Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Never underestimate the small!”

This sermon was preached on 27.7.14 at St Andrew’s 9.30am and St Peter’s 11am Eucharist services. The readings were Genesis 29:15-28, Romans 8:26-end & Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

 

The Bradshaw family have just taken delivery of an African Pygmy Hedgehog called Josephine. Not, I have to confess, a pet I ever expected to keep – not that I am the official keeper I’m happy to say: that’s Daisy. The hedgehog is approaching eight weeks old and still quite little. Although of course not as tiny as when she was born hidden from view for a fortnight by her mother.

 

But since Josephine has taken up residence in Roker she hasn’t ceased to make an impact. Whether because of her spiky beauty, her little black nose, the occasional prick she administers to someone’s finger or the copious amounts of wee and other things she suddenly produces just when you pick her up. I’m hoping she’ll grow out of that!

 

But insignificantly sized as she is Josephine has certainly made an impression.

In his first sermon to the Diocese – stating his intention to encourage us in the big challenge of growing our churches – our new Bishop Paul Butler stated: “Never underestimate the small!”

 

Certainly smallness never bothered Jesus. He never seemed remotely interested in it in any negative sense. Quite the reverse, in fact. Smallness, apparent insignificance, was itself, for Jesus, very significant. In the busy Temple precincts it was the poor widow putting her final copper coins into the collection box which caught his attention, not the great amounts donated by the wealthy. On another “big crowd” occasion his attention was drawn, literally, to the physically small when he spotted the tax collector Zacchaeus up a tree – before inviting himself to tea at his house.

 

And for all that they followed him wherever he went in Galilee it wasn’t ultimately the big crowds that Jesus really, truly engaged with. It was individuals: real people – the boy with the loaves and fish; the woman with the haemorrhages; Bartimaus the blind beggar. Individuals in the crowds each in their own way drawing Jesus’ attention. One to one. Small scale ministry. At least numerically. Particular people. Here. And there.

 

Or small groups. Of twelve – or so. Or three: the sisters Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. Even the smallness – the frailty – of the disciples’ faith – faith so small in fact that when the reckoning moment came all but one or two ran away – wasn’t really a worry for Jesus.

 

Which is all very encouraging for us, of course.

 

And the gospel readings over the last couple of Sundays, as today, have laid emphasis on the small. In particular on seeds. Sowing, planting; God the farmer, scattering the seeds: these small, insignificant – even dead looking things – things you’d find it difficult to see if you dropped one on the carpet, let alone on the soil – and yet with the potential of budding to life and fruitfulness.

 

Clearly, not underestimating the small has always been God’s way. Not simply encouraging words from a newly arrived Bishop. And of course Paul Butler would agree entirely. That’s why he said it.

 

But, and I don’t know about you, I feel I’m being bombarded by big things at the moment. Overwhelmingly big sometimes. Massive. What on earth is going on in the Middle East? Gaza. Children, women, men. Lives wiped out in a dreadful instant. What on earth? What on earth is going on when hundreds of totally innocent people, young and old, families, young couples, lose their lives when their aeroplane is shot from the sky? It’s almost too much to take. The sheer destructive, murderous evil. The bigness of this incomprehensible stuff is almost overwhelming. And what answer is there to give when people ask: “Where is your God now?”.

 

What do we say? How do we respond to these impossible situations in our own minds, let alone when others ask, when we long – along with good, reasonable people who have no faith at all – that God deals with the dreadful stuff going on in the world right now, once and for all.

 

A read of a few of the psalms – and I think we need to use the psalms more often than we do – will reassure us that this is quite a normal response and we’re certainly not the first to think these thoughts. Feel these feelings. Cry out from the bottom of our hearts for God to bring an end to the anguish felt by regions of our world today.

 

But what do we say? What, at the end of the day, is our faith based on – at least in the historical sense? Well, it’s based on a baby born in a stable, in an obscure town in an insignificant backwater of the Empire of Rome, twenty centuries ago. It’s based on a man being nailed to and dying on a cross alongside who knows how many others that particular year? In terms of world, national – even local – significance at the time this was smallness, smallness and smallness again. In terms of Jesus as merely a man, it was pretty small beer.

 

It’s no wonder that St Paul saw instantly that this must be incomprehensible – “foolishness” – to many people. This notion of faith in a so called “Son of God” who died on a cross. What significance was that to the big questions of life? How was that meant to solve the problems of the universe? And so he wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

 

And it remains true today. Many think we are hopelessly naive. Gullible. Lacking any real thinking capacity. Yet Paul himself – and many, many others since – have brought along supremely keen intellects and have found themselves convinced of the truth of the Gospel.

 

And going back for a moment to that picture, that idea God gives us, of the seeds. Holding a few in your hand they feel so lifeless. Dead. Almost.

 

And yet not.

 

This is why Easter is not simply a wonderful springtime celebration of an extraordinary event which happened sometime around the middle of the first century. The Resurrection of Jesus is a fact which we must carry with us in our hearts and lives every day of our lives. It is simply too significant to leave in March or April.

 

The Resurrection tells us that all the terrible, dreadful things in the world can never be stronger, greater, more powerful than the death of Jesus on the cross and the utter love that God was demonstrating there for the whole world. None of it. None of it has the last word.

 

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” asks Paul. “Will hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” Or we might add: our worries about our health or that of someone we love, or a relationship that’s gone wrong; or maybe the guilt over something or other we have carried for years; or our own doubts and fears about whatever else? Or indeed Israel and Palestine and the appalling loss of life there; Northern Nigeria, the innocent victims of Flight MH17.

 

No! No! says Paul (and heaven knows he lived in a world every bit as incomprehensively, appallingly violent as our own, and had many of his own personal troubles besides): “No. In all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

 

Nothing. Nothing. Whatever it is. However big, how overwhelming it seems. However threatening to any possible hope for peace in a world like ours – groaning as in labour pains – as Paul writes a few verses earlier. However things may, from time to time, threaten to swamp us, knock us from places that we feel we are clinging to by our fingertips. There is nothing. Nothing that will ever separate us from God’s love for us.

 

The cross and the Resurrection of Jesus says God loves this world so completely that he will never, never give up on it.

 

Yes, there is often an invisibleness about love which makes it seem as though it is not there. Who knows, apart from God, how many acts of loving, courageous, service are going on – right now in Gaza? Or in any of these places? I’d lay a bet that there are many. Love doesn’t make grand gestures, look for recognition or reward. How could it then, truly be love?

 

But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. That God isn’t there. Working through the compassionate spirit of the humanity he made in his image. And this is particularly God’s purpose for the Church – us, ordinary-extraordinary people that we are – as he gets on with growing his Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

 

Yes, of course great love, great acts of kindness, grace, courage, exemplary, inspirational compassion can be shown by people of other faiths and of no faith at all. But it is particularly through God’s Church, as was his intention and design and which has at its very heart the self-giving love of Jesus on the cross – a self-giving love which has the power to transform our hearts – that God’s love – his commitment, his compassion, his servanthood, needs to be seen. And as I say, that’s you, and that’s me.

 

It’s back to those seeds again. Planted in good soil. Quietly growing. In acts of service, generosity and joyfulness. Enlivened with the Living Water, that is: trusting, day by day, Jesus Christ. Nurtured with God’s word, the bible. Like…well, like a mustard seed, which, though tiny, with the potential to grow and grow. Or perhaps like yeast spreading through flour to leaven the dough, producing bread which is good, wholesome, tasty, life-giving.

 

And then sharing this goodness with the world like a great treasure which has been hidden and is now found. Or a pearl – a wonderful, beautiful, priceless pearl – against which there is no match for all the riches of the world.

 

That is what we have been given in Jesus. Let’s live it and share this great hope for the world.

 

Amen.

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The Constant Gardener

This is the sermon delivered at the 8:00am & 9:30am Eucharist at St. Andrew’s this morning. The readings were Genesis 28:10-19a, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

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Brothers and sisters, I feel I should begin with a confession – I am a very poor gardener!

This mainly comes from not being a big fan of weeding.

The house we were in at college had a steep bank that led up to the road – too steep for the kids to play on, hard work to climb, and not really much use for any kind of garden without major re-sculpting work. When we moved in it was completely covered in weeds, which we attempted to hack back. This became an ongoing battle – one we couldn’t win, as we could never give it the time it required. Eventually, as the weeds got higher, the landlords brought in a gardener. This ‘kind gentleman’ turned up, cast his ‘expert’ eye over the scene…then got out a strimmer, chopped the weeds back to ground level & departed. Now, anyone with any knowledge of weeds will immediately spot the problem – about 3 months later the weeds were back, bigger & stronger thanks to the weather over the summer. Eventually, we organised a gardener of our own to come out. This one dug the weeds out by their roots, turned over the soil & planted good plants to help keep them at bay – in the words of our neighbour, this one “knew what he was doing!”

In our Gospel reading today we find Jesus taking part in the earliest recorded episode of Gardener’s Question Time. Just before this, as Junior Church explained so brilliantly last week, he’s spoken of a farmer scattering seed with varying degrees of success, and here Jesus talks about weeds entangled in an important crop of wheat. He explains the weeds are the children of the evil one, and it appears they have been sent to stunt the growth, hold back, and endanger the children of the kingdom.

This got me thinking about how much time I spend tending the garden of my life. When I look at the soil of my heart, I hope I’m doing the right things to make it good and fertile. I try to give it the right nutrients – time spent in church listening to teaching, and engaging in fellowship. I try to plant good seed in it – the word of God through the scriptures. But, as those in the gospel reading discovered, sometimes weeds begin to grow unbidden and, apparently, unaided. The slaves of the householder appear truly shocked that this has happened – they expected only good crops to grow.

All the right precautions had been taken – the ground ploughed up and prepared, only the best seed sown; and yet here come the weeds, tightly bound to the crop.

Possibly fearing blame, they look to quickly rectify the problem, but the householder is good & wise – he knows the only way to remove the weeds completely is to pull them out at the root, and at this point that would damage the crop as well. He casts his expert eye over the situation and urges patience, knowing that when the time is right the weeds can be destroyed and the crop gathered in.

Now, some might say it’s easy to avoid weeds – just don’t plant them in the first place! We all probably feel we have a good grasp of right and wrong, and try to avoid ‘sinning.’ I doubt any of us go ‘looking’ for trouble; we avoid the usual suspects of sin – murder, theft, adultery. We may try even harder, attempting to live out the things Jesus highlighted in the sermon on the mount – seeking reconciliation instead of anger, avoiding lust, turning the other cheek. But it isn’t just about the big things. What else holds us back from our relationship with Jesus?

Weeds come in all shapes & sizes. Some are deep rooted and tough to shift. Some even flower, and externally don’t look too out of place or wrong. But these are habitual weeds, the things we do often and without thinking, that stifle the growth of the seed God plants in us by using up the goodness it needs to flourish.

Just as a weed blocks light and consumes nutrients, these habits block our vision of the light of Christ and steal the precious time we need to nurture that which God has given us. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have hobbies, pastimes, fun! But when these things detract from our relationship with the risen Lord they become a problem. All around us are things that can help us pass the time, but can become overwhelming. If I claim I haven’t got time to read the Bible every day, but spend a couple of hours doing the crossword or looking at Facebook, I may need to do some pruning. If I don’t have time to pray, but know the latest plot twist in Eastenders, I may need to find my trowel and gloves. Lets take a few moments now and ask ourselves – When did I last take a good look around my garden and ask, “what weeds have I left to grow recently?”

Some weeds are smaller – so less of a problem, right? But think of the dandelion – one strong gust of wind and it’s seeds scatter far and wide, and in no time more dandelions spring up all over the place. When we look at our own lives, what are the little things we do that affect other people’s growth in God?

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, was quite keen on our actions not damaging the relationship others had with the Lord. There are things we probably don’t see any harm in. Things we do that we can happily hold alongside our Christian walk. But just because we don’t think they harm us, that doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to others. Lets think again for a moment. What seeds blow from my garden into others? Will these seeds bear fruit…or choke the life from those around me?

My biggest problem in the garden is I find it hard to tell the weeds from the plants. The slaves in the story appear to have had a similar concern. But help is at hand.

Unlike the bloke who strimmed my slopes, we have access to the expert in tending our particular garden – one who can advise us on what is best because he managed to tend his own garden perfectly, and wants ours to thrive and produce an abundant crop. When did we last ask the expert gardener, the one witnesses believe “knew what he was doing,” the Lord, the giver of life to help us to remove those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with those who we love, and with him?

We’ll pause again for a few moments. Let’s take some time to wander around the garden of our lives, our hearts, and ask Jesus to help us check for weeds.

One thing about a good garden – people stop and look at it. People ask how it got to be like that; what we did differently to make it so attractive; why is it so abundant, so full of life? Friends, neighbours, complete strangers see something special and want to know how to get it for themselves.

We all know the best way for any gardener to find new work is word of mouth – the recommendation of a friend, who has experienced their work, means more than any fancy advert or promotion! Are we ready to tell those who ask how our garden got to look so good!?

As we come to the communion table, to remember Jesus life and death for our salvation, we use the produce of good human gardening; maybe we should take the opportunity to ask him to clear out the weeds, dig over the soil, and fertilize our hearts with his body and his blood. Are we prepared to work with him, tend the good seed he has planted in us, and let the Holy Spirit blow the seed of that crop far and wide? Are we ready to let him loose with his trowel?

Amen.

♪♫Listen… do you want to know a secret? ♪ ♫

This sermon was preached at the 10am midweek Eucharist on 16th July at St. Andrew’s. The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:25-27.

, ♫Listen… do you want to know a secret?

Do you promise not to tell?

Woah wo wo,

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

Say the words you long to he-e-ear,

I’m in love with you.

Woo oo oo oo oo…♪, ♫

 

Who can name the song?

 

That’s right, “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by The Beatles. It’s a simple little song, lasts less than 2 minutes, and was a track on their first album. A Lennon & McCartney original, it was written for George Harrison to sing, crafted to be deliberately undemanding as he had a limited vocal range.

 

But like many things in life there is a beauty in it’s almost naïve outlook on life – reading between the lines I see the shyness of the approach to the girl, the fear of others finding out the depth of his feelings lest they see him as soppy or uncool, yet the need to tell her as it just is too big a thing to keep inside.

 

Jesus, in his prayer recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, also has a secret. He knows the Father. He really knows the Father. And nobody can know the Father unless they know Him, because only He can reveal the Father. The people who think they know it all, those who think they are wise, learned, who think they know God through their rules and traditions are missing the point. It is through the childlike naïvety of love that the Father is truly known.

 

The Beatles nearly didn’t make it – on New Years Day 1962 they had an audition with DECCA, at the time one of the biggest record labels, who rejected them declaring “guitar bands are on the way out!” The want on to sign for EMI & be hailed as the greatest & most influential band of all time. Rumour has it that the DECCA executives used to get the tapes of the audition out every year & torture themselves, trying to work out how they let them get away.

 

You see, these self-styled wise and intelligent men were so certain they knew everything they missed what was right in front of them. They had spent so long giving instruction, claiming to know best that when something truly unique and world-changing appeared, they wrote it off & missed the boat.

 

How often do we miss the simple things? How often do we get so caught up in our knowledge, our understanding, our tradition, that we fail to see the person standing in front of us. Jesus, through prayer & through the scriptures, is constantly seeking to whisper in our ears “I’m in love with you.”

 

Let those words sit with you for a moment.

 

I deliberately didn’t say “Jesus loves you,” because that almost doesn’t do the depth of his feelings for each one of us justice. He is in love with us. With me. With you. Being in love alludes to the exciting, scary, fireworks and passion part of a relationship – and that is what a relationship with Jesus can be like, if we let it. Because if we allow ourselves to be a bit naïve, a bit childlike in our approach – if we allow Him to whisper in our ear – we find His Spirit can fire us in incredible ways. And like the song we may want to nervously whisper about this relationship as it’s scary and precious and almost a bit silly but, if we let that love, His incredible, sacrificial love, grow inside us, suddenly it’s hard to keep inside. It spills out into our relationships, our actions, the way we live. And we find ourselves introducing people to Jesus – not big black Bible on the street corner evangelism, but in the way you introduce a friend or loved one to people. And because they know you & trust your judgement their more likely to give somebody you know a chance, and before you know it this love for each one of us becomes the worst kept secret in the world.

Maybe that sounds all too simple. Naïve. Not the kind of thing for us rational grown-ups, more what you may say to an infant…

 

Oh….

 

Listen. Do you want to know a secret…?

 

Amen.

Fertile Soil & Stubborn Clods

This sermon was delivered at the 8am Eucharist and 6pm Evening Prayer services at St Andrew’s on the 13th July 2014. The reading was Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23.

The Parable of the Sower is, of course, one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. So familiar, possibly from childhood for most of us. Quite often at Baptism services here at St Andrew’s I feel a bit like the farmer in the parable asking God to help me as I throw out as much seed as possible to the sometimes hundreds of people in front of me in the hope that some of the good news of Jesus might land in at least some receptive hearts.

I suppose the question might be: is it a relevant parable for us here in church? Surely, we must be like the seed which fell on good soil? We are here, after all, aren’t we? Surely that means that God’s seed is bearing fruit in our lives. And I’d like to say straightaway: Yes, of course. That is true. We are here because in some way – unique to each of us – we have responded to God’s call. We know our need of his help. Something of his strength. His peace. His wisdom. His grace. His forgiveness. In our best moments – maybe more readily seen by others than ourselves – our lives resemble something of Jesus himself. Proof positive that the Holy Spirit is getting to work in our lives. That God’s seed has fallen on good soil in our lives.

But – and I don’t know about you – as I re-read this parable it occurs to me that there are times in my life when the seeds seem to fall in the other places, and which don’t grow, don’t become fruitful, in perhaps the way that God hopes.

How often am I just too slow to understand – somehow not ready, not prepared – for what God is offering to me and somehow it is snatched away before the goodness of God can get to work in my heart and life. Just like the birds with the seeds on the path.

And how often, when one of God’s seeds of blessing comes my way – something he is trying to teach me, help me to understand and live by – I am not sufficiently prayerful or careful to nurture it and allow it to take root within my heart – just like the seed on the rocky ground – for it to begin to shape my life to be more Christlike.

And how often do daily distractions and anxieties – just like the weeds in the parable – somehow get in the way: strangle and choke the potential of good growth of spiritual fruit in my life – of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”, as Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians? How many of these things never get started because of some distraction, worry or whatever?

And yes, there are times when I know that the seed of God’s good Word has taken root, brought blessings to me and to others. When by his good grace I have somehow been open and able to receive all that he has to give. And no, as I say, none of us would be here this morning if that wasn’t the case for each of us.

I’d guess you’d readily agree that none of us is perfect and in our normal wobbly humanity the seeds of God’s word don’t always find themselves in the good soil God hopes for and that we would wish.

How to do it better? For God, in his amazing grace will, whenever the seeds of his word fall in those other places and don’t bear fruit, will continue throwing them anyway – I just need to get a bit better at being prepared for them. Perhaps another clue from agriculture might help, remembering how a farmer keeps the soil of his fields well nourished; well watered; turned over with the hard clods broken down; rested, too, to be as ready as possible for the seed to be sown when the time comes.

If our hearts are well nourished with the words of Scripture: if we absorb them deeply so they can get to work within us; if we drink deeply from the Living Water that is Jesus Christ – in other words, trust him in all things and come back time and again to receive his grace, forgiveness and his Spirit’s power.

If, with the help and strength of Jesus with us, we can get to work on those stubborn clods in our hearts – of pride, bad habits, or whatever – get them broken down and softened. And yes, make sure we have times of stillness, rest, go to places which we know give us spiritual refreshment. Then, I believe much more often the seed of God’s good Word will have a good chance of taking root, growing and bearing much fruit in our hearts and lives.

Amen.

Eyes On The Prize

This sermon was preached on 21st June 2014. (Trinity 1) at St Andrew’s 8am and All Saints’ 10.30am Eucharists. The readings were Genesis 21: 8-21, Romans 6: 1b-11 & Matthew 10: 24-39.

A few years ago I took a funeral service at St Luke’s in Pallion. After the service, as we drove to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery we approached the Kayll Road/Hilton Road junction as the traffic lights were turning to amber. The hearse and the limousine carrying the family slipped through but the lights changed to red as I got there and I had to stop.

I was stuck. With the hearse fast disappearing up the Hylton Road bound for who knew which of the several entrances into the cemetery. You may know Bishopwearmouth Cemetery: vast, with various roads and pathways running in different directions. I had, by now, learned either to hitch a lift with the funeral director or stick to the cortege like glue. otherwise you’d become hopelessly lost. I visualised an embarrassing scene: everybody waiting expectantly at the graveside for the vicar who never arrived.

After an age the lights turned green and I tore up the Hylton Road. The cortège was nowhere to be seen. I turned into the second entrance to the cemetery – as good a guess as any – and scanned the horizon for a sign of the hearse. Not a sign to be seen. I carried on looking desperately left and right over the neat rows of gravestones for my errant funeral party. Not a sausage.

I drove to where I thought the burial would take place, took a wrong turn and began to reverse. Only then did I realise that about a dozen other cars – the other mourners – had been following me around the cemetery! Feeling a bit like the Pied Piper I set off again with the great convoy following behind.

At last, over the distant horizon appeared a black hearse. Muttering a quick prayer that it was the right one, I drove towards it. Only to find that it turned right and covered the precise ground we had just driven along! So round we went again for the second time. We did all eventually arrive at the right place and the burial proceeded without further incident. Although I noticed that everyone was careful not to follow me out of the cemetery afterwards.

Well, losing sight of that hearse got me into a bit of a mess. I was relying on it to show me exactly where I needed to go. When it disappeared I was on my own. Not only did I get myself into a muddle, but everyone who was relying on me as well.

Well, something like that was happening in Old Testament reading, only rather more serious. Abraham and Sarah had lost sight of God’s loving promise – the promise that he would give them, even in their old age, a son, through whom a whole new nation – a spiritual people of God – would come.

Earlier on in the Book of Genesis – in Chapter 15 – Abraham suggests to God that Eliezer, his oldest and most trusted servant would become his heir as was the custom when couples were childless. But God replied, in verse 4: “This man will not be your heir, but a son, coming from your own body will be your heir”.

God took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them”. Then God said to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be”. Abraham believed the Lord, and God was pleased at his faith and trust.

But as time passed Abraham’s faith began to falter. Surely God could not mean that a son – a baby boy – would literally be born to him and his wife, Sarah. After all, they were both nearly a hundred years old. Could God really do something like that? Surely not. He must have meant something different.

So they both began to take their eyes off what God had promised. What he had said quite clearly. Just as effectively as that red traffic light on Hylton Road brought me to a halt, Abraham and Sarah’s doubts stopped them in their tracks and they allowed God’s promise to slip out of view. They were now on their own and that is where the trouble began.

Sarah, perhaps impatient that God’s promise didn’t seem to be taking immediate effect took matters into her own hands and suggested to Abraham that – as was the custom for childless couples at that time – she would give her servant Hagar to him to conceive a son on her behalf. Any child would legally be regarded as Sarah’s. Abraham agreed and a son, Ishmael, was born.

But this wasn’t the child which God had promised – the biological son of Abraham and Sarah. And, although God did bless Ishmael, Abraham and Sarah had stored up trouble for themselves – and for Hagar. And that trouble is what we heard about today.

What we heard today was several years later and we have moved on a couple of chapters. During this time, God in his infinite patience and love repeated his promise to Abraham and Sarah and a son was born them, Isaac.

But family tensions had clearly been brewing for some time and this morning we heard how Sarah, perhaps feeling threatened by the presence of Hagar and this sturdy little boy, Ishmael, her husband’s other, older son, told Abraham: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac”. The son God had, in his grace, given her. The situation which she had manipulated and brought about by her own selfishness and lack of faith, Sarah now totally disowned. This slave woman’s child was nothing to do with her and must go.

And Abraham, although reassured by God that he would care for Hagar and Ishmael, sent Hagar and his first born son into the baking, sun-scorched desert of Beersheba with a little food and a skin of water. Poor Hagar was faced with the probability of her own death and – even worse for her – the almost certain death of her son. After the food and drink had run out she left him under a bush and sat down a little distance away, to being unable to bear the sight of him dying.

What is it about we human beings and the mess we get ourselves into? Hagar could be any number of young, anguished, dispossessed parents in Syria today. Or Iraq. Or South Sudan. Or Northern Uganda. In agony over the fate of their children. Because of the hardness of human hearts. Because we, as humanity, will insist on taking our eyes off God. On wanting to do it our own way; and simply finding we cannot without disaster.

Forgetting God’s generosity and love. Forgetting that he longs to give us all that we need: peace; courage; joy; healing and inner strength.

Abraham and Sarah took their eyes off God’s promise even after he had miraculously given them Isaac, a son of their own.

Hagar lifted up her voice and wept. And God, in his love and compassion, provided life-giving water for her and for Ishmael. A well, springing up in the the desert by which they were able to quench their thirst and live.

As he offers the whole world – despite the mess; the muddle; the mistakes we make – the living water that is Jesus Christ. Full of grace. The grace which continued to bless Abraham and Sarah despite everything. And which blesses all who are faithful to him, day by day, so that we, too, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “might walk in newness of life”.

So let’s determine always to fix our eyes on Jesus. Never to lose sight of him. To hold on to him come what may. Through all the twists and turns, the ups and the downs of life. Let’s be wary of our own tendency to jealousy, pride and insensitivity towards others and ask God’s help with these things.

And let us, as well, always have compassion on those on the margins. The Hagars and the Ishmaels of today. Those who find that there is no place for them in society. Those without hope. Who cry out for help. Might it be that God is asking us to be Jesus for them? To allow his love to flow through us by practical action and service?

And let’s pray that the whole world will come, one day, to have eyes that see him as Lord and Saviour. Jesus, our living water, who quenches all our thirsts.

Amen.

The Parable of the Sower

Part of our All-Age service on 13th July at St. Andrew’s. Junior Church narrated an animated version of the parable (which you can watch here), then offered this reflection on it’s meaning.

Narrator 1 So what does this parable mean?

Narrator 2 Why does he use a farmer and some seed in the story?

Narrator 3 The farmer is like God and the seed is the word of God and his love for us. What happens to the seed in different places is the same with the good news about Jesus. Sometimes it has a good result in the lives of people and in others it has a poor result in their lives.

Narrator 1 What does the seed that fell on the path signify?

Narrator 3 Some people will not listen and brush off what you tell them about God’s word.

Narrator 2 What about the rocky ground, what does that mean?

Narrator 3 The seed that fell on the rocky ground grows quickly, but then it soon dies. This teaches us that some people listen to the good news and seem to like what they hear but it doesn’t last and they fall away.

Narrator 1 What did the seed that grew on thorny ground mean?

Narrator 3 Some seed grew among weeds and killed it, This teaches us that some people hear God’s word but as they go through life they are choked by other things such as wanting to be rich and powerful and they start to ignore God’s message and their love for God dies.

Narrator 2 So what about the good soil. What does that signify?

Narrator 3 The seed that fell on good soil stands for those people who listen to God’s word and understand it. They have good hearts and grow as people. Just as the plant will produce new seed, these people will go on to spread the word of God to others.