Psalm 28To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
Do not be deaf to my loud cry.
I’ll be like those gone down to death,
If you are silent in reply.
Receive my plea for mercy, LORD,
As now I call to you for grace,
As I lift up my hands in prayer
And look to your Most Holy Place.
O drag me not away with those
Who practise wickedness and sin,
Who kindly to their neighbours speak
But harbour malice deep within.
Repay them for their evil deeds
And for their acts of wickedness;
Bring back on them what they deserve
And punish their unrighteousness.
Because the LORD’s works they despise
And treat his actions with disdain,
In justice he will tear them down
And never build them up again.
Praise to the LORD, for he has heard
The plea for mercy which I made.
He is my strength, he is my shield;
I trust in him who sends me aid.
My heart uplifted leaps for joy;
My thanks to him I gladly sing.
The LORD God is his people’s strength,
A saving fortress for his king.
LORD, save your people, your own flock;
Be pleased your heritage to bless.
Be their good shepherd; carry them
For ever in your faithfulness.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the lovely tune Walton here. Reflection Nowadays places of peace and reconciliation are sought by people seeking to heal the wounds of history, to learn to live with difference and to build a culture of peace.
During my recent sabbatical I spent time in churches and communities learning about peace and reconciliation in this country and in Germany. There was also a retreat in the lovely, peaceful Quaker Centre at Woodbrooke. It has beautiful grounds where people can be still and silent. The course was about looking at the Psalms as poetry.
On the stunning timeline at Crookham depicting 500 years of conflict and peace is the question, “What
will you do for peace?”
During this Advent season
help us to read worship texts
and Psalm prayers more reflectively
seeking deeper insights.
Help us to remember those
who are building communities of peace and reconciliation.
In times of stress
may we respond to those
who ask us to give time and energy
with joyful, loving hearts
in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Malachi 3:6-7For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Reflection How many of us would say we have heard of God, and have tried to live a life that would please God, and yet would also say “I don’t know God” – not in a personal sense, as someone present in in our lives. Can we relate to God as our Saviour and ever-present friend? Do we live for God, giving ourselves to the one for whom we owe our lives? These strange couple of verses in the middle of the prophetic word given to Malachi seem to invite us into that relationship, and the way of life that follows.
Malachi has just finished foretelling the coming of God’s messenger, the Lord of the Covenant. The people will have been brought up on the stories of the Covenant and of the Lord who rescued them from slavery, who brought them into the land in which they have been greatly blessed. But it is also about the God who was their Lord of the wilderness, of the time when they had nothing and yet, and yet they remembered how close they were to the Lord, as though He was personally with them through hard times. Ever since, though God rescued them again and again, they have rejected God, rebelled against God, disobeyed God, and shown this by their acts of injustice towards others, and their meanness in their giving to God.
The Lord of the Covenant came to Malachi, “My people, I have not changed – I am still your God, and you are my children. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts”. The Lord of the Covenant came to us, as the human being, Jesus, with the same invitation. This is what I believe God spoke to me, but for us all - “Come back to my Son.” God is waiting for us to return to Jesus . “How do we return?” Know how much God loves you, and recognise Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your ever-present friend, and welcome Jesus into your life.
I confess I need to know how much you love me.
I see how much, as I look to Jesus.
I confess I need your forgiveness.
I find your mercy in Jesus.
I confess my life needs a new beginning.
I hear Jesus offering me life in all its fullness.
I confess I need you at the centre of my Life.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
Zechariah 9: 9-13Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow;
I have made Ephraim its arrow.
I will arouse your sons, O Zion,
against your sons, O Greece,
and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Reflection In these times,
when we feel like exiles in a foreign land…
In these times,
as we hanker after an age that felt so much clearer than the confused and uncertain now…
In these times,
the great and glorious past (the days of packed churches, world peace, community as family, children safely playing in the streets…)
calls to us to be made real again in the mess of the present…
In these times, we hear again the words of hope:
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This king of restoration, as we of the Gospel now know, does not victoriously recreate our hoped-for past of exaggerated memory. This donkey-riding king, breaks into our lives this Advent, in this time and place, to restore us completely.
As I face the reality of personal ill health, my hope is limited and imperfect – broken by experience of the human lot.
But the Christ of cradle, humanity, cross and glory, restores us to the life we cannot see or imagine: the place of wholeness, justice, humility and peace - the kingdom out of reach.
In these times,
the Christ-child reaches out as the Spirit blowing through the now;
calling us, calling me to live in hope, because His radical kingdom already is!
In these times,
hope is not dead, not even when streets are crowded with Nazis flags and ‘Britain First’ leaflets, not even when terror still strikes, or when missiles fly in provocation.
The hope that the human mind struggles to see, clouded by false memories and the hard reality of life, is ready to reach out and restore us again and again and again…
So, face this day with a spring in your step and a smile on your face,
for Lo, your king comes to you
and fills you with boundless, extravagant, unexpected hope!
You come to us again,
riding into our hearts with humility.
Release us from misleading memories,
Restore us beyond our narrow hope,
Replenish our reserves
and help us to rejoice;
to dance and shout in joy
that in these times, your Kingdom will come
on Earth as in heaven.
Haggai 1:1-8In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house. Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord. Reflection Could there be a more appropriate text as we find ourselves in the middle of Advent?
It’s not time to rebuild the Temple because we are too busy looking after ourselves.
The people have returned from exile, an exile they found themselves in because they strayed so far from the way they were supposed to live. Now they are back it doesn’t seem as though they have learned anything. Their priority is still themselves, their comfort, their plenty, their greed. They are looking for significance, for belonging, for meaning and they are looking in all the wrong places…
It is time to refocus. Time to rebuild what is truly important. Time to put God first.
Remind us that you are always first.
That you alone are our priority.
That this Advent we prepare for the rebuilding of your Temple.
A temple of flesh and blood,
skin and bone.
A temple in the shape of a child.
God, remind us to always focus on you.
it has accepted no correction.
It has not trusted in the Lord;
it has not drawn near to its God. Reflection The Book of Zephaniah is all about judgement and deliverance, but chapter three, the context of our verse for today, concentrates on the former, revealing precious little hope of deliverance for Jerusalem.
‘Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled’ (3:1) because: ‘She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord. She does not draw near to her God’ (3:2) Not for the first or last time, the Lord says, Jerusalem was going to have trouble with her surrounding nations. The Ammonites, Moabites and others will do their worst and receive judgement for it. But the main problem God has with Jerusalem, is its own behaviour, its sin of omission. The Lord has concluded Jerusalem obeys no one, accepts no correction, does not trust in the Lord and does not draw near to God’ Not a glowing reference. No wonder judgement and trouble are ahead.
As we reflect on this prophetic word of warning for Jerusalem, it’s easy to believe that’s ‘so yesterday’ forgetting God may have a prophetic word for us today too.
Whilst we all love the assurances of deliverance: ‘The Lord God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He takes great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing’ (3:18)
We must also consider have we been obedient to God? Accepted his word of correction? Have we trusted him for all things in our lives? Let’s draw near to him in repentance and confession, so we in due time may know the assurance of his forgiveness and deliverance.
PrayerLord thank you for your Word,
that is alive and active,
sharper than a double edged sword.
Lord please speak your prophetic Word into my life;
show me where I need correction.
Help me to trust in you,
draw close to you
and offer you worship,
worthy of your name. Amen
Habakkuk 1:2-4, 3:17-19The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights. Reflection Little is known about Habakkuk other than he was called to prophecy in the run up to the Babylonian invasion and was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah. As such the stark drama of the first two stanzas make sense. The impending invasion and Exile wasn’t seen by the religious folk of the day as a result of poor foreign policy or failed international diplomacy but as a direct result of not living by the Covenant. Judah bought the disaster on herself by forgetting her relationship with God despite, as the second stanza makes clear, God charging prophets with the ghastly ministry of reminding them. The third stanza, however, contains hope. In an agricultural society there could be little worse than the type of crop failure symbolised by the failure of fig, grape, olive crops and starving livestock. In the face of that disaster - famine - Habakkuk stubbornly refuses to despair and his faith in God is undimmed. Like Jeremiah he would have given a hope - albeit a far off one - to those who believed in God as the armies of Babylon approached.
In our day we tend not to see God at work in international politics and find hope difficult when presidents conduct diplomacy in fewer than 140 characters and seek to prove machismo by increasing nuclear arsenals. Hope is hard when 20 million are displaced for fear of their lives and when rich countries build walls instead of bridges. It is hard to hope as countries retreat into narrow nationalism ignoring the links that bind us together as a human family.
Yet in Advent we must proclaim hope - the stubborn hope of Habakkuk - that things will change. We pray “thy kingdom come” yet dare we believe that the Coming King will turn things around? Dare we believe that Jesus will, finally, turn our weapons into welcoming signs and, as his mother - another audacious believer - sang fill the hungry with good things and turn the rich, empty, away?
turn our world around,
bring judgement to the rich who oppress,
admonish leaders who,
often in your name,
make your people suffer,
and teach us, day by day,
to pray, work and hope for your Kingdom.
Come Lord Jesus!
Nahum 2:13 - 3:4Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.
Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Reflection Living in central London often feels like a strangely absurd and irrational experience. I would argue that London is the greatest city in the history of the world. On its best days, London foreshadows many of the realities of the New Jerusalem — a city where the nations live side-by-side in unity and reflect the glory of God. On most days, well — shall we say that it perhaps resembles Nineveh to the prophet Nahum.
We often feel profoundly uncomfortable as we read the Old Testament prophets. Many even try to dismiss them by suggesting perhaps that they were writing out of their feelings and not out of God’s inspiration, they were simply reflecting their cultural perspectives and not God’s inspiration, or sometimes even suggesting that it was God who changed with the coming of Jesus. We’re uncomfortable because some of the sentiments expressed by these prophets seem at first inconsistent with the love of God as revealed in the cross of Christ.
Looking more deeply, we discover that not only are such sentiments not antithetical to love they are also essential to love. Genuine love abhors that which undermines, opposes and inhibits love — both its expression and its reception. In prophets such as Nahum, we discover those things that hinder the full expression and experience of God’s love in our cities and communities, things which God himself vehemently opposes. Once we see these things from God’s perspective and the effect they have on experiencing God’s love, we cannot help but oppose these things ourselves.
So what does God see in Nineveh that leads God to express God’s anger so strongly?
God sees a city full of “lies and plunder”, a place where people use dishonesty and greed to take advantage of others for their own benefit. In such a city, people use dishonest weights and measures so that people might gain an advantage over others, enriching themselves by impoverishing others. The economic system becomes profoundly unfair, preventing normal people from providing for themselves and their families.
God also sees a city full of violence. In the case of Nineveh, such violence seems to be primarily physical. While our cities experience such physical violence today, more often “violence” comes in the form of the strong oppressing and suppressing the weak. The “horsemen” represent those who have power and influence and use their power and influence to exploit and trample on other people for their own advantage. People are taken advantage of and victimised. Violence in our cities takes many forms, but God abhors such violence.
Finally, God sees a city full of sexual immorality. On the surface, it all looks charming and attractive. But looking deeper one cannot help but seeing human trafficking, sex slavery and child abuse. One sees people being used selfishly for personal pleasure, without love or genuine concern for their wholeness. In such a city, even whole ethnic groups are betrayed as their women and children become especially vulnerable to abuse. Yet, to most people, this sexual immorality seems appealing, harmless and fun, conducted in privacy.
By revealing his heart and showing us what hinders love, God invites us not only to feel his anger toward that which obstructs love but also to engage in the extension of God’s loving rulership (the kingdom) by working in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to oppose these same things in our cities today. We do so knowing that the cross of Christ has broken the power of all demonic opposition to God’s love and enabled the release of God’s loving justice into our cities.
Prophets like Nahum shatter the illusion that our cities might ever be perfect — New Jerusalems on earth — but they also shatter the illusion that we are helpless victims of what happens in our cities. Nahum reminds us that God not only opposes that which hinders love but is taking action against it. By God’s grace, in the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians can oppose everything that hinders God’s love and see our cities become more like the New Jerusalem and less like Nineveh, confident that this will benefit all people living in our cities.
PrayerAlmighty God, help us to love our cities and the people in them fully as you love them. Help us also to abhor that which hinders your love just as you abhor it. We pray for our cities. We pray that they will become places of provision for people and families so they might live in joy. We pray that they will become places of peace and protection, keeping people safe from violence in all forms. We pray that they will become places of purity and wholeness, where women and children are treated with grace and dignity. By your Holy Spirit, help us to work for the advancement of your loving rulership throughout our cities so that they reflect your will for humanity and become places of your grace. We pray that the people throughout our cities would come to know your grace and love through a living relationship with your Son, Jesus Christ, who is the real hope for our cities. In his name we pray, Amen.
Psalm 27The LORD’s my saviour and my light—
who will make me dismayed?
The LORD’s the stronghold of my life—
why should I be afraid?
When evildoers threaten me
to take my life away,
My adversaries and my foes
will stumble in that day.
Although an army hems me in,
my heart will feel no dread;
Though war against me should arise,
I will lift up my head.
One thing I’ll plead before the LORD,
and this I’ll seek always:
That I may come within God’s house
and dwell there all my days—
That on the beauty of the LORD
I constantly may gaze,
And in his house may seek to know
direction in his ways.
For in his dwelling he will keep
me safe in troubled days;
Within his tent he’ll shelter me,
and on a rock me raise.
My head will then be lifted high
above my enemies;
And in his tent I’ll sacrifice
with shouts of joy and praise.
LORD, hear me when I call to you;
be merciful and speak!
“Come, seek my face!” you told my heart;
your face, LORD, I will seek.
O do not hide your face from me,
and do not turn aside
Your servant in your righteous wrath,
for you have been my guide.
O God my Saviour, leave me not;
do not reject my plea.
My parents may forsake me, LORD,
but you will welcome me.
Teach me, O LORD, how I should live,
and lead me in your way;
Make straight my path, because my foes
oppress me every day.
Give me not over to the will
of vehement enemies;
For liars rise to slander me
and breathe out cruelties.
Yet I am sure that in this life
God’s goodness I will see.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, take heart.
For him wait patiently.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Resignation here or to the tune Contemplation here. Reflection Advent is a time of waiting. A time of waiting with longing. A time of waiting with anticipation. A children's song, sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” illustrates this characteristic in the season of Advent:
Not quite time to celebrate.
Our Psalm today acknowledges that in our lives we often have to wait and live through difficult times. The passage highlights that the Psalmist, David, is living through some incredibly challenging times. It is thought that the Psalm was crafted during a period when David was on the run from King Saul who wanted to kill him. David was being pursued and oppressed.
We often spend periods in our life waiting. The student waits for exam results. The newly engaged couple wait for their wedding day. The young woman waits for medical test results. The older man waits for the outcome of an interview. Waiting is anticipating. Waiting is challenging.
Henri Nouwen spoke of a waiting person this way. “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
The Psalmist encourages us that when we find ourselves living through a challenging situation - we are able to reveal to God all the things that we are waiting for, all the things we are longing for, all the things we are anticipating. And in our waiting, God will meet us there. In our waiting, God is present. A God of faith, hope and love.
in times of difficulty and challenge
may we recognise
your life-giving presence
offering us faith, hope and love.
In Emmanuel’s name, we pray.
Micah 6:6-8:“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before the Lord with burnt offerings
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,.
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Reflection Micah is often listed among the minor prophets. It’s time to give him a promotion. This little gem from Chapter six raises him immediately to the top of the podium. It is hard to find a more succinct summary of the meaning of the journey of faith than this. Micah cuts through the trivia of religious dogma and cultic ritual with gentle dynamic power.
First he asks the most basic human question: “OK. How do I put a smile on God’s face?” And the answer?. “OK. human traveller. First stop trying to make it up to God. You can’t merit God’s smile. You can never bring enough gifts and offerings to God in order to merit his favour. Certainly the practice of child-sacrifice is the last thing God wants from you. You need to stop and think. Let God be God. Now, get this into your head. God is already smiling in your direction. All you have to do is get on with God’s agenda not yours.
His agenda is threefold:
First, because God is a God of justice, start rooting out injustice in the world where you live. Take the side of the marginalised and wounded ones. Challenge prejudice. Reach out to the stranger. That is the first thing God wants you to do.
Second, fall in love with love. God is a generous grace-filled loving God so allow your life to be wrapped in steadfast love. The Hebrew word here translated “kindness” is a bit weak. “Chesed” in Hebrew embraces the richness of God’s covenant love. God is totally committed to love us, and that is the quality of love we are asked to embrace.
Third, start a journey of joy. Walk gently and humbly with God as your companion. Keep it simple. Treat God as a close friend not a distant dictator. Remember that worship is not a ritual to get through but a relationship of warmth and thankfulness. It is not duty, but delight. And it is not static or rooted in one place. It involves “walking.” Expect to go somewhere new! Expect God’s surprises. Step out into December.
Thank you, Micah. Not a bad message for Advent from a country boy!
remind us once more
of the essentials of faith:
generosity of spirit,
sincerity in devotion,
wonder at the gift of life.
As Advent times open up
in dark December days,
prepare our hearts and lives
for new beginnings,
Then may the message of prophets
and the words of song writers
be fulfilled in us as we seek
to act justly
to delight in generous love,
and to travel with you
as our pilgrim friend. Amen,
Jonah 4:10-11When God said to him,
“What right do you have to be angry about the plant?”
“I have every right to be angry—angry enough to die!”
The Lord said to him,
“This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn't do anything for it and you didn't make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!” Reflection Stories have a heart and a point, and so it is with Jonah. The heart is a quiet, mournful song, the prophet’s grateful prayer that he did not die when sinking in the sea. It is almost a shame that the narrator interrupts to tell us that at God’s command prophet is vomited onto the seashore.
The point is treated just as abruptly. Jonah is furious about the death of a plant and complains to God about its death. Oh hard-hearted Jonah, you sat under that plant waiting for a catastrophe to kill thousands. Should you not care more about people than plant life? The book ends at this impasse, and we never find out whether he answered back, walked off sulking, or had a deep and lasting change of heart. How often do we change our minds in the middle of a confrontation?
We know our own struggles and our family's worries inside out. We share the worry of imminent redundancy, or life changed after a stroke; the high feelings around a divorce in the family, the impact of stress on a body and a family. Sometimes, as we find our way through troubles we are moved to a new understanding of ourselves and God which can grow our faith. Yet the softening of Jonah's heart to his own troubles does not softened his heart towards those he has previously despised. He fails to make the connection between knowing “how precious life is to me” and “how precious life is”.
If our task as followers of Jesus is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, perhaps we can take those moments in which we understand ourselves better and ask God to help us to use them to understand other people better too. To deepen our empathy, to recognise our common life, and desire good for one another.
I live the moments in which I know
that I depend utterly on you,
and more often
I remember them with gratitude.
Through your Holy Spirit,
let these moments
soften my heart to others,
and move me to action.
In Jesus's name. Amen.
Obadiah 1: 15-18For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been.
But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken. Reflection We hear a lot these days about late justice. Fraud, abuse, domestic violence, war crimes, ethnic cleansing – the perpetrators may get away with it for a while, but they are never really safe. Memories, clues, witnesses and records cannot be counted on to go away, and the slow, steady pace of justice catches up in the end. Hold this thought for a moment.
Now add in the motif of bad neighbours, of peoples and communities who know each other so well that all love has been lost. Judah and Edom, as the case in point. Shepherds and farmers of the Holy Land hill-country, and mountain people across the Jordan valley, whose high and rugged territory is visible on a clear day. You can see but never touch. So near yet so far. Out of reach, of good social contact, and perhaps even of justice too.
Put those two themes together, and you have Obadiah. The bad neighbour is Edom (a.k.a the children of Esau). And late justice comes from God. For Edom had treated Judah wretchedly, laughed at her misfortune, taken advantage of her suffering, and lived through the generations as a neighbour but rarely as a friend. Yet God would catch up with the situation. Edom would not freewheel for ever on the momentum of old contempt. Judah, victim and punch-bag as she had so often been, would rise in glory, triumph over her oppressor and be gathered in the love of God.
Which is where our text comes in. It’s the word of hope at the end of Obadiah. This smallest of Old Testament prophecies speaks for the victim. It turns bad history into renewing justice, and wretchedness into reckoning. It believes in a God who never gives up.
Justice – reaching out across the years, grounded in heaven, making a difference on earth. That’s Obadiah’s message. Take the victim seriously, it says. Take God seriously too.
PrayerGod of justice and judgment,
of care and commitment,
of memory and mercy,
teach us to listen to the victim
and hear the voiceless,
to know when to remember
and what to forget,
to understand how to support
and where to give space,
to speak rightly about justice
and truly about Jesus,
who speaks your judgment
and brings your mercy. Amen.
Amos 1:1-15:The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Judgment on Israel’s Neighbors
And he said:
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds wither,
and the top of Carmel dries up.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Damascus,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have threshed Gilead
with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate bars of Damascus,
and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and the one who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir,
says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Gaza,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they carried into exile entire communities,
to hand them over to Edom.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza,
fire that shall devour its strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,
says the Lord God.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Tyre,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they delivered entire communities over to Edom,
and did not remember the covenant of kinship.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre,
fire that shall devour its strongholds.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Edom,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast off all pity;
he maintained his anger perpetually,
and kept his wrath[g] forever.
So I will send a fire on Teman,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead
in order to enlarge their territory.
So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah,
fire that shall devour its strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
with a storm on the day of the whirlwind;
then their king shall go into exile,
he and his officials together, says the Lord. Reflection Amos comes with a message which reverberates from his days - around 755 BC - till now. The date can be fixed because there is archeological evidence in Galilee of an earthquake from Amos’ time. The stunning nature of Amos’ calling and the explosive force of God’s message through him are like the reverberating roar of a lion.
Amos’ background is that of being a tough keeper of sheep and sycamore trees in Tekoa, a small town about six miles north of Jerusalem. He comes from the southern kingdom (normally called Judah) and prophecies to the northern kingdom (normally called Israel). The reason why this is important and why Amos is an unusual prophet is that he prophesies outside his home country. He crosses borders! Amos is the only one of the written prophets to have done this; all the others prophecy to their compatriots.
“The Lord roars from Zion”. Amos utters what he sees like a lion’s sudden roar. In the prophetic judgment speeches Amos talks about the different people, not to them. He criticizes both Israel’s neighbouring nations and then follows with judgments against Judah and Israel. Amos listens and then delivers difficult messages.
Pilgrims today come back from Israel/Palestine with challenging messages. Visiting Embrace the Middle East projects we were asked to do 4 things –to say thank you for coming, to tell stories, to pray for the projects and to encourage others to visit.
we give thanks for Amos
and for all people of faith
who had the courage to travel beyond their home territory
to deliver disturbing and difficult messages.
May we be still during this season of Advent
and listen as today’s prophets
challenge us to go beyond comfort zones
and to walk forward.
Joel 2:28-32Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. Reflection Whether the plague of locusts that form the storyline of the prophecy of Joel are symbolic or actual does not matter. What matters is that in times of communal or individual crisis we deepen our connection to God and orientate ourselves towards hope. The human experience encompasses tragedy and celebration, sadness and joy, pain and well-being. The challenge that Joel sets us is to choose the positive over the negative. Our 21 st century economic and political systems are predicated on scarcity. We have unconsciously adopted the same limitations in all our relationships while the Biblical injunction is to celebrate generous abundance. The advent journey is the anticipation of a new future, one in which darkness will give way to light and a birth will surprise and delight. We journey from fear to hope. Yes there are challenges and disappointments, life isn’t always fair but change is possible.
The catalyst for change is revealed in the promise of God to ‘pour out my spirit on all flesh’. A key passage in the Pentecost sermon this divine initiative is a startling indicator of a universal embrace.
The barriers of gender, age, slavery and freedom that were normative and almost impenetrable in the Jerusalem society of Joel are swept aside. We are no longer defined by the labels or limits others impose upon us. The gift of God is no longer restricted to the pious, or the religious, to priest or regular attender but even to those who only turn up once a year for the carol service. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ is translated here as ‘spirit’ but elsewhere rendered as ‘wind’. We are to understand that what is promised is power, like a wind that can destroy or move the immovable. Now the truly radical insight of Joel and Pentecost is evident; power will no longer rest with the elite and the privileged but with the many and the ordinary. And isn’t that the lesson of incarnation? The storyline of Advent is the birth of a baby in whom rests the power to change the world and us with it. Given the power how will we use it?
As you have empowered me,
so help me to choose hope over despair.
When life is hard and the way uncertain,
let me feel your strong embrace.
When injustice is denied to others,
give me courage to speak out.
When I doubt my own worth,
remind me that I am yours.
that loved to thresh,
and I spared her fair neck;
but I will make Ephraim break the ground;
Judah must plough;
Jacob must harrow for himself
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
You have plowed wickedness,
you have reaped injustice,
you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your power
and in the multitude of your warriors,
therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people,
and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle
when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
because of your great wickedness.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off. Reflection Even a cursory reading of Hosea – he of the wandering wife and the children with colourful names - may lead you to side with Private Fraser in proclaiming ‘we’re doomed’.
Hosea is very zealous for the Lord and he doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of his times. Iniquity, idolatry, immorality, all arising from dalliances with other religions’ fertility cults and ill - judged alliances with foreign powers. There will be wailing and trembling and desolation.
Hosea diagnoses the root of the problem: Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God of the covenant. Marriage is the vehicle used to illustrate the breakdown of this relationship. Israel is the adulterous partner and under serious judgement, but God will heal and love when / if the nation returns. For this reader, some of the language and threats meted out to the unfaithful one, make for uncomfortable reading. The overall message is believed to be one of healing and loving, but the book contains several of those images of God that we would rather were not in the Bible and one would have to perform exegetical gymnastics to make some verses look good.
We have, however, some light and hope today in agricultural images. Our verses speak of crops and rain and fruitfulness – properties much valued by the cult of Ba’al with whom Israel was flirting. ‘Our God goes further than mere rain and food’ says Hosea. ‘Our God rains righteousness’. Prepare yourself by sowing and breaking up your fallow ground so you may reap steadfast love.
In this Advent time, as we prepare to meet our God, we take heart that even the zealous Hosea, much troubled by sin, was able to understand that at the heart of all creation is a loving, forgiving, faithful God. A God whose righteousness wills the wellbeing of the world, right and loving relationship and the health of creation.
Our God rains righteousness and when his reign is fully established steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness and justice will be the order of the day.
Frère Roger of Taizé says ‘All God can do is love’. Strangely, we often feel more at home with a God of judgement, a God whose love is peppered with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
Maybe Advent will be the time when we will glimpse more of the loving God who comes to us again and again to make a home with us.
whose plans for creation
are healing and wholeness,
may we walk today
in the light of your love,
with gentle eyes and generous hearts,
so that our doings and dealings
may be in full harmony
with what you will for the world.
Daily Devotions in Advent
Dear <<First Name>>
The Daily Devotions from the URC are now a year old! Building on an initiative of the North Western and Northern Synods (itself building on an programme in one of our churches) we have seen the Daily Devotions grow from a subscriber base of 600 to almost 1,700. Hundreds more read them on Facebook, on the URC Devotion Archive site or through local church websites. From tomorrow you can also keep up with the Daily Devotions if you use Twitter. Our identity is @URCDevotions.
Each day our team of writers help us all receive inspiration in our inboxes.
As we enter the Season of Advent we will look at the Major themes of the Minor Prophets. Each day we will look at a key verse from the prophets selected to help unpick their wider message.
We hope this series will help us all as we reflect on the prophetic edge of this season.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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Psalm 26Declare me innocent, O LORD;
I’ve walked in blameless ways,
And I have trusted in the LORD,
not wav’ring all my days.
Test me, O LORD, and try my heart;
my inmost thoughts survey.
Your love surrounds me; from your truth
my feet will never stray.
I do not sit with worthless folk;
I shun the hypocrite.
I hate the wicked’s gatherings;
with them I will not sit.
I wash my hands in innocence,
and blameless is my heart;
I go about your altar, LORD—
the place you set apart.
I’ll tell of all your awesome deeds,
proclaiming loud your praise.
Your glory fills your dwelling-place;
I love your house always.
Sweep not away my soul, O LORD,
with those who hate your way;
Nor take away my life with those
who love to wound and slay.
For their right hands are full of bribes;
they plot iniquity.
But I will lead a blameless life—
in mercy set me free.
My feet will stand with confidence
upon a level place,
And in the people’s gathering
I’ll praise the LORD of grace.
You can hear this sung to the tune Ballerma here Reflection In hillwalking days I tended to prefer the short cut. My route would cut out the drudgery of following the well marked path. The family recall this with no sense of pleasure. One occasion, when out walking by myself, I ventured on to a scree slope - it seemed the quickest way to the top. Half way up I found myself not in control of my feet. Every time I moved, the loose stones above me moved in sympathy burying me up to the ankles. I was having difficulty keeping my balance. I stopped moving. With no way up, and the other option an uncontrolled descent, I simply stood there, rueing my foolishness.
The singer of Psalm 26, though finally anticipating standing upon a level place, does not start the song with an admission of guilt. He has done nothing to deserve his predicament, which seems to involve a life threatening situation (v9). He cries out for justice, directing his plea to the one who is the guarantor of his life – the Lord in whom he has placed his whole trust - whose nature embodies love and truth (v3). He begs for mercy (v9) appealing to the only one who knows his inner desire to serve God to the best of his ability. If the song is a plea for mercy, it is also a complaint.: not a resigned cry, but an act of hope which refuses to accept the way things are. Because of his faith, the singer lays bare his inmost feelings about ‘those who hate your way’(v9) , and refuses to be lumped with those who deserve God’s punishment.
It is easy for us to baulk at such open complaint and assertion of innocence. Few of us have such an unfettered faith in our own blamelessness, so we address God much more cautiously. Even though deep in our hearts we may want to be totally honest with God we hold back from complete frankness (even though we admit God knows us better than we know ourselves). Such is our foolishness, and such is the strength of the psalmist, unhindered by such sophistry.
As for my ‘short cut’, well, by dint of changing the way I climbed (crab wise) , eventually I did reach level ground, and I did thank God.
thank you for the directness and honesty
of the psalmist of old,
who trusted you enough
to complain, and hope
in your love and truth.
May we be courageous in living,
trusting for future days in your Son,
who comes to us as a baby,
our Saviour, friend and brother. Amen
Psalmody and Praise Committee
Free Church of Scotland
15 North Bank Street
John 20: 19-30When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. Reflection In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first of Jesus’ followers to meet the risen Jesus. He sends her back to the disciples with an Ascension message, and the astonishing news of her encounter with her living Lord. Do they believe her? We are not told: but we wouldn’t be surprised if they had their doubts about her testimony, or even sanity.
Jesus’ Easter evening appearance to his disciples is in a room with the door locked ‘for fear of the Jews’ ie the Jewish authorities. This beleaguered company already know that Jesus’ tomb is empty. Do they also fear meeting up with their risen Lord will bring severe recriminations for their desertion? They seem traumatised and uncertain about the future. Mary Magdalene’s news hasn’t radically transformed the disciples’ outlook on life.
In the midst of their discomfort they find Jesus standing amongst them: recognisably the same as he has always been, but bearing the scars of his crucifixion. There are no recriminations, only a confrontation of the best and most reassuring kind. His familiar ‘shalom’ bids them relax and accept his presence is for their benefit. As his disciples gather round him looking at his wounded body, their pent up emotions burst out into unconfined joy. Their relationship with Jesus has been re-established.
But this is not just a social call Jesus is making, no matter how welcome. His second ‘shalom’ to them is a commissioning one. He hands over the torch of his mission to his disciples. Earlier in John’s gospel there have been hints about this: but this is now happening. In his ‘breathing’ on them the Spirit of God who gives life to human beings and all living things (cf Genesis creation passages)., they are given power to bear witness to Jesus by their lives and conduct. The meaning of Jesus’ saying ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ has been, and still is, a subject of debate. How are we to understand this? The context of the saying is the handing over and empowering of the disciples to undertake Jesus’ mission. Since John’s gospel treats ‘sin’ not as a moral category, but as ‘unbelief’, the saying is related to the disciples’ mission of bearing witness, not primarily a power vested in an individual or group. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held on to” Seen in this light the stakes of mission are very high: for the disciples, and us.
We’re not told why Thomas was absent, missing this first Sunday evening encounter with the risen Jesus. We characterise him as “doubting Thomas,” though he asks for nothing more than the others have already received: to see Jesus with his wounds. Our faith is more akin to Thomas’ than we’re usually prepared to admit.
One week later Jesus’ visit provides exactly what Thomas needs, and he responds with the highest confession of anyone in the Gospel. This is not simply a doctrinal confession, but a statement of trust and relationship: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas reminds us of our need for our faith to be personal – creeds and statements of belief have their place, but the presence of Christ in our midst surpasses all of these, and all arguments.
Is Jesus’ response to Thomas a rebuke? It can be read like that - but more positively as blessing on all those who will come to believe without the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with Jesus. Indeed, John goes on to declare that this is the purpose of his gospel, speaking to all of us who have not seen, but have heard his testimony: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.
you come to us in Jesus always,
sometimes when least expected.
When we are tired, frightened of life,
our setbacks overwhelming us,
let us hear your ‘shalom’
as you stand beside us.
May your life in us bring encouragement
fresh hope and joy,
as you journey with us
into our future. Amen
John 20 1: -18Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,
‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her,
‘Woman, why are you weeping?’
She said to them,
‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’
When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,
‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
Jesus said to her,
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her,
‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them,
“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
‘I have seen the Lord’;
and she told them that he had said these things to her. Reflection For some reason, it seems to be unsettling to read through the account of the resurrection of Jesus away from Easter. Like thinking of shepherds and the Magi in summertime, being reminded again of that first Easter morning separate from the sways of springtime flowers seems to create disorientation. But that comes from a resident of the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped, Christmas is accompanied by beach BBQs and sun cream, while Easter comes with the browning leaves of autumn. It all depends on what you’re used to.
Perhaps any unsettling, then, comes because we encounter the account on a cool Friday morning in December – a perspective we’re not used to having on the text – rather than the warmth of Sunday in spring? Or perhaps we’re used to it speaking the mystery of the Resurrection as part of the whole narrative from the Triumphal entry through to the Ascension? Or maybe it unsettles not so much because of the date, but because it can actually speak to us of that mystery? – here it can speak anew where it is laid bare of the distractions of the season.
As Advent looms, maybe we need to be reminded of the mystery, majesty, and glory that the Resurrection encapsulates for Christians. The watching and waiting of the disciples was rewarded by the new life of a resurrected Christ – not just brought back from the dead but transformed by God into one who was unknown to even his most devout followers, yet instantly recognised in the calling of a name. God turned death, decay, and destruction into renewal, revival, and refreshment.
As we turn on Advent Sunday to start a new liturgical year, maybe we can aspire to think of every Sunday as a ‘little Easter Sunday’ – where hearing again the story of the glorious Resurrection of Christ, our Saviour and Lord, doesn’t disorientate but inspires. Perhaps we can become more used to hearing again the account of resurrection and appearance, trusting that through God’s grace, Christ’s presence will be known to us anew – a true renewal in the Church and in our lives.
PrayerSpeak to us anew, Lord;
unsettle us with
the mystery and majesty of your Resurrection,
and help us to hear your voice of renewal
as we seek to be your people,
not disorientated, but focused on your glory.
John 19: 16-42Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read,
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,
“Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”
“What I have written I have written.”
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another,
“Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.”
This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother,
“Woman, here is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Here is your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture),
“I am thirsty.”
A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled,
“None of his bones shall be broken.”
And again another passage of scripture says,
“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. Reflection Our passage for today occurs in the Lectionary on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This means that many of us rarely consider it in depth through preaching; Good Friday services being much more likely to be reflective. John’s Gospel, especially in our passage, gives us particular details for specific reasons. Let’s have a look at some:
“ “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” … written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.”
Not just the ‘charge’ that took Jesus to the cross – but in this gospel a significant truth about him. Written not only in the local language, but in the two main world languages of the day. Therefore, John's Gospel points us to the importance of everyone being given the opportunity to know about Jesus as King in a language they understand.
“They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.”
It seems that mothers may have made and given to their sons seamless garments when they left home; so maybe Mary made this garment for Jesus. However, in Exodus we read that the Priest’s robe was woven with a reinforced neck opening – a seamless robe. Therefore, in John’s Gospel, the seamless garment points to Jesus as priest.
“When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said … “I am thirsty" A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.”
The hyssop points us to Jesus as the Passover Lamb.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus’ crucifixion took place on what we call Friday; the sixth day of the week. In the beginning – God completed the work of creation on the sixth day, and on the seventh/Sabbath He rested. In John’s Gospel “It is finished” points to Jesus completing the work of Salvation on the sixth day; and on the Sabbath – He rested.
“Nicodemus … came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”
This was no ordinary quantity of oils and spices for a burial. This was enough for a royal burial. John’s Gospel again points to Jesus as the King.
At your birth the Magi brought you symbols in gifts :
- gold for kingship;
- frankincense for priesthood and
- myrrh for death.
Help us, in our words and actions,
to proclaim that you are King,
so that everyone can hear in language they can understand.
Thank you that you are our Priest.
Help us to know that we don’t need anyone but you, Jesus, to offer our needs and worship to our Heavenly Father. Thank you that you are our Passover Lamb. Help us to remember that your death completed the work of salvation, setting us free to be your people. A gift for all people, of all times.
King Jesus – thank you.
John 18: 28 - 19:16Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said,
“What accusation do you bring against this man?”
“If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”
The Jews replied,
“We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”
(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
“I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate asked him,
“So you are a king?”
“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him,
“What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,
“I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
They shouted in reply,
“Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them,
“Here is the man!”
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
The Jews answered him,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him,
“Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,
“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews,
“Here is your King!”
They cried out,
“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them,
“Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but the emperor.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. Reflection Members of both the judiciaries that operate England, Wales and Scotland take an oath where they swear to “do right to all manner of people...without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” It’s a very old oath and is at the cornerstone of our judicial system designed to ensure justice is done. The oath represents the very opposite of Pilate’s understanding of his role. Pilate is the epitome of the weak judge who goes with the flow rather than with what is right.
Jesus seems to engage Pilate until the fateful words “what is truth?” after which He is much more curt. The powerless speaks truth to power yet the powerful doesn’t understand, nor care, much for truth let alone right!
In our contemporary Western culture we also have a troubled relationship with truth. Since the Enlightenment we see something as true only if it can be scientifically proved. Of course conceding that ground was bad news for religion where the truths we deal in are the truths of meaning, and myth which guide our lives. Paradoxically, our culture sees many competing ideas as being equally true - your truth is as good as my truth. Despite Pilate’s weakness we may think his question was rather PostModern.
So what do we make of truth? Do we claim to have a higher or better understanding of truth than others? Perhaps the only way to evaluate truth is to think of the Judicial Oath. Does the truth we live by do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will?
you who are:
and the Life;
grant us the will to live by your truth,
and do right to all manner of people,
without fear or favour,
affection or ill will.