A God who is rich in mercy

God-loved-the-worldBeginnings and endings are always significant. How you start a story – and how you end a story create so much of the impact of the whole story. We know well how the Bible begins – “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen 1:1) We might even know how the story ends in Rev 22:21: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” A great beginning and a very hope-filled ending. But for the Jewish people, their scriptures do not end with the New Testament book of Revelation, nor do they end with the final prophet Malachi, like most of our English bibles do. No, the Hebrew bible is actually organised into three sections (Torah, Prophets and Writings), not the four sections that most of our bibles use (Pentateuch/Law, History, Wisdom and Prophets). The twenty-four books that comprise the Hebrew Bible (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah which are broken into two books in our bibles are considered one in theirs; and the Twelve Minor Prophets are considered a single work) come to their conclusion in the Book of Chronicles, and the final passage in their bible is what we read today as our first reading. Which if you think about it, doesn’t seem like a very satisfactory ending. The final words are even given to a pagan king, rather than a Jewish hero. Have they really sunk that low? Well, I guess – yes! One of the things that really strikes me about the Jewish scriptures is that they do not eulogise; their story is told with all the gritty and shocking details. They know whose fault it is that they ended up in such a mess: theirs. The own their sin and the claim it as their own. They would agree with St Paul that when God intervened in our lives we were still dead in our sins. We hadn’t done anything to earn God’s grace and mercy. Yet still it was faithfully and freely given: “because it is by grace that you have been saved.”

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Recorded at St Col’s, 9am (11mins)

The blessing of children and adults

Just as the Lord teaches us how to pray (and not just one specific prayer) in the Our Father, so also he teaches us how to bless when he instructs Aaron to bless the people in Numbers 6:22-24. There he tells the people to bless each other saying “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

So when people come forward to Extraordinary Ministers with their arms crossed, it is entirely appropriate to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads (just as parents and godparents are asked to do during baptism) while saying the same prayer of blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

Note this is appropriately different to a priest’s blessing. 

From the Pastor’s PC – Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today is called Laetare Sunday (from the Latin for ‘be joyful’) and the Gospel reading provides many reasons to indeed rejoice. And to celebrate the fullness of life here at St Col’s. Although the Gospel verse that lies at the centre of our reading this week is so well known that it is almost a cliché, the truth of this verse must be allowed to rest lightly yet deeply upon our souls. We have heard in these weeks something of God’s plan for salvation and his desire to dwell with and among his people. But we also know our failure to respond; our failure to be faithful; our failure to trust; our failure to keep the commandments.

What is astounding about the liturgy today is that God wants to tell us about how much he has loved us and how generous he is with his mercy. Why? Because he is not just rich in grace, but infinitely rich in grace. Which in my book is rather large. In fact, enormous. (Kudos to the Monty Python crew.) Now, if only we could embrace this, and live it. How great would that be?

The first reading today is actually taken from the very end of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the Greek bible – which English bibles follow – which breaks up the Old Testament text into four basic sections: Law (Pentateuch), History, Wisdom and Prophets, the Hebrew Bible has three sections which provide the name of the Bible: Tanakh. T is for Torah; N is for Nebi’im (the Prophets) and Kethubim is the Hebrew for Writings. The Prophets contain some of what we call history (like Samuel and Kings) and then the Writings contains everything else (like Psalms, Proverbs, later history and then Chronicles to finish everything off.)

The Sunday readings in Lent have given us key points in salvation history. Today we hear that the chosen people abandoned the law God gave them and the destruction of the kingdom established by the final Old Testament covenant – the covenant with David. As a result of their sins, the temple was destroyed, and they were exiled in Babylon. We hear their sorrow and repentance in the exile lament we sing as the Psalm.

But we also hear how God, in His mercy, gathered them back, even anointing a pagan king to shepherd them and rebuild the temple. God is so very rich in mercy. He promised that David’s kingdom would last forever, that David’s son would be His Son and rule all nations. In Jesus, God keeps that promise.

Moses lifted up the serpent as a sign of salvation. Now Jesus is lifted up on the cross, to draw all people to himself (see John 12:32). Those who refuse to believe in this sign of the Father’s love are not condemned by God; no, they condemn themselves.

But just as God did not leave Israel in exile, He does not want to leave any of us dead in our transgressions. We are God’s handiwork, saved to live as His people in the light of His truth. Midway through Lent, let us behold the Pierced One, and renew our commitment to living the “good works” that God has prepared us for.

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