One of the classic Victorian hymns that still speaks to us today.
Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather round his feet?
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in his blood.
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we lose the tender shepherd
In the judge upon the throne.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
Today is the feast of Saint Thomas More, a patron of lawyers, so here are two passages to get us thinking about the law and crime, sin and guilt. Christ came to bring the Law ofthe Old Testament to perfection while challenging those who lived their daily lives by minute rules but bound up burdens too heavy for other people.
On the other hand, the law of the land is there to protect the citizen from harm by the state or his fellows.What is the role of the lawyer? First we hear from Doctor Johnson among lawyers in Edinburgh, during his travels in Scotland on ‘the art and power of arranging evidence’; everyone has a right to a fair hearing. Then Andrew McCooey, a former judge, reflects on the role of faith and the wisdom a lawyer needs to bring to ethical dilemmas.
We talked of the practice of the law. William Forbes said, he thought an honest lawyer should never undertake a cause which he was satisfied was not a just one. ‘Sir,’ said Mr Johnson, ‘a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.
Consider, sir; what is the purpose of courts of justice? It is, that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows to be a lie: he is not to produce what he knows to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the jury and of the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of evidence—what shall be the result of legal argument.
As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community, who, by study and experience, have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to the points of issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for his client all that his client might fairly do for himself, if he could. If, by a superiority of attention, of knowledge, of skill, and a better method of communication, he has the advantage of his adversary, it is an advantage to which he is entitled. There must always be some advantage, on one side or other; and it is better that advantage should be had by talents, than by chance.
If lawyers were to undertake no causes till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially examined, it might be found a very just claim.’
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell
The Christian lawyer should walk with the Lord, asking him to direct and bring to us the work he wishes us to undertake and to give us wisdom and discernment in advising our clients. Christ puts up no walls or barriers; no one is so great a sinner that he will not extend his hand to help when there is even a twitch of movement towards conversion. And he expects us also to have that approach.
… We must not do what is popular but what we judge to be right. And we must remember that every human being, including the vilest of criminals, is a child of God, and has the potential to be redeemed.
Andrew McCooey, Hate the sin, not the sinner, The Tablet, 26.2.22, p6.
Let us continue raising our consciousness this Lent! Our Proverb takes up an idea from yesterday’s prayer from Eastern Vespers.
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Proverbs 11.1.
This Nineteenth Century kitchen balance was an heirloom from our next-door neighbour, Kay; it would have been interesting to hear the story of how she came to have it! It came with an incomplete set of iron wights, each one marked underneath with a crown and ‘VR’ to tell that they were trustworthy because they had been tested by officials representing Queen Victoria. Grandson Abel and I use them quite often. Abel takes delight in these just weights, because we get good results when we follow a recipe to cook using them – and I take delight in his delight. A false balance is an abomination to society for obvious reasons. You can read here how Channel Island farmers used big stones chipped down to useful weights to measure produce for sale.
Their old French quintal weights would be no use to Abel and me, and nor would the few pounds and ounces that came with the scales, since he will think in grams and kilos – though his mother and auntie speak about their children’s weights in stones!
Just weights are a form of speaking the truth; the different British, Jersey-French and Metric systems may differ, but by carefully comparing them and using them consistently, we can always get delightful results.
And where Bible texts differ, as in the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer,* we can enjoy carefully and prayerfully puzzling out the differences and so take delight in them.
What is Lent all about? One answer is that it is about being conscious of our relationships with God and our neighbours. This is well expressed in the following prayer from Lenten Vespers in the Byzantine Rite:
While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters,
let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loosen every bond of iniquity;
let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence;
let us tear up all unjust agreements;
let us give bread to the hungry
and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
that we may receive mercy from Christ our God.
From The Lenten cookbook by Scott Hahn and David Geisser p31. Reviewed here on 12 February.
The churches are an important part of Canterbury’s work to get people off the streets. Being allowed to camp in the churchyard at Saint Mildred’s is perhaps as much help as these particular people can accept at this time.
God of Love,
show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who have power and money,
that they may love the common good,
advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
seize us with your power and light,
help us protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! AMEN.
Each year about the feast of Saint Bakhita, we turn our thoughts to those caught up in slave trade, which we know all too well has not gone away.
Gregory XVI was not the most liberal of Popes. He condemned railways as ‘chemins d’enfer’, roads to hell, because they encouraged the rise of the culture of trade and increased the power and influence of the middle classes, upsetting the social order. For all that he followed a number of rprevious popes in recognising that the slave trade was indefensible. His 1839 encyclical ‘In Supremo Apostolatus’ cited Saint Paul to the Ephesians (6:5ff) and Colossians (3:22ff, 4:1) as signs of the early Church demonstrating a new attitude to slavery. Slave and Master were both human, both answerable to one Lord, both to be treated with respect. Gregory’s language is not that of Pope Francis, but sadly, Francis and today’s Church must still address the issues of modern slavery. First Pope Gregory, followed by Sisters in Zambia today, who are working to address these issues.
We have judged that it belonged to Our pastoral solicitude to exert Ourselves to turn away the Faithful from the inhuman slave trade in Negroes and all other men. … Desiring to remove such a shame from all the Christian nations, having fully reflected over the whole question and having taken the advice of many of Our Venerable Brothers the Cardinals, and walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, We warn and adjure earnestly in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to use violence against anyone, despoil him of his possessions, reduce to servitude, or lend aid and favour to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not men but rather animals, having been brought into servitude, in no matter what way, are, without any distinction, in contempt of the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and devoted sometimes to the hardest labour.
We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices mentioned above as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.
The following photograph is from Global Sisters Report, it introduces an article by Sister Eucharia Madueke about how Sisters in Zambia are organising to combat human trafficking. ‘Open your eyes’ is a call to us as well. Read the full article here.
Sisters from across Zambia attended a workshop in November 2021 in Makeni, Lusaka, on advocacy against human trafficking. The sisters stand with the signs they made as part of their awareness-raising efforts. (Sr. Eucharia Madueke)
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 5 “Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising”
Psalm 121–I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?
Matthew 2:7-10–Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising
Again and again, the scriptures tell us how God walks with us. The path may not always be straight: sometimes we are led to retrace our steps, sometimes to return by a different route. But in all our journeying through life, we can be confident that God, who neither “sleeps nor slumbers”, is with us when we slip or fall.
Even in the greatest darkness, God’s light is with us. Most perfectly, in the fullness of time, God sends Jesus Christ, who is the guiding light for all nations, the glory of God in the world, the source of divine light and life.
The way ahead into unity with one another, into closer union with Christ, is not always clear. In our earnest attempts to build unity ourselves it is all too easy to lose sight of this fundamental message of the scriptures: that God does not abandon his people even in their failures and divisiveness. This is God’s message of hope for the whole world. As the story of the Magi reminds us, God guides people of all kinds, by the light of the star, to where Christ, the light of the world, is to be found.
God our Guide,
you sent the star to lead the Magi to your only begotten Son.
Fill us with the confidence that you are walking with us.
Open our eyes to your Spirit, and encourage us in our faith,
so that we may confess that Jesus is Lord,
and worship him as the Magi did in Bethlehem.
Hope of my heart, strength of my soul,
Guide Thou my footsteps and keep me whole;
My grace and fortress, Thou wilt be,
Oh, let Thy mighty hand ever lead me.
Barney E Warren, 1893
Global: As a global community we continue to face many challenges. How do we seek God’s guidance in our response to those challenges?
Local: How is God guiding your Christian community at this time? Where are you being called to act?
Personal: Reflect on a time when you have felt or seen God’s guidance. What was that like?
Global: Start (or continue) a conversation around your Christian community about how you are responding to the challenges of climate justice. As churches, take part in global prayer and action for climate justice (https://www.prayandact4climate.org).
Local: Plan a Climate Sunday service between the churches in your locality. Visit climatesunday.org for resources and inspiration.
Personal: Seek out a community to be part of to support you in your action responding to global challenges. For example if you like craft you could turn your skills into activism in community with the craftivist-collective.com.
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
And you, Bethlehem… are by no means least.
Micah 5:2-5a, 7-8 From you shall come forth … one who is to rule in Israel 1 Peter 2: 21-25 Now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls Luke 12:32-40 Do not be afraid, little flock
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Reflection Today we consider why God chooses to act in and through seemingly insignificant places and people, and what God does with them. These are not new questions – in fact they are the favourite paradoxes of preachers in the Christmas and Epiphany seasons – yet they continue to challenge us. The prophet Micah speaks directly to Bethlehem and predicts its greatness as the home of the shepherd who will defend God’s people.
The First Letter of Peter tells people who have already begun to identify Jesus Christ with the Messiah that he is the shepherd who willingly suffers to save the flock. The Gospel of Luke reassures the ‘little flock’ of Christ’s followers that they need have no fear, because God has promised them the Kingdom.
We receive these messages of consolation, directed to particular people at a particular time, in the context of our own concerns and longing for consolation. They invite us to take part in God’s transformation of inequality, violence and injustice, not to wait passively for these things to happen. They call on us to be politically aware; to be locally ready to make our churches little Bethlehems where Christ can be born in generosity and hospitality; to recognise ourselves as a ‘little flock’, unimportant perhaps in the world’s eyes, but with a value and a vocation in the great mystery of salvation.
Prayer Good Shepherd, the fragmentation of your ‘little flock’ grieves the Holy Spirit. Forgive our weak efforts and slowness in the pursuit of your will.
Go and do (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) Global: Visit Amos Trust to find out more about how to create peace with justice in the Middle East. Local: Plan as churches together to pray for peace in the middle east on the 24th of every month. You can use resources from Christian Aid to aid your prayers. Personal: Bring the fears that keep you in division from other traditions before the Good Shepherd in prayer. Meditate on the words of the Good Shepherd – ‘do not be afraid, little flock.’
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”
Reflection – True Leadership Jeremiah denounces the bad leadership of the kings of Israel who divided and scattered the people, a leadership that destroyed nations and drove their citizens into exile. In contrast, the Lord promises a shepherd-king who will ‘execute justice and righteousness in the land’ and gather the flock as one.
Only in Christ have we seen the example of a leader truly after God’s heart. In him we encounter a loving, humble servant who does not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. He comes to serve, rather than be served, and his followers are called to do the same.
Today, the Middle East is experiencing the loss of its people to exile as ‘righteousness and justice’ are becoming scarce commodities, not only there but throughout the world. Yet leaders, both in the world and in the Church, have a responsibility to bring together rather than to scatter or divide. The more faithfully Christians emulate the servant leadership of Christ, the more division in both the world and the Church will be overcome. As we work for righteousness, justice and peace for all, we witness humbly to the shepherd-king, and draw others into his presence.
Jeremiah 23:1-6 He shall reign as king and deal wisely Philippians 2:5-11 Who… did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.
Go and do (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) Global: Focus on a number of examples of where you consider good leadership to be evident. Try to identify the shared principles of leadership in these examples and consider how they can be encouraged in the work of creating unity. Local: Invite a local leader to a gathering of the churches in your area to hear more about their work and to find out how you can best support and encourage them. Personal: Find out about or refresh your memory on the circle of concern and circle of influence and consider how you can best exercise your personal leadership this week to help the cause of unity.
Just and righteous God,
we confess before you that we often covet worldly models of leadership.
Help us to seek our Lord Jesus Christ
not in the palaces of the powerful
but in the humble manger.
May we emulate him in his meekness
and become servants to each other
in obedience to you.
We pray in the name of Christ,
who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns forever in glory.
Verse / Poem
It was the day of the strong men
the day when truth retired, redundant
because lies had more glitz,
and justice disabled, mocked,
in the name of a golden god
cast from melted down lives.
And then came the pestilence.
and the day of the servant
in nursing home and ICU,
and the temple profligate with treasure
in cylinders of breath.
Questions Global: How have you seen the Church follow Jesus’ pattern of leading through service? Local: What Christian leader (either local or national) do you admire for the ability to inspire unity and a concern for justice? What qualities enable that person to lead effectively? Personal: When have you been inspired to take the lead in seeking justice or working towards unity?