Friday, August 7, 2020

Faith or Fear?


Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33

Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, August 2, 2020

Most of us at some time in our life have walked on the water. That it happened to be water that was frozen into ice is merely a scientific detail. That we first ensured that the thickness of the ice was of a consistency to support our weight is testimony to our own common sense. Yet I can still say, with full assurance of conviction, that we do - under certain circumstances - possess water walking faith.

Now if that's all there was to our lives; rational generalizations that led to confident, overcoming faith, life would be a breeze. Things are not that simple. There are other forces at work. There is fear as well as faith. Our bible story today shows how fear and faith can often get mixed up together.

One thing that the Hebrew people were really afraid of was the sea. For the Hebrews the sea was an image of chaos. It was a place where unpredictable things took place. Nobody knew what scary monsters lived in its depths. In the book of Revelation heaven is described as a place without sea. That's how much the Hebrews disliked the sea! We still use the expression when life gets a little crazy of being “All at sea.” Images of shipwreck, like that of the so called unsinkable Titanic, remind us that the oceans are a dangerous place where people lose their lives.

Matthew's gospel gives us the story of the disciples being all at sea, all alone, when a great storm blows up. A big storm and a little boat meant one thing - big trouble. They are doing everything they can to take control of the situation. Some of them were seasoned fishermen and had a degree of expertise in this area. But it's getting worse!

You can almost picture the scene. Matthew the tax collector, white as a sheet, huddled in a corner saying his prayers. Judas, in charge of the moneybag, huddling it close to himself, so that if they did go down, he'd take the money with him. Peter running around shouting orders at everybody. "James, pull that sail in, Andrew start bailing that water out the back.. John.. you're looking a bit green there.. uh, oh, stay out of John's way a minute...Philip, steer into the waves or this thing will go over.."

Peter had a lot of faith. He had faith in his fellow crew mates. He had faith that they hadn't left everything behind to follow Jesus to end their days, as the song in Bedknobs and Broomsticks says, "Bobbing along on the bottom of the beautiful briny sea." If the storm wasn't enough, then things start to get really scary.

In the midst of the wind and waves, the disciples start to point and stare! "Looks like somebody’s walking this way. How can that be? We're nowhere near the land! What's going on? I don't like this!" Hear how Matthew describes the disciple’s reaction.

"When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:26-27).

The first reaction of the disciples to Jesus coming to them, is not faith, but fear. And fear causes us to do the stupidest things. Fear causes us to make the wrong decisions. Fear blocks out the voice of reason. Peter was very afraid. He hated not to be the one in control.

So there's Jesus, on His way to be with the disciples, telling them not to be afraid, in control of things. Is Peter content to listen to what Jesus was saying? "Don't be afraid" The rest of the disciples seem content to do so. Not Peter. He has to put things to the test. " Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water."

The story of Peter reaching out to Jesus and taking a few steps on the water has traditionally been seen as an example of what you can do if only you have enough faith. I tend to think of it a different way. If Peter had really been faithful he would never have got out of the boat! If Peter really had faith he would have stayed where he was.

Getting out of a little boat in the middle of a big storm when help was immanently arriving strikes me as stupid. If Peter had been coming from a position of faith, he would have accepted the assurance of Christ, to ‘be not afraid,’ and waited in the boat till Jesus was on board. There's a children's chorus that says, "With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm, smile at the storm, smile at the storm." It's not so easy to smile at the storm when you've just jumped out of the boat.

God, in God's mercy, is incredibly indulgent. If, by allowing us to do something stupid, God can teach us something important about our faith, God takes that opportunity. When Peter challenges Jesus to prove Himself; by giving Peter the power to be a water walker, Peter is taught an important lesson. Rather than playing God and taking matters into his own hands, he had to learn to wait for God's promises to take effect.

There's some background to this. In the mythology of other religious traditions and in that of the Hebrews, only One had power over the wind and waves; only One could triumph over the power of the deep... and that One was God. Such a miracle was a sign of Divine Presence. Only God could part the Red Sea, hold back its waters for the Israelites to pass safely through. Only God had the power.

By asking to walk on the water for himself, Peter, from his position of fear, was saying, "The only way out of this bad situation is if you let me play god for a while, let me walk on the water.... then I will believe." Jesus actually calls Peter to get out of the boat, and play god. And for a few steps, it looks like a miracle. But as soon as Peter realizes his foolishness, glug, glug, glug glug.

The question this passage poses is not "Do we have enough faith to walk on water?" The challenge is, "Do we have enough faith to stay in the boat, knowing that Jesus is coming to help, trusting in His voice that promises us peace, believing that those who wait upon the Lord shall be saved?"

If our faith were measured by our ability to do such things as walk on the water, turn water into wine and raise the dead then we would be in deep trouble. Faith is not a quantity but a quality. Faith is about the quality of relationship we have with God. Faith is holding onto the belief, that despite the chaotic circumstances surrounding our lives, God’s word is living and active and heading in our direction.

Get the wrong idea about faith and it can land you in deep water. Ask Peter. Making like we are gods and we can solve all our problems for ourselves is not going to carry us through. Pretty soon the chaos will have us submerged back into our fears.

We must allow Jesus time to come walking into our storms. He has promised to be with us. Believe that promise. "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Take the time for Him to walk into your storm. Take the time to let him sit in your boat. The prophet Isaiah says, "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Our passage finishes by telling us what happened once Jesus and the now much humbled the rather wet Peter became when once back on board. “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (14:32-33)

The restoring of calm led to a sense of worship and an affirmation of faith. Faith generates faith. Every situation that we work through with God prepares us for the next situation that comes our way. On the other hand, fear commits us to inappropriate actions, blocks out the comforting words of Christ, and fools us into believing we can save ourselves.

We can be so foolish. Like Peter we think we can play God. Like Peter, so often we don’t hear nor believe the promises of Jesus Christ. The storms we are going through and the fears we wrestle with, block out the words. So we get over the side, take a few steps and then find ourselves sinking... out of our depth, worse off than we were before.

It was then that Jesus held out His hand to Peter. And Peter grasped the hand of Jesus and was saved. Maybe our situation isn’t that of Peter. But we are all capable of being knocked hopelessly out of depth by the storms life brings our way.

Don’t be fearful, be faithful. Jesus is reaching out to us.

Let us take His hand and get back in the boat.

Let us learn from our own and others mistakes.

Let us not be people motivated by fear, but those who walk by faith.

Remember the ice. In the right situation we can all walk on water!

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Prayer -   “Faith or Fear?”

Lord, the storms of life come to us all. And at times we think we are going to be overwhelmed. In our confusion we make a variety of responses, varying from trying to take it on all alone to acting in inappropriate ways that are more of a panic reaction than a helpful solution.

We recall those of our fellowship or family who are passing through the storms at the current time. Those being challenged through illness or recovery. Those who travel fearfully through the valley of the shadow of death. Those who have lost their way or are seeking for purpose. Those facing the particular problems that the passing of the years have brought their way.

Bless us when we are in our comfort zones, but save us from clinging to them when we need to be open to the changes that are Your will for us. When You call us to venture into new areas, help us look for the blessings You are leading us into. We know we can trust You to guide us all through life, but especially in the midst of change.

We are mindful of the many blessings around us, and pray for those who help keep our selves and our communities safe. We pray for those in the caring professions through whose talents and gifts we find healing. We pray for those involved in research and are seeking to find solutions to illnesses that are yet to find a cure, in particular in reaction to the current pandemic.

We offer prayer for those in political office, at local, national and international level. The task of government is a high calling and the responsibilities placed on those whose decisions effect the quality of life for many others is a weighty one. May they know Your guidance and Presence.

In particular we pray for those places of conflict, all those nations were turmoil and disruption are the norm. We pray for this nation as the problem of continuing racial discrimination within society is addressed. Remind us that there can be no peace without justice. Likewise we lift up leaders of nations that are stalked by disaster and famine, often caught between a rock and a hard place. May compassion achieve what politics cannot fix.

In this we pray for Your church, called to show the compassion of Christ to all people in all places. We offer to You those prayers we find impossible to put into words, but which rest heavily upon our hearts. All our prayers we make in Jesus name. And now join in that prayer He has taught us...

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Unfinished Symphony

Readings: Psalm 17:1-7, 15, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21, Genesis 28:10-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August,2 2020

One of actor Johnny Depp's earliest movies was an adult fairytale called 'Edward Scissorhands'. The story is about 'Edward' a 'boy' created by a benevolent scientist (actor Vincent Price's final movie appearance) who suffers a heart-attack during the creation process, leaving Edward as an unfinished human who instead of having hands, has scissors where his hands should be.

Edward is discovered in the ruins of the scientists Gothic mansion by the local Avon lady, who takes him home to live with her family. He turns out to have an uncommonly gentle nature and uses his seeming disability, his scissor-hands, to create things of great beauty. However, to cut a long story short, in the end Edward is rejected. He just doesn't fit in. He's too strange. If only he had real hands things may have been different. The Creators work was unfinished.

The movie functions on many different levels. One of the perspectives the movie offers is that we are all, like Edward Scissorhands, unfinished works of our Creator. We all have our peculiarities as well as our gifts. We all struggle to maintain our innocence in a corrupt world. We all experience both love and rejection. The challenge is to discern how, as broken, unfinished people, we can live in a way that reflects our God-given beauty and the many blessings God has freely given to us.

As we come to the table today I'd like to focus on some words God spoke to Jacob when he was commissioned for his life work at Bethel, words from Genesis 28:15 “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

When we place our lives in God's hands then God promises to be with us. Wherever we are are, whatever we are doing, God promises not to leave us but stay with us till the end and beyond.

Jacob was by no means a finished work of God. At Bethel he had an amazing revelation; a vision of glory... angels reaching down to earth, a vision of people and places and possibilities... that would profoundly effect the rest of the life he lived on earth.

It was like that for the first disciples of Jesus. In Matthew 28, after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus meets with the eleven in Galilee. He commissions them with what seems like an impossible task; to make all people, all over the world, His disciples. Then He leaves them with this tremendous promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NIV)

It wasn't easy for the disciples. It wasn't easy for Jacob. They knew they were flawed. They knew they were unfinished works. They couldn't see exactly where things would lead them or how it was all going to work out. Their faith did not lie in what their flawed lives could achieve, but in the promises of God that God would be with them and that because they walked with God then beautiful things could be created though their brokenness.

In our lives, we sit in church on a Sunday, hear about and give assent to believing in our God. Then out we go into our daily worlds, and somehow the practice is never as easy as the theory. Nobody ever said it was meant to be easy. But God has said, that when we place our lives into His hands, He will be with us, in all things, through all things, to the end of all things.

Every time we meet around this table of Holy Communion, it is a time and a place to place our lives in God's care. Around this table is our Bethel, our meeting place, our place of promise.

Here is our opportunity to catch glimpses of angels, to muse over possibilities, to embrace the notion that out of brokenness can come beauty, that out of crucifixion can come resurrection, that when and where we are willing to be poured out then God's Spirit comes pouring in. Here at this table we can acknowledge that though our lives are unfinished symphonies the God of all Creation is conducting our journey.

God will complete the work Christ has begun within us. Like Jacob we are on a journey. We have reached this point because something of the grace and love and hope of glory has called us to this place. Like the disciples, Jesus is drawing us to Himself.

I know we all struggle with our brokenness. I know sometimes life brings dark and difficult days. Such experiences are common to us all. We are full of questions. We fight against our doubts. We battle against our habits. We seek release from our worries. Sometimes we feel as though we can't do right for doing wrong, that we are so close, but so very far away.

We have tough decisions to work through, hard choices to make. We know that our actions can be misinterpreted, our perspectives can be flawed, our aspirations can be misguided. We also know that God is calling us to something more, but struggle to visualize what that can possibly look like or what it may mean for our lives and our communities.

Take courage. God knows our situations. Stay close to God and God will see us through. That was God's promise to Jacob. Stay with me and we'll see things through to a glorious conclusion. Jacob had a glimpse of glory at Bethel. It moved him. It inspired him. Yet it was the days after Bethel that eventually defined his life. It was his continued faithfulness and struggle that led him home.

So it is with us. It seems we have never quite arrived, but we can find places of nurture along the way. This can be one of them. And at times we may never even get to see the results of what we have endeavored to achieve bear fruit. Sometimes we have to leave that to those who will come after us.

In 1823 the Graz music society made their annual award for excellence to a composer of the day. That year it turned out to be Franz Schubert. Schubert felt obliged to dedicate a symphony to them in return, and sent his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a leading member of the Society, an orchestral score he had written the previous year. It consisted of two completed movements and the first two pages of the start of a third movement.. Symphonies, by the custom of the times, normally consisted of four movements.

Just a few years later, in 1828 Schubert unexpectedly passed away. As far as most music historians can discern he never completed a fourth movement and the third movement remained incomplete. Although it's official title was 'Symphony No. 8 in B minor' it became known after his death as the 'Unfinished Symphony'. Various composers have tried to recreate what the fourth movement may have sounded like, but the truth is that we can never know.

What we do know, is that despite it being unfinished it is still a very beautiful, and ground breaking, piece of music. It is sometimes called the first 'Romantic' symphony. It broke from the normal form of the day in terms of it's structure. It had an expressive melody, vivid harmonies and used combinations of orchestral tones that hadn't been tried before. Later composers would develop these ideas in symphonies that came after.

For many biblical characters there is a sense of their journey being unfinished. Moses never gets to see the promised land he strives to reach throughout his life. David never sees the temple of his dreams constructed. We know little about many of the earliest disciples of Jesus, other than through legends that have passed on throughout the ages. But none of that detracts from the power or the message of their lives.

Like Edward Scissorhands, we can be broken but beautiful. There are tasks for us to do and we may never know exactly how things are going to turn out. We are all unfinished symphonies, and can never truly know the impact of our stumbling attempts to live the kinds of lives we feel God is calling us to live.

But we can know this. God calls us to walk with Christ and offers to us the same promises as were offered to Jacob and to the first disciples. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28:15) “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 8:20).

Let us come to the table seeking for the presence of God to be our help and inspiration, for the love of Jesus to be our motive and guide and for the strength of the Holy Spirit to be our sustaining and empowering.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Mustard Seed Treasures

Readings: Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 128, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church on July 26, 2020

The last couple of weeks we've been looking at Matthew 13 - a chapter full of parables about the Kingdom. This morning our readings gave us further pictures of what the Kingdom is like.

A mustard seed that grows beyond all expectations
Yeast that leavens the flour
Treasure in a field
(That the one who finds it will give up
everything else for)
A pearl of great price
A net full of fish to be sorted out into good and bad.
A Master revealing old and new treasures

Each of the parables reinforces the message of the Sower and the parable of the Wheat and Weeds - that one day there will be a final harvest, but until that time we are to live out our lives amidst the good and the bad, by seeking to be faithful to God. The parables we read today add an extra dimension to that message.

Consider firstly, The parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast.

Both these parables tell us that if we take on the task of being those who sow good seed into the field of the world the results will be beyond all our expectations. Mustard seeds didn't grow into trees where birds came to live. Yeast worked out of all proportion to size. So it is with faith. You just don't know what is going to result from it.

Mustard seeds could grow in extraordinary cases into plants maybe ten feet tall. But never into huge trees. Jesus is deliberately painting a picture to show what unpredictable results could come from faithful actions. The image of the tree was one, in other parts of the bible (known to the first hearers of this parable), that referred to empires and great nations.

One commentator says, "By juxtaposition of the imperial tree image with the lowly mustard seed, Jesus creates a surprising, imagination-stretching and presupposition-questioning, tension". Or to put it another way; ‘When we live by faith, unpredictable stuff can happen in our lives.’

The parable about yeast also has some unexpected twists to it. Elsewhere in the bible when yeast is spoken of it is as a corrupting influence. You may recall Jesus telling the disciples to 'Beware the yeast of the Scribes and Pharisees'. The image here is of faith as something that scandalously undermines the way of the world.

In the face of faithful actions there are often those who will tell us, 'That won't work', 'It'll never happen', 'You must be out of your mind'. Faith scandalously throws their objections overboard. Maybe the prime example of this is the scandal of the cross upon which Jesus died. The Jews were taught that any who died upon the tree was cursed.

The place of the curse became for us the place of salvation. Christ's faithful action brought results far beyond what could be expected. In a similar way, in the parable, the quantity of flour that is leavened is amazing. "Three measures" is about ten gallons, enough to make bread for 100-150 people! Little acts of faith can have astonishing results.

Consider the fund raising drive for Souper Bowl Sunday, which has become an annual part of many churches calendar. It started with a single line in a prayer, "Lord as we watch the Super Bowl football game make us mindful of those who are without even a bowl of soup". The Associate Pastor, Brad Smith, had the idea of asking the youth to stand at the door asking people to make a dollar contribution towards a local hunger project.

The next year they shared the idea with a few other churches and raised $5700. Ten years down the line, this years collection raised nearly $4,000,000. It all started with a prayer and a little faith put into action. That's how it goes in the Kingdom. One of the exciting things is that we can all be in on the action.

The parables of the Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price.

We can make the mistake of thinking that faith is a commodity reserved only for special people, or particular times or situations. Not so. These parables show us that whilst there is no one way to becoming people of faith, there is one thing that is common to all who would be disciples; namely that the Way of Christ is a priceless jewel worth giving up all else for.

In the parable of the Treasure the man finds something unexpected. That's how the message of Jesus catches some of us. Out of the blue. Out of nowhere. We're just going about our daily business and it sneaks up on us and catches us off guard. That’s how it seemed to happen to me.

I wasn’t particular looking for a relationship with Jesus Christ, just sort of stumbled into it. A series of events, some moments of decision, one step back, two steps forward, that’s kind of how my spiritual journey has often been. Never would I have thought it would have led me here, but that’s just what I mean when I speak of faith having unexpected results. Sometimes the treasure just takes us by surprise.

In the parable of pearl the man has been looking for treasure all his life. Reminds me of Bill, a man who for a while used to attend one of my former churches in Caernarfon. He was one of my bible study regulars. Most of his life Bill just drifted. In his later years he bought a boat and decided to see where it could take him.

He always felt he was looking for something. Had never read a Bible so decided he’d get himself one and read through it. It led him to faith in Christ. He told us one time in Bible Study how he’d spent all his life searching and only when he discovered Christ did he even know what he was looking for.

Or think of a scholar like C.S. Lewis. A great intellectual. An Oxford Don. Studied the Classics and Philosophy and a whole host of things. Struggled to understand Christianity and eventually, whilst on a bus, something broke through to him. Spent the rest of His days trying to live out the faith that he at the same time sought and was sought by.

Once you catch it (or it catches you) life can never be the same. If life is the same, then maybe we haven't found it yet. Once we get that vision of the harvest, of the possibility of sowing good seeds amidst a world where good can sometimes seem to be rationed, well, not only will we be aware we are gaining so much, but we will also be prepared to give much.

The parable of the Net and The Householder revealing old and new treasures.

Jesus catches up many of the pictures of the Kingdom He has given with the parable of the Net. That and the verse that follows reinforce the messages that have gone before. Yes, there will surely be a final harvest and yes, at that time God will sort out the good from the bad. So give yourself to the pursuit of the things of Kingdom.

All sorts of people get caught up in the message. It's not for us to say how it will all turn out, just believe that it will turn out good and God will sort out all the right from the wrong - even within our personal lives. Our passage closed with Matthew 13:52 “And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."”

Some see in these words a description of the way Matthew was writing his gospel... that he was the scribe who felt it was his duty to show how Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.. a task that he performs with considerable genius. But I like to think that these words weren’t just meant for scribes and that there is also a message for us.

As disciples of Christ we are those in training for the Kingdom. As we travel along our faith journey we accumulate many experiences. We can build on what we already know and keep awake for seeing what's new. We should learn to treasure the experiences that lay behind us whilst continuing to look for the new things God wants to do in our lives.

My hope for us is that in our lives we will discover mustard seed treasures; find many opportunities to be sowers of seeds of faith in the sometimes harsh field of the world. The Kingdom of God will grow in sometimes unexpected ways. Yet until the final harvest it will never be seen in all its glory.

It was nearly 2000 years ago that Jesus came with an awe inspiring message of love; healed the broken, set free the captive, loved the unlovable. For such scandalous disturbing of the status quo those with power had him murdered through the most torturous of all deaths, crucifixion on the Cross. At the time even those who called themselves disciples fled in fear.

Some stood by as he prayed, “Father Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Some heard him offer a repentant criminal a home in paradise. A centurion stood by, and after seeing all the events unfold around him could only conclude, “Truly this man was the son of God”

They thought that was the end of it until three days later mysterious events around an empty tomb and visible tangible encounters with his disciples confirmed that Christ had risen indeed! Those disciples were transformed from defeat to hope. After witnessing His ascension they assembled in Jerusalem and were baptized with Holy Ghost power that commissioned them to go and make disciples of others in Jesus name.

So the Kingdom has grown. Sometimes imperceptibly. Sometimes gained, then lost ground. Never identified with one nation, or one person, other than the person of Jesus Christ. In today’s changing world, still people are saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ - He is the Way and Truth and Life”

I’m one of those people. And the story is not yet over. I do not expect His disciples to conquer the world. Wheat and Weeds will grow together. But I do believe that faith in Christ is causing wonderful treasures to be unearthed in the hearts and souls of those who believe.

There will be one day a final harvest, but for now, I’m content to do those things I sense Christ is calling me to.

I pray that you will be content to do the same.
For such is the nature of Kingdom faith.
Such is the Kingdom faith that connects us to the past,
And has us looking to the future in glorious hope.
Such is the nature of mustard seed treasures.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Prayer - “Mustard Seed Treasures”

Lord we thank You for the different images of Your Kingdom that You offer to us through stories and parables. The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast teach us that as we put our faith in You it can have results beyond our wildest expectations. The parables of the Treasure and Pearl point us to faith as being a priceless value to build into our lives. Through the parables of the Net and the Householder we are invited to be consistent in our pursuit of Your Kingdom, and to trust that at the last all things will be well.

These are important lessons to learn, Lord. For we know of those who are passing through the kinds of hard times that only faith can get them through. We indeed offer our prayerful support towards those traveling through sickness, recovering from operations, dealing with bereavement and needing Your healing touch.

We seek Your blessing on those who have unspoken prayers that rest heavy on their hearts, those seeking some particular word of guidance or direction and those trying to discern how, in the complexity of life, faith can help them through.

For those in positions of leadership, in the church, in the nation, throughout the world, particularly the many places of conflict and crisis in the midst of these days of pandemic, we ask that the size of their task will not result in disillusionment but that they may be faithful to values of Your Kingdom, knowing that at the last such faith will find a reward.

We recall those serving overseas, both in service of their country and those in service of the church. We are aware that we live in a world of stark contrasts, between lands of plenty and lands of poverty, places of peace and those of violence, between those who are treated as privileged and those subjected to injustice.

While we know there are no simple solution,s we dare to believe that mustard seeds of faith bring forth spiritual renewal, and that You are the God who can bring about change in the bleakest of situations.

We thank You for the Cross of Jesus Christ that is a constant reminder to us that You are not distant from suffering but choose to identify Yourself with all that would cheapen and destroy life. We praise You for the light of Victory that blazes forth from the empty tomb and seek that Your Holy Spirit may empower our lives for Your service.

All these prayers we make in Jesus name who has taught us as disciples to pray…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Wheat or Weed?

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, 23-2,
Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 19 2020

Light - Darkness
Hope - Despair
Faith - Unbelief
Good - Evil
God - Devil
Beauty - Ugliness
Commitment - Apathy
Truth - Lies

All these things, mixed together, are forces that shape our world, shape our beliefs and shape our lives. Wouldn't it be great if we could throw out all the negatives and only have the positives?

There were those who, when Jesus came along and people started saying, 'This is it, He's the Messiah, God with us', thought that's exactly what Jesus would do - get rid of the bad and make the world a place filled only with the good things and the good people with good intentions.

In particular they identified the bad and evil side of life with the occupying, godless, Gentile, Romans who controlled their homelands. Surely God knew what sort of people they were and surely it was time they got what was coming to them. Jesus would raise up a mighty army of the righteous to drive them out of the land and restore to the throne a King like David, ruler of Israel and champion of the World; Jesus, the Mighty warrior King, who took no prisoners and wiped the scum off the face of the earth.

Now don't think that this idea of Jesus being some great political King of all Creation is confined to a few misguided individuals a couple thousand years ago in Jerusalem. Throughout the churches history there have been numerous groups, even nations, who saw the Kingdom of God in terms of earthly domination and political power.

Around 312 AD Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the State religion of the empire and intended to force it on the whole world. With Jesus on his side how could he lose? I dare say a policy of “Be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or I'll beat your brains out” may create nominal church members, but it doesn't make for genuine disciples! 'Conquer the world for Christ and Constantine' proved a rousing battle cry - but ultimately the Roman Empire crumbled in the dust.

In the Middle Ages the Crusaders waged war against the infidels in an attempt to wipe the Christ-Killers and Christ-Cursers from the planet and reclaim the Holy Land for God's holy ones. Instead their empires collapsed and the Holy Lands remain claimed by opposing religious and political groups as their rightful home.

When any nation sets itself up as the being the one most likely to usher in the reign of God, you can be sure of one thing. Trouble. Both in the world and in the nation. The Kingdom of God is not meant to be some great nationalistic political force that wipes all out all other kingdoms, eradicates all the negatives by the irresistible force of the positives.

There have been those, who in the belief that most of the world is so hopelessly tainted by evil that it is beyond being redeemed, have taken a different stand. They have interpreted the command to "Be in the world but not of the world" by seeking to withdraw from the world altogether.

They were around in Judaism at the time of Jesus earthly ministry. The ‘Essennes’ were a Jewish Sect who led a monastic existence out in the desert. In an attempt to guard their souls from corruption they simply tried to get away from everything and start over again, regulating their lives by strict rules.

The Christian Church has embraced this idea throughout its history. Groups of folk have renounced all earthly pleasures, and withdrawn from the world to pray and study the teachings of Christianity, usually by following the rule of a particular teacher or Reformer. Sometimes their withdrawal from the world has produced great treasures for the world in terms of creativity and spirituality. Some times such communities have indeed been an oasis of holiness within a corrupt church and society. But not always.

Others found that monasticism was not enough of a withdrawal and sought to live a solitary life as hermits or lone pilgrims. But they discovered an uncomfortable truth, a truth that many also discovered in their ordered existence in monastic communities. Withdrawal from the world was no escape!

Light and darkness, hope and despair, faith and unbelief, commitment and apathy, truth and lies; they weren't just aspects of life out there in the wicked world; they were forces that were shaping their own personal worlds, their own internal kingdoms. The prayer "Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” became "Thy Kingdom come in my heart as in the heart of Christ."

This Kingdom business was the problem. Wasn't the coming Kingdom supposed to solve everything? If a person invited Jesus into their hearts wouldn't that mean no more problems, no more struggles, dead to the world, alive to Christ, grace would drive out the devil and godliness would be victorious?

Matthew's gospel talks a lot about the Kingdom. At times Matthew is gloriously ambiguous. Yes, the Kingdom had come in Jesus, but no, it wasn't here yet. Yes, you are citizens of the Kingdom, but no, you won't always live that way. Many Christians feel that tension in their spiritual lives! St Paul writes of how he longs to do the right, but often seemed to do the wrong thing.

Let's remind ourselves of the parable Jesus told us about the Kingdom in today's reading.

Matthew Chapter 13 beginning at verse 24 "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well."

The Servants want to cut the whole thing down, the wheat and the weeds, but Jesus tells them, "Let both of them grow together until the harvest." The harvest, He later explains to the disciples “is the end of the age," a time when collected out of the Kingdom will be "all causes of sin and all evildoers” leaving "the righteous to shine like the sun."

To the Kingdom seekers who wanted Jesus to blow away the opposition and remove from their own lives every taint of darkness, this was not a good news parable. There would be no resounding once and for all victory. There would be no sudden overthrow of the forces of evil. There would continue to be, as Jesus elsewhere says, ‘Wars and rumors of wars,’ they would ‘always have the poor with them’; the final harvest would come, but not yet.

The world today continues to have places of wonder and alleys of cruelty. The families we are born into can bring us great joy, but also great pain. Our churches can be one moment inspiringly courageous and the next moment petty and faithless. In our own lives we have moments of inspirational faith and moments of crashing failure. Good mixes in with bad.

Are we then lost forever in a hopelessly compromised world? Not at all. We are not told to be passive in the face of evil. It is not a divine command that we ignore injustice in the world, or violence in society or evil in the church. The parable is a realistic reminder that those who seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ do not have the ability to get rid of all the weeds and that sometimes trying to do so causes more harm than good.

Are any of you like me in the sense of being botanically challenged? Growing up back in the U.K. my mum had a wonderful garden. However she never encouraged me to help with the weeding. Sometimes what looked like a weed to me turned out to be some prize bloom. I’d pull it out and throw it on the compost.. What I thought was a flower turned out to be the weed, so I left it there. You can imagine my mum's anguished cry as she surveyed a patch of prize weeds blowing in the breeze - “What have you done to my garden!”

In a similar way we are incredibly un-discerning when it comes to the things of God’s Garden, the world. If judgment were left up to us, then a lot of mistakes would be made. I’m glad that at the final harvest it is a righteous, loving, holy God who calls the shots.

If we try and elude the wicked world by withdrawing into our own little shells or even going our own solitary way, we will find that the good and the bad still resonate within us. We can not escape them. But we can decide whether we are going to nurture the wheat or feed the weeds.

To feed the weeds we just have to go our own way and not take the time to care.
To nurture the wheat is to concentrate on those things that build us up in our faith.

Things like worship and supporting our church communities in times of challenge and change. Things like prayer and service and getting to know God’s Word. Things like looking after each other and helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

As to saving the world by systematically eradicating every stronghold of evil... forget it. That’s not what the Kingdom of God is about. There is going to be wheat and there are going to be weeds and we are not always going to even know the difference between them.

120 years ago there were those who predicted that by the 21st Century Christianity would have taken the world, poverty would be eradicated, war at an end and Christ enthroned as King of the nations.

Looking back over the decades... Two World Wars and conflicts from Vietnam to Kosovo, from Afghanistan to Iraq, the many today who will have died through lack or adequate medical care, the millions who go to bed hungry and homeless, the tenacity of racial injustice, and now... a global pandemic. These things testify to the truth of Jesus parable... the wheat and the weeds grow together.

All is not lost. If we can concentrate on doing the good we know, then by the grace of God, the Spirit of God will nurture our lives and we will see good things springing up in all sorts of unexpected places. That’s how it seemed to work for the first disciples. So that’s how it’s meant to work for us.

Nothing stays the same. In a changing world we are called to witness to the love of God that remains constant, unchanging and continues to change the world.

To God be all glory.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

July 19 - “Wheat or Weed”

Lord, I find this parable of the wheat and weeds growing up together to be a challenge. It would be so much easier if you could just swoop down from the sky and sort the good out from the bad in an instant. Such would also not require too much effort on my part. Let the Weeds and Wheat carry on growing together? That places a lot of responsibility upon us to work for those things we know are right.

I’m aware also Lord that this isn’t just a parable that is about the world out there, but that there are also weeds and wheat growing in our own lives. We can at the same time be committed yet be uncommitted, can see it clearly, yet gaze thru a glass darkly.

May such confusion not lead us to futility. On the contrary, Your grace speaks to our need, the strength of Your Spirit grants us discernment, Christ’s death upon the Cross offers to us reconciliation. Help us to do the good we know that we may witness good things springing up in unexpected places. Guide us towards those things that nurture the wheat in us, rather than feed the weeds.

We pray for those from our fellowship who need the ministry of Your people. Those stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those wrestling with the weeds that are choking the life out them. Those beset by illness or struggling with recovery. Those traveling through times of loss or great change.

We offer, in a moment of silence, our joys and concerns.

As we look around at the world we see the truth of the weeds and wheat growing together. Some have riches, other are in poverty, some eat more than they need, others die from lack of food, some live in freedom, others under oppression, some enjoy peace and prosperity, others travel through revolution or war.

So we continue to pray that the Church may be effective in sowing Kingdom values throughout all creation, in being a harbinger for peace and a healer to the nations. All these prayers, along with those we carry in our hearts, we offer in Jesus name as we join together in the prayer He has taught us...

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.”

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Seed's Perspective

Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 14, 2020
Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable of the sower. Ever thought of it from the seeds perspective?

"Little Samantha Seed always had the feeling that there was more to life than hanging out in the Grain Silo. To be a seed was not to be endowed with a whole lot to look forward to, but some did speak of great concepts such as soil, sunshine, spring, summer and even the Sower. There were, of course, those who denied the existence of the Sower. It was generally agreed though that the evolutionary process would result at some time in life a coming of age when they would all have to leave the silo and live out their lives in the soil.

Samantha Seed dared to believe that she wasn't just born to die in the soil. That out of her life could come great things. She wasn't exactly sure why she had been born. She wasn't exactly sure what life may have in store for her. She wasn't even sure anything good could come out of her life. Yet she insisted on believing that somehow, with the sowers help and the nurture of the sunshine, her life in the silo and the soil would result in great things.

Sure enough the time came when it was time to graduate from the silo to the soil. Whilst in that grain silo she had soaked up many influences. Some mocked her belief in the sower and said that it was just a natural process that led them out into the soil, to attribute such a thing to any guiding hand was naive optimism. Some even denied that soil was a fit place to grow. But she dared to believe that she wasn't just born to die in the soil.

It all seemed like a blur. One day they were in the comforting womb of the silo. The next there they were being thrown out into the world and having to make a life for themselves. Maybe there would be 4th of July Grain Silo reunion weekends, maybe they would keep in touch, maybe some of them would get rich and build silo's of their own, maybe some would save the world! No, get real, this was seeds we are talking about. Life for seeds was silo, soil, then so long. Yet, Samantha dared to believe that she wasn't just born to die in the soil.

She had many friends in the silo. Her friend Arthur, (some suggested he was so named because he only had half the intelligence of other seeds), spoke of how he was going to make a name for himself by getting out of the soil and into new things that he described as the path. He was solid in his conviction that the only way to make something of himself was to rebuke and dismiss all that soil and sower nonsense and stand up for himself. He was a self made seed with himself in mind.

After graduation from the silo he did indeed travel a path of his own choosing. Samantha's conviction that the Sower and the sunshine could make good things come out of the soil went over his head. "Don't restrict my life with that mumbo-jumbo" he once told her. "I'm free, to be what I want, to do what I want".

What Arthur tragically underestimated was the forces of evil out there. He thought he was strong enough to resist all the dark things that come swooping down. One moment he was there, arrogantly shaking a fist at the soil and the Sower from more enlightened position of the particular path he had chosen. The next, dark forces from out of beyond consumed him, gobbled him up, took him away.. and he was no more.

Samantha's friend, Annie, wasn't quite as extreme in her views as Arthur. She liked the comfort of the silo. She enjoyed the richness of the soil. But she was aware that there were other things out there in the soil than just the earth. There were stones. Sometimes she claimed to share Samantha's belief that she wasn't just born to die in the soil. Yet so often her actions betrayed her words.

As her roots began to grow (a process that happened to all seeds as they grew) it was obvious to most people (except maybe Annie herself) that some of the things she was rooting herself in would not hold her fast when the storms came. Out in the field of life there were two experiences that affected everything on the earth.... sunshine and storm.

Sunshine came along every day with varied amounts of concentration. Sunshine was a good, nurturing, growth producing experience. Storms came less frequently but often with greater intensity. It was attributed to the teaching of the Sower that in order to survive the storms, you had to make the most of the sunshine, stay rooted in the soil and avoid attachment to the stones.

Annie attached herself too much to the stones. When the storms came, Annie couldn't stand it. She never understood that there was a difference between being free and being rootless, that there was a difference between following and drifting. Poor Annie. When the storms came that was the end of Annie.

Then there was Graham. Graham did well in the Silo. He did well in the soil. Graham’s problem was simply that whilst he sincerely believed along with Samantha that he wasn't just born to die in the soil, he was never satisfied with what he had. Graham always wanted something more. In many ways he was a worrier. Always worried that by just nurturing himself with belief in the sower and the warmth of the sunshine that there were big things in life he was missing out on.

He wanted all the soil could give him but so much more. In trying to gain that 'so much more' he lost his soul. Graham worried that maybe the Sower couldn't deliver what He was said to have promised. It was all very well telling seeds to put down their roots, enjoy the sunshine and believe that one day they would produce great things out of their lives, but he could not whole heartedly commit to that.

He knew that out there, beyond the soil, were things he never dreamed of. Tragically he never discovered the difference between weeds and flowers. In his life he made friends not only with things of beauty, but things that would destroy. When springing time came along, the time that he was meant to shine in all his glory, the weeds he had welcomed into his soul strangled the life out of him.

Did I neglect to mention' Springing time'. Only Samantha and Graham even made it through life to springing time. Spring time was just about the most exciting time in a seeds life. A great transformation came over them. They had gone out of the silo and into the soil. They had put down their roots and were nurtured by the sunshine. Then as Spring Time came around they came out for all the world to see.

Samantha was right. Her destiny was not just to be born in the soil and die. The Sower had a purpose for her existence. Life was not some bizarre accident. It had been so hard for her at times to believe. Like Arthur she had many times contemplated taking a different path. Like Annie she had been tempted to root herself in many different things. Like Graham she had been worried that her beliefs may turn out to be empty and shallow. Yet she had gently but steadfastly resisted the temptation to embrace those things that one day could cause her to choke.

When Summertime came, Samantha, along with many others held her head high, rocked to and fro in the cooling breeze, enjoyed the kiss of the sunlight and the proud smile of the Sower. Within her being she cherished the thought that out of her life would come fresh seeds.. maybe tenfold, maybe twentyfold, maybe a hundredfold, the possibilities were awe inspiring! Little Samantha Seed had been right to believe that she wasn't just born to die in the soil. Life held so much more. 'Maybe' she mused ' All the world could learn something by seeing things from the seeds perspective".

And so ends our seed story!

When Jesus told the parable of the sower He was addressing people who had their doubts about the reality of the things of the Kingdom. It is no different today. The nearness of the things of this world blinds us and deafens us to the message that ultimately God's will and God's way will be victorious over all other things. The parable tells us that there will be a final harvest of monumental proportions.

In the light of what is to come, we are asked to make a choice. Choose who you will believe. Choose to listen or reject the Word of God. Choose to root your life in the passing things of this material world or the eternal realities of the Eternal Word. Choose to spend your days worrying or embrace the living way of loving service that Jesus spreads before us; the pursuit of which He promises will not be easy, but will bring great joy and fulfilment to our lives.

Samantha Seed dared to believe that she wasn't just born to die in the soil. Sadly there are too many whose belief amounts to a lot less than that of Samantha Seed. They either have not understood or do not wish to hear the Call of Christ to live a life of commitment and threaten to steal away our souls. A day of harvest is coming.
Let us be ready.

Prayer/Lord's Prayer

Lord, we know ourselves well enough to understand that the seed of Your Word has received a varied response in our lives. Sometimes it’s gone in one ear and straight out the other. Other times we’ve taken on Your way for a while, but then other concerns have taken over and we are back to square one. Other times it has taken root, only to become strangled by cares and concerns that overwhelm us.

We are thankful for those all to rare occasions when we’ve actually taken on board the things Your Spirit has tried to plant in our lives and realize that such have been the moments our lives have been the most spiritually productive.

Help us then to be nurtured by those disciplines that will enable us to be productive. Taking the time we should in regard to our relationships with You and with each other. Allowing space in our lives that they may to be watered by Your Word and for our hearts to be opened through worship. Placing ourselves in places where the living water of the Holy Spirit can enliven us and cause growth.

We pray for those who find themselves in dry valleys or deserts where the heat of the day makes it hard to find Your Word. Those struggling through illness or recovery. Those who have faced bereavement. Those whose lives are so full of chaos that Your creative work finds it hard to find an entrance.

We offer particular joys and concerns before Your throne of grace.

As we think of the wider world we pray for those called to leadership. We realize that there are those in our world who seek to sow seeds of destruction and violence, so we also pray for all those called to be peacemakers, in the awareness that there are no simple answers or easy solutions, that justice cannot come without struggle.

We pray for Your church, called to be living evidence of Your Kingdom at work in our world. Equip us with the whole armor of God and strengthen us for the task at hand. May our resolve to do Your Will ensure that we continue to shine as Your light in a dark world.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.

Friday, July 3, 2020

“I don’t get it!" (Communion Service)

Reading: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67,Psalm 45:10-17,Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11; 2-24
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD on July 5 2020

Mary Poppins. At one point in this classic Disney children’s movie, Mr Banks is summoned before his aged employers to face dismissal after his children have caused the Banks of London to go into financial crisis by refusing to invest their two pennies worth. (If you haven’t a clue what I’m speaking of, you need to watch the movie!)

Mr Banks is unperturbed. He starts telling them all about the wonderful Mary Poppins, saying supercalifragilisticexpealidocous and declaring his pride in his two wonderful children, Michael and Sarah. Then he tells them a joke about two men he had earlier learnt from Uncle Albert.

The first says to the second, “I knew a man with a wooden leg called Smith”
Really” replies the second man, “What was the name of his other leg?”

The aged board of mangers shake their heads in disgust as Mr Banks is ushered out to go fly a kite with his children. But then old Mr Manager begins to shake and cough and starts to float up to the ceiling in a fit of giggles. The joke has finally got through to him! Finally he got it.

Sometimes it takes us a while to get it. I don’t just mean jokes, but life in general and more particularly, we just don’t get it about God. We just don’t get it about what God is like, who Jesus was, how God’s Spirit can help us, how the church fits in to it all. Oftentimes we have more questions than answers, and we’re not even sure if we are asking the right questions let alone finding the right answers. We don’t get it.

Don’t panic. Lame brains we may be, but we are no more lame brained than the people who shared Jesus’s life during his earthly ministry. We only read part of Matthew 11 this morning but if you look at the chapter as a whole you see a whole bunch of folk who just didn’t get it when it came to Jesus.

Surprisingly the first person pictured as not getting it in this chapter is Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. This is the man who proclaimed Jesus as the herald of the Kingdom, had heard the voice from heaven that proclaimed Him Son of God, had baptized him in the river. But now he was in prison having fallen foul of Herod.

Life does bring to us situations when it is hard to see God’s way. The darkness can cause us not to get it. Undeserved suffering, loss and grief, pain, anxiety and addictions can all can be prisons as real as that which John lay in when it comes to understanding God’s will.

John’s hope was renewed when he understood that his state of imprisonment was not the end of the story. That whilst he was in dire straits, elsewhere tremendous, glorious things were taking place, the reign of God breaking into the hearts and lives of women and men, Gentiles and Jews, rich and poor. Seeing the larger picture and hearing the Word of Christ refocused his vision so that, although outwardly he was a still a prisoner, his soul was like a freebird.

Whilst John had good reason for his doubts, it seems the general public were just plain disenchanted. It didn’t seem to matter how God revealed the presence of love towards them, they were just going to go ahead and complain anyway. Jesus compares them to argumentative children who are falling out of friends over the games they try to play. They didn’t get it.

John the Baptist came along and they said, “Oh, he’s so gloomy and negative. All this repent or be judged stuff will never catch on”. So they don’t listen to him. Jesus comes along and turns water into wine at parties, hangs out with people of dubious character, talks about good news and new life, and they say, “Oh, He’s so positive. It’s not right to be that joyful.”

No matter how the message of God’s Kingdom presented itself to them, they found a way to criticize the messenger and evade the message. They were like children playing wedding music when the others wanted to play funerals, and playing dirges when the others wanted to dance. They just didn’t get it.

This was particularly true of the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, the areas Jesus performed most of his miracles. Did they get it? Not likely. They made Jesus mad. To paraphrase his anger towards Capernaum; “You strutting peacocks, you are going to end up in the abyss of hell! If the people of Sodom had the opportunities God has given to you, their city would still be around. At Judgement day they deserve to get off lightly compared to you, you faithless bunch of no-hopers!”

It is spiritually dangerous to our souls when we neglect to acknowledge the daily miracles of God’s blessing around us. Has there ever been a generation in this nation that has had it so easy? Has there ever been a time when the message of God was so easily available as this current time? Yet it is obvious that opportunity does not breed commitment and heartfelt turning to God. Complacency breeds lukewarm, apathetic Christianity.

Particularly does that apply to those of us who claim religious allegiance. For it was the practitioners of the religion of Jesus day who were the ones who really didn’t get it. The Pharisees and teachers of the law, the Saducees and the priests, the ones who should have had it all together, who should have recognized their God in Christ, but instead crucified Jesus, they didn’t come near to getting it.

In the light of all these people around Him, who were totally misunderstanding His message, who weren’t getting it, how does Jesus react? We’ve seen that He gets a little mad. But then what does He do with that anger? It is transformed into praise and we are given a glimpse of things from God’s perspective.

Jesus offers thanks to God! Talk about Independence Day! Here is an independent action that cuts to the core. When everybody is saying one thing, to hold fast to what is right, that is true freedom, that is true liberty, that is real independence.

It’s always a little strange to be a British guy preaching near Independence Day. Putting that aside, my understanding of the war of Independence, is that it was as much a conflict about loyalties as a conflict between nations, between those Americans who wished to stay loyal to the Crown and those Americans who sought for self determination in government.

I don’t want to get involved in any historical debate here; but simply to say that many situations of conflict we are involved in boil down, somewhere along the line, to the question of loyalty. Who we are loyal to? What we are loyal to? What we are prepared to protect and what we are prepared to let go?

A table laid with bread and wine is a sign of God’s loyalty to us. These symbols point us to the depths Jesus was prepared to go to that we may know the free reign of God’s love in our hearts and lives. These symbols call us to live independent of the forces that would cheapen life and drag us down to a merely animal existence.

And this freedom, this love is available to all. For this, Jesus gives thanks. "I praise thee, Father.. Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes." Do we get it? The love of God is not limited to those who can grasp it intellectually; those who can by their own efforts make the grade. It’s the opposite. It’s the unpretentious, the little ones, the needy ones whom God sets free.

Matthew chapter 11 closes with an invitation from the One who is Himself meek and lowly in heart, an invitation to all who know themselves burdened and in need of salvation, an invitation to learn and become Jesus disciples.

Do you know what the best thing we can do right now is? Bring our broken lives to God. Come to the table of bread and wine in simple faith that here is a meeting place with the wounded healer. It doesn't matter if we don't always get it. It doesn't matter if we don't always understand. All God wants is that we seek for His way to be seen in our lives; because then God can pour out blessing upon blessing towards us.

God knows that we are yoked to many things. There are forces that pull us in all sorts of directions. Our calling is not to be yoked to anything other than Jesus Christ. With His presence alongside us we find rest and peace. He helps us carry the load. He sets us free.

Do you get it? Well, if not, we’re in the right place to find it. Maybe we will always have more questions than answers, but that should not prevent us throwing our lives on the mercy of God and seeking to do those things we know are right.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D