Notes on the readings January to March 2010

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

January | February | March

Sunday 3 January, 2010

Isaiah 60. 1 – 6
In the later Old Testament writings, there is a turning of the eyes to the outside world with a growing sense of other nations’ place in God's purposes and of Israel's benevolent role towards them.

Ephesians 3. 1 – 12
The apostle Paul's great achievement was to see Christ as God's gift for all, Jews and gentiles alike, and both on the same footing.  By making it unnecessary to become a Jew as a step to Christian conversion, he opened the door wide for the future of Christianity.

Matthew 2. 1 – 12
The visit of the magi, gentile astrologers from afar, foreshadows beautifully in Jesus' infancy the future boundless scope of his sway over the hearts and minds of humanity.

* It is hard to be truly universal in spirit and in welcome. Pray for openness of heart.

* Paul's leap of faith was so clear-sighted and brave as to take our breath away.

* Reflect on the beautiful simplicity of Christ to be venerated even by those of complex and sophisticated minds.

Sunday 10 January, 2010
The Baptism of Christ (The First Sunday of Epiphany)

Isaiah 43. 1 – 7
God promises his loyalty to his people through all disasters, in particular captivity in distant parts.

Acts 8. 14 – 17
The conversion of Samaritans marks a first stage of the movement of the Church’s mission beyond Jerusalem.

Luke 3. 15 – 17, 21 – 22
The baptism of Jesus is his commissioning for his unique role in the saving purpose of God.

* Baptism is the sign of salvation, a foundation of hope.

* We praise God for the spread of the gospel from small beginnings.

* Thanks be to God for his faithfulness to his people.

Sunday 17 January, 2010
The Second Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 62. 1 – 5
We read of the joyful future promised to Israel, beloved by God, after the imageof a marriage.

1 Corinthians 12. 1 – 11
There is to be nothing dull or monotonous about God’s people:  he inspires and provides a wide variety of gifts, united by the Spirit, and all vital, whether humdrum or spectacular.

John 2. 1 – 11
Jesus blesses the wedding with an abundance of good beyond all hope – it is a symbol of God’s gernerosity to his people.

* Pray for a sense of the vitality of the service of God.

* Thank God for the intimacy of love.

* Let us value all the gifts with which we may serve.

Sunday 24 January, 2010
The Third Sunday of Epiphany

Nehemiah 8. 1 – 3, 8 – 10
When Jews retuned from long and arduous captivity in Babylon in the sixth century before Christ, Ezra emerged as a leader, and presents them with God’s book of the Law.  It is their mark of identity – and is received with joy and gratitude.

1 Corinthians 12. 12 – 31a
Paul puts forward the vivid image of the Church as a body, all the parts cooperating and all equally essential to the life of the whole.  So there is no room for friction and mutual disapproval or disagreement.  They are all elements in a single community, all necessary, for the ‘body’ is that of Christ himself. He is their sole bond of unity.

Luke 4. 14 – 21
Luke gives us this passage at the start of Jesus’ ministry in the world at large, and he begins in his own home-town.  The passage is then a kind of manifesto. Jesus stands for the care of the vulnerable and the giving of liberty.  The message of Jesus is full of social and political implications – from the very start.

* Pray to identify with those who seek liberty from captivity, whatever its kind.

* Thank God for the wide range of gifts available for the work of the gospel.

* Pray to share in Jesus’ ministry to the needy, the sick and those captive to whatever enslaving power.

Sunday 31 January, 2010
The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany – School Sunday

Ezekiel 43. 27 – 44. 4
Ezekiel is the prophet of a renewed temple in Jerusalem, to be the sacrament of God’s presence with his people.  Christians now tend to be less wedded to the sheer mystique and holiness of their churches than in former times: the presence of God may be found in so many places, people and situations.  But we can sense and value the great reverence which the passage evokes. It has its lessons for us to ponder

1 Corinthians 13. 1 – 13
A passage that may be even over-familiar.  In Paul’s letter, it comes at a point where he is criticising Christians who over-value their spiritual prowess, seeing themselves as above the ordinary ones who are less good at preaching or speaking with magical tongues.  Paul says that the supreme gift is love;  and he paints a picture of its character.  It is wholly positive and geared towards the good of all.

Luke 2. 22 – 40
Observing a rite prescribed in the Jewish law, Jesus’ parents take him to the temple in Jerusalem.  It turns out to be an event where his whole mission is foreseen and he is dedicated for its fulfilment. He will bring the light of God to all peoples.

* Pray to recognize and value the presence of God wherever it may come to us.

* Praise God for the gift of love and constantly reflect on its character and demands.

* We reflect upon the scene that sets out the mission lying ahead of Jesus.

Sunday 7 February, 2010
The Second Sunday before Lent

Genesis 2. 4b – 9, 15 25
This passage should be read as a more story-like account of creation than the more formal one in Genesis 1.  It is a vivid picture of the paradise we are meant for: humans are at its centre.

Revelation 4
We are given an extravagant and astonishing picture of the worship of heaven.  And the writer, poet and seer, is admitted to witness it.  The ingredients of the picture come from the Jewish tradition for thinking of the wonder of God.  Our proper response is to enter into the picture with humble amazement.

Luke 8. 22 25
Jesus is Master not only of human life, with its sicknesses and weaknesses, both physical and moral, but also of nature itself.  In this story we see him acting as Adam did in Eden, in charge of the world in its threatening disorder.  And the proper human response is trust at the deepest level.

* May the love of God move us to worship that truly captures us.

* Pray to grow in trust of God, whatever comes our way.

* Can we recapture the wonder of God’s creative gift?

Sunday 14 February, 2010 – Marriage Sunday
The Sunday Next before Lent

Exodus 34. 29 – 35
The veil that covered Moses’ face on coming away from God’s presence has been a source of great fascination to artists and poets down the centuries.  Perhaps it was to shield ordinary mortals from the direct impact of God’s glory transmitted via Moses.  We can see that point, whatever we think of the story itself.  We are as nothing before God’s reality.

2 Corinthians 3. 12 – 4. 2
Paul had his own sense of the story in Exodus 34. The veil was to prevent our seeing how Moses’ face lost its shining quality as he was longer away from God’s direct presence.  That decline and loss was itself a symbol of the temporary quality of the whole of the ‘old covenant’ – which Moses stood for.  In contrast, the light of Christ grows stronger than ever, and it shines upon and through us who belong to him.

Luke 9. 28b – 36 (37 – 43)
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of his leading disciples strikes some as strange, others as wonderful in its mystery and splendour.  It may be seen as a foreshadowing of the resurrection, already in the course of Jesus’ life.  It is a glimpse of his true character and destiny even when he is living life among us.

* How can we grow in our sense of God being quite ‘other’ than anything we can conceive?

* Yet we give thanks that in Christ we are enabled to ‘draw near’ to him.

* Pray to see God’s glorious reality even in the midst of the humdrum.

Wednesday 17 February, 2010
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 it 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 21 February, 2010
The First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26. 1 – 11
We hear a passage in which Israel is recalled to the fundamentals of the nation’s creed: the act of rescue from slavery in Egypt which we call the Exodus.  The joy to which it led (‘a land flowing with milk and honey’) reminds us of the basic gifts we have received through Christ, the awareness of our being received anew by God.

Romans 10. 8b – 13
One of the early Christians’ great convictions (perhaps Paul above all) was the universal scope of their message. It was for everybody, regardless of race or nation.  Also it was an accessible message, the simple offer of love from God, seeking response.

Luke 4. 1 – 13
Lent began the time of preparation of candidates for their baptism at Easter, but it soon came to be seen as foreshadowed in Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness before embarking on his ministry.  It has long been for Christians an annual time of penitence, their own ‘testing’, with fasting strongly to the fore.  In the face of his testing, Jesus emerges unscathed.  May we do the same!

* Pray never to lose sight of the fundamentals of faith and relationship with God.

* Thank God for the universal character of the Christian message.

* May we keep our sense of ‘testing’ before God and so of growth towards him.

Sunday 28 February, 2010
The Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 15. 1 – 12, 17 – 18
The story of Abraham, founding father of Israel, is one of salvation by the skin of the teeth.  At every point it hangs by a thread – and the generous fidelity of God wins through despite everything.  Christians soon saw this story as pointing to God’s act in Jesus.  There too God’s universal purpose of good was channelled through this fragile channel, so easily ruined.

Philippians 3. 17 – 4. 1
Paul is a strong pastor of his people, leading from the front.  And his eyes are on ‘heaven’, the place or sphere where Christians truly belong and where they see their destiny – as distinct from Rome or any other earthly place of loyalty.

Luke 13. 31 – 35
The place of Jerusalem in early Christian feeling and loyalty was one of great pain and difficulty.  It remained a place of ‘belonging’; yet it was where Jesus had been executed, at the hands of those who ruled it.  The double feeling has remained in Christian consciousness to this day.

* Pray not to presume upon God’s goodness but to wonder always at his love for us.

* Pray to see our goal, already assured, in God himself.

* Thank God for holy places, but see them all as pointing beyond themselves.

Sunday 7 March, 2010
The Third Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 55. 1 – 9
The prophet issues a call to follow the real and not the sham.  And to follow without delay, for there is urgency where our relations with God are concerned.  God is beyond our imagining and we must not take him for granted.

1 Corinthians 10. 1 – 13
Paul seeks shadowy parallels to Christian Baptism and Eucharist in episodes in the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness on the way from Egypt to the land of promise.  The message in one of warning: do not presume on God’s goodness, but be ready and armed to survive any testing that may come one’s way.

Luke 13. 1 – 9
Jesus gives a stern warning of the need for repentance.  It is not popular and perhaps we should say it is not quite moral for exhortation to be backed up by threats.  But there is something to be said for letting realism have its head, lest we fall into complacency.

* Pray never to take God for granted, but to stay open to his call.

* Pray to be armed against the threats of wrong thinking and doing, for the sake of God’s love.

* Pray to be armed against all dangers of complacency.

Sunday 14 March, 2010
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 21 March, 2010
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Parish Eucharist 10.00 am

Isaiah 43. 16 – 21
The prophet recalls the great foundation-story of Israel, the liberation from slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.  But then, surprisingly, he puts that behind him and looks forward to a greater future when God will bring all things to a wonderful perfection, beyond imagining.

Philippians 3. 4b – 14
Paul really takes off in this passage.  He asserts his proud credentials as a Jew, including his membership of the strict guild of the Pharisees.  Then the contrast.  All this he had gladly renounced for the sake of Christ, whose people he had despised and persecuted.  It was a revolution.  He had come to see his right relationship with God as wholly dependent on his commitment to Christ.  That was itself pure gift from God.

John 12. 1 – 8
All the Gospels, except that of Luke, have the story of a woman anointing Jesus at the opening of the narrative of the Passion.  They differ in detail, but all emphasise – and applaud – the extravagance of her action and so of her devotion.  It is a shock to those of puritanical instincts, and not very Lenten.  But at the start of Passiontide, it warns us against negative approaches to Jesus’ death and takes us into the fervent love for God which that death is to stir in us.  To absorb its deep generosity is worth everything we can offer.

* Dare to aim high in loyalty to God.

* Be ready to expect new depths and heights in your relationship with God: ‘new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven’.

* God is always a step ahead of what we have so far known of him. Pray to follow.

Sunday 28 March, 2010
Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50. 4 – 9a
This passage is about an anonymous victim of persecution who does not waver in his trust in God.  From early times, Christians have seen in it a  foreshadowing of Jesus’ suffering.  Notice the power of the victim’s non - resistance – both towards the tormentors and towards the persecution itself.  He can even see his suffering as a gift from God, the route to great good.  So it is with Jesus.

Philippians 2. 5 – 11
This passage is thought to be an early Christian hymn.  Paul puts it into his letter as a summary of the faith, in effect an early creed.  Perhaps we should think of all creeds as ‘hymns’ – not sort-of-legal statements but poetic acts of praise to God.  The hymn tells of the extreme humility of Christ’s act in putting aside his heavenly status and in accepting human life at its most degraded.  His triumphant reward is the source of our own confidence in God.

Luke 22. 14 – 23. 56  or Luke 23. 1 – 49
Luke depicts Christ’s final hours as a kind of sermon to move our hearts and nourish our characters.  In his extremity, he show three exemplary qualities.  First, he asks for the forgiveness of those who put him to death.  Second, from the cross itself, he makes his last convert, the penitent thief.  Third, he dies with assured surrender of himself to God, as son to father.  And, rightly, the crowds of bystanders are moved.

* Good comes out of evil, especially when we accept its onslaught.

* It is in venturing all that we have the chance of the greater gain to our inner selves.

* We may do most good in bad times by steadfastly holding to the course of generosity.

Monday 29 March 2010
Compline 8 pm

Tuesday 30 March 2010
Compline 8 pm

Wednesday 31 March 2010
Compline 8 pm

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