Notes on the readings January to March 2009

Note: ¶ = Reading omitted at St Mary's, Temple Balsall

January | February | March

Sunday 4 January, 2009
The Second Sunday of Christmas

Jeremiah 31. 7 – 14
God’s purposes, full of blessing, call out of us the most joyful response we are capable of.

or Ecclesiasticus 24. 1 – 12
‘Wisdom’ was a symbol for God’s loving purpose for his people: meaning that it was not frivolous or in the least irrational – but full of depth and sense.

Ephesians 1. 3 – 14
We read a long and fulsome utterance of praise to God for his gift of Christ – for our great good.

John 1. (1 – 9), 10 – 18
In Jesus, vivid in what the Gospels tell of him, we see God in the shape and setting of human life. We observe, imagine and we give thanks.

  • Praise God for his gift of himself to us in the life of Jesus.
  • Pray for grace to see, to learn and to follow.
  • Thanks to God for all creation, laid out before us.

Tuesday 6 January, 2009

Isaiah 60. 1 – 6
Originally an ecstatic statement of hope for the Israel of the prophet’s day, Christians read these words as a foreshadowing of the happiness of the coming of Christ and his meaning for the whole world.

Ephesians 3. 1 – 12
It was a major initiative when the Christian movement first stepped out of its original Jewish setting to offer its invitation to all people; the apostle Paul was the man of courage who chiefly achieved it.  We are among those who owe our faith to his work.

Matthew 2. 1 – 12
Full of Old Testament echoes, the story of the Wise Men moves us by its joining of splendour and simplicity, earthly repute (magi were the intellectuals of the time) with timeless and divine wonder. 

  • We pray to join realism about the world with boundless hope for the future under God.
  • How hard it is – still – to embrace what is outside our own familiar circle and culture.
  • Beneath the complexity of things, there are simple choices, simple claims to our love.

Sunday 11 January, 2009
The Baptism of Christ

Genesis 1. 1 – 5
In the Old Testament, water is commonly a symbol of disorder, chaos and danger.  Out of it, God brings order and, ultimately, life.  So the creation story opens our minds to the truth of baptism, when, through Christ, we start on the way of assured ‘new creation’.

Acts 19. 1 – 7
Some years into the Christian mission, Paul comes across followers of the long dead John the Baptist.  Paul enables them to complete what John had begun, as they receive baptism in Jesus’ name.

Mark 1. 4 – 11
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism opens the story and strikes us with force.  This act of God unites heaven and earth. salvation is under way, and Jesus is its accredited agent.  The drama has begun.

  • Can we absorb the depth of the symbolism of water, focused here on Jesus but with meaning for the whole of creation?
  • We pray for the many for whom water is a scarce luxury. Is not baptism also a privilege to recall with gratitude?
  • Give thanks to God for Jesus as the chosen one who brings God to us and us to God.

Sunday 18 January, 2009
The Second Sunday of Epiphany

1 Samuel 3. 1 – 10 (11 – 20)
The moving story of the call of Samuel to the service of God as the great prophet in Israel is a familiar model of the mystery of God’s call to us, whatever form it takes. ¶ Revelation 5. 1 – 10
Revelation, set in heaven, tells us about our own lives. The picture here is one of unbearable tension. Will the scroll (and so its vital meaning) ever be opened?  Will God ever make his truth known? Jesus performs the deed and our salvation can take its course.

Psalm 139. 1-5, 12-18

John 1. 43 51
This is John’s story of the call by Jesus of early followers.  He refers at the end to the story in Genesis of Jacob’s ladder linking earth and heaven.  Jesus is the true ‘ladder’ fulfilling that very role.

  • God’s ‘call takes many forms, some dramatic, some simple, but all are insistent.  We need to respond to what is asked of us, willingly and faithfully.
  • We all feel longing that we shall one day, somehow, ‘understand’ –the world, ourselves, God.  How does what we see of Jesus help us to do that?
  • To ‘follow’ Christ is to be ready for a deepening of our grasp of things and of our own role in his purpose

Sunday 25 January, 2009
The Conversion of Paul

Gospel: Matthew 19.27-30
God's call to us may involve a scale of values very different from those of most of society. Paul's life is a vivid case in point.

Sunday 1 February, 2009
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Malachi 3. 1 – 5
The final prophet in the Old Testament is poised on the brink of great new disclosure, which will both delight and terrify.  There is always cost and danger in receiving what is both new and good.

Hebrews 2. 14 – 18
The letter to the Hebrews insists more than any other book in the new Testament on Jesus being ‘one of us’ – fully human and so able to fulfil his unique task of representing us before God.

Luke 2. 22 – 40
Luke is keen not to make too much of a divide between old Israel and the new set-up which Jesus inaugurates.  So in his infancy he fulfils the old rules, and Simeon tells what is to come.  For us too there is never a clean break with our past, but we take it and renew it in our growth towards God.

  • Can we incorporate disaster and crisis into our hope for what is new?  Our tragedies and setbacks are the raw material of our growth
  • Pray to see Jesus not as remote and ‘different’ but as more accessible to us than we are to one another.
  • Pray for all who assist us as we grow towards God.

Sunday 8 February, 2009
The Third Sunday before Lent

Isaiah 40. 21 – 31
The wonder and marvel of God may well overwhelm us, but our joy and privilege is to rise up to meet him.

1 Corinthians 9. 16 – 23
Paul is not ‘in it for the money’ – and he will do anything to bring the gospel to as many as he possibly can.

Mark 1. 29 – 39
The mission of Jesus moves between healings and other good works – and withdrawal to the stable presence of God.

  • Pray to hold fast to our Christian calling.
  • We thank God for the gift of prayer.
  • Adoration of God comes first in our being with God.

Sunday 15 February, 2009
Marriage Sunday
The Second Sunday before Lent

Proverbs 8. 1, 22 31
In a poetic passage, God’s ‘wisdom’ speaks as his helper in creation.  The point is that the world is, despite some appearances, neither chaotic nor random. It is the fruit of God’s infinite wisdom.

¶ Colossians 1. 15 – 20
In this passage, Jesus is seen as stepping into the shoes of ‘wisdom’ as depicted in a passage like that in Proverbs 8. He is the mediator of God’s purposes from beginning to end, and our God come to us ‘Jesus-shaped’.

Psalm: 104.26-37

John 1. 1 – 14
John uses the image of speech (‘word’), which, like wisdom, stands for God’s deliberate purpose in all that he has done, always and in every way.  Jesus brought this glorious purpose before our eyes and we behold it with gladness.

  • Pray to see the world as bearing the mark of God’s good purpose.
  • Jesus makes God known to us and through him we ‘see’ God.
  • We thank God for the order of his gift and resolve not to frustrate it.

Sunday 22 February, 2009
The Sunday next before Lent

¶ 2 Kings 2. 1 12
Together with Moses, Elijah was one of the two greatest figure in the Old Testament, and the New took care to show that Jesus was greater than both (see today’s Gospel).  Here we have the story of Elijah’s ‘special treatment’ by God as he is carried direct to heaven, with his disciple Elisha left as his heir as God’s true prophet to his people in hard times.

¶ 2 Corinthians 4. 3 6
Paul writes as Christ’s ‘apostle’ or agent.  In Christ, God brings to its climax the work of bringing ‘light’ to the world that goes back to  creation itself, and light stands for all that is true, honest and good.

Mark 9. 2 9
The experience of the Transfiguration is a foretaste of Jesus’ high status as God’s full representative for all humankind becoming plain in his death and resurrection.

  • Pray for the gift to discern true from false spokespersons on God’s behalf.
  • Pray to see below the surface – and so to recognize in Christ the full glory of God.
  • Pray to hold on to our experience of the depth of Christ’s true self.

Wednesday 25 February, 2009
Ash Wednesday

Joel 2. 1 – 2, 12 – 17
The prophet calls on God’s people to observe the holy time with all solemnity.  It binds all together in the strict, heartfelt service of God.

¶ or Isaiah 58. 1 – 12
God speaks via the prophet in exasperation at superficial religion.  True service of God lies not in ritual acts but in care for the needy, bringing joy for all.

2 Corinthians 5. 20b – 6. 10
Paul sets out his credentials as Christ’s ambassador.  They lie in the trials he has endured – leading to all the many blessings of the gospel of Christ.

¶ Matthew 6. 1 – 6, 16 – 21
Religious observance can be done for absurd reasons, even to win the approval of other people.  Purity of motive is required – for the love of God.

or John 8. 1 – 11
We are not to sin – but equally, we must not be censorious, in effect putting ourselves on a pedestal of virtue.  How wickedly foolish!

  • Pray for purity in our love of God.
  • The gift of Lent is to deepen out true service.
  • Thank God for the chance to grow in love.

Sunday 1 March, 2009
The First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9. 8 17
The idea of the ‘covenant’ between God and his people finds here its first clear example.  We think of ourselves as God’s servants, but he is equally bound to us, for our eternal good.

1 Peter 3. 18 22
Noah and family were saved ‘through water’. The writer sees this as a picture of Christian baptism, our route to salvation in face of a godless and directionless world.

Mark 1. 9 15
The baptism of Jesus is not like ours.  It is the giving of his unique role on God’s behalf, as his agent to right all wrongs and make his rule plain, with all urgency.

  • Water threatens but also saves life. Pray to know God as our dependable rescuer.
  • Give thanks for baptism as the route to our deepest good.
  • Let Jesus’ preaching of God’s rule keep ringing in our ears.

Sunday 8 March, 2009
The Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 17. 1 7, 15 16
God’s covenant with Abraham marks out our faith as being rooted in real people who follow one another through real time, and belong together through thick and thin.

Romans 4. 13 25
Paul saw the essence of God’s relationship with Abraham to be one of faith  -- trust in God, come what may, with salvation as God’s doing not man’s.  The birth of Isaac, against all natural odds, was a picture of the death and life of Jesus who, once more against all odds, unites us to God through his dying and rising.

Mark 8. 31 38
Jesus’ picture of what ‘following’ him entails is uncompromising.  There must be a real choice to enter the new world which he makes available, with its unknown risks and surrenders of life’s familiar props.

  • Thank God for his constant faithfulness to his people.
  • We rejoice to be joined to God by faith, not by any power of our own to earn his  love.
  • What does it mean for us to ‘take up the cross’?

Sunday 15 March, 2009
The Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 20. 1 17
The Ten Commandments have a venerable place in Christian life and once stood in the sanctuary of all our churches.  They began as the core of the law of Israel long ago.  Now, some of them are basic morality, others need interpreting and discussing to apply to modern life.

¶ 1 Corinthians 1. 18 25
The death of Jesus seems at first sight to be pure tragedy and to make anything else of it seems foolish; but look again, its very weakness is the sign of God’s power and wisdom.

Psalm 19

John 2. 13 22
The so-called ‘cleansing’ of the Temple is put forward in John’s Gospel as a sign pointing to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, whereby he carries out fully the task of linking us to God which the old Temple aspired to achieve.

  • The Ten Commandments point to simple decency.  Ought we not to aim higher than that?
  • From Christ’s weakness God’s power comes before our eyes.
  • Jesus occupies for us the central place given to the Temple in old Judaism and meets all our needs before God.

Sunday 22 March, 2009
Mothering Sunday
Baptism Sunday

¶ Exodus 2. 1 – 10
Male Hebrew babies had to be drowned in the Nile, so Moses' mother acted shrewdly to save his life.  In due course, he in turn was God's agent to save his people from slavery.  It is a picture of Jesus' role for us all. Salvation hangs by a (golden) thread, does it not?

or 1 Samuel 1. 20 – 28
The birth of Samuel, dedicated for God’s special purpose, is an advance-echo for the coming of Jesus.

¶ 2 Corinthians 1. 3 – 7
Here we see Paul’s true pastoral spirit as he writes to a Christian Community that causes him much trouble.

or Colossians 3. 12 – 17
Here is Paul’s ideal picture of the Christian community – a generous, kindly people, devoted to God’s praise, all for the sake of Christ.

¶ Luke 2. 33 – 35
Like the mother of Moses, Mary has a crisis ahead.  Jesus will be a man at risk as well as the giver of life and freedom.

or John 19. 25b – 27
Jesus provides for the future in his moment of death.  Perhaps we should see his mother as standing for old Israel and the beloved disciple as the Church of the future, now inaugurated.

  • Is it hard to accept that the triumph of good is never plain sailing?
  • How hard it is for church life to live up to so attractive an ideal.
  • Pray for grace to share Mary's pain and suffering for the ultimate good of us all.

Sunday 29 March, 2009
The Fifth Sunday of Lent

¶ Jeremiah 31. 31 34
This was a favourite passage among early Christians, echoed for instance in the words over the wine at the Last Supper.  The prophet looks to a day when God will, as if afresh, make the closest of bonds with his own.  So he will fulfil our deepest longings.

¶ Hebrews 5. 5 10
The writer seizes on a verse in Psalm 110 which looks to an eternal priest, to be in the line of Melchizedek who appeared briefly and intriguingly in Genesis 14.  Jesus, he says, fulfils the role, coming out of the blue, mysteriously, to do the work that God assigned to him, even at the cost of his life.  See the image as strangely poetic.

John 12. 20 33
Jesus here looks to his coming death and the momentous harvest of souls to which it will lead over century after century and in countless lands.

* How can we maintain freshness in our relationship with God?

* Jesus is both dependable and mysterious.  Never must we take him for granted.

* Jesus’ death is his ‘glory’; it shows him in all his inner divine splendour, for  those with eyes to see.

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