In all these dimensions we meet God, in mutual recognition, in ‘personal’ relationship. So no explanation by me is needed really, each person discovers God’s personal nature as revealed to them in prayer for themselves.
We may soon experience that personal relationship with God through prayer in our churches again. I look forward to it. Amen