Hebrews 12.18-29; Psalm 103.1-8; Luke 13.10-17
Just for a moment, imagine yourself as a toddler, maybe an inquisitive toddler. You are strapped into a pushchair, in a crowded space, perhaps in a lift; it’s full of tall people who must seem like giants. How do you feel? What can you see? Not very much; maybe just legs and feet. So I wonder what view of her surroundings that unnamed woman in our story had. Maybe just her own feet and the ground in front of her. She probably couldn’t see what was happening and who was speaking to her. ‘You are set free,’ Jesus said to her. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up to her as she stood up straight. She began to praise God; and she continued praising God because her life had been radically transformed. I wonder if she used the words of today’s psalm; she would have known them. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Jesus was doing what he was sent to do. We heard it earlier in this gospel, when Jesus read from the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. Then he announced that this prophecy had been fulfilled in him. Just imagine the reaction to that statement!
But Jesus’ action didn’t go down well with the leader of the synagogue. Let’s look at what’s happening here. It was the leader’s duty to uphold the Law. He offered a clear reminder of the requirements of the Law. Jesus had healed this woman on the sabbath, and in his understanding of the Law that counted as work, which was forbidden. The sabbath was a day for rest and renewal; it was precious and had to be observed. And if exceptions were made, well potentially that was the thin end of the wedge. And he kept making this point to the crowd. He believed he was right. And I guess we all have things which we believe are right and feel the need to take a stand on.
But Jesus, referred to here as the Lord, spoke with authority. He countered this accusation with a very Jewish argument. If it was permissible (and it was) to take animals to a source of water on the sabbath, then surely it was permissible to set this woman free from her affliction on the sabbath. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it in a more compassionate way.
This story is not primarily about the healing of a differently abled woman, though that is important. Maybe this unnamed woman represents all of us, with our limited perspective and interpretation of the accepted norms of society. Maybe we are that woman. Maybe we are like the leader of the synagogue.
What does this story of a healing on the Sabbath tell us about God? It tells us good news
- that the Law was given by God out of love to free us from tyranny whether that is self-inflicted or inflicted on us by others.
- that God forgives us when we get it wrong and offers us the chance to try again
- that the Law does not have the last word. There is always room for exceptions when compassion and love are needed.
This is about setting people free – phrase that Jesus uses twice in this short reading. That phrase would have reminded those present how God set the people free from captivity in Egypt.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually did on the occasion. First, he noticed the woman’s need. She did not approach him with a request for healing. It was far more likely that she had slipped in at the back of the synagogue, not wanting to cause a fuss. He took action. Grace was at work here, a gift which was freely given. He showed mercy and compassion. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it a more generous way. That is what the kingdom of God is about. So it was a joy yesterday that All Saints as an inclusive church joined the Wycombe Pride march to show that God’s love includes everyone regardless of their sexuality or gender. And the 150 cup-cakes we gave away went down well too! Thanks to those who made them.
Who needs setting free today? All of us! First, we need to ask ourselves what do I need to be set free from, and trust that the Holy Spirit will give us a whole new perspective on our life and will transform us into people who praise God for all the blessings we receive. Then we may be able to notice those who are overlooked in our society today, those who are struggling, those who are persecuted for their beliefs or their sexuality, those who suffer injustice from those in authority. I’m sure between us we could make a very long list.
Let us pray that as followers of Jesus, we notice those in need and take action.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
In my recently-retired state, I now have a little time to see some breakfast tv before getting on with the day and it strikes me just how much we Brits love a hero. Almost every day there’s at least one in-depth item telling the story of one form of hero or another.
Naturally in recent weeks, it’s mainly been Commonwealth Games athletes, but in normal times we have people climbing mountains or doing multiple marathons, or some other form of amazing endurance like rowing a very long way or similar. People have always been inspired by heroes such as Captain Tom, or little Tony Hudgell, or the three dads who walked to raise money for suicide prevention.
And whilst a hero who is heretofore unknown is much to be admired, it seems they attract even more admiration if they are famous, whether for working as an actor or being a footballer or rugby player.
Leaving aside the important question about what the government should fund versus what we should support through charities, there’s no doubt that these endeavours do a lot of good in raising awareness and in providing much-needed care.
In a world of war, climate change and political shenanigans, it’s good to have people we can look up to for their honest work on our behalf.
At the heart of their heroism are two key things, I think – commitment to a particular cause, and the perseverance to put the effort in to support it and deliver the prize.
And worthy as those prizes are, the promise of God is of a much more significant and life-changing prize for all humanity – the promise of the time when society will work the way God works, in humility, and in love for neighbour and enemy alike. That promise of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus has begun by dying and rising again for us.
But we hear in today’s gospel that that does not come about easily. The passage we heard isn’t, perhaps, what we’d expect – Jesus being a nice teacher who teaches us a nice way to be nice to one another. That would be the easy way out. Jesus could have preached peace and love after the manner of a sixties hippie and not upset the authorities, but that’s not the Jesus we read of in the gospel.
See, Jesus knew that the path he had to tread would lead only to the cross and that it was necessary to go through that to reach resurrection, and so reveal God’s plan not just to Israel but to the whole world.
Throughout Christian history that has created division, as Jesus said it would. From the earliest accounts of arguments between the disciples about who was allowed into the church, through riots about exactly how Jesus was human or divine, to rows about exactly how we are made right with God, to discussion about who is allowed to lead the Eucharist, and in these days, to who is allowed to marry whom in church.
How are we, then, to interpret the present time?
Well, just like our public social heroes, we need both commitment and perseverance. For God’s justice to prevail and all humanity to be drawn into God’s love, we need to continue to show how effective and how life-changing it is. We can preach the words of the bible all we like, but if people don’t see Christians acting together to promote love of neighbour and love of enemy and make a difference in their communities they see straight through us and rightly call us hypocrites, as Jesus did those whose actions didn’t match their words.
It’s a tough love, is the love of Jesus, and committing to it is far from easy. It requires perseverance.
But as the writer to the Hebrews says, we have the example of the saints before us to follow – they have run the race, they’ve climbed the mountain, they’ve persevered in the faith. People like Oswald, George, Sebastian and Edmund in our Lady Chapel window, or the holy women in our south window in the nave such as Bridget, Winnefrid, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Mary Slessor.
The saintly heroes of the church did all they did because they were fully committed to kingdom values. They wanted to do more than raise money to help fix a gap in provision or support research, they wanted to show how knowing Jesus had changed them and could change those they helped. They pointed, always, to Jesus as the pioneer of our faith and to the glory of God he reveals.
It seems to me that the signs of the times require us to do the same. We need to work alongside our community to reveal God’s love for it. We need to persevere in what we already do as a church, and find resources to do more. Let us run that race that is set before us in these challenging times.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Hebrew 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Last Sunday I got home in time to see the last part of the Euros final and the winning goal. Now most of those who know me are aware that in normal circumstances I’m not a great follower of football. But somehow this was different. What struck me afterwards were comments from some of the women who played years ago, who didn’t have the training opportunities the Lionesses have had; who recall times when clubs were unwilling to allow them to play on their pitches; when there was no financial support available. Nevertheless, they persevered, always hoping that things would improve in the future. Thanks to their faith and courage these dreams have come true. They kept their goal in sight (sorry!) and were full of joy at the success of this team.
We might say that their faith in the future is ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ as the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it. Faith is the theme of our first reading this morning. It is the conviction of things not seen. It’s not hope if we say ‘I hope it will be fine for our picnic later today’ when the sun’s shining out of a cloudless sky and there’s not a drop of rain showing up on the weather radar.
Here the writer reminds us how Abraham responded obediently and in faith to God’s call to set out on a journey, not knowing where he was going, to a place where he would receive the inheritance promised by God, including numerous descendants. All this seemed impossible, yet he kept faith, even when he was far too old to father a child with his barren wife Sarah. They did not receive God’s promises in full; that came much later with the arrival of the Messiah, of Christ. They continued to seek a homeland, a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem we hear about in Revelation which is symbolic of a time when God’s kingdom has finally come.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is telling his disciples to have faith. It appears that the disciples are anxious and afraid. Jesus reassures them of God’s intention to give them the kingdom – the kingdom that he has come to bring into being, not at some unknown date in the future, but here and now. He taught them to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ He tells them to get their priorities right and not to focus on accumulating material possessions.
Then he tells them to be dressed and ready for action. Those hearing this at the time would most probably have been reminded of the exodus, of the time when the Israelites were told to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice to escape from Pharaoh.
Jesus compares this with the master of the house returning late from a wedding celebration and finding his slaves wideawake and ready to do whatever was required at whatever time he got back, whether it was the middle of the night or even near to dawn.
In a surprising twist, he then tells the master will fasten his belt, meaning he’ll hitch up his robe, ready for action – think of it as putting on an apron. He will tell the slaves to be seated and he will serve them. With the benefit of hindsight, this may remind us of the last supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. They found his action shocking. In their minds this was a task for the servants, not something that the host would do.
The good news is that in this topsy turvy kingdom of God, Christ has come as one who serves us. We tend to think solely in terms of us serving God. This is what happens when we centre our lives on God. This is the good news of the gospel. It is truly shocking. God, who loves us and desires only good for us, has given us so many gifts, We have no reason to be afraid. Surely our response is that we should be ready to serve others. How we do this will depend on our circumstances.
What does ‘being dressed for action and having our lamps lit’ mean for us today?
It’s a call to be alert, to be attentive to what God is saying to us now, today.
It’s a call to notice what God is already doing in our town and in this place.
It’s a call to seize every opportunity for joining in what God is already doing.
It’s a call to think creatively about what new things we might undertake.
Restrictions during the pandemic meant that much of what we were doing had to stop, and rightly so. Over the months most of us got used to these limitations. But now is the time to take stock. Some things may need to be done in a different way. Some may not need to be done at all. It’s a good time for all of us to review what we are able to do now, which may be very different from what we were doing pre-pandemic.
The vacancy has just begun. Yes, in one way this is a time of waiting . But it’s also a time for review. Equally it is not a time to sit back. It’s a time for trusting God, for praying , listening and then getting on with whatever needs to be done.
Generous and loving God,
in this time of vacancy we thank you for our blessings,
and for all who build up this community
and work with others for the common good.
By your Holy Spirit inspire our vision,
and give us patience and courage
as we await the new priest you are calling to High Wycombe.
Though Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
Luke 12 v 13-21
People sometimes say of a rich person, “I wonder how much he is worth?” How much is a person worth? The doctor who gives lifesaving treatment, is worth millions to you, but his salary is nothing like that! How much are you worth? The Good Shepherd, Jesus, came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes each one of us of very great worth! Each year newspapers publish a Rich List, which shows the wealth of the richest people in the world. It is the people who have billions of pounds who count. But what are they really worth?
Our Gospel is the story the parable of the Rich Fool. The man, a farmer, was already rich, but he could see that the coming harvest would be the best and biggest ever. His barns could not hold it all. He decided to pull them down and build new, huge barns. If you read the Bible passage, you can see what a totally selfish man he was, because he was thinking only about himself, saying “My barns, my crops, and all my goods. Then I will eat, drink and be merry.” Then he has a heart attack, and dies, and all those things he has prepared, who will they belong to now?
But, is it wrong to work hard and do well? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things of life, a nice house, warm clothing, holidays, and a good pension at the end? Certainly, we need entrepreneurs, good businesspeople who often work extremely hard. It is not having a lot of money that is the problem, it is how it is used. It’s a bit like food. Food is good for us; it is often delicious. But people in Africa face famine now, while here in England 25% of children aged 10-11 are obese. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is a problem in sharing food. And in many countries, a problem in choosing the right food for healthy living.
I expect you have all heard of shipwrecked sailors, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The water runs out and some of them are so thirsty they are tempted to drink sea water. The salty water makes them more thirsty, so they drink more and more sea water, until their bodies are overloaded with salt – and they die. So with money. Most people on the ‘get rich’ path always want more money, bigger homes, a boat. No - a yacht. And so it goes on.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not rich! And every week I find prices have gone up in the shops.” Well…most of us have salary or pensions coming in regularly, we all have free health care, we all have a bed to sleep in and a spare pair of shoes. Millions of people around the world would think themselves rich if they had that much.
It is not that God doesn’t want people to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what he has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But our true security lies in trusting God and loving our neighbours as much as ourselves. Of course, we do need entrepreneurs to start and build up businesses, and probably create wealth for themselves.
In 1894 two young men ran a market stall in Leeds, selling cheap goods. One was a Jewish refugee from Russia, named Michael Marks and the other was Tom Spencer. Eventually they opened shops and became rich. Where would we be now without Marks and Spencer shops on every high street? The first cars were built for rich people. Thomas Ford saw a gap in the market and started mass producing relatively cheap cars. People called these Ford cars ‘Tin Lizzies’. He began a revolution in transport, and became one of the wealthiest men in American history. Almost everyone in the world now would like a car, whether for work or pleasure.
Jesus ended the story, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I got a bit stuck with those words. We should be rich towards God! What can we possibly give which is of value to God? In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. That is being rich towards God. Or, as the hymn writer Christina Rossetti put it: “What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.”
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister