Sunday, November 30, 2014

when the master returns

Sermon: 30 November 2014 May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, a penitential season when it is traditional to focus on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Rather than preaching on those directly this year, I am simply going to remind you of them each Sunday and ask that you use them as a lens to consider what it is that our readings have to say to us each week as we journey through Advent.

That's not hard today, as all those themes are present in our Gospel reading from St Mark, when we hear about the Son of Man coming to gather his elect. In it Jesus reminds us to remain alert, because we do not know when that day may come. And he uses a short parable, that of a master going away on a journey who charges his slaves to look after his household while he is gone, each being given their own task. And he draws his listeners very directly into the parable – keep awake, he tells them, for you do not know when the master will return – keep awake or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: keep awake!

Unpacking the parable, I imagine the story unfolding rather like this: One day the master of a vast estate calls his many slaves before him. I am going on a journey, he tells them. I can't say how long I may be gone: it might be months, it might be years – many, many years. But have no doubt that I shall return. I am going to assign each of you tasks to perform while I am gone – work on my estate that is vital to keep it going. What I am not going to do is set someone over you in my place. Each of you will be responsible for doing what it is you are supposed to do. No one will force you to do your work, no one will shout at you or beat you if you are idle; and no one will praise you if you do it well.

But that is not to say there are no consequences for failing in your duties and no reward for being diligent. There will in fact be a great reward for those who are faithful in my absence. When I return, they will no longer be slaves – they will be free. More, I will give each a share in my estate; it will be as if they are my brothers and sisters. And great will be their joy.

But those who are lazy and wicked and neglect my estate and their work will no longer have a place here. I will send them to the place where all useless and unworthy slaves are sent – to the salt mines where their labour will be long and their masters unmerciful and great will be their sorrow. It is up to you what your fate will be. I have explained everything to you.

Now, as I said, I will set no overseer over you – but what I will do is leave my trusted watchman here among you. It will be his task to go among you and remind you of what it is that I have said. Whether you choose to listen to him or not is of course up to you. And I have instructed him to hold a great gathering once a week to which you are all invited. At these I have tasked him with reminding you of what I have said, of what the reward is for those who obey, and the fate is for those who do not. But again, it is up to you whether you attend those gatherings or not. No one will drag you to them.

And now I am leaving; remember, you do not know when I will return. There will be no warning. So my last words to you are this – stay alert, work hard, stick to your task, and you will be the happiest of men and women when I return; and if you do not, then I fear you will be the most miserable of all people who ever drew breath.

And so the master left. And of course some worked hard, some did not; some listened to the watchman, some did not. The faithful slaves tried to help the others by reminding them of what the master had said. But they didn't want to hear it. Some said he wasn't ever returning; others that even if he did, he would hold no one to account; and others that he was tricking them and there would be no reward.

And can you imagine the day when he does finally return? No doubt there will be a great scramble as all, even the faithful, try to put a final polish on all they've done; and the unfaithful, realising too late they were wrong, try to repair the years of neglect only to find it an impossible task. And great the sorrow or great the joy for each as they discover that the master is faithful to the promises he made before they left, judging each according to the faithfulness they showed him in his absence.

And it is no harm for us to finish today on the line our Lord's finished on in when he first told this parable – what I say to you I say to all. It makes it clear that he is speaking to all people at all times: stay alert, stay awake, for you do not know when the master will return. And that is part of what this season of Advent is about – reminding us to stay alert, to stay awake, for we do not know when the master will return. I pray that all here will. Amen.  

Examin Sunday 30 November 2014

Advent is here. For the world around us it is a time for shopping and parties; but in the Church calender it is a penitential season – a time not only of looking back at the birth of the Christ Child, but of looking forward to the time when he will come again as our King and our Judge. Use this time to reflect on how you might fare if he should return within the next moment and to prepare yourself so that you are not found wanting.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 29 November 2014

‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.' 
Luke 21. 34.35

Our Lord warned that the things of this life can be a danger to us, both in its pleasures and its concerns. Whatever comes your way, focus always on the true goal of this life – the eternal life Christ promised.

Friday, November 28, 2014

prayer diary Friday 28 November 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.' 
Luke 21. 33

Christ in his teaching spoke eternal truths. And what he taught is as true today as the day he first spoke his words to mortal men.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 27 November 2014

'Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.' 
Luke 21. 27

Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. Ponder that this Advent, rather than treating it as a party season instead of a penitential one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 26 November 2014

'They will arrest you & persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues & prisons, & you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.' 
Luke 21.13

Christ warned his followers that their lives would be dangerous and difficult for his sake. Perhaps that means we should wonder when our own lives are too comfortable.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 25 November 2014

And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.' 
Luke 21.8

Christ warned us that we would not know when he would come again. Wait for that day patiently, living as if it might be tomorrow, according to the way that he taught.

Monday, November 24, 2014

prayer diary Monday 24 November 2014

‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ 
Luke 21. 3-4

Christian giving is about more than giving what we hardly notice or can easily spare. It involves self-denial and sacrifice. In Christian giving one can see the Cross.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

the sheep and the goats

For today's sermon I essentially did an extemporaneous version of the story 'the visitor' which I told to the children in school on Friday (& which I already posted here).  Sometimes it is appropriate to tell a story ... people listen to stories and they remember them (& they work very well at Family/children's services!). 

Spoiler alert - stop reading here if you don't want to know the passage of Scripture the story is based on before you read the story - it might give away the 'twist' at the end!

The Visitor is, of course, based on the parable of the Sheep and the Goats ... although I should mention that one of my training rector's, a man who opinion I value highly, told me that he thought it incorrect to consider it a parable. Instead he viewed it as a prophetic utterance of our Lord's describing accurately what it would be like at the end of days. Which are, I think, a couple of sentences that are a sermon in themselves. 

Examin 22 November 2014

We all face temptations to do things we know to be contrary to God's will; and we face trials and tribulations about which we are powerless to do anything. Pray for the strength to resist temptation and to endure trials without resentment or despair. Focus on being faithful in this life so as to lay up treasure in the next. And when you fail, do not neglect to ask God's forgiveness for those failings and for his grace to help you continue in your struggle to grow in holiness.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 22 November 2014

'He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 
Luke 19. 38

Our Lord was quite clear that death means passing from this life to the next. Live this life with that hope always before you; and let Christ's promise of eternal life guide all your actions. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The visitor

Jane was washing the breakfast dishes when the doorbell rang. Sighing she dried her hands and made the long journey through the old house from the kitchen to the front door. Her sister, Elizabeth, was, she knew, relaxing in front of the fire that Jane had made in the morning room earlier. But it would never occur to her to answer the door. She never did. She rarely did anything around the house.

Jane opened the door.
'Mr Smedly,' she said in surprise. Mr Smedley was the local solicitor. But she hadn't had any cause to talk with him since her father had died five years earlier.
'May I come in?' he said with a smile, raising his bowler hat.
'Of course,' she said, stepping aside.
'Not a bad day,' he said as he entered. 'Very cold, of course. But dry.' He took off his coat and Jane hung it up.
'Is your sister here, I wonder?' he said.
'Yes,' said Jane.
'It was very good of you to take her in,' said Mr Smedly. 'After, all, the house was left to you.'
'Where else would she go?' said Jane.
'Quite,' said Mr Smedly. 'I wonder if I might have a word with you both?'
'Of course.' She brought him through the door, a little way down the entrance hall, which led to the morning room. Elizabeth was sitting on a sofa, her feet curled under her, reading the paper.
'Mr Smedly,' she said. 'What brings you here?'
'Won't you sit down?' said Jane. 'Can I offer you some tea?'
'Thank you,' he said sitting. 'But no tea, thank you. What I have to say won't take long. It's a rather interesting story, though.'
'Really?' said Elizabeth. 'Do tell.'
'I wonder did your father ever mention to you that he had a brother?'
'A brother?' said Elizabeth. 'No; never.'
'Yes,' said Jane. 'His name was John. He was a little older than father. They fell out over something when they were young. As far as I know they never spoke again. I'm afraid I have no idea where he is. I did try to contact him after father died, but no one seemed to have any idea where he was. He seems to have vanished years ago.'
'Ah,' said Mr Smedly. 'Well, in fact, it seems as if he was hiding in plain sight. He changed his name and became an actor. A rather famous one. I'm sure you've heard of him – Gregory Dax?'
' Gregory Dax?' said Elizabeth. 'Oooh, yes. I've seen some of his old movies. He was rather dishy back in the day. Well, now we know where I get my good looks – it must run in the family.'
'Have you heard of him, Jane?'
'Yes. Doesn't he run some kind of a foundation now?'
'Indeed.' The lawyer nodded. 'Apparently he was also quite clever at investing and made quite an enormous fortune. And he gives most of his money away to charity through his foundation.'
'How boring,' said Elizabeth. 'If I were rich, I'd get out of this hole of a place and have a fine time spending it. But why are you telling all of this. He hasn't died, has he?' She sat up, her eyes gleaming. 'Is that it? Is he dead and we're getting all his money?'
'Elizabeth!' said Jane, shocked. 'How can you wish someone dead for their money?'
'Oh, hush, Miss goody-two-shoes. I'm not wishing him dead. I'm just being honest and wondering if I'm about to have a bit of good luck for a change. Well?'
'It is good news, in a sense,' said Mr Smedly. 'He's not dead. But he realises he's getting old. His wife died some years ago and they never had children. So he's trying to decide who to leave it all to. He'd like to meet you two. You're his only relatives; he's thinking of making one of you his heir.'
'Goody!' said Elizabeth. 'When will he make up his mind. And how? He's never met us; he knows nothing about us.'
'Exactly. That's why he sent me. He wants to meet you. If you could come to my office today at around noon, he'll be there. He's says he'll make up his mind there and then and I'm to draw up the paperwork.'
'Isn't that an awfully big decision to make in so short a time?' said Jane.
'I suggested as much. But he says that he is an excellent judge of character and will know whom he should chose by then. Shall I tell him you'll be there?'
'Of course we'll be there!' said Elizabeth. And there was very little more to say. Jane showed Mr Smedly out and went back to the morning room. Elizabeth was dancing about in delight.
'I'm going to be rich! Rich, rich, rich!' She smiled at her sister. 'Too bad about you; but we all know you're not much good at first impressions. Me, now that's a different story. But not to worry; after all, you'll still have the house. And now, I have to get dressed – uncle John won't know what hit him!' She tore out of the room.

Jane sighed and headed back to the kitchen. She had no doubt that Elizabeth was right. She was beautiful and Jane, well, wasn't, and Elizabeth could be charming when she wanted to be. If this was the way that their uncle wanted to decide what to do with his fortune, then is seemed a forgone conclusion that Elizabeth would soon have what she wanted.

She was no sooner back in the kitchen than the door-bell rang again, so she turned around and trudged back. But this time, Elizabeth was there first. She probably thought it was Mr Smedly back with more good news, thought Jane. But when she got to the hallway, she heard Elizabeth's voice raised and she sounded cross.

'Oh, be off with you! Really, if we gave something to every beggar that came to the door, we'd be beggars ourselves! Just because we live in a big house doesn't mean we're rich!' She slammed the door and pounded back up the stairs. Jane frowned, wondering what it had all been about. Despite what Elizabeth said, people rarely came to the house looking for anything. Most of the people in the town knew that the two sisters struggled to get by on what Jane earned. It might have been different if Elizabeth worked, but, of course, she didn't.
Jane went to the door and opened. There was an old woman walking down the drive. She called after her.
'Hello. Hello! Can I help you?' The old woman turned and came back. She was thin and stooped and dressed in an old black shawl.
'Can I help you?' Jane repeated. The old woman gave her a nervous look.
'I don't mean to trouble you,' said the old woman. 'I was out walking and I went further than I meant to. I just wanted somewhere to sit down for a minute, and maybe have a cup of tea …'
'Oh, for goodness sake, of course, come in,' said Jane. She brought her down to the kitchen and sat her down next to the old range.
'I'm Jane. The tea won't be a minute,' said Jane, putting on the kettle. 'Are you hungry? There's still plenty left since breakfast. I was just clearing it away.'
'Oh thank you, dearie, but I don't want to be any trouble.'
'It's no trouble.' Jane made a pot of tea and fixed her a plate of food. The old woman wolfed it down like she was starving. Jane chatted to her while she finished the washing up. The old woman nodded and smiled, but didn't say much.
'Listen,' said Jane. 'I have to go into town soon. If you like, I can give you a lift.'
'No, no, dearie,' said the old woman, standing up. 'I'm much better now. You've been very good. I must be on my way.'
'Are you sure?' said Jane. 'I'll be going in in an hour. You could wait here by the fire.'
'No thank you,' said the old woman.
'If you're sure,' said Jane. She walked her back to the ftont door. Opening it the icy breeze made her shiver. She looked at the old woman in her shawl.
'You're not dressed warmly enough for this weather,' she said.
'It's all I have,' said the old woman.
'Wait a moment,' said Jane. She took a heavy old coat off the stand by the door.
'I think this should fit you,' she said.
'Really, dearie, I can't take your coat. Jane shook her head.
'It was my father's. I've been meaning to take it down to the charity shop for ages. You have it. It's wool. It'll keep you warm.'
The old woman put it on.
'Oh, it is warm, isn't it? Thank you dearie.' She gave Jane a hug and was off. Jane smiled. Maybe she'd never be rich like Elizabeth would soon be; but she knew she'd do more good with the little she had than her sister ever would with millions.

Jane was quiet in the car on the drive into town. She hadn't much choice; her sister talked non-stop, already spending the riches she was sure would soon be hers. The secretary ushered them into Mr Smedly's office. With him was a tall, thin man who looked vaguely familiar. Not surprising, thought Jane; he is an famous actor, after all.

Elizabeth put the charm on straight away.

'Uncle John,' she said, giving him her most brilliant smile. 'I've always been a great fan of your movies. Who knew we were flesh and blood? What a pity we never met before. But we have plenty of time to make up for that now.'
Her uncle looked at her.
'You must be Elizabeth. I'm glad you liked my movies. And we have met before.'
'No,' said Elizabeth. 'I'd remember.'
'I doubt it. I was cold, tired, and hungry. And you wouldn't give me so much as a cup of tea.'
'I think you must be mistaken.'
'I'm afraid not. And because of that, you will never be my heir.'
'I don't understand.'
'You will.' He turned to Jane. 'Now you, Jane; you, on the other hand, are a kind and good young woman. You gave me plenty of good hot tea, fed me, let me sit by your fire, even clothed me. You, my dear, shall be my heir.'
Jane shook her head.
'No, there must be some mistake. We've never met.'
Her uncle smiled.
'Haven't we?' he said. From a chair near Mr Smedly's desk he took an old black shawl. He threw it over his head, stooped down, and smiling at Jane, said: 'Are you sure we haven't met, dearie?'
She was looking at the old woman who had come to the house earlier. Jane remembered then that her uncle was an actor. Elizabeth clearly remembered it also, for she began to wail, realising what her moment of unkindness had cost her.
(C) Fr Levi

I told this story to the children in the school today. Again, no prizes for guessing what passage of Scripture this is based on! I did wonder if the children would see the 'twist' at the end coming, but they assured me they didn't - what it is to be young and innocent!

prayer diary Friday 21 November 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there. 
Luke 19. 45

Our Lord was moved to anger to see his Father's house treated shamefully. Never neglect to treat holy places with the reverence they deserve.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 20 November 2014

As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it. 
Luke 19.41

Reflection Our Lord sorrowed over Jerusalem, even as its people people plotted his death. God does not want any soul to be lost; and is grieved by all that are.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 19 November 2014

The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” 
Luke 19. 16, 17

Faithfulness in the ultimately trivial things of this life leads to great rewards in the next. Stand firm in your faith whatever the difficulties or temptations you face.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 18 November 2014

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 
Luke 19.5

Zacchaeus' desire to come closer to Christ was rewarded in the most unexpected way. So too must we strive always to draw nearer to Jesus by trying to be more and more like him, not letting any obstacle prevent us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

prayer diary Monday 17 November 2014

The blind man shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly.‘
Luke 18.38, 39

Do not let anyone or anything dissuade you from bringing your problems to God. Persevere in prayer; God hears and answers all, even if we do not understand how.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

the parable of the talents

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

You may have noticed over the last number of weeks that our Gospels readings have been eschatological in nature – by which I mean they have been dealing with themes such as the end of days, the judgement that will come at that time, and whether that judgement will result in heaven or hell. And it might seem odd that this is what the lectionary of the Church, the list of readings selected from Sacred Scripture, has chosen for the time coming up to what the world calls the Christmas. Season. The answer to that is two-fold: the first is that we are in the month of November, the month of remembrance, the time when we think in particular of those who have already passed across the veil that separates us from this world and the next; which makes dwelling on such things of especial relevance. And the second is that before Christmas come Advent, which is a penitential season during which it is traditional to consider in particular what are called the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell; making our readings at this time something of preparation for what is to come, in more ways than one!

Another thing that these readings might serve to do is remind us that our Lord spoke rather a lot about such things; the reason being, unless one wishes to believe that Jesus spoke to no purpose on these occasions, was both to warn people of the dangers they faced and also teach them how they might avoid those dangers.

So what do we learn today from our Gospel reading today on this theme, the parable of the Talents? A talent, as spoken of in the parable, as I'm sure you're aware, was a sum of money in the ancient world. A talent of silver would have weighed over 100 pounds and would have been the equivalent of the average man's wages for about 15 years. So it was a huge sum of money. And in the parable, as chance would have it, it also stands for what we would call in English a talent – an ability or gift.

The first thing to note, I would suggest, is what the source of the talents in the passage is. It is the Master, who stands for God. And that is something important for us to note in these days, when we are encouraged by the world around us to take credit for our talents and abilities, as if they were something we had created for ourselves. They are not – each is something that we have as a gift. True, some talents require that we put in a lot of hard work to develop them to the point where they are useful. Without our determination to persevere and succeed, those talents would be of little use. But what is that ability to work hard, and the self-discipline needed to continue working hard to make the most of the talent, but another talent or gift itself? All talents are gifts we are given; and they are given to us by our Master, the one who created us.

Next, look what the servants do with the fruits of their labour. When they are called to give their account – which stands for the day when we will all be called before the heavenly throne - the ones who have made use of the money entrusted them by their master and managed to double it by the time he returns, at once bring it to him and lay it at his feet, the original amount, plus the extra they have made in the time he has been gone. They do not simply give him back the original amount and try to keep the rest for themselves. And from this we learn that the fruits of our labour are not are own, they are for the greater glory of God.

Also clear from the parable is that we are not allowed to do nothing with our abilities. That is clear from what happens to the servant entrusted with only one talent. While the other two are welcomed into the joy of their master, he is told he is lazy and sent away; and not merely dismissed from his position but cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And of course I'm sure that all here know that by the entering into the master's joy, Jesus means heaven; and by outer darkness he means hell.

Now, at first reading, the fate of the lazy servant might seem severe. After all, even if he has not increased the value of that entrusted to him, neither has he caused it to grow less; he is able to return the amount in full to his master. But look at his master's response when he hands it back. 'Why did you not give it to the bankers?' he asks. Now who were the bankers in Jesus time? They were the ones who stood at the tables in the temple, changing money. So the Greek here, which is translated as bankers, can also mean those who gather at table. And who is it that gather at table but God's people in the Eucharist? Our Lord's hearers might not have understood that when he spoke; but it has been understood in the generations since. And so what Jesus means when he says that the talent should have been given to the bankers where it would have at least gathered interest is that it should have been put to the use of God's people in some way, that even the littlest increase is better than no increase at all; that God does not give us our gifts and abilities so they can be left idle, whether through fear, as the servant claims, or through wickedness or laziness as his master charges him with. Our gifts must be put to use for the benefit of others and the greater glory of God.

There is one further lesson from the parable, I think. The master distributes the talents to his servants, according to their ability. Some receive more, some less. That is true to life, is it not? We look around and see others with greater gifts than ours – or at least we think so. But that does not mean that any of us are without gifts. Even the servant who received the smallest amount, one talent, still received an enormous fortune. God gives to each of us abundantly, even if is seems that some receive more. But despite that, each in the parable had the possibility of entering into the master's joy, of going to heaven. The actual end result is not of great importance – in the parable the same reward was available to the three, whether they turned five talents of silver into ten, or or collected a few extra denarii in interest on one. And it is the same for us. There is no need to worry; there is no need to fear; all we need do is take the gifts God has given us and, acting as his faithful servants who trust in his grace and mercy, use them for the good of others and his greater glory in the world and we too at the last will enter into his joy. A cheerful note to end on at a time when the Christmas lights are already beginning to twinkle in the shops and the Christmas cards are already beginning to fly through the post – even if we still have Advent to get through before we actually arrive at Christmas. Amen

Examin Sunday 15 November 2014

One of the hardest things to remember about the Christian life is our duty to others. By this I do not mean merely helping those in need, although that is a very important part of Christian living. No, we must also pray for others; and we must do our best to instruct them as to what Christ taught. This last we must do not only with our lives, but also in the example of our lives. That last surely is obvious – how can you expect others to believe you when you tell them about the importance of what Christ teaches if you openly refuse to obey it yourself?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 15 November 2014

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 
Luke 18.1

It is important to persevere in prayer. And the Christian at prayer seeks to conform himself to God's will, rather than trying bend God to his.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Magic Coins

'Jimmy, Jimmy!' Tony burst into the castle library. Jimmy looked up from his books at the great table that ran the length of the enormous room with a frown.
'Do you mind?' said Jimmy. 'I'm trying to study here. We do have a very important test coming up. Or had you forgotten?' Tony, red faced and breathless from running, waved away his protests.
'The master wants to see us now. All three of us. In the great hall. Do you know where Bill is?'
'Probably down by the pond.' He stood up. 'All three of us, you say. Why does he want us?'
'He didn't say. But he told me to hurry. Do think its about the test?'
'Perhaps.' Jimmy went to the window. The ledge before it was wide and scattered with cushions and he had to crawl over them to get to the widow. Pushing it open he stuck his head out and craned it left to look towards the pond. Sure enough, there was Bill under a tree. He cupped his hands.
'Bill,' he shouted. Bill didn't move. 'BILL!' he shouted even louder. Bill looked up. Jimmy waved, beckoning him towards the castle. 'The master wants to see us. Meet us in the entrance hall. Now.' He saw Bill nod. He pulled his head in and crawled back across the cushions to Tony.
'Come on,' he said, heading for the door. Tony followed. As they walked down the sweeping stone stairs, Tony spoke.
'You don't really think it's the test do you? It's too soon. It isn't supposed to be for weeks.' He sounded nervous. Jimmy shrugged.
'Perhaps its about something else. Although to be honest, I don't really care.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, we came here to apprentice as wizards, didn't we? And after four years what have we learned about magic? Nothing. It's all been history, and philosophy, and ethics, and stuff like that. Not one spell. Not one potion. Not even a lucky charm to help us with our studies.'
'The master says we have to learn all that first before we can be trusted to use magic.'
'Maybe. But four years of it? If he doesn't think we know enough after all this time, when will we? I'm about ready to pack this place in. I'd have learned more magic from a carnival trickster.'
'But it would be fake magic,' objected Tony.
'Who cares? As long as people paid to see it.'
They got to the bottom of the stairs. The entrance hall was huge, bigger than most people's houses. An enormous fireplace stood at either side, empty now during the summer, and the great oak door was large enough to march a troop of cavalry through. Bill came rushing through it a moment later. He skidded to a halt and looked at the other two.
'The master wants to see us all? The three of us? Do you think it's about the test?'
'Oh, be quiet,' said Jimmy. 'In here.' And he headed for the door leading to the great hall.

The great hall was the size of three barns put end to end. Big ones. There was room for a football team to play, with space enough for a couple of ping-pong tables as well. In fact in the early years, when they first arrived, the boys had often spent rainy days running and chasing in there. But not lately. They were older now and their studies took up too much time.

The master waited in a huge carved chair at the far end. As they walked towards him, Jimmy thought again how little he looked like a wizard. He was a short old man, getting a little fat, bald with a short, wispy beard. Jimmy thought he looked more like a dentist. And for all the magic he'd seen in the last four years, he might as well be. Oh, he was smart, he'd give him that. He knew all the stuff he taught them backwards. But could he really be as powerful a wizard as everyone said? He doubted it!

But of course he didn't say it, not out loud, not to anyone else. For the truth was that Jimmy was quite scared of the Master. He was very stern and strict, quick to hand out punishments for any nonsense, especially if any one showed the slightest disrespect. He was fair, Jimmy admitted; he never punished anyone if they didn't deserve it. But that didn't make it any easier to take.
'Boys,' called the master. 'Hurry up.' They trotted the rest of the way towards them. They lined up in front of him, panting.

'I'm sorry to do this to you, so close to your test,' he said. 'But I've been called away on important business. And I have to leave you three in charge of my district.'
The three glanced at each other. What could he mean?
'The lands around this castle are under my protection. I do what I can to help people, to make sure they get justice, and see to it that they come to no harm. I'm dividing it up into three sections and leaving you in charge of one each until I return.'
'But master,' burst out Tony. 'We don't know any magic! How can we protect anyone.'
Their master smiled.
'It is true that you do not yet have any magic. But you have been taught wisdom in your years here. If you have learned that, then there will be much that you can do. Especially with the help of these.'
He pulled a small bag from under his robe. It chinked as if there was something metal inside. He undid the thongs that held it closed and held the opening over his other hand. Small gold coins poured out.
'You want us to help people with money?' said Bill. The master shook his head.
'No. These are magic coins. Each one allows you to make one wish. You will not have many, so you will have to use them wisely – don't use them to wish down every cat that's stuck in a tree or every beggar you meet into a prince on horseback! You'll need to study every situation carefully, not only to see what is the right way to help, but also to decide if it is something you wish to use one of the magic coins on. Now, hold out your hands.'
Jimmy beamed. At last, magic! But his smile faded as the master began to hand out the coins.
'Bill – now let me see. The section I'm giving you is quite tricky. So I think I'll give you five coins. Tony – yours isn't too bad. I don't think you'll have too many problems. So I think two should be enough. And Jimmy – my very bright but very impatient apprentice. I think I shall give you just one. Now, your areas of responsibility are on these maps.' He handed them a piece of paper each. 'Keep a close eye on them. Now off you go. I have a lot to do before I go. Go out into your areas. Live among the people I have entrusted to you. I will send a message by the coins to you when I return and you will know to come back to the castle. And remember – use your coins wisely.'

They headed off back down the great hall. Bill and Tony chatted excitedly.
'It's a huge responsibility,' said Bill.
'He must really trust us, to give us magic coins,' said Tony. 'But what if we get things wrong?' He sounded a little nervous.
'What do you mean?' said Bill.
'Well, the master is so strict. What if we waste the wishes, use them on things that aren't important enough and then don't have any left for when they're really needed? He'll be so cross if we don't take good care of the people here while he's gone.'
'Well, I suppose that's why he gave us more than one,' said Bill. He glanced over at Jimmy. 'He must really have confidence in you to get things right.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, he only gave you one coin. So he must be sure that you'll be able to look after your section with just one. He gave me five. He must really think I'll get things wrong and need extra.' He looked a little sad. Jimmy just grunted. He didn't see it that way at all. He was furious that the master had given the others more than him. He was better than they were. He studied harder and knew more. He was the one who should have been given more magic coins.
'Still, at least we get to try magic at last,' said Tony. They reached the entrance hall.
'I suppose we'd better go and start doing what the master ordered,' said Bill. So they went to their rooms and packed a small rucksack each and headed off into the world outside the castle. Jimmy was still fuming at what he thought was the insult of being the one to get only one coin. Even so, he laughed at how dim the others were. They thought the master was doing this because he trusted them. He had realised right away this was the great test the master had been speaking of for months. The wisdom they showed in using their coins would show him if they were ready to go further in their studies and start learning real magic. The others had more coins and had a big advantage over him, but he'd show them all. He'd make the best possible use of his single coin and prove that he was better than any of them.

He headed off on the road that led through the forest. Soon he came to a village. He was hungry and thought of going to the inn to eat. He stood in the woods just outside trying to see where it was. Just then a number of men burst out of the woods a hundred yards to his right and ran shouting at the town. Bandits! He put his hand into the pocket that held the coin. But he hesitated to use it. He had only the one – he couldn't afford to waste it. So instead he waited to see how the battle would go. There was a great number of bandits. He saw many of the villagers struck down. The bandits had swords and clubs. Surely many of the villagers were dying. But the people of the village were brave. Men and women both took up what they had to hand – pitchforks, shovels, wood axes – and turning their tools to weapons they fought back. Slowly the tide of the fight turned in their favour and they drove the bandits back. Jimmy took his hand out of his pocket. There had been no need to waste his single coin – the villagers had won, after all.

Watching them from the woods as they bandaged up their wounded and wept over their dead he decided it probably wasn't the pleasantest of places to stop for food just then, so he journeyed on. A couple of miles on there was a sudden violent storm; luckily he spotted a nearby cave and was able to take shelter. It soon passed and he was able to continue.

Some miles further he heard a roaring and a crashing coming from the forest. Curious, he left the path and crept closer. Coming to a clearing, he peeped out from behind the safety of a mighty oak tree. What a sight met his eyes! There before him was an enormous dragon, beating giant wings and blazing fire from his nostrils. Before him was a knight in armour, sheltering behind a shield. On the ground near the knight was a young woman. The dragon must have stolen her away to feast on her, thought Jimmy, and the knight had come to rescue her. Seeing how huge was the dragon and how fierce the flames he breathed out, Jimmy thought there was no way the knight could win. His hand touched the pocket with the coin. But he shook his head without putting his hand in. He couldn't waste it just to save a couple of people. What if he came across some greater disaster, involving hundreds of lives? Slowly he backed away from the clearing. He felt sorry for the girl of course; it wasn't her fault a dragon had grabbed her. But it had been the knight's own choice to try and save her. So if he was killed it was his own fault. Really, he was right not to use the coin just to save one girl.

As he walked back to the road he heard a great roar from the dragon, followed by a thunderous crash which shook the ground, followed by silence. Jimmy paused. What had happened? The silence was broken by a woman's voice.
'My hero,' she said. After that came the sound of weeping. Jimmy smiled. See, he had been proved right in his decision not to use the coin.

Further on he came to a bridge crossing a ravine over a wide river. As he walked along he glanced down. There was a great ship in the water, with dozens of people clinging to the rails. It's mast was broken off. The man at the wheel spun it back and forth furiously, trying to get some control over the ship, but there was no response from the rudder – it must be broken too, thought Jimmy. They must have been caught in that storm earlier and been damaged. He looked further down the river. In the centre were great jagged rocks, the waters churning around them furiously. On either side was clear water, two safe channels. But the ship was heading straight for the rocks. He thought of the coin in his pocket. He decided to wait. Perhaps the current would take the ship to one side in time? He could wait until the last moment to use the coin. If he used it. After all, everyone who traveled by water knew the risks.

He saw with interest one man take up a rope and a grappling hook. He swung the hook wildly round his head. Jimmy smiled. Foolish man, he thought. No one could throw a hook from the ship all the way to the shore. Even if they could, the chances it would catch on anything strong enough to hold the ship were remote. And even if it did, the thin line couldn't possibly take the weight of the ship. He thought of the coin again, but shook his head. No. He had but one coin, one wish, one chance to impress the master. He had to wait for something really big. One ship with a few people on board just wasn't enough.
The man threw the hook. It sailed through the air, the rope trailing after it. To Jimmy's amazement it struck the shore. As it dragged along it caught on a huge boulder. Quickly the man wrapped the end still on the ship around the stump of the mast. The rope went taut. Jimmy waited for it to snap. But it didn't, not for a while at least. For several second it held, the ship swinging closer to the shore as it did. Then the rope did snap, but it had held long enough. The ship's course had changed enough to miss the rocks. The people on board cheered as their vessel drifted past them and then a few hundred yards further on beached itself gently on the shore.

I was right, thought Jimmy. They didn't need me after all.

And so it went in the days that followed. Many times he came across situations where he thought of using the coin. But every time he decided not to risk wasting it. He was surprised at how easy it became to decide not to use it. I must be growing in wisdom he thought. I'll know the right moment when it comes.

But before that moment came, the coin began to vibrate in his pocket and he knew that the master had returned to the castle and was calling his apprentices home. He was not worried that he had not used the coin. The master will be pleased that I was wise enough not to waste it and that I can return it to him.

When he arrived he found the others already standing before the master's great chair. He heard Bill talking excitedly.
'On the first day as I was journeying to my section, I came across a village under attack by bandits. I knew I had to help them. So I used a wish and the bandits were driven back. I was only sorry I hadn't gotten there sooner, before they had been able to hurt or kill anyone.'
'It was the same with me.' said Tony As I was travelling through the forest, I heard the sound of some great battle. I ran and ran until I came to where a knight was fighting a huge dragon, trying to save a young woman. He fought valiantly, but it was clear he stood no chance. The dragon knocked him down and was about to bite him in two, so I at once made a wish and the knight was suddenly able to fling his sword through the air right into the dragons heart.'
'Later that day,' went on Bill, 'as I was climbing over a mountain, I looked down and saw a ship in trouble in a mighty river. Their only hope was a man trying to throw a hook to the shore – an impossible task given the distance. But with the help of one of my coins, he succeeded.'
'Well done,' said the master smiling. 'So how many wishes did you make altogether, Bill?'
'Five,' said Bill. And then he laughed, plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. 'And I discovered that for every wish I made, the coin I had used was replaced by two more in my pocket. So here are your five coins back master – and five more to go with them!'
'You are an excellent apprentice – and you will make a fine wizard. Come stand next to me, while we see how your fellows have done.'
'What do you mean?' said Bill.
'I mean, that was the test I have been warning you about. And you have done well. Come, join your master.' And Bill, with a huge smile on his face, went and stood next to him.
'Tony,' said the master. 'What have you to tell me?'
'It was the same for me,' said Tony. 'When I used a coin, it was replaced with two more. So here are the two you gave me with two more.'
'Excellently done,' said the master. 'You also come and join me.' And beaming Tony went to stand on the other side of his chair. They all turned their eyes on Jimmy.
'And you, Jimmy,' said the master, 'the brightest of them all; what have you to tell me.'
For an answer, Jimmy slowly reached his hand into his pocket, took out his coin, and dropped in on the floor in from of them.
'I have nothing to tell you,' he said. 'You gave me only the one coin. And I guessed that this was your test. So I waited for just the right moment. And I waited and waited and … '
'And you did nothing. You helped no one.'
'No one needed my help!' said Jimmy.
'Because others helped them instead,' said the master.
'I didn't know that. I thought they didn't need my help. I was waiting to see if the really needed because I didn't want to waste your precious coin. You're a hard man, master. I didn't want to disappoint you.'
'I am a hard man,' said the master. 'But that is not why you didn't use the coin. You didn't use it because you wanted to wait for the time when making a wish would be to your greatest advantage, when you thought it would impress me most. You didn't use it because you were thinking of yourself, not others.'
'At least I brought the coin back.'
'Yes,' said the master. With a flick of his finger it rose into the air and shot into his hand. 'Here, Bill,' he said. 'You might as well have this.' He handed it to him. 'And now, Bill and Tony, come with me. It is time for you to learn some real magic. You have proved you have the wisdom to use it.' He rose and began to lead the two chosen apprentices towards a door behind the great carved chair.

'And what of me?' said Jimmy. The master paused.

'Indeed. What of you? You have failed my test. And as you have said, I am a hard man. You do not have the wisdom to be a wizard; but I think you are smart enough to answer your own question. Good bye, Jimmy. Truly, you were the brightest of them all. I am disappointed that you did not prove yourself worthy.' He went with Tony and Bill through the door, closing it behind them. Jimmy was left alone in the great hall. For a long time he stood staring at the door they had left through. He wished he could go through it; but he knew it would not open to him. Not now, not ever. He turned and very slowly he began to walk down the length of the great hall. About halfway down he wiped his face and was surprised to find that he was crying.

(C) Fr Levi 2014
I told this to the children in school today. Some felt sorry for Jimmy, but felt that it was own choices that caused him to miss out. No prizes for guessing what parable the story is based on, by the way!

haiku: after the cloudburst

after the cloudburst
  ~under the trees
       still raining

prayer diary Friday 14 November 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating & drinking, & marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. 
Luke 17. 26,27

The great and terrible day when the Lord comes again will come without warning. Those who would be ready must live every moment as if our Lord will come in the next.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 13 November 2014

‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed … For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ 
Luke 17. 20,21

Those of Jesus' time mistakenly thought the Messiah would bring about an earthly kingdom rather that a spiritual one. Neither must we, in this materialistic age, put our faith in the things of this world; but rather keep our hearts on higher things.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has joined human rights groups in Pakistan in calling for the an impartial inquiry into the lynching of Christian couple Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi on 4 November, and for those responsible to be held to account, in order to end the impunity surrounding violence against religious minorities.

On 4 November, Shehzad Masih and pregnant mother Shama Bibi were lynched and burned to death in a brick kiln in the village of Kot Radha Kishan, close to the industrial city of Kasur in Punjab province. The couple was killed by a crowd incited to violence by a false rumour that they had committed blasphemy by burning pages of the Qur'an.

Following national and international condemnation, in an unprecedented move, both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and provincial Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned violence against religious minorities. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also pledged compensation of 5 million rupees (approximately £30,806) and 10 acres of land to the couple's family and met with senior police officials about the case.

Police have arrested over 50 people in connection with the murders but no charges have been brought. Suspects who have been arrested for similar violent crimes against religious minorities are often released without charge.

In a statement, Michelle Chaudhry, President of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF), a CSW partner organisation, demanded an impartial inquiry into why a police officer at the scene did not take appropriate measures to prevent ongoing violence. 'The widespread misuse of the Blasphemy Laws has become a matter of paramount concern; which more than often results in incitement to murder, which contravenes the Laws of Pakistan and is a punishable offence,' she added.

A Supreme Court judgment on minority rights on 19 June was initiated in response to the 22 September 2013 Peshawar Church suicide bombing and threats given to Kalash and Ismaili tribes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It acknowledged that despite the Constitutional guarantees for religious freedom, minorities in Pakistan are subject to religious intolerance such as hate speech, in addition to desecration and terrorism at minority places of worship. The court asserted that this was due to ineffective implementation of the guarantees to deal with religious intolerance, with insufficient protection afforded to religious minorities.

CSW's Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said, 'We echo the calls of human rights organisations in Pakistan for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Shehzad and Shama Masih. In order for the cycle of impunity that fosters mob violence against minorities to end, those responsible for this crime must be held to account. We also urge the Pakistani government to implement the recent Supreme Court judgment, which provided guidelines for promoting religious tolerance and protecting religious minorities in Pakistan and their right to freedom of religion or belief, which is guaranteed in the constitution but is compromised by a lack of implementation and weak rule of law.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email or visit

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice

prayer diary Wednesday 12 November 2014

Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean?' … Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ 
Luke 17.17-19

God gives of his bounty to all, the grateful and ungrateful alike. But a much greater gift falls to those who give him glory – the spiritual gifts that lead to eternal life.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 11 November 2014

'So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’ 
Luke 17.10

God has given us everything – life itself and the means to sustain it. Why then should we think that he is in some way in our debt because we have followed his laws?

Monday, November 10, 2014

prayer diary Monday 10 November 2014

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!' 
Luke 17.1

Each person is liable for their own sins; but the one who leads another astray, whether by the example of their life or the exhortations of their lips, is by no means innocent and they will be held to account.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

the wise and foolish virgins

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We hear many places in Sacred Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament of the importance of sharing with others. Our Lord is particularly strong on this topic. It is from him that we hear, in what is called the parable of the sheep and the goats, that in fact our own salvation can depend on whether we help those in need. So why is it in the parable we hear today that the five bridesmaids he calls wise will not share their oil with the five he calls foolish?

The answer is, of course, that this is not a parable about sharing. It is about what it takes to admitted into the Kingdom on that great and terrible day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. And on that day, symbolised in the parable by the arrival of the bridegroom, the five bridesmaids called foolish are found wanting and are not allowed in, even though they beat on the doors and cry 'Lord, Lord.'

And their rejection should seem strange to us, at first reading at least. For are these not good people? There they are, waiting patiently for the Lord, like the other five who are admitted. And it is important to note that while our translation today calls them 'bridemaids' in the Greek it is parthenois or virgins. There is nothing wrong with calling them bridesmaids, for it fits in with the rest of the parable where our Lord is the bridegroom; but some of the nuance is lost. The nuance here is that in the ancient world the word virgin carried with it more than its modern sense of being a technical term of a young woman who has yet to experience sexual intercourse; it also had connotations of purity, of being undefiled.

And if we look to the Church Fathers we are told that these ten young woman represent members of Christ's Church, people who wait faithfully for his return, who have kept themselves from sin, the five foolish and the five wise alike. They are people, who if we consider them in terms of the ten commandments, who do not worship false gods or blaspheme; who are regular in their worship and always keep the Lord's Day holy; who do not lie, slander, steal, or are violent in any way; who are obedient to their parents and those in authority and dutiful in their care of the elderly; they are certainly not sexually immoral; and neither do they covet anything they have no right to.

But why then, if none of the ten are wrong-doers, are five admitted into the wedding banquet of heaven, and five kept out? To understand that, we must look to the oil and the fact that the five foolish virgins brought only what their lamps could hold; and the five wise brought extra, each carrying also a flask full of oil. The Church Fathers explain that the oil stands for good deeds or works of mercy; but to honest, I wasn't very clear as to why they taught that, until I came across a book by an Orthodox Priest, Paul Nadim Tarazi, who explains that for the significance of this we must look again to the original language and the fact that Greek word for 'oil' 'elaion' sounds very much like another Greek word 'eleison' … that last word is familiar to you, even if you do not immediately realise it. We use it when we use the penitential kyries – 'Kyrie eleison' we will sometimes say in our liturgies; or 'Lord, have mercy.'

So the five foolish virgins are lacking in works of mercy. It is not that good deeds are altogether absent in their lives, else there would be no oil at all in their lamps. But they have insufficient. Perhaps they were once very diligent in their works of charity, but they did not stay the course; as time went by they became too comfortable in their daily routine and even though they never fell into active wrong-doing, gradually their works of mercy grew less and less, and maybe even petered out altogether. And so at the time when it counted it most, on the last day, they were found wanting and excluded from the great reward in heaven.

And knowing what we now about what the different elements of the parable stand for, we can see why, can we not? They had committed no great or terrible sin; but neither had they done much good. It is like the parable of the sheep and the goats I mentioned earlier, which occurs later in this same chapter of St Matthew's Gospel; in that those who are lacking in works of mercy are also excluded from heaven, while those who were rich in such deeds are welcomed in. In that parable, those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, cared for the prisoners are given the great reward, while those who did not are cast out, into eternal punishment.

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is intended as a warning from our Lord; a warning that it is not enough to call oneself a follower of his, that not all who call him 'Lord Lord' will enter into the Kingdom; that constant vigilance is needed. And so I finish with this thought; it would have been very difficult for anyone seeing those ten young women to have discerned any difference; it was only at the last that some were found wanting – wanting, it would seem, not for failing completely in their acts of mercy, in their loving generosity towards others, but in failing to be generous enough, in failing to be abundantly generous towards others. Ask yourself this: which group do you think you most closely resemble right now? And which group do you truly believe you will be found to belong to on the last day? I pray that all here will be found among the wise. Amen