Tag Archives: Lent

Playing Power, Playing God

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. You can read the story for yourself in all the gospels, including Luke 19:28-40.

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This week is Palm Sunday, so named after the palm branches people picked up from the ground or cut from trees to wave and shout with triumph as Jesus’ rode on a donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem.

But this week my mind has been as much on the Christmas story as it has been on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Why? Well, last Sunday was Census day here in England and Wales. And as I filled in my census, I was reminded that according to Luke’s gospel it was a census called by Emperor Augustus that led to Mary and Joseph taking a journey from Nazareth in the north, the Bethlehem in the south to register. (Luke 2)

There is no mention of a donkey in Luke’s gospel, but it is perhaps a faux-pas that is helpful for us today – linking these two journeys – Christmas and Palm Sunday – together for us.

You see, I was thinking about how the call for a census, in some way, can be seen as the people in power using that power to play God – by seeking to know who is who. For Joseph and Mary it was the first census, the first time people had been asked to ‘register’. By registering, the ruling powers now knew who was who, and perhaps even where they were – certainly, because the people had to go to their hometown, where they had come from was now known.

Living in 21st Century we’re quite used to other people having details about us. Type “Dan Balsdon” into a Google search and it will soon tell you much about me!

But up to this point in history to be known was not something that would be seen in the same way. You might be known by your local community, a few traders in other places perhaps, family if they lived elsewhere, and for the faithful – by God. The idea of being registered in a society or country was not normative.

The opening line of Psalm 139 hold much more significance when we recognise that to be known had a very different emphasis and meaning before that first census.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

And so I wonder, given all of time and space, why God chose this moment, when a census was to be taken that would make the unknown known, that would change the societal and economic map, that would have an impact on the dynamics of power for the future, as the time for the Word to be made flesh and dwell amongst us. (John 1)

30 or so years on, Jesus journeys on a Donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Depending on which gospel account you read there are palms waved (though not in Luke’s account) and cloaks laid on the ground (but not in John’s account). And it is commonly titled something along the lines of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But actually, it’s not the triumphal entry we might expect. The moment is once again a particular one, because as Jesus entered Jerusalem by the east gate, Pilate was entering by the west, in full military procession, with soldiers in armour and sword, probably horses and chariots.

Jesus’ entry is distinctive and different, almost to the point of comedy. Instead of swords there are tree branches. Instead of soldiers in clothed armour, people de-clothed and laid them down on the ground. Instead of horse and chariot, there are disorganised crowds and Jesus rides a donkey.

Jesus is playing with power by subverting expectations – saying ‘I’ll be king, I’ve be a Saviour, but not the king or Saviour anyone will expect – just you watch’.

Jesus had been challenging power in many ways for many months, and it finally comes to a head in Jerusalem, where Jesus is arrested, put on trial and crucified. But while Jesus can be said to be playing with power, he was not playing with God. Jesus was God.

For mere days later – what happens – well, spoiler alert – Jesus’ shows the true power of God – and is raised to life again. Much to the surprise of everyone!

While the sort of society we live in today is a far cry from that of Jesus day, Jesus’ call continues to us, to pick up our palms and challenge misuse of power, to challenge institutions and regimes that play God, and put our one true God who truly knows us for who we are, beautiful and wonderful beings made in God’s image, with capacity to love and do amazing things, at the centre of our very being.

So friends, what palm are you going to pick up and wave today?

My Soul is…

A reflection based on John 12:20-33.

Reflect: how does your experience of ‘feeling’ through the pandemic echo with or conflict with what you believe or know to be true of God?

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In John 12, after being approached by Andrew, who has been approach by Phillip, who has been approach by Greeks wanting to come to the Passover festival (are you still with me!?), Jesus begins to talk about his coming death. Or at least, we know that he was talking about his coming death. The author of the gospel of John knew. The disciples, the Greeks, the crowd? Perhaps not so much.

In a moment which, in the text, takes us from a conversation with those around him to a conversation with his Father, Jesus says ‘Now my soul is troubled’. (John 12:27)

Though troubled is perhaps an understatement and under-interpretation of the truth of Jesus’ feeling here. A more literal interpretation of the Greek might be agitated, or more crudely, in shock, turmoil or distress.

Jesus wasn’t troubled in a trite and simplistic way. it wasn’t simply that the shopping delivery had arrived and they had swapped your beloved smokey bacon for your less favoured unsmoked.

Jesus was feeling turmoil and anguish in the depths of his soul because of what was looming on the very near horizon. He was soon to be glorified – which to the Author of the gospel, Jesus’ being glorified was the being ‘lifted up’ – the cross.

As Christians we talk of glory, often, as a good thing – ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’ goes the popular hymn. But Jesus was not feeling good – despite knowing what was to be gained through this moment.

Jesus has already talked about how useless a single grain is unless it falls into the earth and dies, to then come forth and bear much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus seems to know here, what needs to happen – but his feeling – his feeling was pain. His feeling was turmoil. His feeling was fear. His feeling was urging him to say to his Father ‘save me from this hour, this time that I know is at hand’ John 12:27.

In a moment of pain and fear, Jesus was honest with God about how he felt, despite what he knew was to come.

Friends, when was the last time you told God how you feel? How you really feel? Asked ‘where are you God?’ when you’re struggling to feel God with you, despite knowing that God is there?

Jesus’ experience shows us that it is ok to be feeling something that is contrary to what we know, or think we should be feeling. We can’t deny the truth. Can’t suppress the reality of our feeling – if we do, we start to be dishonest with God, and dishonest with ourselves.

Friends, be honest with God today, just as Jesus was, because through being honest with God about how we feel, we are honest with ourselves.

Habits

What habits do you have?
Habits can be both good and bad – and sometimes that’s different for different people…

For me, in the last year because I’m working from home more I’ve definitely got into an unhealthy habit of snacking, but I have spent more time reading and walking, which is, I think, a good habit for me.

The important thing when it comes to habits, is are we in control of it, or is the habit controlling us?  

I was reading information on a study this week that suggested adults look at their phone every 6 and ½ minutes. I made me aware how often I look at my phone, and made me wonder whether I’m in control of the habit, or if the habit is controlling me.

In Mark 8 Jesus says to his disciples and the crowd around them:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Mark 8:34b-36

This call to deny ourselves initially might feel like Jesus is saying ignore your own thoughts and desires they don’t matter when you follow me. But I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is saying. Actually, I think Jesus is saying we do matter, and it’s because we matter, that Jesus wants to help us to keep our desires and habits in check and under control – and guided by the life that Jesus lived on earth – that becomes a blueprint for how he calls us to live.

To deny ourselves is not about us not mattering, quite the opposite – it’s about ensuring we develop healthy habits that benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

During lent we sometime stalk about giving something up – chocolate is common – but that’s not really what Lent is about. The period of Lent is really about self-discipline, and reflection – asking ourselves are we developing and living in healthy habits that help our physical and spiritual wellbeing, and asking God to help us.

Jesus goes on to ask what benefit there is to have the whole world, but forfeit life. In his worship song, Tim Hughes words it “What good is it to gain the whole world, But lose your soul?”.

If we don’t work to ensure we develop healthy habits, we can fall into a hole of building up our earthly, worldly kingdoms – healthy bank accounts, homes filled with treasures, but loose sight the Kingdom of God – which trades not in cash and material possessions – but in justice and love.

Pray today, and ask God to help you reflect on what healthy habits to nurture and developed to benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

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Faithful on the Ocean

O Lord God of hosts,
who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.

Psalm 89:8-9

Last weekend a friend sent me a link to a song, saying God had placed it on his heart to send to me. It’s a song I knew, but in that moment the song was just the thing I needed, and I’m so grateful I received it.

We’ve just begin lent, which we often begin by reminding ourselves of Jesus’ period of solitude in the wilderness. We may imagine a deserted, desert like place – where there is little sign of life and furitfulness – where Jesus is temped and tormented after his Baptism.

For me, my wilderness right now feels less of a desert and more like an unchartered ocean, as we continued to navagate the unchartered waters of pandemic, it’s longevity, it’s impact on community, church life, on relationships and human connection.

In some ways, now that we’re almost a year on from the first lockdown here in the UK, it feels like I may be cracking an old nut going on abour the unchartered waters of pandemic. Surely we’ve got beyond some of the new-ness and unexpectedness of the pandemic, we’ve learnt to use new technology, and while we’d still prefer to sit across from one another with a  fresh coffee, we’ve got used to spending more time on the phone.

But despite how long we’ve been navigating these unchartered waters, the storm is continuing, and while there are signs of hope, past signs of hope have already been knocked back by new, larger waves crashing onto the deck.

Despite being about a year into the pandemic, life and ministry still feels to me like a journey in the unknown. While each week holds within it joys and blessings, there is still a common feeling of muddling through and making do. Trying to be satisfied when I feel that I’m not serving grieving families with the ’best’ I can offer, despite knowing I’m doing all that I can within these restrictions. Knowing how much people long to be able to gather face to face and share fellowship, yet having to live with burden of reality that the fellowship we really want, where we can sing and talk with one another is just not possible at the moment. That’s all without even beginning to think about all the uncertainties about how to lead and shape future ministry as we emerge from this pandemic sometime in the future.

That’s why the song I received last weekend was so helpful for me. The whole song is filled with a reminder that life can feel like a stormy voyage on the ocean, but whether water is still or raging God is faithful – always. God is guiding us – always.
God is with us – always.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

I encourage you to take a few moments today to listen, and draw close to God who is faithful to you and says to you ‘you are mine’.

In the unknown, in the wilderness of this Lenten season and as we continued our voyage on these unchartered waters, may you find God’s unfailing grace strengthening you, encouraging you and upholding you.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

Psalm 89:1-2

Downloadable PDF

(Without Song)

Why ‘Shrove’?

You may or may not be like me, in sometimes wondering why we use certain words for things… and this week I was wondering why today is ‘shrove’ Tuesday.

A quick bit of research (Thank God for Google!) has discovered ‘shrove’ is another form of the word ‘shrive’, meaning to be absolved of sins through confession and penance. We talk little about penance these days, because we’ve come to understand more of the faithful, loving character of God, rather than one who wants us to suffer for our missteps and misgivings. 

But one thing this meaning may highlight for us is that Shrove Tuesday is a reminder to us reflect to on our own lives and ask God to guide us in how to live our lives differently that we may further grow spiritually.

Lent as a season of the Christian year holds within an important emphasis on self-examination of our life lived with God, and our shared discipleship as communities of faith. That’s why Lent courses are often common place (remember our Lent course is coming up! – please do sign up if you can, we’d love to see you!) 

Our girls have ben asking for about a fortnight for pancakes, they have been counting down the days in anticipation. I wonder if we approach Lent with that same anticipation? Are we excited to reflect ourselves on how God may be speaking to us, challenging us and encouraging us? 

However your shrove today, I pray that as we enter Lent 2021 you will know yourself shriven – covered in God’s grace and absolution, and feel the strength of God’s Spirit as you continue your journey of faith. 


Book Suggestion: At Home in Lent

This lent we’re inevitably going to spend more time at home than many of us might like to. So here is a suggestion of a different sort of devotional for this Lent. ‘At Home in Lent’ by Gordon Giles wants to help us discover that there is much in our homes to feed our faith and journey with Jesus – if we keep an eye out for it.

Through 46 normal, mundane objects and places many of us will find in our homes, Gordon takes us on a Lenten joruney to find God in the normal routine of our day to day lives. From keys to kettles, toilets to televisions, each one can be a doorway through which God can speak to us and encourage us.

Buy At Home in Lent from BRF: https://www.brfonline.org.uk/products/at-home-in-lent-an-exploration-of-lent-through-46-objects?_pos=1&_sid=89ff6c163&_ss=r