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Chris (email link at the bottom of each page)

Shunned and rejected, but not by Jesus

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Hebrews 3:7–14 • Psalm 94(95):6–11 • Mark 1:40-45

In the ancient world lepers were outcasts. Feared and loathed in equal measure, despised and dreaded too, they scraped out a meagre existence by beggıng and pleading for mercy. The Levitical law was clear, unambiguous and harsh: The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry: "Unclean, unclean."... [H]e shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp' (Lev. 13:45 – 46). Leprosy was clearly a terrible curse, a truly dreadful disease. In Jesus' day the sufferer was declared ritually unclean, and the condition was perceived as a punishment for sin. Lepers did not receive the compassion and care evoked by other diseases but were ostracized, feared and judged as sinners. It is hard for us to conceive of the suffering and anguish of the poor leper in today's Gospel account, although in the early days of the outbreak of AIDS/HIV sufferers said that they felt like lepers. Had he been forced to leave a wife and family? Did his former friends shun him? Where did he find food and shelter? What hope did the years ahead hold for him? How he must have wept and lamented his awful fate! Mark records that Jesus was profoundly moved with compassion for him, which led him to stretch out his hand to touch and heal him.

There are, of course, many in our society who are shunned and rejected, modern lepers if you will. It doesn't take much imagination to identify them: the poverty-stricken, refugees, migrants, those afflicted with AIDS, child-busers, prisoners, sex workers, drug addicts. If Jesus were alive today, these are the people he would love to associate with. But Jesus is alive today living by his Spirit and through the witness of believers who understand that we are all of us in fact lepers. We are all afficted and wounded by sin and darkness, and like the leper we too have received the pity, compassion, love and mercy of God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. Having ourselves received God's amazing mercy, we reach out to others with his pity, compassion, love and mercy.

Lord, you have cleansed us from sin and restored to us the dignity of being your sons and daughters. Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with joy in our salvation so that we might long to share that joy with others, especialy those who have been rejected.

Chris

from Bible Alive

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Take Courage

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Mark 6:45–52
 
Jesus appears on the water to a boatload of men
 
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “Take courange! . . . Don’t be afraid.” (v50, NIV).  The remedy for fear is love, faith and courage.  God’s love for us is so intense, so prolific, so all-forgiving that we should never be burdened by guilt or bound by fear.
 
In God’s love we can become like infants, blissfully and safely asleep in his arms, where nothing else matters.  Do we ever feel like this?  If not, or not frequently enough, we need to remind ourselves of the truth that, however helpless or unworthy or frightened we feel, Jesus felt that we were worth dying for.
 
Lord, help me to experience the love that you have for me, the love which drives away fear and which equips me with faith and courage.  From my place in your arms show me how I can face my fears and how my worries will look so much smaller.
 

Chris

from Bible Alive

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Epiphany!

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(Solemnity) Epiphany of the Lord Matthew 2:1-12

 

“O wise men from afar, O kings, where are you going in such haste? O wise men from afar, anger persecutes the child."

Jesus came to bring light to our darkened world. Today's feast of the Epiphany celebrates the unveiling of this light to the Gentiles. Our scene is set during the reign of Herod, who had been appointed king by the Roman Senate in 40 BC. He was a tyrannical despot with a penchant for parricide (he murdered his wife, three sons, uncle and mother-in-law), but his taste for bloodshed, as we shall see, extended beyond his family circle. The Magi, who may have been astrologers from Persia or southern Arabia, followed a star (some scholars suggest it was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn). In feigning to be interested in the birth of the Messiah, Herod revealed his duplicity and cunning. In fact, his heart was bent on extinguishing the light of the world. The Magi, on the other hand, were bent on worshipping the light of the world.

St Pope John Paul II saw in the Magi's journey in search of a king a parallel to the human journey: “Whatever the age, culture, civilisation or nation, people are aways searching for God. Like the wise men, they glimpse him through the eyes of faith, then set forth in faith in the desire to draw closer to him in whom they believe and come to him in the eternal Bethlehem. However, if they have not found him through faith, in looking for the truth they seek this faith, and so seek God.”  St Augustine said, I would not have sought you, if I had not already found you. Before starting to seek God, each of us has in fact found him, and rooted in this starting point we enter ever more deeply into the mystery of God- Christ in us the hope of glory.

As we celebrate the beginning of this new year, we unite our hearts to the vision of the Church and proclaim the light of Christ to the world. We play a vital role in making Christ known – his love, mercy and compassion overwhelm the coldness and extinguish the darkness in our hearts.

Lord Jesus, on this most holy feast I proclaim that you are the light of the world. I dedicate my life to being a city on a hilltop and a lamp to radiate your life and light.

Chris

from Bible Alive

 

Isaiah 60:1-6 • Psalm 71(72):1-2, 7-13 • Ephesians 3:2-6 • Matthew 2:1-12

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Prayer for the New Year

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From the Downside Prayer Book 2009

The New Year

An old custom used to be to give thanks for the old year and pray for blessing on the new. At an early date, the Roman Church kept the day as a feast of Mary and dedicated the new year to the intercession of the Mother of God. It is also observed now as the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

O God of infinite mercy and generosity, we give you thanks for all the good things you have given us over the past year, and ask you in your kindness that, as you have answered the prayers of those who turn to you in faith, so you will never leave us but prepare us for the rewards of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lord of creation, in whose power are all times and seasons, bless this year and crown it with your goodness. Keep your Church in peace, grant us every blessing and lead us to our eternal home, where you reign for ever and ever.

Almighty God, in whose hands lies the destiny of mankind and of the world, let not our hopes perish, nor our sacrifices be in vain. Holy Spirit and giver of life, give us grace to root out from our life the bitterness of ancient wrongs and the desire to be avenged for the betrayals of long ago. Save us from the tyranny of history and set us free to serve each other attentively and live the present as a gift of new life.

In the power of our redemption by you we believe that all our sins of yesterday are forgiven by your love; grant us the grace and courage now to give and receive the forgiveness which alone can heal the wounds which remain. Draw us towards your loving kindness and guide us in the way of peace.

Anonymous

 
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Mary, Mother of God

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Galatians 4:4–7 Mary, Mother of God (Solemnity).

Today the dawn broke on another year. We look out on it as it stretches ahead of us, full of hope, and we pray and ask for grace. For sure, the passage of time is relentless, unstoppable and, for all of us, an ever-present

reality. The young urge time to go faster that they may grow up more quickly and do all the things they want to do. As we age, many complain that they simply do not know where the years have gone.

 Time is unquestionably a mystery. However, there is one thing that we know for certain about time and that is that 'when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons' (vv. 4-5). Time itself changed forever when, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born to the young virgin, Mary of Nazareth, in the small town of Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. Time itself became charged with the very presence of God in a new and special way. We owe Mary, our Mother in faith, a debt of gratitude we can never truly repay. For with her embrace of God's plan, witłh her “Yes”, with her co-operation and her docility to God's will, the plan of God's salvation could begin.

Today, lift up your voice in praise and thanksgiving to God the Father for Mary, for through the fruit of her womb we receive full rights as children of God (v. 5) and are privileged to have the Spirit of God living in our hearts (v. 6).  Mary's obedience overthrew Eve's disobedience and opened the way for Jesus’s obedience to overthrow

the disobedience of Adam and therefore Satan's hold over the human race. Cling to this truth today; hold on to it, bring it to mind and pray over it because the whole gospel message hinges on it. We do not know what the New Year holds; we cannot know what it will bring: what we can know is that we face whatever comes as the beloved children of a gracious and merciful heavenly Father, who was willing to sacrifice his own beloved Son so that not one single person would perish.

Everything comes from love, all is ordained for our salvation, God does nothing without this goal in mind.

(St Catherine of Stena)

Chris

from Bible Alive

Numbers 6:22–27 • Psalm 66(67):2–8 • Galatians 4:4–7 • Luke 2:16–21

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Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel

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2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–16 • Psalm 88(89): 2–5, 27,29 • Luke1:67–79

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue and he has raised up for us a power for salvation in the House of his servant David even as he proclaimed, by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times, that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us.  Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors, thus he remembers his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham that he would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies, to serve him in holiness and virtue in his presence, all our days.  And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him.  To give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, this by the tender mercy of our God who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

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The Magnificat

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1 Samuel 1:24–28 - 1 Samuel 2:1, 4–8 - Luke 1:46–56

Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.  Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.  Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.

‘He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart.  He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.  The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.  He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’  Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.


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Fourth Sunday of Advent

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How shall we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus as our King this Christmas? A king can rule only when the people give him authority to reign over them.  Jesus will be our king only if we invite him to rule over us by placing our whole lives under him, leaving no area of our lives outside his kingship and holding nothing back from him. We must make the decision to follow him, obey him and serve him with all of our hearts. Do you want Jesus to reign in your life?  What areas of your life do you wish to place under his kingship?

Use these precious days before Christmas to ask the Holy Spirit to show you any areas that you need to place under his rule.  Jesus is coming. Welcome him with great joy! Jesus longs to be your king. Invite him to reign over your life!

Jesus was born to deliver us from the dominion of darkness and to transfer us into the kingdom of light (see Col 1:13).  He inaugurated the kingdom of God: 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' (Matt 4:17).  Using many parables he teaches us about the kingdom of God.  He insists that only the docile and humble can receive the kingdom:

Jesus you were born to be my Saviour and my King I invite you to be my King and to rule over my whole life.


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John the Baptist

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Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25 • Psalm 84(85):9-14 • Luke 7:19-23

  

John the Baptist was one of the greatest men who ever lived and figured prominently in the period immediately preceding the ministry of Jesus. Not only had John foretold the coming of Jesus (Matt. 3:11f.), he had recognised him, pointed him out to others (John 1:29) and baptised him (Matt. 3:13-17). John had faithfully and fearlessly prepared the way for Jesus. Yet, in today's Gospel, John poses a question that seems tinged with doubt and indecision: Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another? (v. 19). What were John's expectations of the Messiah?

Both the language and imagery of John's preaching conjure up a wrathful figure coming forth in judgement, scattering fire and destruction in his wake (see, eg, Luke 3:7-9, 15-17). Yet, as he languished in prison, he heard rumours of quite a different kind of activity by Jesus healings of various kinds, casting out of evil spirits and even the dead raised to life. As John served the prison sentence earned for fearlessly denouncing Herod, was he perhaps disappointed or disillusioned because the Messiah had not responded with a similar counterblast of judgement?

At the commencement of his ministry, in his home-town synagogue, Jesus had proclaimed the inauguration of God's kingdom (Luke 4:16ff). He had quoted from the prophet Isaiah, but gone only so far as to proclaim 'the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:19 NIV) and had not proceeded to announce the day of vengeance of our God’ (Isa. 61:2b). Jesus came as Saviour; the time was not yet ripe for him to assume his role of Judge. John was impatient for judgement, but Jesus was patient for salvation.

Jesus later uses the parable of the Fig Tree to explain God's gracious, patient waiting, but also his ultimate and inevitable judgement (Luke 13:6-9). More than two thousand years later, the judgement envisaged by John has still not come. The fig tree still stands – and the Master watches hopefully for it to bear fruit. To those who hear the good news today, the Holy Spirit continues to warn, 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts' (Heb. 3:7-8). Have we embraced the good news in faith and allowed it to bear fruit in our lives? We dare not postpone our response of faith and obedience. 

Gracious God, help me never to presume upon your mercy and grace. Instead, teach me to respond with steadfast faith, fervent gratitude and wholehearted obedience

Chris

from Bible Alive

 

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Faith and Forgiveness

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Isaiah 35:1-10  Psalm 84(85):9–14  Luke 5:17–26


The paralysed man is healed, not because of his own faith, but through the faith of his friends. This fascinating incident highlights that a sure knowledge and experience of forgiveness is a fundamental human need which strikes at the very core of who we are. And who are we? We are persons created in the image and likeness of God, but fallen and wounded and in need of the bitter grace of sorrow and repentance, which leads to the sweet blessing of forgiveness.


The Pharisees have to be given credit for getting to the heart of the matter very quickly indeed. They figured that no mere human being could forgive sins and that this power and grace belonged to God alone (v. 21). Many centuries later William Blake captured this idea in the way that only a great man of letters can: “There is not one moral virtue that Jesus inculcated but Plato and Cicero did inculcate before him. What then did Christ inculcate? Forgiveness of sins. This alone is the Gospel, and this is the life and immortality brought to life by Jesus.”


There is a very real way in which forgiveness is our greatest need, and when we receive God’s forgiveness our greatest response is in turn to forgive those who sin against us. At the heart of receiving God’s forgiveness is taking hold of how great is God’s mercy towards us. God delights to forgive sins and rejoices when we turn to him in sorrow and repentance. Perhaps it is because in receiving God’s forgiveness we grasp reality and come in contact with the truth that it was because of our sin, our rebellion and our waywardness that God sent his only Son.

The cost of the grace of our forgiveness and reconciliation was brought about by nothing less than the cross of Jesus. Without the cross there would be no forgiveness. In forgiving us God sets us free, and we are invited to forgive others as we have been forgiven. This is why the cross is truly a sign of forgiveness and freedom. “When Christ’s hands were naıled to the cross, he also nailed your sins to the cross” (St Bernard of Clairvaux).

On this his feast-day, we leave the last word to the wise pastor St Ambrose: 


As often as the Lord’s blood is shed it is poured out for the forgiveness of sins; so I ought to receive it always, that my sins may always be forgiven.

Chris


from Bible Alive

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