Tag Archives: Kingdom

30 June: Even the Demons Submit, Part I.

The mediaeval masons tried to cut the demons down to size on churches like St Nicholas at Barfrestone, Kent. They knew the stories of how Jesus confronted them and sent them packing – and so did his disciples.

Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.

Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.

We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.

But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.

Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”

And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.

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June 15: Today this is my vocation III, from the Shaker Cook Book.

The Shakers were North American Christians who lived in big celibate communities in the XIX Century. I happened on Caroline Piercy’s Shaker Cook Book a couple of months ago, and would like to share this passage about the vocation of daily life as they lived it.

According to the Shaker belief, work and worship are intricately intertwined: ‘give your hands to work and your heart to God,’ was their well-known motto. It is by the fruits of their labour that they became known as craftsmen of great skill and complete honesty.

To the Shakers, or Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, as they chose to call themselves, their sole purpose in life was to establish God’s Kingdom here upon earth. Their hands, their minds, their hearts were wholly dedicated to that end, and therefore their vast kitchens and numerous workshops were as sacred to them as were their meeting houses and assembly halls. Their religion taught that man was put into this world in order to establish ‘Heavens on Earth’ where universal peace, genuine brotherly love and complete honesty reigned.

Caroline B Piercy, The Shaker Cook Book, Not by Bread Alone: Crown Publishing, NY, 1953. p13.

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6 April: Gates IX, Let the King of Glory in.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gate-to-tennyson.jpg

Another gate: they are as important as meeting places after Easter as before! This one is in Canterbury, and leads from former Ministry of Defence (War Department – WD on the boundary stone) land towards a housing estate where hundreds of ordinary decent people live. Our friend Pamela lived nearby for much of her life. This was a planned station (stopping place) for the 2020 Walking Pilgrimage that never happened, but still, may the King of Glory enter into this corner of his Kingdom this Easter!

Lift up your heads, O gates! 
And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

Psalm 24 : 7-10

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31 March. Spy Wednesday: what was Judas thinking?

Jesus abused under arrest. Strasbourg.

Well, what was Judas thinking when he went to the authorities for his pieces of silver? He will not have told himself that betraying Jesus was the worst thing he could do, so that’s just what he would do; no, he must have convinced himself that it was the best possible course of action in the circumstances.

Was he trying to force his Master’s hand, engineering a scene such as had happened in Nazareth at the start of his ministry, when Jesus passed through the crowd that was trying to stone him? (Luke 4:16-30) That seems unlikely as Luke says he was looking for a time when the crowd was not present in order to hand Jesus over. (22.6) Was he hoping that Jesus would then and there abandon his peaceful mission, instead establishing the Kingdom of Israel in a brilliant coup d’etat? Or did he see himself as clear-sighted, holding out no hope for Project Jesus, so he would cut his losses and take the money and run.

His suicide suggests that he was not that clear-sighted and cynical. I do not think he expected events to work out as they did; his self image may have been of a Mr Fix-it, forcing change on Jesus. Perhaps he expected the 11 and other disciples to rally round, overpowering or recruiting the posse sent to arrest Jesus and rampaging triumphant into the city. If he thought Jesus would enter into his Kingdom by military or mob force he was profoundly mistaken about him; but so were the other disciples, every one in their own way. But they clung together and did not hang themselves.

And then what? Clearly Jesus meant more to him than the money, the blood money that could not go into the treasury. (Matthew 27:3-8) His suicide speaks of hope abandoned – as we read yesterday, those who have something to hope for survive. Judas surely felt unable to return to the community of the disciples after what he’d done. Peter wept bitterly, but still stuck around. The reality of his prophetic words – you have the message of eternal life – did not sink in until Sunday morning. Too late to save Judas.

But never too late for his Lord and Friend to save Judas. That’s clearly what the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral felt, when he carved the Lamb of God rescuing Judas from his noose at the very gate of Hell.

Hope springs eternal.

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25 January. Week of Prayer for Church Unity, Day VIII: Reconciling with all of creation

“So that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

Colossians 1:15-20 In him all things hold together

Mark 4:30-32 As small as a mustard seed

Meditation

The hymn to Christ in the epistle to the Colossians invites us to sing the praise of God’s salvation, which encompasses the entire universe. Through the crucified and risen Christ, a path of reconciliation has been opened up; creation too is destined for a future of life and peace.

With the eyes of faith, we see that the kingdom of God is a reality that is very close but still hardly visible – like a mustard seed. However, it is growing. Even in the distress of our world the Spirit of the Risen One is at work. He encourages us to become involved – with all people of good will – in tirelessly seeking justice and peace, and ensuring the earth is once again a home for all creatures.

We participate in the work of the Spirit so that creation in all its fullness may continue to praise God. When nature suffers, when human beings are crushed, the Spirit of the risen Christ – far from allowing us to lose heart – invites us to become part of his work of healing. The newness of life that Christ brings, however hidden, is a light of hope for many. It is a wellspring of reconciliation for the whole of creation and contains a joy that comes from beyond ourselves: “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

“Do you wish to celebrate the newness of life that Christ gives through the Holy Spirit, 
and let it live in you, among us, in the church, in the world and in all of creation?”
                                                            Second promise made during profession at the Community of Grandchamp.

Prayer

Thrice-holy God, 
we thank you for having created and loved us. 
We thank you for your presence in us and in creation. 
May we learn to look upon the world as you look upon it, 
with love. 
In the hope of this vision, may we be able to work for a world 
where justice and peace flourish, 
for the glory of your name.

Questions

  • How much does your life declare God’s salvation? What view of God would others have from how you live?
  • What could your church(es) and community do together to make justice and peace flourish in your locality?
  • How does your church or group of churches care for God’s creation? What changes, large or small, could you make which would make that care more effective?

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22 January, Week of Prayer for Church Unity, Day V: Letting oneself be transformed by the word

Vine from St David’s Cathedral

“You have already been pruned by the word…”

John 15:3

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 The word of God is very close to you

Matthew 5:1-12 Blessed are you

Meditation

The Word of God is very close to us. It is a blessing and a promise of happiness. If we open our hearts, God speaks to us and patiently transforms that which is dying in us. He removes that which prevents the growth of real life, just as the vine grower prunes the vine.

Regularly meditating on a biblical text, alone or in a group, changes our outlook. Many Christians pray the Beatitudes every day. The Beatitudes reveal to us a happiness that is hidden in that which is unfulfilled, a happiness that lies beyond suffering: blessed are those who, touched by the Spirit, no longer hold back their tears but let them flow and thus receive consolation. As they discover the wellspring hidden within their inner landscape, the hunger for justice, and the thirst to engage with others for a world of peace, grows in them.

We are constantly called to renew our commitment to life, through our thoughts and actions. There are times when we already taste, here and now, the blessing that will be fulfilled at the end of time.

Pray and work that God may reign.

Throughout your day 
Let the Word of God breathe life into work and rest. 
Maintain inner silence in all things 
so as to dwell in Christ. 
Be filled with the spirit of the Beatitudes, 
joy, simplicity, mercy.”

Words recited daily by the Sisters of the Grandchamp Community]

Prayer

Blessed are you, 
God our Father, 
for the gift of your word in Holy Scripture. 
Blessed are you for its transforming power. 
Help us choose life and guide us by your Spirit, 
so that we can experience the happiness 
which you want so much to share with us.

Questions

What does it mean to you that “God may reign” in your life? Is there anything you could change or adjust?

If your church(es) were to live the “Beatitudes” each day what difference would this make to the communities they serve?

What does it mean in our world today to be blessed by God?

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21 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day IV, Praying together

Invitation to pray, St David’s Cathedral.

“I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends”

John 15:15

Romans 8:26-27 The Spirit helps us in our weakness

Luke 11:1-4 Lord, teach us to pray

Meditation

God thirsts for relationship with us. He searches for us as he searched for Adam, calling to him in the garden: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)

In Christ, God came to meet us. Jesus lived in prayer, intimately united to his Father, while creating friendships with his disciples and all those he met. He introduced them to that which was most precious to him: the relationship of love with his Father, who is our Father. Jesus and the disciples sang psalms together, rooted in the richness of their Jewish tradition. At other times, Jesus retired to pray alone.

Prayer can be solitary or shared with others. It can express wonder, complaint, intercession, thanksgiving or simple silence. Sometimes the desire to pray is there, but one has the feeling of not being able to do so. Turning to Jesus and saying to him, “teach me”, can pave the way. Our desire itself is already prayer.

“In the regularity of our common prayer, the love of Jesus springs up within us, we know not how. Common prayer does not exempt us from personal prayer. One sustains the other. Let us take a time each day to renew our personal intimacy with Jesus Christ.”

The Rule of Taizé in French & English, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Great Britain pp. 19 & 21

Prayer

Lord Jesus, your entire life was prayer, 
perfect harmony with the Father. 
Through your Spirit, teach us to pray 
according to your will of love. 
May the faithful of the whole world unite 
in intercession and praise, 
and may your kingdom of love come.
Amen

Questions

Jesus lived as an example of what it means to “live in prayer”. If prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God how much time and attention could you give to your personal prayer life?

What have you learned from praying with other Christians? What might God want you to learn from the practices and traditions of others?

What specific need in your community can you commit to pray for over the coming year?

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16 December: Generous II

From Saiint Davids Cathedral

Part II of Sister Johanna’s reflection on our generous creator and father in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Thank you once again, Sister!

Yesterday we were looking at the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt.20:1-16), and we meditated on how God the Father, represented by the vineyard owner, searches for us ceaselessly. Today I would like to look at what happens when the time comes for the workers to be paid. .

Looking at this parable of Jesus strictly from the point of view of how to run a business, it is not a very cogent treatment of the subject, as yesterday’s post pointed out. Economics do not figure, for Jesus. Or rather, Jesus seems to be making the point that the ‘economics’ of the Kingdom are completely different from all others. Likewise, the justice of the Kingdom is emphatically not what we would expect. It was this latter point that always tripped me up when I was younger. The older I get, the less this trips me up, but let’s explore it anyway.

It used to be that when I read this parable, I would feel sorry for the workers hired in the morning, who worked hard all day long (as they are at pains to point out) ‘in all the heat’. Bad luck for them, I’d think, when the late-comers slouch in to receive their salary, and it comes out that the late ones are being paid as much as those hired early in the day. Because if the early group had known that this would happen, they could have slept late, and then strolled out to the marketplace for a few beers, and then pulled a pathetic face when the vineyard owner walked by, begged for a job, worked an hour and made a small bundle.

But I don’t think like that any longer. Age, life-experience, and self-knowledge have changed my perspective. My first thought now on reading the vineyard owner’s question, ‘Why are you envious because I am generous?’ is “Lord, I am not envious because you are generous. Relief is all I feel.” Many kinds of relief. Let’s start with the question of “when.” I learn here that the Lord ‘hires’ into the life of grace according to a timing that is entirely his own affair. This consoles me when I pray for people who do not seem to be in the Lord’s employ. I sometimes ponder the mystery of why some souls do not seem to know the Lord, or even want to know him, cannot seem to see that those who work in his vineyard are blessed beyond telling – the whole thing seems alien to them, even empty, delusional, ridiculous. But, in this parable I find that the question of when is simply not my problem, with regard to other souls. It is entirely the Lord’s prerogative to hire according to timing that only he understands, but is unquestionably right for those whom he hires. The thing to remember, the thing that gives me comfort here, is that he goes out and looks for us, as we saw in yesterday’s post. Repeatedly. Until the eleventh hour.

Then there is the matter of what this vineyard really stands for in the parable*. I like to think of the vineyard as heaven. In this interpretation, our Lord wants us to know that heaven is not a place where its inmates sit around and spend all their time singing alleluias: they work. St Therese used to say, ‘I’ll spend my heaven doing good on earth’. I think she would support this view of the vineyard. So, how wonderful that those who are ‘hired’ late in life, who late in life find the Lord and, late, learn to love him, may hope to be admitted as workers in the heavenly vineyard, along with those who received their working papers as young children. What a relief! I cannot be envious of the vineyard owner’s generosity here.

If the vineyard also stands for the life of grace on earth, which it probably does, well and good. To ‘work’ there is our joy, our greatest joy on earth. This is what makes the complaints of the workers in this parable so wrong-headed. For them, life in the vineyard is one big grind, evidently, its work something they want to do as little of as possible so that they can spend the rest of their time… doing what, exactly? Loafing about? (How boring). Living an exciting life of sin? (How addictive and miserable). Making money, becoming famous, and playing power games with people in order to get ahead? (Ditto). Doing what they want when they want? (Ok for a short time, but ultimately, no). What they don’t seem to get is that the life of grace is itself the ‘payment’. One of our deepest human and spiritual needs, after the need for love, is the need for meaning. A life in the Lord’s vineyard fulfils both needs, gives us both love and meaning. This is our payment – and this is why everyone who works for this vineyard owner receives the same payment.

Finally, there is a third reason why this parable no longer bothers me anymore. You might say that I am in the category of those who were hired early in the day. But how many of us from that category can claim, by the time we reach, let’s call it, a “mature” age, to have been faithful at every moment? Have we all worked straight through the day in all the heat? Really? Or did we occasionally lapse, flake out, slack off, waste time at the water cooler? Perhaps we are still there, in flake-out mode. Are we afraid to return to the vineyard, afraid of what the owner will say to us? This parable allows us to hope that the Lord may be generous with his mercy to us, also.

SJC.

Note:

*Scholarly treatments of this parable usually say that the vineyard stands for the covenant; those first called stand for the Jewish people, privileged since Abraham’s time. The Lord opens up the membership, invites the world in, offers them everything. The first called have no right to be jealous of this.

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21 October: Prayer at the Door

Oh God,
make the door of this house wide enough
to receive all who need human love and fellowship,
and a heavenly Father’s care;
and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.


Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children,
nor to straying feet,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power.


Make it a gateway to thy eternal kingdom.


Thomas Ken
Bishop of Bath and Wells under Charles II and James II.

This prayer was on a poster within Saint David’s Cathedral. I don’t recall reading it before, but it is worth returning to on our armchair pilgrimage. I’ve lost track of the groups and individuals that we can invite through our front door right now but look forward to receiving all who knock in the future.

Bishop Ken was ousted from his diocese because, having sworn allegiance to King James, he refused to beak his oath and acknowledge William of Orange. He spent many years in quiet seclusion in Wiltshire.

Image: adapted from the poster of this prayer.

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13 September: Wesley upon Slavery XIII. Can you wonder?

The Last Judgement, Strasbourg Cathedral

What pains have you taken, what method have you used, to reclaim (slaves) from their wickedness?

Have you carefully taught them, that there is a God, a wise, powerful, merciful Being, the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? that he has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, will take an account of all our thoughts, words, and actions? that in that day he will reward every child of man according to his works? that then the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?

If you have not done this, if you have taken no pains or thought about the matter, can you wonder at their wickedness? What wonder, if they should cut your throat? And if they did, whom could you thank for it but yourself? You first acted the villain in making them slaves, whether you stole them or bought them. You kept them stupid and wicked, by cutting them off from all opportunities of improving either in knowledge or virtue: And now you assign their want of wisdom and goodness as the reason for using them worse than brute beasts!

The artists of Strasbourg used the Last Judgement to say something about those in authority who had more regard for themselves and their comfort than the poor people of their day. But the Lord is blessing Creation with his Glorious Wounds.

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