Last Supper at Holly House!

Last night we shared a wonderful meal together, celebrating 2 new births, welcoming an old friend (now old enough to be a Grannie!) and taking time to focus on Holy Week, which we are all dispersed for this year. The words we used for the sharing of bread and wine are words I put together and we’ve used for a good 3 years or so. I never cease to find new insights through this greater understanding of the Passover meal and significance of the bread and wine – so here they are for anyone who’s interested:

A last supper before Holy Week and Easter 2017

Before we share bread and wine, we share our own needs and the names and stories of those we know who need Jesus now. We symbolically include them at the table and take bread and wine for them and for ourselves, committing us all into his safekeeping as we head towards Holy Week and into Easter… (Sharing of needs)

At Jesus’ last supper – the Passover meal – the bread was unleavened – leaven or yeast representing sin. It was also a reminder of the bread carried on the exodus journey. The Israelites were ‘with-breaders’, with God as their ‘com-panion’.
At the Seder meal of Passover, there are 3 ‘matzot’ on the table – named after the 3 Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the middle one that is broken – the Isaac – the one who was taken for sacrifice. The other half is hidden and called the ‘afikomen’, the ‘afters’ or the ‘that which is to come’. It was this that Jesus redefined as his body broken for us…

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said,
This is my body, broken for you.
Do this to remember me.
After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:
This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.
Each time you drink this cup, remember me.
What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you re-enact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Response: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

The Afikomen is broken and shared around the table.

We read, in turn:

  • This is the bread of the Passover which Jesus shared with his friends at the Last Supper
  • It is the unleavened bread – the ‘without-sin’ bread
  • It is the middle matzah that Jesus broke – the Isaac – the bread of sacrifice 
  • It is the afikomen – the ‘that-which-is-to-come’ bread.
  • It is the bread prescribed to the Hebrews to take on the exodus from Egypt – they were sent out ‘with bread’ – with God as their ‘com-panion’
  • This is the promise of Jesus as our ‘with-breader’ – our companion on the journey
  • This is the body of Christ broken for us, for the forgiveness of sins

We eat the bread.

We fill our cups.
There are 4 cups of wine drunk during the course of the Passover meal, recalling 4 promises from Exodus 6: 6 – 7.
The first cup is for the promise ‘I will bring you out’ and is known as the cup of deliverance.
The second recalls the promise ‘I will deliver you from slavery’ and is known as the cup of freedom.
The third remembers the promise ‘I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power’ and is called the cup of redemption. It is also known as the cup of thanksgiving and gives its name to ‘Eucharist’ meaning ‘thanksgiving’. This was the cup redefined by Jesus as his blood of the new covenant.
The fourth cup promised ‘I will acquire you as a nation’. This was referred to as the cup of consummation, and it was this cup that Jesus did not drink.

We read in turn:

  • This is the third cup of the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his friends at the Last Supper
  • It is the cup of redemption 
  • It is the cup of thanksgiving 
  • It is the cup of the new covenant 
  • It is the cup of promise
  • It is the cup of suffering
  • It is the cup of joy
  • It is the cup of healing
  • This is the blood of Christ given for many, for the forgiveness of sins

We drink together and say our Amen!

Thanks to all who came last night. Blessings on all until we meet again post-Easter!!!

To turn, turn…

To turn

We began our worship this morning with the loudest birdsong ever and sun breaking through (despite predicted rain) to Isaiah 45: 8-12, 18-24: (The Message). Do look it up in that version – it is brilliant – and perfect for Lent…

I found it on the basis of the words ‘So turn to me and be helped’, with ‘turn’ being an obvious word for a Lenten reflection, linking with ‘repentance’. However, that word ‘turn’ took me on an unexpected journey to somewhere quite different – so if you have time to follow my journey and what I shared today, here goes…

I found myself looking at the song

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

While this song was written by a Shaker Christian and interpreted by some to be about repentance, that’s not the case – it is a Shaker dancing song and the words ‘turn’ are a set of dance instructions! Getting you back to the right place again in the dance.

And this in turn led Sydney Carter who wrote the Lord of the dance hymn which is of course set to the same tune. Many will know that the title the Lord of the dance is originally one attributed to the Hindu God Shiva – the destroyer. That in itself is often misunderstood by Christians – God as destroyer? But of course there are things that should be destroyed like evil – we may know lyrics about dancing on injustice (Hillsong’s ‘Did you hear the mountains tremble’ or Garth Hewitt’s ‘Dance on injustice’) Interestingly, Howard Carter had a statue of Shiva as Lord of the dance on his desk and reflecting on that image along with the Shaker faith that embraced dance, he wrote his hymn, saying later:

“I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.’

I found a website celebrating Christian artists from other cultures who have picked up on dance in their cultural expressions and painted Jesus as a dancer. That had me interested in the light of Philip Yancey’s ‘Vanishing Grace’ celebrating the way pilgrims, activists and artists communicate the Kingdom. So I printed off some that you might want to look up:

Nyoman Darsane (Bali) _ Jesus dancing everything into creation

Jyoti Sahi (India) – Prophetic dancer-drummer – dancing for Adivasis is the breath of life, and being made from the skin of dead animals, drumming central to the Dalit experience. Here the drum symbolizes the entire creation, everything around the drummer coming alive to its rhythms of the dance…

Heimo Christian Haikalia – Christ dancing on the Sea of Galilee

There is something so attractive and enticing at the thought of Jesus leading a dance! And I found myself asking what have we to learn from these artists & song-writers?

And then just as I was looking at all of this, Steve B sent through an email quoting Richard Rohr which spoke of the joining the Cosmic Dance! This comes from his book ‘The Divine Dance’ in which he uses the metaphor for the Trinity of the persons of God both dancing and being the dance, to which we are all invited. Rohr explains in one interview about the book that we live in increasingly tribal times – with walls and barriers and exclusions of others. He argues that dancing is not competitive but inclusive…

And that made me think back to the Youtube phenomenon ‘Where the hell is Matt?’ It began in 2006 when Matt Harding from Australia posted video of himself dancing in different locations to show his friends where he was on his travels. Initially it was him as a lone dancer. By 2008 others were joining in and in 2012 he filmed a new video where he learns local dances and has links to charities, inviting viewers to donate…

What is it about those videos that is so compelling? They seems to resonate – to strike a chord with something innate – something primal. It’s something about joy, inclusivity, a language that breaks down barriers, shouting equality and shared humanity. In the 2012 version, dancers join him in Syria, while for their own safety their faces are blanked out – I find that hugely moving…

And one final image, to led us into prayer: Harry was reminding us this week of what we leant from Kitty from her travels in Brazil about a non-contact dance called Capoeira. It originated with African slaves who, if I remember rightly, were forbidden from having physical contact and is a mixture of martial art and dance. It speaks of liberation, dignity and beauty defying an ugly context.
So… how about this as a Lenten message…. If we are reviewing our lives, how about seeing our calling to be to join the dance? Jesus the Lord of the dance calls us to turn, turn… Or, in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle, ‘ Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you , will you come and join the dance?’
Our prayers were to name people and situations where we needed the divine dance to break through, for those people to be swept up in the dance , or where others could not dance but we might dance for them… and we shared bread and wine, including them in the dance… We closed with this blessing:

In this season of Lent,
May we turn
May we dance…
Dance defiance on injustice
Dance inclusion on division
Dance life in all its fullness
Join the Divine dance
And model a better way to live
And may we live to dance on our own graves!

And if you’d like to join us in our homework (!) this is what was set for us…
Look out for the divine dance and join in – with forgiveness, generosity, acts of kindness, laughter, listening…
Choose a charity this week that we can give to so that we can dance on injustice and invite others to join the divine dance.

So will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you join the dance?

Fairtrade, Beatitudes and Sanctuary!

We met together in the bandstand on a grey, wet Sunday morning, and began our worship with the following:

Great Ocean Road at night milky way viewGod of the Universe,
You made the heavens and the earth,
So we do not call our home merely “planet earth.”
We call it your Creation, a Divine Mystery,
a Gift from Your Most Blessed Hand.
The world itself is your miracle.
Bread and vegetables from earth are thus also from heaven.
Help us to see in our daily bread your presence and be thankful.

Upon this place
May your stars rain down their blessing.
May you send rain and sunshine upon the land.
Grant us the humility to touch the earth.
That we might become more human.
That we might mend our rift from your Creation.
That we might know the sacredness of the gift of life—and be grateful.

Thanks be to God.
Who made the world teeming with variety,
Of things on the earth, above the earth, and in the waters.
Thanks be to God.
For the many kinds of plants, trees, and fruits.
We celebrate.
For all living things
We rejoice.
We find ourselves eclipsed by the magnitude
Of your generosity and mystery.
And we give you thanks and praise.

(From ‘A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’  by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro)

continue in worship for a few moments……

Christ, in our coming

And in our leaving,

Be the Door and the Keeper

For us

And all who visit this place,

This day and every day.

Amen.

As it’s  Fairtrade Fortnight we shared the latest news about Fairtrade sales in the UK.

Fairtrade sales enjoy a boost.

We are in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight and the good news is that Fairtrade sales rose in 2016 for the first time since 2013.

Revenues from produce carrying the Fairtrade Mark – which guarantees a fair price to producers and an additional payment for use on social projects, rose by 2% to £1.64 billion in the UK last year.

The sales will provide payments of about £30 million in premiums, on top of the price paid for the goods, for use in projects such as schools, clinics and clean water provision.

Sales of bananas, by far the biggest Fairtrade product in the UK, rose 6% with strong sales at the likes of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-op, which only stock the Fairtrade version of the fruit. Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, began stocking Fairtrade bananas for the first time. Lidl also began stocking Fairtrade tea and coffee. Coffee sales rose 8%, while Starbucks ‘Seattle Best Coffee’ which it delivers to offices and other businesses now carries the Fairtrade Mark.

Tea and cocoa sales slid 3%, partly as a result of changing consumer tastes. It is hoped cocoa sales will get a boost this year as the Co-op becomes the first UK retailer to switch to using only Fairtrade cocoa in all its own-brand chocolate products, from the sprinkles on its doughnuts to the chocolate chips in its triple-chocolate cookies. The change, covering more than 200 products will be completed by the end of May, leading to a fivefold increase in the amount of Fairtrade cocoa sourced by the Co-op.

Just a moment

It starts with a change20150212_172726

So outwardly insignificant

That no one would notice

Except the person

Behind you in the aisle.

Just a moment

When instead of seeing

Rows of labels

On a supermarket shelf

You imagine the people

Behind them,

Tilling the earth,

Sowing the seed,

Gathering the crops.

And you pause,

Wondering,

What their names are,

Where they live,

What difference it will make

If your hand picks up

This box instead of that,

Wondering: how do I

Love these neighbours?

Can I help change?

The child’s long journey for water,

Her mother’s lack of healthcare,

The prospect her father faces

Of another year unable

To feed his family well?

Just a moment.

And the person behind you,

Her impatient baby

Squirming in the trolley,

May never realise

That in that brief hesitation,

Lives hung in the balance.

(with thanks to the Fairtrade Foundation)

Next we shared how valiant Christians were living out their faith in the US.

Sanctuary churches.

Hundreds of churches in the US have said they are willing to provide sanctuary for undocumented migrants threatened with deportation.  About 300 churches nationally have come forward, according to the Philadelphia-based New Sanctuary Movement. A growing number of synagogues are also involved in actions to prevent deportations.

The Sanctuary Movement is a religious and political campaign in the United States that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing conflict, violence and persecution. It responded to federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans, coming from countries with regimes supported by the Reagan administration.

Meanwhile, about two dozen cities – including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia and Los Angeles – have declared themselves “sanctuary cities”, with mayors pledging to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration orders that could lead to deportations. Trump has said he will block federal funding to such cities.

According to Peter Pedemonti of the New Sanctuary Movement, “people are very scared. There are waves of despair, anger and disbelief at Trump’s election and the rise of white supremacism. This is a very shocking part of US society that was in the shadows before, and with Trump it has come into the mainstream. It’s very disturbing.”

Pedemonti added: “The faith community has a specific role to stand up and speak out, and offering sanctuary is a bold way of doing that.”

Several Anglican Bishops have offered sanctuary. The Right Rev Kirk Smith, the bishop of Arizona, said the church would “promote a safe space for those who are feeling vulnerable and afraid”. The bishops of Virginia told congregants: “We stand with you not only symbolically, but will be there to stand with you literally if and when the time comes.” The diocese of Oregon pledged that its churches would be “sanctuaries for those whose safety and security is threatened”.

Alison Harrington, pastor of the Southside Presbyterian church in Tucson, Arizona, said the number of churches joining the sanctuary movement was “growing every day as people are horrified at what lies ahead, knowing that Trump has said he’s going after immigrants”.

The Beatitudes  –  Brian McLaren & Rob Bell.

The poor and those in solidarity with them – God is on your side.

Those who mourn and feel grief about the state of the world – God is on your side.

The non-violent, gentle and humble – God is on your side.

Those who hunger and thirst for the common good – God is on your side.

The merciful and compassionate – God is on your side.

Those characterised by sincerity, kindness and generosity – God is on your side.

Those who work for peace and reconciliation – God is on your side.

Those who keep seeking justice – God is on your side.

Those who stand for justice and truth as the prophets did, who refuse to be quiet even when slandered, misrepresented, threatened, imprisoned or harmed – God is on your side!

Using the following liturgy we shared bread and wine:

What do we bring to Christ’s table?

We bring bread,

made by many people’s work,

from an unjust world

where some have plenty

and most go hungry.

At this table all are fed,

And no-one is turned away.

Thanks be to God.

 

What do we bring to Christ’s table?

We bring wine,

made by many people’s work,

from an unjust world

where some have leisure

and most struggle to survive.

At this table all share the cup

of pain and celebration,

and no-one is denied.

Thanks be to God.

 

This bread and wine shall be for us the body and blood of Christ!

Our witness against hunger,

Our cry against injustice,

And our hope for a world

Where God is fully known

And everyone is fed and loved.

Thanks be to God.

In the pouring rain we adjourned to Cool River Cafe for what else but Fairtrade coffee!

Fairtrade coffee

This morning at the bandstand

This morning amongst other things we shared in these home grown words and thoughts…
An Emerging Creed.
We are people who……
Have found Jesus to be beyond compare.
Invite all to join us without insisting they become like us.
Find more reality in searching and questioning than in certainty and absolutes.
Realise that how we treat others is the greatest test and expression of what we believe.
Firmly believe in the equality of men and women, that no-one is greater than another and that all people bear God’s image.
Recognise that following Jesus is costly and we need to support each other in the work we feel called to do: being peacemakers, striving for justice, befriending the lonely, healing the sick, serving the hungry and destitute, visiting the sick and the elderly, inspiring children and young people, caring for God’s creation……………….

——————————————————–

In 2001 a singer-song-writer performed a new song on Songs of Praise. It reflected his yearning for faith – the faith he admired in Christians he knew. He wanted an assurance of God’s reality and his song was called ‘Waiting for the word’:
I could follow you, I could be so true, I’m just waiting for the word.
I could join the flock, I could be a rock, I’m just waiting for the word.
Let me know you’re here, call me loud and clear
For as yet Ii have not heard.
I could shine a light, I could fight the fight
I’m just waiting for the word.
On Friday he died. He was Peter Skellern, and as I heard the announcement of his death I found myself moved to think that at last he now knew… But what I hadn’t known until hearing the following sentence on the news bulletin, was that just months before his death, he was ordained a priest. It seems he had heard the word – his call loud and clear -in the end.
The story raises so many questions – some of which we then discussed – not least returning to the words of Grayden’s creed where it speaks of finding more reality in searching and questioning than in certainty and absolutes. Could it be that the search was the reality, was the faith in itself?

————————————————————–

Steve had written a liturgy first thing this morning (as one does) for sharing bread and wine. It reflects our reading of Philip Yancey’s ‘Vanishing Grace’ and an image from David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’:
Pilgrims, Artists, Activists
We journey.
We journey in hope. We have set our sights – Christ our morning star. And we have Christ as our companion and guide along the Way.
Christ before us; Christ ahead of us; Christ – in this Bread – beside us.
Pilgrim Bread!
And yet like hatchling turtles, we are bedazzled by the artificial lights of land and we are gone astray. Father be our compass; Christ realign us; Spirit guide us step by step.
We pilgrimage together and we give thanks for all those who have tended our metaphorical blisters, trodden this path before us, shown us the Way. And so we celebrate with this wine – whilst befuddled and seeing in a mirror darkly – we are in good company.
Pilgrim wine!
Send us out co-missioned to build bridges, to make known the interconnected worlds of matter and spirit. Help us to be inclusive Kingdom builders, pioneer settlers, proclaiming the Year of Jubilee, the year of restoration, where justice and mercy shall meet, and all God’s creatures shall cry out, “Come now Lord Jesus!”

 

Good to meet as ever and discussion over coffee in Cool River was diverse and challenging and fun!! Thanks all!

Head Space

Drinks and lively discussion around the questions pulled out of the hat :

Head Space

 

 

  • “Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole ad you emerge in a wonderland …”   Who said this and in what context?
  • If you were famous what would you like to be famous for doing?
  • Have you ever been lonely? A new initiative in the name of Jo Cox has begun to tackle loneliness could Third Space do more to support /reach lonely people in our area?
  • If you could ask Donald Trump one question what would it be?
  • Where have you seen the Kingdom oF God this week?
  • “The number of Americans killed by Islamic jihadist immigrants (2) compared to those killed by other Americans (11,737) How was this message delivered and by whom?
  • If you could have chosen a piece of music for Donald Trump’s inauguration what would it have been?

 

 

It’s Winter

20170105_110148

Two things happened this week which dictated what we did this morning. Firstly after preparing something on Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet our printer stopped working. While we were discussing what to do we heard a weather forecast saying Sunday morning would either be VERY cold or VERY wet. So we decided to change plans and go with the seasons, something you need to be very aware of when you meet outside as we do.

So winter; it’s like a holding place, nature seems to hold it’s breath and wait to burst forth with all it’s beauty in spring.

There is a winter in all of our lives,

a chill and darkness that makes us yearn
for days that have gone
or put our hope in days yet to be.

The winter, cold and bare as nature takes stock
rests, unwinds, sleeps until the time is right.
An endless cycle
and yet a perfect model.
We need a winter in our lives
a time of rest, a time to stand still
a time to reacquaint ourselves
with the faith in which we live.
It is only then that we can draw strength
from the one in whom we are rooted
take time to grow and rise through the darkness
into the warm glow of your springtime
to blossom and flourish
bring colour and vitality into this world
Thank you Father
for the seasons of our lives

adapted from  http://www.faithandworship.com/Prayers_Winter.htm#ixzz4WyDL4LfA Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Sometimes we feel like it is winter and spring will never come.20141229_120557

So this morning in our prayers we hold those who feel they are in permanent winter with no hope of spring.

 

We closed our prayer time with the Third Space Lord’s prayer

God, who cares for us,

The wonder of your presence fills us with awe.

Your name, your very nature, is holy.

All creation resonates with it!

Let all people come to proclaim it!

May we move into your presence and unimpeded love.

Let not our will, but your will and purposes be fulfilled in our lives here on Earth.

Give us the material things you know we need to survive.

Release us – as indeed we release others – from the debt of wrong doing.

Strengthen us for difficult times.

Liberate us from all that is evil.

For You reign in majesty, in love,

 Power and glory from the beginning of time and forever more.

Amen

Third Space Lord’s Prayer

Some thoughts to ponder

Extract from Philip Yancey’s book ‘Vanishing Grace’;

‘There are three kinds of Christians that outsiders to the faith still respect: pilgrims, activists and artists. The uncommitted will listen to them far sooner than to an evangelist or apologist. Although nonbelievers do not oppose a spiritual search, they will only listen to those Christians who present themselves as fellow pilgrims on the way rather than as part of a superior class who has already arrived. Activists express their faith in the most persuasive way of all, by their deeds. And art succeeds when it speaks most authentically to the human condition; when believers do so with skill, again the world takes note.’

Breaking of bread/Sharing of wine

We remember the time when Jesus faced
difficult decisions and destructive forces:
Facing his winter – the days and nights of his searching,
– in facing failure – in facing death

When we too experience the winter of our lives
may we find the courage to let go
and trust in your guiding, warming light.Our daily bread

And we remember
Jesus has shown us that life is stronger than death.

And as we share the bread and wine together
we remember the words and the actions of that ancient meal…
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it,
and gave it to his friends.

He poured a cup of wine, offered thanks for it,
and shared it also with his friends.

Ancient symbols.
Common acts.

 

 Closing Prayer

God of amazing grace, in the cold of the winter months we are grateful for your presence warming us.

We pray that this presence will strengthen us to follow the way of Jesus.

The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.

At our Wednesday evening meeting we continued to look at the parables featured  in Amy-Jill Levine’s “Short Stories by Jesus”.

In the parable, a landowner searching for workers for his vineyard continues to hire labourers throughout the day, and in the end, he pays all of the workers “whatever is right,” which results in every employee receiving the same amount.

In the standard reading, this parable is taken to be about salvation, Levine described, where the landowner is God, the workers are Christians and the daily wage is salvation. The workers hired early in the day are lifelong Christians, and the workers hired toward the evening are deathbed converts.  All are equally saved and all receive the “usual daily wage” of salvation.

The traditional title is “the labourers in the vineyard”. Levine says “Titles can be deceptive – they tend to focus on one element of a story and so mask the importance of others, and slant interpretations. The title highlights the workers and the vineyard; it encourages interpretation to associate with the labourers and not the landowner and so allows the easy allegory that the landowner is God.  Once allegory is used the real world is left behind, as well as any concerns that Jesus might have had for wages, employment, economics and labour relations”.

Is Jesus more interested in how we love our neighbour than how we get into heaven?

Is the landowner “God” or is he just an employer in search of labour for his vineyard?

What if the parable is really about what God would have us do?

What if the parable is about generosity and love of neighbour rather than about salvation?

What if the parable is about a landowner being God-like?

Matthew 20: 1-2.

In v1 the owner of the vineyard is usually described as the landowner, the literal translation from the Greek is actually householder.

Also v1 begins….”the kingdom of heaven is like”…. so obviously it’s describing what the kingdom is like and so the parable is not a tale about the world, in other words it’s what the world should be like.

He goes out at about 6am to hire workers. This is unusual – you would have expected him to send his steward at that hour.

In v2 the landowner agrees to pay the labourers a denarius for the day’s work – this is “the usual daily wage”.

There are some interesting verses about labour relations in the Mishnah. The Mishnah is a written version of the tradition known as the oral Torah.  It was written down in the 3rd century BC and is the first major work of rabbinic literature.

The Mishnah states: “he who hires workers and tells them to begin early and finish late cannot force them to, if beginning early and finishing late does not conform to the custom of the place.  Where the custom is that they are fed as well, he is obliged to feed them; where it is that they be served dessert, he must feed them dessert. Everything must be done according to the custom of the place”.

The quote is grounded in custom and tradition and is an attempt to create a fair system.  The landowner would have followed the customs of the time, which is why he agreed on the “usual daily wage” – he cannot offer less, if he wants labourers.  A denarius, that is a fair day’s wage, would feed a family for between 3 and 5 days.

So far everything is fairly normal – we have a landowner, a group of labourers needing work, a wage upon which all have agreed, and a vineyard that needs harvesting.

Matthew 20: 3-4

Then the parable becomes a little strange.  The landowner goes out again at 9am and hires more labourers. “Doing nothing” in v3 is a poor translation of the Greek. It literally means “without work” – which means “wanting work, but unable to find it”.

At 9am there is no discussion about an agreement or the “usual daily wage”.

Some commentators argue that the landowner is trying to take advantage of the labourers by not offering an agreement. It might hold for today’s unscrupulous employers – zero hours, earnings below the minimum wage, using immigrants who don’t feel able to complain, giving people so much work that by the time they have completed it their pay is way below the minimum wage – but this was unlikely because of the Mishnah laws that were designed to create a fair system based on local custom.

But in v4 the landowner goes on to tell the workers “I will pay you what is right”. The word translated “right” also means: “just”, “proper”, “fair”.

Matthew 20: 5-7

Then things get even more strange. He goes out again to look for labourers at 12noon, at 3pm and at 5pm. Landowners and stewards usually know how much labour they require.  Is the landowner clueless as to the number of workers needed?  Or had he earlier employed all the workers he could find?  Or could it be that he has another agenda?  There is no discussion about payment.

Matthew 20: 8-12

In v1 the Greek word literally means “householder”, in v8 he is described as the “lord of the vineyard” or “the owner of the vineyard”.  Does this identify him with God? Or does it mean “one, who follows God, should behave like God”? The point is that whether God or just a landowner the “lord” behaves with God-like generosity.

Matthew 20:13-16

In v15 the Greek translated “envious” literally means “evil eye”. The “evil eye” possesses an individual – it suggests they are not fully in possession of their good sense – it gives the grumblers a way out, it’s not really their fault – the landowner is being generous once again.

It is important to grasp that the landowner was not treating the first hired unjustly. They agreed to the “usual daily wage”.  V13 – “I am not being unfair to you” – it is not the landowner who is in the wrong – it is the labourers who do not want those hired later to have a living wage, who are in the wrong.

V16 is unlikely to be original. It does not fit in with the parable, it contradicts both the equal pay for all workers, and the complaints of the first hired that all workers have been treated “equal”.

The first hired labourers should have been happy at the good fortune of their fellow workers who, because of the landowner’s generosity would now be able to feed their families for at the next few days.  Is this the provocation of the parable?

So could the parable be about economics after all? 

Such a focus is consistent with Jesus’ teaching, it fits in with the first century context, with rabbinic teaching of the time and with the emphasis on justice of many of the OT prophets.

Is it about a landowner paying all labourers a living wage so that all have enough to eat?

Might the landowner represent both God and also be a model for all followers of Jesus?

Is it a warning to the rich and powerful that they should behave as God does – be generous and open handed just like God?

To dismiss the parables’ practical interpretation is to domesticate it and make it safe, and so lose its challenge and provocation.

It seems to me that there is a duel emphasis in Jesus’ teaching – “good news to the poor” and the “social responsibility of the rich”.

In this parable Jesus encourages employers to be gracious and generous – just like God. The landowner is a role model for the rich – they should pay what is right – and what is right is a living wage.

The landowner not only fulfilled his contract with the first hired labourers, he paid a living wage to those who did not expect it or even deserve it!

The parable started with the words: “The kingdom of heaven is like……..” surely it is a picture of the kingdom, of its values and what the world should be like!

Perhaps the parable helps us re-think what a good life is all about; that an abundant life is about being generous.

Is the parable telling us that religion and economics go hand in hand, and perhaps salvation in the present is a living wage for all?

If we can re-imagine the parable away from “who gets into heaven” and to “who gets a living wage”, we find a message that challenges and provokes today!

Jesus’ parables, when stripped of “other-worldly” interpretations reveal the radical stories of a Jewish rabbi restating the OT prophetic tradition which condemns gross inequality and calls for justice and generosity.

The landowner pays a living wage to all his labourers and so allows all to feed their families while being able to keep their dignity.

What a message for the world that is!

 

 

 

The Parable of the Rich Fool.

19102014667On a very autumnal Sunday morning we met at the bandstand in the park to look at the Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool from Luke’s Gospel chapter 12.

We read together Psalm 14 and the story of the Rich Fool from the Message and from the NIV, followed by a quote from Amy – Jill Levine:

“Down through the centuries, starting with the Gospel writers themselves, the parables have been allegorised, moralised and otherwise tamed into platitudes such as ‘God loves us’ or ‘be nice.’ If we stop with the easy lessons, good though they may be, we lose the way Jesus’ first followers would have heard the parables, and we lose the genius of Jesus’ teaching.

Too often we settle for the easy interpretations: We will be forgiven, as was the prodigal son; we should pray and not lose heart, like the widow with the judge. When we seek assurances from parables, a genre that is designed to surprise, challenge, indict & provoke is domesticated and their teaching limited.”

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Here are the various interpretations of the parable that we considered:

  1. “You can’t take it with you.” This was considered a good interpretation in the past, but it is largely discarded now.
  2. Warning against “greed.” The rich fool is portrayed as an example of greed. The Greek word for “greed” carries with it overtones of an insatiable desire for more and more, he’s rapacious; his desire for more and more can never be fulfilled. Apparently the verb form in the Greek is commonly used to describe the actions of those who try to take advantage of others and strive rapaciously for gain, and it describes someone who never has enough.
  3. Warning against “living as though God does not exist.” In the parable God calls the man a “fool”! Psalm 14 v1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Here the Psalmist speaks about the “practical atheism” of those who live as though God does not exist – who live in contempt of God and the poor. A fool in the bible is someone whose words or actions deny the existence of God. The Greek verb translated –“eat drink and be merry” literally means “to make merry in a feast”, it is used to describe the decadent Dives who “feasted every day” while Lazarus starved at his gate. He is a total moral failure who disregards his social responsibilities.
  4. “We are blessed to bless others” and “are not to devote our lives solely to the accumulation of wealth.” This landowner was materially blessed by God; his land produced a bumper crop. Instead of using his blessing to further the will of God, all he was interested in was looking after himself and growing his wealth. We are not blessed by God to hoard our wealth just for ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, and we are blessed to build the kingdom of God.
  5. Warning against being “self-centred” and “self-obsessed”. The wealthy landowner’s thoughts (the dialogue he has with himself) are for Jesus an example of wrong thinking—the rich fool focuses entirely on himself. In just three verses he uses “I” 6 times and “my” 5 times.
  6. “Do not be controlled by wealth.” A literal translation from Greek is: “They are demanding your very life from you.” Who is “they?” in this context, the answer is, the things – all the “stuff”, all his possessions, all his wealth. And so, you could translate verse 20: “Fool! This night they shall require your very life from you; now who owns whom?” Jesus point is that all the “stuff” the rich man thought he owned actually owns him! It dominates his life. Jesus’ point is very clear: you were not made to “run on” wealth; you were made to “run on” God.
  7. Warning against an unwillingness to fulfil one’s “moral obligation to the poor”. Luke uses a Greek word that means more than just land, it means an extensive amount of land. The rich fool sees his prosperity as entitlement, Jesus’ audience would have been well aware that huge wealth was built on the backs of others. Large estates resulted from the expropriation of smallholders land through debt default. In Jesus’ view, there was a moral obligation for the rich fool to put his bumper crop onto the market at a fair price for the benefit of the poor of the land. But instead he stores the crop in order to drive up the price and so sell it later for an even bigger profit. His decision will have dire consequences for others; it will lead to starvation for many and death for the weakest and poorest. Hence, God’s judgement upon him.

We continued our worship by talking about three biblical heroes – Amos, Isaiah and Micah. We read Amos 2: 6-7, 8: 4-7, 5: 21-24.  Isaiah 1: 11-17, 21-23, 5:1-2, 7.  Micah 2: 1-3, 7: 1-3, 6: 6-8. Then considered the following Traidcraft campaign called Justice Matters:

Trade and business links us all with the rest of the world.

  • Nearly a third of FTSE 100 companies do business in developing countries.
  • UK foreign investment provides around £14 billion to developing countries each year – far more than we send in aid.

But justice matters in trade and business.

A few irresponsible British companies are abusing or exploiting people abroad – and getting away with it.

  • Destroying livelihoods through toxic pollution.
  • Forcing people out of their homes to make way for new mines or plantations.
  • Threatening violence if anyone questions what is going on.

People who work for or even just live near the operations of some British companies abroad are suffering. We wouldn’t find this acceptable – why should they?

At the moment, there’s a gap in British law which means that it’s almost impossible to prosecute big companies for causing serious harm abroad.

There have been 303 allegations of abuse by 127 British companies over the last ten years – but not one prosecution. That needs to change.

More than two-thirds of British business leaders agree that companies operating in developing countries should be accountable in the UK for any harm they cause there.

Traidcraft thinks justice matters in trade and business.

JUSTICE MATTERS case studies:

Magige’s story

Magige Ghati Kesabo from Tanzania lost his eldest son Emmanuel, who was shot and killed at a gold mine owned by a UK-based company.

‘My family depended on him so much’, he said, ‘He was going to look after me when I got old and now he is gone.’

Through a British solicitor who took up his case Magige was able to bring a claim in the English civil courts against the company, which resulted in an undisclosed out of court settlement. But no-one has ever been prosecuted for the death of his son.

 

Felix’s story

Felix and his daughter Bertha live close to a British owned copper smelting plant at Kankoyo in Zambia. Seven-year-old Bertha is badly affected by acid fumes emitted from the plant.

Felix explains: ‘She says: “I feel my chest – I can’t breathe, Dad”  It’s getting worse and worse. When she starts coughing, she can’t stop. She can’t play out with her friends because she’s so badly affected by the fumes.’

The company which owns the plant – listed on the London Stock Exchange – has never been held to account for the impact it is having on the local community.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft does business differently:

paying a fair price, there for the long term, helping businesses grow.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft supports small-scale farmers to produce more, so they can feed their families.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft campaigns for all trade and business to be fair, and it’s why we’re calling for British businesses to be prosecuted if they abuse or harm people abroad.

If justice matters to you, join with Traidcraft, and help us make a difference.

The Justice Matters petition

We the undersigned call on the British government to update the law so that large UK companies can be prosecuted for the most serious cases of causing harm abroad.

Sign online at:    www.traidcraft.co.uk 

“God is the lover of justice, one who protects and champions the oppressed: this is God’s nature. If this is the kind of God we have, then clearly God’s people have got to be the same.” JOHN STOTT.

 

We laid our prayers on the cross

We laid our prayers on the cross

Barbara began our prayer time by pointing out that the signs of autumn were all around us – the trees in beautiful autumn colours, leaves falling like confetti in the breeze. But also that autumn is the herald of winter, and for many people suffering now: the homeless, the refugee, the elderly, those who have to choose between eating and heating, those in war torn countries – winter will bring even greater hardship and suffering. We took fallen leaves and wrote on them the names of countries, situations and people  we wished to pray for, we then laid them on the cross at the centre of the bandstand.

 

We closed our worship by sharing bread and wine.

 

 

The Parable of the Talents

On Wednesday, 19th October we met at Holly House to discuss various interpretations of the parable of the talents, with help from Amy-Jill Levine’s book: Short Stories by Jesus – the enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi. She writes: “Parables are Jesus’s way of teaching…………they continue to provoke, challenge, and inspire.”  “Jesus’s God is a generous God……the parables help us with their lessons about generosity: sharing joy, providing for others…….”   “His God wants us to be better than we are….those who pray, ‘Your kingdom come,’ might want to take some responsibility in the process, and so work in partnership with God.”   “This book is an act of listening anew, of imagining what the parables would have sounded like to people who have no idea that he will be proclaimed Son of God by millions, no idea that he will be crucified by Rome. What would they hear a Jewish storyteller telling them? And why, 2000 years later, are these questions not only relevant, but perhaps more pressing than ever?”

The parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30.) [also Luke 19:11-27, the parable of the Ten Minas.]

This story has been troubling for me for many years now. It appears to promote a master who is hardhearted, ruthless, greedy, predatory, rapacious, avaricious, etc. while at the same time treating the third servant very unjustly.

“There is an old saying in Biblical studies that a text without a context is just a pretext for making it say anything one wants.” Amy-Jill Levine.

“If we get the context wrong, we’ll get Jesus wrong as well.” Amy-Jill Levine.

What would the crowd listening to Jesus have understood by the word Talent?

In a biblical context a “Talent” is silver coinage with one of the largest monetary values in the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.  It is a colossal sum, equal to 6,000 denarii – a day labourer’s wages for about 20 years!  The lowest guesstimate for the current value of a Talent is about £500,000.   (A Minas has a current value of about £60,000).

Is the parable about gifts or economics?

Is it a parable about the Kingdom of God or the state of the world?

What is the master like? How does he represent Jesus?

The servants would probably have been slaves. In the ancient world (certainly in ancient Egypt and Rome) slaves could rise to running their master’s household, and were known as stewards. eg Joseph in the house of Potiphor.

What would have been the reaction of Jesus’ hearers to these huge sums handed out to slaves to invest?

The returns on the investments are huge.  Could they have been achieved by just and legal means?  Or would they have required usury, fraud, exploitation and extortion?  (See Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37, Isaiah 5:8, Micah 2:1-2). What would have been the reaction of Jesus’ audience to these returns?

“For those listening to Jesus as he gave the parable, such returns on investment (verse 20) would have been deplored because it could only have occurred through the most predatory of means: extortion, fraud, tax-collecting, and lending money at illegal rates of interest”.                                     C. Myers & E. Debode.

“Large landowners often made loans to peasant farmers based on speculations of future crops. With high interest rates and vulnerability to poor crops and lean years, peasant farmers were unable to make their payments, and faced foreclosure. After gaining control of the land, the new owner could continue to make a killing by hiring the landless peasants as day labourers to farm his cash crops.”   C. Myers & E. Debode.

In the Jewish Law the fiftieth year was the year of Jubilee which celebrated seven Sabbatical years. i.e. 7 x 7 years. The Jubilee year involved a fourth big shake-up added to the debt cancellation, slaves released and land rested commands of the Sabbatical year. The land itself was to be returned to its original occupants. Leviticus 25:10. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own family.”

At the “accounting” does the third slave “speak truth to power”? Is he a “whistle-blower” who exposes the fact that the master’s wealth is entirely derived from the exploitation of others? By burying the money could he have been taking it out of circulation so that it could not be used to dispossess more peasant families?  (see Isaiah 5:8).

I love the slave’s comment at the end of verse 25. Some translations read: “Here, take back what is yours!”  It is interesting that the master does not refute the slave’s analysis of his world, nor does he refute the slave’s description of him as being hardhearted, greedy, and ruthless.

“The third slave is a whistle-blower on greed, corruption and exploitation. And like most, if not all whistle-blowers, having spoken the truth is totally vulnerable. Vilified. Shamed. Humiliated.”  Barbara Reid.

Is the slave about to meet the prophet’s fate? (see Luke 11:48-51)

Verse 30 is usually interpreted as the slave being banished to hell.  Is that the correct interpretation of the verse?  Or could it mean banished to hell on earth – dispossessed, and thrown out on the streets – homeless and destitute?

What is your reaction to the third slave? Could he be the hero of the parable by not taking part in the master’s world of usury and greed? Could it be that he doesn’t invest the money because that would involve him in usury?

How could verses 28 and 29 possibly be anything to do with the Kingdom of God?  Aren’t they a description of the way the real world works, both then and now?

Amy-Jill Levine says we have “domesticated” the parables of Jesus. Is that in order to make them palatable to the rich and powerful?

Do you think the master could be a ruthless rich and powerful landowner, collaborating with the Roman occupation?  Who might he represent today?

Isn’t it interesting that Matthew places the story of the Sheep & the Goats in the same chapter as the “Talents”, and Luke places the meeting of Jesus with Zacchaeus in the same chapter as the “Ten Minas”?

“Justice was at the centre of Jesus’ spirituality.  It is when we have the courage to name exploitation for what it is that we can begin to re-imagine the world.”   Barbara Reid.

Isn’t this a cautionary tale about the world and not a parable of the Kingdom?

Do you think an alternative understanding of the parable makes more sense in the light of the whole message and life of Jesus?  Doesn’t it also fit in better with the “call for justice” found throughout the Old Testament and in the synoptic gospels?

“Christians find a basis for justice-making in their understanding of God: To know God is to do justice.” (see Jeremiah 22:16) Dorothy Yoder Nyce.

If you had to rename the parable what would you call it?

I hope this post will help you to consider anew and to grapple with the enigmatic, challenging and provocative nature of Jesus’s parables.

 

From seeds to trees and non-trees!

wp_20161009_007This morning’s gathering was inspired by Fiona’s excellent input last Sunday, focusing on seeds and involving a beautiful walk in glorious autumn sunshine, our book that we are starting to study ‘Short stories by Jesus’ by Amy-Jill Levine and an article – worth googling – entitled ‘Trees have feeling too’ by Peter Wohlleben. I guess I was also influenced by my increasing love trees fostered by our meeting among them week on week.

We began reading literal translations of the 3 versions of the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew, Mark and Luke) noting that the seed was sown in the ground, by a person in his field, or cast by a man in his garden, where it became the greatest of vegetables – or a tree – and birds rested under its shadow – or in its branches.

We compared popular interpretations of the parable and why Levine dismisses these on the basis of misinformation of the context / Jewish law or the banality of a simplistic and non-challenging message. Parables are meant to challenge and provoke and unsettle… A suggested reading was as follows (acknowledging that these are not the only messages possible and that parables should speak to us in different ways in different circumstances just as Jesus would have used and adapted them…):

(i) Some things need to be left alone – the seed succeeds without our interfering! If we interfere it won’t succeed! Not everything or everyone needs our constant attention!
(ii) Sometimes we need to get out of the way! We are not always the focus. We are sometimes the facilitator for something bigger than ourselves but what’s sown and grows is much more important than the one who sowed it.
(iii) The setting is domestic – a field or a garden – the kingdom of God is to be found in our own backyard. Don’t ask when or where it might be. The when is its own good time and the where is that it is already present, inchoate, in the world. We might put it – find out what God’s doing – spot the kingdom! – and join in!

Taking the Trees article with us, we had 15 minutes or so to visit 3 different species of trees  – to take time to wonder and to address a question at each:

Tree 1. Is there anyone or anything that I need to leave alone? Can I trust God to take care of a situation that I can’t fix?

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Tree 2. Where do I need to get out of the way? Is there any situation where I need to step back? What might be important but doesn’t have to be about me?

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Tree 3. Where have I seen God’s kingdom in my own backyard recently? In the coming week, what little things could I do to join in and be part of it?

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We met up under the weeping beech to share prayer concerns and then bread and wine – using these brilliant words (which we aren’t sure the provenance of):

On this plate with the bread
We place, O Lord, our purposeful action:
Our aspirations, achievements, work,
Those who are closest to us,
Those whose lives are bound up with our personal lives,
Our neighbours and those with whom we work…

And with these, we unite those more distant to us:
The whole of anonymous mankind
Scattered in every corner of the globe;
Our distant brothers and sisters remembering you in bread and wine today
A multitude of people, each reflecting your image, each needing your grace…

And not only the living, but also the dead
We remember those who have inspired us and gone before us…

Into these cups we pour our sorrows
Our failings and pain,
Our joys and our successes.

May all life – past, present and future, near and far –
Now be elevated at this altar
In a glorious communion
And in the hope of your coming kingdom.

Amen.

We hope this might inspire some readers to find the article or to get out and visit a few remarkable trees and learn to be challenged by them!