DC:LENT Reflection 13/03/16

Today's Reflection is on Psalm 130 (New Living Translation)
A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1 From the depths of despair, O Lord,
I call for your help.
2 Hear my cry, O Lord.
Pay attention to my prayer.
3 Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
4 But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you.
5 I am counting on the Lord;
yes, I am counting on him.
I have put my hope in his word.
6 I long for the Lord
more than sentries long for the dawn,
yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from every kind of sin.

I really struggled as to how to write this reflection, since this year I have struggled at keeping up with my Lenten disciplines. Then I realised that this is what this Psalm is all about – God’s mercy and hope being based on God’s love rather than our actions. The author of the Psalm is in deep distress, crying out to God in despair. They wonder how their life can ever match up with God’s standards, how inevitable their sinning is. We’ve all felt like that at one time or another – feeling like we’ll never match up to such a high standard, always having to strive to be perfect.
Yet, look at the author’s reaction in the second half of the Psalm – they are counting on God’s forgiveness and mercy, and God’s word, not on God suddenly making them perfect! So often we ask God to make us some kind of invincibly holy Super Christian because of how helpless we feel, with the best holiest most Christian lifestyle – the soundest conferences, the best festivals, the most dramatic testimonies, the latest books. We lose sight of the fact that it’s not what God really wants of us. God wants us to have the inner strength to let ourselves be vulnerable so God can give us hope, since it is in our most fragile times that we value God’s power the most. 
Verse seven says how with God there is unfailing love, redemption overflows. This abundance is all God’s work, not ours. God will redeem Israel aka God’s people from all sin – not our actions, or the lack of them. This isn’t to say that things like fasting or special prayers for times like Lent aren’t good or helpful things, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over them. They should be helpful, not scary rules. The overarching theme of Psalm 130 is hope in God and God’s redemption and that a heart that longs for God is worth far more than worrying about perfection.

My prayer:
Mighty One of Israel; we thank You for Your love that never fails and Your mercy that gives us hope, even in the desert time of Lent. We pray that we will put our hope in You alone and that you will help us be brave enough to be vulnerable before You, as we look towards Easter and Christ’s human frailty and divine victory over death and all sin. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

DC:LENT Reflection 27/02/16

Hi DC I'm James, today’s reading is from Matthew 13:31-33 and 44-46.

“Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”
Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”
When I read these verses I become really excited about the Kingdom of Heaven. I think it has to be said that the Kingdom of Heaven looks different for each one of us. Sometimes connotations we have of ‘the kingdom’ can be quite aggressive; a mixture of the idea deliverance and someone being very ‘shouty’. But I think that these passages really bring a beauty to the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Here we see three parables discussing, what I feel are different aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven that make those connotations pale into insignificance.

1) The Kingdom of God grows:
Some of us may feel like we have been hurt by church, and the effects of this can dwindle our faith. Sometimes we feel we don’t have much to give in the ‘God department’ or are feeling very weak faith wise. However, the Kingdom of God is like a small seed that grows. I find hope in the fact that what I might see is a small seed of faith in my life, but it has the potential to be the ‘largest of gardens.’

2) The Kingdom of God is precious
The Kingdom of God here is bought at a great price. People want it and yet we are a part of it. We are in the ‘in crowd’. So often LGBT+ people of faith feel excluded by the kingdom, yet we have access to this precious kingdom, just as anybody else does.

So in response let us remember that we are part of an kingdom in which every person is allowed to participate, one that does not carry conditions of entering! And let us be thankful that we follow the king of this kingdom who constantly extends the welcome with arms wide open.

For this evening, try to spend some time in prayer, thanking Christ for extending this welcome to us, and let us pray for ourselves, and for others in rejoicing in the invitation

DC:LENT Reflection 25/02/16

Today’s Lent reflection is on Matthew 12:1-13 (NIV):

1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

I chose this passage because God has been saying “I want mercy, not sacrifice” quite a lot to me lately, and I always find it a powerful reminder of who God is, and what choices I can make with God. But there is a lot to explore in all the text before and after this – Jesus participates in a longstanding debate here between two opposing ways of interpreting the law: he criticises those who are trying to “condemn the innocent” with the ‘letter of the law’, a literal interpretation, which is able to exploit loopholes and technicalities but which is not willing to relent in the face of human need or suffering. When Pharisees try to catch Jesus breaking the law from this literal perspective, he responds by demonstrating a different approach – he teaches the ‘spirit of the law’, the intent of the law. This is what Jesus teaches when he says the greatest commandments are to love God above all things and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:29-31) – love for God and neighbour is the underlying purpose of all God’s laws. This is why, when Jesus seems to break the law, he does not abolish but fulfils it (Matthew 5:17). 
In Jesus’ life and teaching, the law comes alive again in the Spirit and is returned to its intended purpose – Jesus rights the interpretation of the law where it has been used against those it is meant to serve. He re-establishes the priority of human need over the letter of the law. 
In the two instances described in this passage, this means that if the law stands between someone who is hungry and available food, it is the hunger that takes precedence over the rules that forbid reaping grain on the Sabbath. If the law stands between a man's sickness and his healing, it is the need of this human being that matters more than the law. 
This is the spirit of the law, this is the will of God. God wants mercy, not sacrifice. 
God choosing to respond with mercy to human need honours the value of each human being – we are all precious to God, and loved. It is God's fundamental desire to do us good, to move us towards the fullness of our lives. Goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives…
Both the disciples and the man with the shrivelled hand have already absorbed this astonishing good news, and they boldly claim it for themselves. In the midst of a crowd, in the temple, and on the Sabbath, a man stretches out his hand to Jesus, believing that he can be healed and that the Sabbath is a perfectly acceptable day for this to happen. What a powerful gesture this is! He becomes central part of a heated debate about the letter versus the spirit of the law – and he claims, with Jesus, the spirit of the law for himself, believing that his needs and wishes are more important to God than strict adherence to merciless rules. 
He chooses not to sacrifice his chance at wholeness for the sake of having adhered to the letter of the law which he must have been taught all his life. 
It is an act of faith, faith in Jesus’ power to heal and authority to do so on the Sabbath, and faith in his own worth, trusting the God whose joy it is to love us.

Many of us in DC might feel like we have become the bone of contention in our families or parishes or the church as a whole. In the midst of all the arguments, not matter how violently the ‘letters of the law’ may be thrown about, there’s Jesus saying, Stretch out your hand, ask for what you need, because the time for healing is now.

I pray that we all experience the God of mercy in our lives, in a gentle whisper or a bold gesture, in everyday moments and once in a lifetime experiences, in the midst of arguments that concern our lives and our happiness and in which we may not always feel like we have words to speak for ourselves. God is right there with us, and whatever may be going on around us, I pray that we all feel assured of the kindness and tenderness and mercy that is ours to claim.

DC:LENT Reflection 23/02/16

Today's Reflection is on Matthew 10:16-25

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!"

 

DC:LENT Reflections 19/02/16

Hi all, it’s David here with today’s lent reading. I’ve done mine in written form - hope that’s ok!! It’s from Mat 9:9-17:

“9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[Hosea 6:6] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Mat 9: 9-17)

Both of the episodes in today’s reading tell us something about God’s “new covenant” with humankind. The religious leaders of the day were incredulous that Jesus chose to welcome and eat with people considered as outsiders and “sinners”. Jesus instead focuses them on God’s desire for mercy. He came to call people who recognise their need for forgiveness – and this offer is open to all. In the second part, there is a comparison of the new and the old. No use clinging on to the old covenant, or trying to mix and match the two. Jesus brings a new covenant between us and God, based on God’s love, mercy and forgiveness - thanks to Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection.

I think there is another challenge here for all of us. God meets us as we are, but doesn’t leave us in the same place. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17). God wants to transform us in Jesus’ image (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). Are there old things that I am hanging onto, rather than letting God make me more fully into the person he intends me to be?

As a response to this passage, let us:

1) Be encouraged. Jesus’ call goes out to all, even those that others might write off;

2) Be challenged. What old things might I need to give up? What new ways might God want to transform me to become more like Jesus?

A short prayer:

Lord God, thank you for your great love for us. Thank you that you reach out to us. I pray that you would come, and transform me more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. I ask for your Holy Spirit to guide, challenge, and help me. Forgive me for the times I get it wrong, and help me to serve you in the newness of life that you give. Amen