Category Archives: Lent

The Synoptic Problem Revisited

Today at our weekly ecumenical Bible study on the following Sunday’s Gospel we were looking at the following passage:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,
    and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

This led me to reflect on the Synoptic Problem.  When I was training the predominant theory (simply put) was that Mark was written first, then Matthew, based on Mark and then Luke based on both.  However, one of my lecturers discussed the theory that Luke preceded Matthew.  This appealed to me as someone who likes things categorised; that Luke told stories and then Matthew rearranged them into more organised blocks.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and

“On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

There were two things that I noticed:

  • Matthew had an extra “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” to the first response.
  • The order of the temptations is different.

Why might this be?

If Matthew wrote first then why would Luke remove the second half of the quote?  If Luke wrote first, then Matthew (as a Jew writing for Jews) might have included the second half of the Old Testament quote as he already knew it, and knew that it would point his readers to a known reference.

Why would Luke change the order of the temptations if Matthew wrote first?  I am sure you may come up with your own answers, but if Luke wrote first Matthew might change them so that they reflect a movement from the personal, to personal aggrandisement to power.

I am far from an expert in these matters, but from time to time I like to think about these things!

Lent – So what now?

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

 

Through fasting, prayer and acts of service
you bring us back to your generous heart.
Through study of your holy word
you open our eyes to your presence in the world
and free our hands to welcome others
into the radiant splendour of your love.
As we prepare to celebrate the Easter feast
with joyful hearts and minds…

I have just finished presiding at the first of our two Ash Wednesday services (the other is 7:30 this evening at St John’s), where these words were said.

The challenge for me, and I guess for all of us who want to follow a “Holy Lent”, is what to do to engage with this.  The problem is that what I need is not the same as what you need, so I can’t just take something off the shelf.  I can, of course, read a Lent book, or follow one of the many daily programmes available (Christian Aid, Tear Fund, 40 Acts, and others), join a Lent Group, take up some additional daily Bible Reading or Prayer, but is that going to:

open my eyes to God’s presence in the world
and free my hands to welcome others
into the radiant splendour of God’s love

As an incumbent I feel as though I have two roles: one as spiritual leader, and one as MD of a small business.  It is all to easy to find myself spending too much time on one, and not enough on the other!  So this Lent, as well as some of the other things I shall be doing I am going to blog every day (except my day off, naturally) as a way of engaging with God in the world.  It won’t be a pious blog, but I hope that in doing this I will engage more with what God is doing, and a little less with my “To Do List”.

I wrote a blog post many years ago, before I was an incumbent, and I am trying to reengage with that kind of ministry.

Yesterday Henri Nouwen’s daily email read:

We  are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our “horror vacui,” our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, “But what if …”

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

This practise is to help move me towards that kind of ministry, and away from the busyness, from “running the business”.

This Lent

Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on 1st March with services of Communion with Ashing at St John’s at 9:30am and 7:30pm.

Lent Groups

There are four Lent Groups running in the Parish.  If you would like to join one, please contact the leader.  This year we will be following the USPG Lent course on Discipleship –

Leader Time Contact
Pamela Friday 3:00 Via the clergy
Maxine Tuesday 7:30 318135
Hannah Thursday 8:00 612414
Craig Thursday 7:30 for 7:45 332595

Locations will be decided to suit the attendees, so lack of a baby sitter need not be a bar.  The first two groups are already nearly full.

Lent Sermons

During Lent, congregational members will talk about how their faith affects their (working) life instead of the sermon.

Fridays in Lent

The Friday service at 12:00 at St Marks will be followed by a Soup lunch and we will have visiting preachers from local Churches.  The schedule is:

Date Preacher Topic
3/3 Michael Hopkins Introducing Discipleship
10/3 John Edwards How shall we live
17/3 Bob Skinner Living with Difference
24/3 Patrick O’Ferrall A world of Injustice
31/3 John Innes Counting the cost
7/4 John Evans Drawing it together!

The topics are the same ones as the Lent Groups, if you would like to know more, information can be found here: http://www.uspg.org.uk/ resources/discipleship/.

Alan

The Devil’s Passion

From the award-winning writer of “Scaramouche Jones” & “The Madness of George Dubya” and the award-winning director of “Morecambe”, “Twelve Angry Men” & “Animal Farm” Passion Pit Theatre presents

THE DEVIL’S PASSION
or Easter in Hell
A divine comedy in one act

Written & performed by Justin Butcher, directed by Guy Masterson designed by Sarah June Mills, with music & sound by Jack C. Arnold

33 AD. Jesus enters Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny. Satan ascends from Hell to stop him. A battle begins  for the soul of humanity.

“A light sandblasting for jaded souls, a gleefully heretical flavour timely, beautifully-written, ingenious, poignant – an impressively versatile performance. Butcher’s writing shines.” (The Huffington Post)

“A serious and seriously fine piece of writing, a terrific performance, a startlingly original presentation  it crackles with great lines.” (The Church Times)

Award-winning playwright Justin Butcher, author of the world-famous “Scaramouche Jones”, starring Pete Postlethwaite and directed by Rupert Goold, the hit anti-war satire “The Madness Of George Dubya” and the controversially acclaimed “Go To Gaza, Drink The Sea”, now turns his pen to the greatest story of all.

By turns comic, gripping, poetic, pungent and heart-stirring, “The Devil’s Passion” offers a radically fresh perspective on the timeless narrative by renowned satirist, playwright and actor Justin Butcher, an audacious hells-eye view of the Passion of Christ from a master storyteller. Directed by Olivier-Award winner Guy Masterson  (“Morecambe”, “Twelve Angry Men”, “Animal Farm”), designed by Sarah June Mills (“Captain Show Off”, “The Women of Troy”, “The Archivists”), with a haunting and evocative new soundscape by Jack C. Arnold (“War And Peace”, “Holy Flying Circus”, “The Woman In Black”).

Wednesday 23rd March at 7.30pm
St Thomas-on-the-Bourne, Farnham
Frensham Road, Farnham GU9 8HA

Duration: 90 mins.

Tickets: £15/£10
Online bookings: http://thedevilspassionstthomasonthebourne.bpt.me
Telephone bookings: 0800 411 8881

Taizé Chants

During Lent, at St George’s and St John’s we will be replacing the second hymn with a Taizé chant. We hope this will give these special services leading up to Easter a meditative feel. Our new hymn books have a number of chants at the back, many are very beautiful.

But what is Taizé? Taizé is an ecumenical community in France. Taizé worship consists of meditative singing and periods of silence in order to reach a contemplative state. They also practice silence with icons, candles, incense and prayer stations. They are attracting young people from around the world.

The brothers explain, “Short chants, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words, the chants express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being.”

 

Good Friday Reflection

I am Christ.

The suffering Christ.

The bleeding Christ.

The Christ in agony.

And you are my followers,
here at the foot of the cross.

What are you feeling?

Helplessness?

Guilt?

Shame?

Anger?

Perhaps you feel sick.

Or numb.

Or cold.

Perhaps you don’t want to be here.

I understand that.

I’m glad you came.

For I am always glad when you seek me,
like that time, Nicodemus when you came in the night
or that time, Mary, when sat at my feet, despite the scorn of your sister.

So many have sought me and some have turned away.

I understand why.

Not many seek me today.

But today I cover you with the compassion of God.

It flows from my wounds.

Compassion

Gentleness

Mercy

Love

Look up, don’t keep your eyes to the ground.

Look up and you will see.

Look beyond the agony and you will find

My compassion

My gentleness

My mercy

My love

These gifts I give to you today as I have every day.

I’m glad that you came.

Do not despair,
for hands that have been wounded are gentler than those that are  whole
and a heart that has been broken is one that will heal others
and blood and water flowing from my side will become a sign of grace.

Do not despair,
for love wins.

I’m glad that you came.

Look into my eyes and open your heart.

Receive my compassion

Receive my gentleness

Receive my mercy

Receive my love

For I will be with you always even to the end of time.

Lent Talk

During Lent, several members of our congregations have been willing to tell their stories of faith during the Sunday morning “sermon slot”. It has been a huge blessing and I have asked whether I can put them here on the blog… This is one who said “yes”.

 

When Alan asked if I would give a little talk in a service during Lent I took a long time to get back to him. When I did and he gave me a Sunday I took a long time to get around to writing anything. The reason for this was partly that my name was at the bottom of the list and so I assumed that my date was a long way off. If I had read the email properly I would have realised the list was in alphabetical order according to our first names and that March 1 was before all the other dates in March, by virtue of being, well, March 1.

But I hesitated for another reason, the same reason that I hesitated in getting back to Alan in the first place. I simply didn’t know what I would say. I don’t have a great conversion story and I don’t have answers to theological questions, though I have plenty of questions. I have questions and I have doubts, lots of doubts. And sharing doubts seems disloyal to the God I am trying to believe in and to other believers.

It wasn’t always the case. As a child I had an unquestioning faith, the sort that meant I was shocked when I heard a bishop on the radio saying that sometimes he doubted the existence of God – a bishop! I ask you – the sort of faith that meant I knew exactly why Abraham had been prepared to sacrifice his son because God told him to. Of course God was going to make it all OK. He’s God.

I don’t have that faith now. Like the bishop I sometimes doubt that God exists and I can no more understand how Abraham could tie Isaac up and prepare to kill him than I can understand how a jet plane can fly. In fact I could be taught how a jet plane can fly but there is no way that I could understand how anyone could prepare to murder their child, nor how there could be a God who would ask it, who would test people so cruelly. And exactly what did tying Isaac up like that do to Abraham and Isaac’s relationship, and to Isaac’s psyche?

I know it is all allegory, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus, in fact I have always believed large parts of the Bible to be allegorical rather than literally true, but it illustrates a problem I have. Not only do I sometimes doubt the existence of God, I no longer find the old interpretations of the Bible to be helpful and I find myself worried by the image of God that I once believed in. And when you start picking at the fabric of belief then there is a danger of everything unravelling. You find yourself asking questions such as ‘What about the virgin birth? ‘Were there really wise men who visited Jesus?’ ‘Who exactly is Jesus?’ ‘If God is a loving God why would he answer some prayers but not intervene to stop something as massive and terrible as the Holocaust?’

And so I started searching, trying to find out what is central to my faith, reading books and entering discussion groups. And what I have found is that I am not alone and that it is Ok to question, it is Ok to use your brain, and it is also OK to take some little steps in faith, or if not always in faith, then in hope. Quite a number of years ago these doubts were beginning to clamour for attention and I asked a previous rector here whether it was it still OK to take communion when I wasn’t sure what I believed. The answer was and remains one of welcome. The Church of England does not get everything right and it does not have all the answers, the Christian church as a whole does not get everything right and does not have all the answers. But it is OK to ask the questions and to seek new interpretations with fit our modern understanding of the world. Some may say, ‘Oh you are just following the wisdom of the world’ but there is no reason why we should not use our brains to try to work out discrepancies in what the Bible says or look at what experience may tell us. At the moment we know very little of the true nature of God, we see through a glass darkly. But while we are peering forward trying to make out the next steps in our faith, it is also Ok to trust instinct and emotion and take a few tentative steps forward towards God.

There is one other thing I have to say for now. Unfortunately, the image of God that I had from when I was very young was one who would happily demand that his people sacrifice their own children, a hard God, a judgemental God, a God for whom I would never possibly be good enough. This is a God that does not fit in with the welcome and acceptance that I have found in the church and I am trying to work out whether this could be a true God. I have been challenged recently to give the God of love a go, to try believing that I am acceptable, and that God loves me.

That will be a step of faith.

Lent Books and Groups

This Lent there are several options to help you to deepen your faith:

  1. Meet at the Rectory on Tuesdays from 3rd March to talk about the book “The Return of the Prodigal” by Henri Nouwen: In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt’s depiction of the powerful Gospel story, Henri Nouwen probes the several movements of the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s vengefulness, and the father’s compassion. In his reflection on Rembrandt in light of his own life journey, the author evokes a powerful drama of the parable in a rich, captivating way.
  2. Meet at St Mark’s on Wednesdays from 25th February to watch videos from “Life on the Frontline” and then we will sit around tables and discuss questions that arise from each video. We may be old or young; healthy or infirm; rich or poor; employed or not. We may be busy or bored; optimistic or pessimistic; radically cutting edge or relatively retro. Whoever we are, as Christians, we have at least one thing in common: we each have a Frontline.
    – the place where you spend much of your time
    – the place where you meet people who don’t know Jesus
    – the place God has called you
    – the place of possibility and potential
    Often though, we don’t see ourselves, our workplaces homes, colleges and clubs in this light. But what might God want to do where we are day by day? How might he use us? How will we grow?
  3. Dave Tomlinson is coming on the First Sunday in Lent – 22nd February at 6:30pm at St Mark’s to talk about his new book – “The Bad Christian’s Manifesto” – this would be good to read during Lent. Dave Tomlinson, author of How to be a bad Christian, thinks that a lot of our overly religious, formal ideas of God need to be reinvented – and a lot of our spirituality, too. What does it look like to live well and die happy – from an unapologetically generous Christian point of view? Join Dave as he considers virtues, vices, friendship, morality, mortality – and how to make a sacrament of anything from cigars to chocolate.

Contact Lesley on 01252 820537 or revdlesley@gmail.com to find out more.