The Bible passage for today, Sunday, 14th February, is the account in Mark’s Gospel of the transfiguration. Jesus was at a pivotal point in his ministry. He was just about to set out to Jerusalem and to the cross. What does he do? He turns to his Heavenly Father to get his endorsement. Although fully God, Jesus was also fully human and needed to be sure that the searing pain he was about to endure was fully part of His Father’s plan. Moses represented the ‘law’ of God and Elijah represented the prophets of God. By receiving their validation, Jesus was positioning himself to be fully in tune with God’s plan of salvation wrought in history. If Jesus had God’s backing, then he would be able to cope with the unimaginable pain of the crucifixion, death and temporary separation from His Heavenly Father. What is the application for us? Two things, I suggest. Firstly, before we embark on any major journey in life, we should seek God’s approval first. Secondly, once we receive this approval, we should boldly go forward in the sure knowledge that whatever the devil throws at us, we have the full backing and power of God to overcome.
The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 24th January is the story of the call of James and John to become disciples of Jesus. The Bible records the fact that these two men ‘left their father and their boat and followed him’. On the surface, this seems a straightforward event until we reflect on the circumstances. James and John were fishermen. That was their life, what they knew and what they did well. It was also their source of economic stability, status and reputation. Moreover, in the ancient world, the father in the family was revered. Often, boys would aspire to be like their father and eventually take over the family business before handing it on, in turn, to their children. Further, because their father’s name is explicitly mentioned, it is likely that he was both well-known and a highly successful businessperson. Therefore, in giving up all of this to follow Jesus there would have been an enormous sacrifice for the two brothers James and John. They were choosing to give up all that they had, were, owned, did and aspired to become. However, that is what they did! God is less interested in our own status, profession and income than He is in our faith. God wants to build, not our wealth and fame but our character and faith. This is what is of eternal consequence. What about us? Will we give up everything to follow Jesus? Although salvation costs us nothing, discipleship costs us everything. We know, for example, James was one of the first to be martyred. Will we, like James and John sacrifice everything to follow Jesus? If we are prepared to do this, let us start today.
Jesus once said to Nathanael, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” In truth, we do not know very much about the disciples. Two of them, Matthew and John, succeed in writing whole Gospels without hardly mentioning themselves within the story. The Bible passage for this week, the week beginning 17th January, sheds some light on two of the disciples – Philip and Nathanael. Doubtless, these two were close friends and work colleagues, coming from the same part of Galilee. It is also likely that they both studied the scriptures together. Indeed, it may be that Nathanael was meditating on the scriptures away from the noise of the house, under a fig tree when Jesus first saw him. Jesus clearly had a high regard for Nathanael declaring that there was ‘nothing false’ in him. However, Nathanael, Philip and all the other disciples were also prone to despair, despondency, negativity and even cynicism. Nathanael, for example, declared, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip, in turn, could not believe that there was any hope for them to feed five thousand men on the hillside: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bit!” I find it immensely re-assuring that these great people who went on to plant churches, revolutionise the world and give their lives for their faith all started from a position of weakness. God is less interested in what we have been and more interested in what we can become. This year, 2021, why not start the journey of being a better disciple so that, one day, like Nathanael, we can hear the words of God: “This person is a true follower of Jesus in whom there is nothing false.”
The week beginning Sunday, 6th December is the second week in Advent. The Gospel passage this week is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Writing to a Roman audience who were more interested in action than genealogies, Mark gets straight to the point in verse 1. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” Four words into this earliest Gospel we come across the words ‘the good news’. What is ‘the good news’ this Christmas? There is certainly a lot of bad news in the world this Christmas as countries around the world suffer with Covid. At home we encounter similar problems of isolation, loneliness, fear and bereavement stemming from the ongoing implications of the pandemic. What is ‘good’ about any of this? Mark’s Gospel points to one full, complete and perfect solution: Jesus the Messiah. The response from my secular and humanist friends is, why doesn’t God (if He exists) make it easier for us to believe in Him? In a sense, that is easy to answer. The real miracle is that the God of the universe chose to come to a tiny insignificant planet in the first place. Even then, people who saw him still didn’t believe! Why should they believe any more now if He did it all again? The other comment that I receive is, I would believe in Jesus if only I could see, touch, taste, smell or hear him. Again, I wonder whether things are only real and true if we can sense them. What about radio waves and countless other phenomenon which we can’t sense but which clearly exist. However, perhaps the greatest argument for the presence of Jesus is His Church. Almost two thousand years after Mark wrote his Gospel, the world Church is still growing and remains the world’s biggest organisation – despite Covid. This organisation continues to affirm that all war, pain, sickness and fear will disappear when a new heaven and earth are established. Surely that is ‘good news’, not only for the Roman world of the first century, but for everyone, everywhere this Christmas as well.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
Epistle Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8
Psalm: 85:1-2; 8-13
The week beginning Sunday, 29th November is the first week in Advent. This marks the beginning of the season of the year when many families start opening Advent calendars. Inside will be pictures of Christmas trees, holly, Christmas stockings, a robin red breast and an intimidating snowman. Does this cover the meaning of Advent? The word ‘advent’ comes from two Latin words: coming and towards. The Advent message is a ‘coming towards’ and can be split into three parts. Firstly, Jesus came as a baby; secondly, Jesus is still coming to us today through the Holy Spirit and, finally, Jesus will come again in the future. For most people in Guildford and, indeed, around the world, their understanding of Advent is the story of Jesus coming as a baby to a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. However, the first Sunday in Advent focuses not on this, but rather on His second coming. The Bible passage assigned to this week is the ‘signs at the end of the age’. This is recorded in Mark’s Gospel chapter 13 and verses 24 to 37 and it focuses on a very different aspect of Advent to the common perception of Advent as a crib scene. This Bible passage highlights that Jesus’ second coming to the earth will be very unlike the first. It will not be as a tiny vulnerable baby born to a scared teenager in poverty but, rather, in glory and judgement on the whole earth. Nobody likes judgement. To be judged by an awesomely powerful and perfect God is even more terrifying. With regard to the pictures in the advent calendar, it is probably best not to frighten children with stars falling from the sky and the solar system shaking. However, and thankfully, Jesus has already given us one of his watertight promises: “whoever comes to me I will never drive away”. Thank God for this. Perhaps this is the real joy of Christmas. God is with us, Emmanuel, and if God is with us nothing can come against us – not even an intimidating snowman!
Old Testament reading for this week: Isaiah 64:1-9
Gospel reading for this week: Mark 13:24-37
Epistle reading for this week: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm for this week: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The Gospel reading appointed for today is from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus talks about serving the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. This is one of the most powerful parables that Jesus ever spoke because it has implications for all of us in a very simple but profound way. What precisely did Jesus say?
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The message is as clear as crystal: God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need. God’s judgement does not depend on how much we have amassed or our status or our qualifications – all these things are not as important to God as how we treat others in need. Note also, we do not have to do spectacular things. It is in the simple things like giving a stranger a meal or giving someone a drink or visiting someone in prison or in hospital. All of us can do this. But in doing these things our motives must not be calculating. The ones who were on his left (cursed) replied, in effect, Lord we did not realise that it was you. The implication is that if they had, they would have done something because otherwise it would reflect badly on them. This contrasts with those on the right (blessed) who also did not recognise it was Jesus but did it anyway. The best thing that you can do for a parent is help their child. If someone shows kindness to your child in need then, as a parent, you are enormously grateful. God loves it when kindness is shown to his children – our fellow human beings. In particular, God loves it when kindness is shown to those of his children in the most acute need. The sick, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned. God is the great Father who delights when His children are helped. It is no more complex than that.
Old Testament reading for this week: Ezekiel 34:11-16; 20-24
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 25:31-46
Epistle reading for this week: Ephesians 1:15-23
Psalm for this week: Psalm 100