Exodus 2:1-10 and John 19:25b-27
Anyone who has ever watched Peppa Pig will know that it is mummy pig that holds the Pig family together. She is always smartly dressed, works from home, never loses her temper. Peppa and her brother George, always appear well fed and clean, obviously before the jumping in muddy puddles bit, and the programme makes no secret that it is due to the nature and hard work of Mummy Pig. Daddy Pig, on the other hand, is often seen to be a bit silly, always being shown up by perfect Mummy Pig and held to hostage by Peppa and George who rule the roost with tantrums and demands.
It is quite the world away from the scene where ‘normal’ families were depicted in mainstream television – I am thinking along the lines of 80’s favourites such as Little House on the Prairie which, combined with perfect fashion sense of the day and model good looks, the dad of the family was in charge, and everyone looked happy. And then we have the complete family dysfunction of ‘Keeping up with Kardasians’ and the like – no real need for elaboration there.
It is reasonably obvious that the examples I have mentioned are worlds apart from what real life truly is. Popular culture changes over the years, but what stays the same is the pressure of image – of trying to fit in with the normal, of being a certain way. And that living this way will lead to success, whatever the definition of success may be. Strewn along the wayside are the casualties – those who have struggled to achieve the impossible in an imaginary competition.
We all know that life in general is a wonderful patchwork of bright and dark colours, glowing sections and fading areas and that is reflected in our readings this morning, that makes no secret of the fact that life is not black and white. They include stories of heartache, which is contrasted by moments of tender comfort which have power to heal and enable us to carry on. We hear of how Moses’ mother took a leap of faith which ensured the safety of her baby and his guaranteed protection from a rather unexpected carer. Then in our gospel reading, Jesus, in his dying moments, ensures that his mother and friend will have each other to depend on and care for in his absence. What both these readings remind us of is God’s parenting, which is no false, demanding image that we might see on television or from heavily photoshopped celebrities, but the real thing – the parenting we all need, and crave, and we can sense its importance.
However, we don’t always remember to come to God for his parenting and love. All too often we search for it in the world, from those that look as if they have it ‘all together’, from the media, and find ourselves let down as a result. God’s arms are the ones that embrace all of us, giving us hope by holding us all in those loving arms, and setting us on our feet again.
What I personally find very comforting is that we don’t have to pretend with God that there aren’t any troubles, we all know that the world is far from perfect. We also do not have to pretend that we are always managing or holding it all together. God knows what human life is all about through his son, Jesus. He knows the heartaches and the conflicts. He knows how vulnerable we become when we love, and we care. We have hope through Christ, but we need to know where to look. Look for the colours, look for the light, taking strength from knowing that God is in control. Listen to his guiding voice and look for signs of his love in the beauty of the world around us and in each other. That is the best message that Mothering Sunday can give – a message of hope, love, and care for all.
Robyn Connelly, Children’s and Families Minister
I’m going to start this sermon on the subject of poo. Well, manure really, which is a slightly nicer word as I’m sure we’ll all agree. And it’s also a biblical word, as we just heard, so that’s ok then.
You see, manure can be both a problem and a blessing. If you’re a dairy farmer, you have to deal with around 50kg of manure per cow per day (according to the internet). The UK’s cows produce 38 million tonnes of the stuff every year. So, it’s really quite important to have a manure management plan if you’re a dairy farmer, otherwise the farmhouse would quickly become uninhabitable.
So, the manure is processed and used as fertiliser on fields that grow crops, to help them grow better, because it is full of good nutrients.
So now you know. But as sermons are meant to unfold something about God, rather than agricultural practice on the modern dairy farm, let’s turn to our Gospel passage.
So there’s a man and a gardener discussing the poor performance of their fig tree. The man has kept coming back each year to see if there are any figs on the tree, but with no luck. I gather from the hive mind that is the All Saints Plus group that fig trees are just, well, like that. So the man’s had enough and wants to cut it down, but the gardener urges patience, while he puts some manure on the ground to help the tree bear fruit, and he asks the man to give it another season. Hence the introduction to the subject of manure and fertiliser a moment ago.
But what is this really about? Luke tells us it’s a parable – a story with a meaning. I reckon that the man is God the Father, and the gardener is Jesus. We’ll meet him as a gardener again in a few weeks, remember…
Anyway, they’re having a chat – it’s rather good to think of the Father and the Son having a chat about the garden, I think. But of course, they’re talking about more than that.
See, I think the fig tree represents the broken world – God has tried to get Israel to bear fruit for the world, to share the love of God, but it’s not gone too well.
Now Jesus has come to be the True Vine so we can become fruit-bearing branches. And Jesus is offering to provide the manure for the unsuccessful enterprise – somehow ‘I am the manure of the World’ didn’t make the cut for the published edition of John’s gospel… can’t think why.
But more seriously, what is going on is that Jesus is taking the muck, the waste, of broken humanity and is using it to transform the world. At the cross, Jesus submits himself to painful suffering and death out of love for the world, and by rising again he transforms even death itself and provides a path, a conduit, to eternal and abundant life – on earth as in heaven.
And the promise, the good news, is that we are called to bring all of our mucky, manure-y selves, sinners that we are, and repent – turn to Christ for forgiveness - so that we can share in that risen life.
In the other part of the gospel passage there’s some more explanation – bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own – manure happens, we might say.
When bad things happen to us or people we know, they simply happen. They do not happen because they sinned, or worse, because God just wants to punish them. And of course, Some people actively do bad things, too – they bring the manure upon themselves.
Manure happens. It’s a feature of our broken world – we don’t really know why, but we know there is a solution at least. For God longs for us to turn, to repent – to process our manure – to return to his loving arms. Every human has the choice to do that.
‘Ho, All who are thirsty, come to the water, come and buy without price, come and eat’ – as Isaiah said in the earlier reading. All are invited to that abundance of life which is found in a life well-rooted, grounded, earthed in the love of God.
So, each Sunday, or every time we come to the Eucharist, we bring our sins – for ‘we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us’, as the old Prayer Book puts it.
And we lay down our sins as we turn again to God, and we receive absolution, the forgiveness of God at the prayer of the priest. And then we step forward once more, receiving the fruit of Jesus’ sacrifice in bread and, pray God soon again, in wine. We remember how Jesus’ broken body and outpoured blood was and is offered to save us from ourselves as we’re filled up with fresh grace in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we’re then called to share that blessing with the world.
Like the cow manure becoming fertiliser, our manure-y sins are problems transformed into blessings for our community. We are doing that in many ways at All Saints, and we see some of the fruit of that as we welcome some folk who are struggling on the edge of our society, and as we pray for, and offer our support for, Ukraine, or as we explore scripture together at All Saints Plus, or come to the Lent book club, or have a chat over craft work, or share our gift of singing, or share worship together in all our diversity and our different generations.
Manure happens, and blessing happens, and abundance of life happens – even in the tough times. And doesn’t our world need more and more of that Good News just now?
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world. Amen
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Introduction: I recall a poignant moment in 1985 when Jenny and I visited the small chapel on the side of the Mt of Olives named ‘Dominus Flevit’ – which is Latin for ‘The Lord wept’. It is teardrop shaped reflecting the tears of Christ as he wept over Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
A sad choice: It's a deep lament, issuing out of Christ’s love for Jerusalem and its people. How he longed for their response to his coming to them, to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’! He came for their blessing and to guide them back to the path of peace and fulfilment – back to the purpose for which they were born. As Abraham’s descendants their very existence and land was to be a blessing to all nations, according to the Covenant God made with Abraham; Jerusalem herself was to be the city of peace for the world, from which would ensue the just and gentle rule of God. In their Messiah’s rejection all this would be lost until he comes again. What a tragic choice his own people made in that day in his rejection. The city has not been at peace since, and the Temple, the heart of their worship, was to be destroyed within a generation, never to return until the Messiah comes in power and glory at the conclusion of this age.
Tragic choices: What a tragic choice Vladimir Putin made to dominate the Ukrainian people by force! Russians fighting their own brethren. How Jesus must be weeping over the situation, the awful and unnecessary loss of life and over President Putin’s rejection of the ways of negotiation and peace! Why do people make such tragic and dark choices which cause so much human suffering?
I understand that the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, a close friend of President Putin, is working privately behind the scenes. President Zelensky continues to try and negotiate a just peace or at least for a safe passage out of the country for Ukrainian refugees.
As well as President Macron, Prime Minister Bennett of Israel is trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. He met with President Putin last Saturday (5th) at the Kremlin and spoke 3 times on the phone with President Zelensky. Although he believed the chances of success were slim, he stated that Israel had a moral obligation to ‘leave no stone unturned.’ Zelensky thanked Israel for its support. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if his visit did have a positive impact; for the possibility of peace to ensue from Jerusalem? Unlikely, but might an historic event hold sway over Mr Putin, even at this late hour?
The following story is written in a book by Rabbi Reuvan Elbaz; might it be true?
This happened several years ago, in the midst of Hanukkah. In Moscow, a large Hanukkah party was held for the Jewish community, which was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Russia (Rabbi Berl Lazar Shlit"a) and the President of Russia - Mr. Vladimir Putin.
The Chief Rabbi held a speech on Hanukkah eve, after which the President was given the honour to speak in the presence of the large crowd of Jews that had gathered there.
Putin stood up to speak and surprised the crowd: "Please listen, Jews, as I want to tell you a real story that happened here in Russia, I’m familiar with all its details.
"A poor family lived in one of the neighbourhoods - two parents and one small child. The parents worked hard from morning until night to make a living, while their child returned to an empty and lonely home until his parents came back. He sat in the small, dark house, hungry and lonely, joyless, with nothing to do, until his parents came home and gave him some food.
And there, in their neighbourhood, lived a modest and good Jewish family. Every time they saw the little boy waiting alone in the house, they would approach him and ask him if he had anything to eat. In most cases, he would say no, and they immediately did their best to ensure he had warm and delicious food to eat, without ever asking for anything in return. On Shabbats and Jewish holidays, they invited him to their home and served him delicacies and meats, all out of the goodness of their generous hearts, they were compassionate and always looked for ways to make him feel better.
So, for a long time, the non-Jewish boy became a part of the family in their home, he received a large portion of food, same as the rest of the family members. When the Jews saw that the boy's clothes were ripped, they made sure to give him warm and cosy clothes suited for the Russian cold. This kid didn’t know how to thank them, they just saved his life every day.
Dozens of non-Jewish neighbours, who knew about this, didn’t even pay him any attention, and it was only this family that cared for others, and were looking at what was happening around them, who saved his miserable soul."
President Putin ended his speech with a shocking revelation and said, "Dear Jews, do you want me to tell you who that poor, miserable boy was whose life was enlightened by Jews?”
Then he went on to say: “This was me... and I will never be able to forget the sympathy and compassion of the Jews that cared for me. To this day, I can still hear the melody of the meal hand-washing blessing, Hamotzi, and Birkat HaMazon said by the family members whenever I attended their Shabbat and holiday meals.
I don’t forget, dear Jews, the good you’ve done to me, I am the president of the superpower that is Russia, and hence, our relationship is so good, it’s all thanks to how much you care about the others, and the poor!”
Although this, in no way excuses Putin's criminal behaviour. It does highlight the power of good deeds. We never know what long-term effects and results might come from even a single good deed we do today.
Conclusion: Even if the story is just apocryphal, its essence of acts of kindness bearing good fruit remains true for all time.
Let’s, therefore, make kind deeds a deliberate practice this Lent, to accompany our prayers for Ukraine. In due season, they will bear good fruit. Who knows? Our acts of kindness may just change history.
The Rev’d Hugh Ellis
Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Luke 4.1-13
I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘temptation’. Some of you may remember the advertising slogan dating from the eighties – naughty but nice - tempting us to indulge in highly calorific dairy products.
But that’s not what our gospel reading this morning is about. We always hear about the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness on the first Sunday of Lent.
The temptations come at the end of this long period in the desert. The first temptation plays on Jesus’ vulnerability after such a long time without food. Jesus knows and so does the devil that he is the Son of God. How will he respond to this suggestion that he uses his power to satisfy his own needs? In quoting words from Deuteronomy Jesus answers that there is more to life than simply material needs.
In the second temptation the devil suggests he has power and authority over the kingdoms of the world which he can give to anyone he wishes. Interesting, as God is the One who has power of all creation. But there’s a catch, Jesus must worship the devil. It sounds like bribery along the lines of ‘if you do this, you can have a treat’. He refuses and once again reminds the devil that God alone is to be worshipped, again quoting from Deuteronomy.
Finally the devil, now quoting from the psalms, dares Jesus to test God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. After all God will save him from harm. Jesus refutes this, once again quoting from Deuteronomy.
In summary, Jesus is tempted to deny God and misuse his power as Son of God.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with power and authority. It depends how we use it. So often we misuse them to serve our own ends. There were plenty of examples of this throughout the world today. We have only to look at what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, with Russian tanks and troops advancing on Kyiv because President Putin sees the country as a threat.
We saw it when President Trump was in the White House; in his refusal to accept the election result, inciting violent protests.
We see it happening in this country, where the government shows a lack of compassion for those most in need; in the Church, where the reputation of the institution matters more than the pain and suffering of individuals abused by leaders in the church. We see it among those who force conversion therapy to ‘cure’ people who are LGBTQI+ which must be banned by law with no exceptions. We see it in the police force; in the workplace where people are bullied; in families where abuse takes place often behind closed doors. It happens in every walk of life.
Essentially people have given in to the temptation to misuse the authority they have over others.
How might this gospel passage help us on our Lenten pilgrimage this year? Certainly it prompt us to reflect on how we use any power or authority we might have, and that applies especially those in positions of leadership.
The prominence of the Holy Spirit in this passage and indeed throughout Luke’s gospel, struck me particularly. Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit following his baptism and is led by the Holy Spirit throughout his time in the desert. Immediately after this he begins his ministry in Nazareth in the synagogue where he reads from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. Jesus comments as he rolls up the scroll: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
So this Lent let us be guided by the Holy Spirit; let us listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. Let us set aside time to do this. It’s not always easy, but if we are attentive, God speaks to us and maybe in unexpected ways.
Our reading from Deuteronomy is about a journey. The people affirm God’s presence with them on their long journey from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. God has set them free, therefore they are to rejoice and be thankful.
So let us make this a joyful journey through Lent, making a point of noticing each day something we can be thankful for, however small it may be.
God of our pilgrimage, we pray that this Lent we may become more aware of your Holy Spirit, guiding us, challenging us, supporting us each day. Help us to see the wonders of your creation around us and be thankful; help us to be aware of the needs of others and prompt us to take action.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 & Luke 9:28-36
If I were to list the seasons in order from my favourite to my least favourite, I hate to admit it, but winter would be firmly placed at the bottom of my list. I desperately try to see the beauty in it, but being of tropical South African blood, it is the length of winter that really starts to wear me down. Thankfully, the now lengthening days and the feel of the sun that is sometimes starting to feel warm, energises me, as I am sure it does for many others. However, after a long winter and the desire to feel cosy, life can often have a bit of a cluttered feel to it – the term ‘spring clean’ will ring true to many of us – physically, or as we will focus on during the upcoming season of Lent, spiritually as well.
If you have ever done some scratch art, you would have seen a card covered in a matte blackness or darkness. If a little stick hadn’t been provided for the scratching, you may have been in danger of missing the glorious bright colours hidden underneath. This could be similar to the way that the three disciples could well have been in danger of missing the glory of the revealing of Jesus in his true form at the transfiguration due to their very human nature of being exhausted. The vast majority of us will never have a religious experience that would even come close to the experience the disciples had on the mountain with Jesus, but we need to be careful that we are not weighed down with so much ‘rubbish’ in our lives that we are in danger of missing the very real miracles that we see around us.
Adults will often say how they envy children and the wisdom in which they approach the world around them. Anyone who has ever gone on a nature walk with a toddler will know that it takes at least double the time, as toddlers will stop to wonder at things that I know I certainly would miss. We can often be so bogged down with LIFE that we miss the signs of God at work in our world and it is only through making a conscious effort that we are able to pick up on the signs of God’s glory in our lives. Coincidently, this happens to be one of the themes of the book ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ that will be explored in our church book club during lent this year.
Maybe we can all use this opportunity that Lent will provide to really scratch away at the darkness that keeps our eyes shut to the miracles of God, doing a ‘soul spring clean’, revealing and revelling in the beauty of the world around us, maybe trying to see and focus on at least one little miracle that we notice each day, that could be the first daffodil in bloom or the giggle of a baby, anything that allows us to not only see the light of Christ in our lives and in the lives of others, but to reflect his light into the world through our actions. Amen.
Robyn Connelly, Children and Families