Thursday, November 30, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 30 Nov 2017 (St Andrew)

And he said to Peter and Andrew "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
Matthew 4.19-20 

Christ calls us all to bring others into his kingdom. Will we do as St Andrew did and answer that call; or will we, like so many others, ignore our Lord?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 29 Nov 2017

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 28, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 28 Nov 2017

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 27, 2017

prayer diary Monday 27 Nov 2017

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 persuade you from bringing your problems to God. Persevere in prayer; God hears and answers all, even if we do not understand how.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

the Kingship of Christ

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

Today is the Sunday before Advent, the Sunday when we focus on the Kingship of Christ. Our Lord, as you know, told Pontius Pilate at his trial that his 'kingdom was not of this world.' By this we may understand that in this age his kingdom may be regarded as a hidden thing. During this life we are expected to live our lives under his kingship and proclaim to the world that he is its true and only king – but he will force nothing on us. We have been granted free will and our Sovereign and our Saviour will not interfere with that.

However,at the end of the ages all that will change. Christ will come again in his glory with his angels; and we will be held to account by our Ruler and Judge for the choices we have made in this life. How have we employed that free will we were given? Have we used it well; or have we used it badly? And our eternal destiny hangs in the balance based on how Jesus, true God and true man, decides how that question is to be answered.

Now, there are some commentators who try to argue that the passage which speaks of this, our Gospel reading today,  should be seen as a parable and that therefore what our Lord is describing here is to be taken figuratively. However, to do so is to ignore everything what the Church Fathers have written about what Jesus says here; it is also to ignore what the Church that Christ founded has taught based on this passage down through the ages; and it is to ignore the clear and unambiguous words our Lord uses to begin this section of Sacred Scripture. He says a 'when the Son of Man comes in his glory.' This is not figurative language. There are two other parables in this chapter of St Matthew's Gospel; all concern the end of days; and they do not begin like this. The first begins with the words 'Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten virgins …' and the next with 'For it will be as when a man going on a journey …' Our Lord leaves his listeners in no doubt whatsoever that he is not speaking literally; and we can be sure, therefore, that he is undoubtedly speaking literally when he says 'when the Son of Man comes in his glory.'

So let us consider some of the implications of what is that God himself is telling us about what will happen at the end of the ages. The first is that Christ indeed will come again. We are almost into the season of Advent; a time for looking back to the time when he first came into our world; but also a time for preparing ourselves for that day when he will come again. It is therefore important not to use this time only as a time for rejoicing, thinking of his Nativity, and how he was born to save us from our sins; and certainly not to only use it as time for joining in all the secular celebrations of those in the world around who not only do not accept him as their King, but actively mock his teachings, his Church, and those who follow him; but to make space during that season to consider whether we are ready for when he returns … and how we may make ourselves ready if we are not.

Next, when he comes, he will come as king and judge. And he will hold us to account for how we have treated our brothers and sisters. Have we cared for those in need – have we fed the hungry; have we clothed the naked? And also, have we looked to their spiritual needs? For, as St Jerome reminds us concerning this passage, the poor are not only those who do not have food or drink or shelter … there are also those who are poor in spirit. Indeed, perhaps there has never been a time in the modern era where there have been so many who have poor in this way. And this is a far greater poverty than the material kind. For if you are poor when it comes to the good things of this life it is only a temporary thing; but if you are poor when it comes to spiritual riches then the harm you suffer as a result can be eternal. We must not neglect the needs of those who are poor in this way; and if we do not do our very best to alleviate this poverty which afflicts their very souls, then we may expect to be held to account for it ourselves.

And the last thing to consider this morning is this: hell is real, people go there, and they go there for all eternity. This may seem harsh in our modern era when the most wicked criminals often receive little more than a slap on the wrist compared with the enormity of their offences. However, divine justice works differently; and just as our free will is respected by God in this life, so it is respected by him in the next. And even as he will not force us to accept him as King in this age, neither will he force those who have rejected him as King on earth to serve him as King in heaven. They have chosen hell by their actions. The man who throws himself off a cliff may regret his decision when he sees the rocks below rushing up towards him; but he has already made his choice and his regrets will not alter the laws of gravity. Our chance to accept Christ as King comes in this life; and it is too late to do so in the next.

However, Christ does not tell us all this to alarm us or to frighten us. He informs us as to what will happen the next time he comes into the world for the very same reason he came into it the first time – so that all men might be saved. It is his greatest desire that all should one day join him in heaven; he wants it so much that he was willing to die on a cross in order that it would be possible. We have a king that loves us that much; and all he asks is that we love him in return and show that love by the way we live our our lives on this earth. Those who do so will receive the greatest reward any king ever has or ever could bestow upon his subjects; to be placed by him at his right hand on the last day and be welcomed by him into eternal life; a welcome that I pray all here will receive - in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 25 Nov 2017

‘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 24, 2017

prayer diary Friday 24 Nov 2017 (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 23, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 23 Nov 2017

'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 22, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 22 Nov 2017

'They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and 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 21, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

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 20, 2017

prayer diary Monday 20 Nov 2017

‘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 19, 2017

bury not your talents!

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

Our gospel reading today concerns the parable of the talents (see below)*  A talent, as I am sure you are aware, was a sum of money in the ancient world; it could also refer to a certain weight of metal, for example bronze, around 75 pounds or so. Scholars are uncertain about the origins of the word, but speculate that it might originally have meant a load, drawn from the idea that this was the weight that a man of that era could reasonably be expected to carry for any time. And, I am sure you can imagine, a collection of silver coins amounting to that weight was a very large sum of money indeed! At the time of our Lord a talent of silver would have been 6000 drachma – a fortune, the amount of money it would have taken the average man perhaps 30 years to earn.

The New Testament, of course, was written in Greek; and the word used in the original language was 'talanton'. This word, as it happens, has no direct equivalent in English; and so rather than translating we do what's called transliterating … essentially, replacing the original Greek letters with the ones we use ourselves. And so 'talanton' becomes talent.

Now, it is not a coincidence that we have a word in English, talent, that is exactly the same as we use in place of the word 'talanton'. As it happens, our word in English is descended, as it were, from the Greek original. Talanton become in Latin talenta, which in Old English talente, which became in modern English talent.

And the meaning of the English word that 'talanton' became is, as you might expect, rooted in this parable also. The talents in the parable represents the gifts we have from God. And, as we all know, any abilities or aptitudes we have are gifts from God. And so it was that with the passing of the ages the word talent came to mean in English a sum of money only when we are reading this parable or discussing the weights and measures and monetary system of Ancient Greece and Rome and more commonly our natural abilities.

Now, it is all very interesting to know this; and it is somewhat gratifying to think that we have this specific word in English because our Lord used it in the way he did when he was telling the parable to his disciples. But it is, I think, somewhat unfortunate that the word talent has such a narrow meaning in English when our Saviour was using it in a much broader sense on that day.

Indeed, if you search the works of the Church Fathers, you will see that they seldom interpret the talents in the parable as standing for the abilities that God grants us as individuals. This is not surprising; for they were writing long before modern English was a language – or indeed even middle-English or old-English. They for the most part see the talents, the great sums of money that the master entrusts to his servants, as standing for the great and myriad gifts that God bestows upon us. This, of course, includes our abilities; but it also includes far more. And so it should; for God has given us far more; God has given us everything.

Reading the parable though the lens of our modern English understanding of the word talent – and by modern I mean here the last 500 years or so – has inclined us to overlook the deeper, richer meaning of what the talents in the parable are supposed to stand for. Indeed, it has given rise to the unhappy tendency for people to regard it almost as some kind of a pep-talk for people as they go about their careers; a kind of 'now you must do your best to develop the abilities you have been given or God will be very disappointed in you.' And God does indeed expect us to do the best with the abilities he has gifted us with; but we must not become so focussed on that idea that we lose sight of why Jesus is telling the parable; and that has to do with the salvation of souls and not worldly success.

This intent is made clear by the ending of the passage, where the servant who has done nothing with his talent save bury it in the ground, the servant called wicked and lazy by his master, is cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Therefore we must see this parable as being about using the gifts that God gives us as a means of attaining eternal life – all the gifts he gives us. And, of course, some of the gifts he gives us are more important when it comes to achieving this aim than others, although we must be grateful for them all. A glass of wine is a great gift from God – wine cheers the heart of man, as Scripture tells us. But I cannot recall hearing any story of how a man found salvation at the bottom of a bottle – although perhaps many have lost it through an immoderate love of the fruit of the vine.

But there are other gifts – higher gifts let us call them – that will guide us on our pilgrim path. The gift of prayer, which God gives us so that he may speak with us and we with him; the gift of Sacred Scripture, where we find the Divine Truth of his revealed word; the Church his Son founded, where we may find the fellowship of others on the journey who will encourage us on the road even as we encourage them; and the sacraments he administers to us through that Church – the waters of baptism which washes away our sins, Confession and Absolution so that when we fall into sin we may be washed clean again, the Body and Blood of our Saviour in the Holy Eucharist to nourish our souls. And there are, of course, many more.

And if we fail to use these gifts, if we behave as the wicked servant, effectively burying them in the ground, then woe is us. His fate was dismal; and it is the fate of all who do likewise, neglecting the wondrous and abundant gifts that God grants us in order that we might be with him for all eternity. But the others, those who use those treasures well, then to them will be given in even greater abundance – the gift of everlasting life in heaven. Such as they will hear the words the master spoke to those who had put their talents to good use: Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into your master's joy; words that that I pray will be spoken to all here - in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

*Matthew 25: 14-31
"For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. 17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' 31 When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 18 Nov 2017

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 17, 2017

prayer diary Friday 17 Nov 2017 (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 16, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 16 Nov 2017

‘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 15, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 15 Nov 2017

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 14, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 14 Nov 2017

'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 13, 2017

prayer diary Monday 13 Nov 2017

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 12, 2017

knowledge, wisdom, and eternal life

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

There’s a lot of talk about wisdom in our readings today. The first reading is from the book Wisdom; and our Gospel reading has the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. So, as we begin, it might be a good idea to think about what we understand by the word wisdom. Particularly what is the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

A simple definition might be the knowledge are facts and wisdom is knowing how to apply them. By way of illustration, we might think of a young man who has spent four years in college studying agricultural science, specialising in the husbandry of sheep, without ever having set foot on an actual farm. He graduates, and then goes to a sheep farm. He begins by thinking that he is the expert; after all he knows far more than the farmer who has never been to college. And we can all imagine he would soon learn differently. The farmer may have far less knowledge, but what little he knows he is able to apply well. He is wise in the way of sheep.

Now let us think about this distinction in relation to the parable we heard earlier. Why are some of the virgins wise and some foolish? Both groups have been invited to the wedding. Both have been given the task of bringing lamps to light the way of the bridegroom into the feast. Both have brought their lamps, filled with oil and wicks trimmed so they may burn brightly. So far so good. But only one group has brought extra oil. They are able to refill their lamps when the bridegroom is delayed, while the others have to rush off and buy more. Which means that they are not there when he actually arrives and so they miss the wedding feast as a result.

What is the difference between those who are wise and those who are foolish? Well, that the bridegroom might come late was foreseeable; and preparing for that by bringing more oil in case what was in the lamps ran out was a prudent action. Both had the same knowledge of the situation; but only the wise ones used that information well and gained access to the feast as a result.

Now, of course, our Lord did not tell this story for the sake of providing career tips to young women working in that part of the hospitality industry that specialises in wedding receptions. He told it for the sake of the salvation of all mankind. So what is the deeper meaning of this parable?

The virgins, wise and foolish, stand for all mankind. The wedding feast is eternal life in heaven. And the time they spend waiting represents our time in this life, which will end either with the end of the ages or by death. Entering into the feast is being welcomed into eternal life; while being refused means being cast into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And what of the extra oil? After all, that is the primary distinction between the two groups. The oil, the Church Fathers tells us, stands for the good deeds of those who live their lives wisely, those who lead their lives according to God's laws and commandments. The oil represents the treasure they have laid up in heaven; the essential treasure that all too many neglect.

And I would like to draw your particular attention to a very important detail of the parable – a detail that is easy not to notice because it involves taking into account what it is that Christ does not say about those he describes as foolish. He does not mention them as being guilty of great wickedness of any kind. They are not murderers or robbers; they are not liars or blasphemers; they are not worshippers of idols or gluttons or
drunkards. Indeed, as he describes them as being virgins we may even consider that they are not sexually immoral. But Jesus did not need to mention such things. It is only in our own rather silly age that people almost universally agree that all that is needed to be a good person is not to do bad things. And, of course, what they really mean by that is that as long as they do not lead an evil life full of great wickedness then they are good. Essentially it is the standard of the extreme: Hitler bad; pretty much everyone else OK.

Such a way of looking things may be sufficient for the atheist who has no belief in an after-life, and thinks nothing of God and his holiness, and certainly thinks the idea of sin as offence against God's laws is either a joke or dangerous nonsense. But for the Christian, it is a very different matter altogether.

The Christian is called to lead his or her life in the light of eternity. We know that man was made by God, was tempted by Satan and fell into sin; and that God has rescued us from the consequences of that sin, both original and personal, by his Incarnation and Death on the Cross. Those are the facts of the situation; and the choice that falls to us is whether, knowing what we know, do we act foolishly or wisely. We can be foolish and act as if all this really means nothing at all, that we have no need to lead holy lives, and that sin is either not real or matters not at all; or we can be wise, and do our utmost to live as God wishes us to, accepting the graces that he offers us to help, especially those he offers us through the sacraments of his Church, asking his pardon when we fail.

The latter is the way of the wise; it is the way to lay up treasure in heaven, to fill up our flasks with the oil of salvation that will keep our lamps burning until the day of the great wedding feast so that we may walk joyfully with him to join with him in his banquet forever - a wisdom that I pray will be granted to all here - in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 11 Nov 2017

'No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ 
Luke 16.13

We live in this world and must work to pay our way. But even in that we must seek to serve God and take care that the pursuit of wealth, material goods, fame, or anything else of this world does not become an end in itself.

Friday, November 10, 2017

prayer diary Friday 10 Nov 2017

'And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.' 
Luke 16. 8

People go to great efforts to manage their affairs in this world, over things that do not last and often are of little worth. How much more then should we apply our skills and efforts towards laying up treasure that lasts in heaven?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 9 Nov 2017

'Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.' 
Luke 15.7

And whose work is it to bring those lost sheep to repentance? It is the work of all Christians. As for those who think it is work for someone else, perhaps there is more about the lost sheep about them than they would care to imagine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 8 Nov 2017

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 
Luke 14. 27

Discipleship costs. What sacrifices do you make for your faith? And do they truly come at a cost to you – or are you instead fooling yourself into thinking what is easy and convenient for you is more than it is?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 7 Nov 2017

He sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. 
Luke 14. 17, 18

No doubt we think that we would never behave like the people in the parable. But the truth is that we do exactly that when we place our earthly concerns ahead of the demands of the Kingdom.

Monday, November 6, 2017

prayer diary Monday 6 Nov 2017

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ 
Luke 14. 13,14

The Christian seeks to help those in need for no other reason than they are in need, no matter who they are. And the only reward they hope for is the one our Lord offers to those who helped others in his name.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

false prophets: yesterday and today

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

Christians who take their faith seriously wish to do all that Christ commanded us to do, understanding that the salvation of their soul is intrinsically linked to our humble obedience to God's law. For that reason, our Gospel reading today can sometimes raise questions for faithful Christians, particularly those in the mainstream denominations that value the traditions of the Church. The passage seems to condemn the idea of there being religious leaders with teaching authority, leaders who possess titles of honour and wear distinctive dress. And yet our clergy have a particular form of apparel, especially during liturgical services; they have titles such as Reverend or Father or even my Lord Bishop; and they most certainly have the authority to teach and preach, both from the pulpit and elsewhere. So what is going on here?

The first thing to note is that there is not really a problem here at all; if there were, then the Church has being getting things wrong in this regard almost since the beginning … the same Church that Christ founded, called his body on earth, and said he would send the Holy Spirit too in order to lead it into all truth. However, the problem only arises if the passage is read out of the context of the remainder of Sacred Scripture and also from the context in which our Lord is delivering this teaching.

Let us begin with Scripture. In both Old Testament and New we clearly see religious leaders having authority from God in order to teach his children. The Old Testament prophets spring immediately to mind; and in the New our Lord himself sent out the 72 to the towns and villages to prepare the way for his own coming, saying to them that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. And the letters of St Paul are filled with references to his teaching authority, that of the Apostles, and others. The Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible, gives detailed instructions on the sacred garments to be worn by the priests while engaged in sacrifice and leading the people in worship. And concerning titles, again we find these commonly used in Scripture. In the New Testament, for example, our Lord gives those in his inner circle the title of Apostle; elsewhere we read of Episkopoi, the root of our word episcopal, or bishops; and Presboutorous, the origin of our word Priest; and St Paul in many places refers to himself as the spiritual Father of those under his pastoral care. So there is nothing scriptural that speaks of these traditions of the Church which have been practised since the earliest days. Which, of course, is good news for me!

Looking to the context in which our Lord gave this teaching, we see that he is making his remarks directly of the religious leaders of his day. Among them were hypocrites, men who taught the law of God but did not live it; worse, they added to the law, by their teaching making it harder to live. For them titles were not a mark of respect for the office they held; they took it to be an honour personally granted to them. And they wore distinctive clothes when they were out and about in the streets, not to give glory to the Almighty by way of practising a ministry of presence, doing their best to keep God before the minds of men by acting as a visual reminder by the manner of their dress. But rather, they sought respect for themselves, that none should be in any doubt of the high office they held so that they would always be treated with greater courtesy and dignity than all around them.

Naturally, Christ spoke against such men. They abused their sacred office for their own gain; as did the prophets and teachers that the prophet Micah condemned in our Old Testament reading. Such behaviour was not to be tolerated then; and neither should it be tolerated now. Church leaders who preach the truth of the Gospel but fail to live it are a cause of scandal to the faithful; something we know all too well from recent events in this country. How many souls have lest the Church because there were those who were supposed to be shepherds, but acted instead as wolves? With respect of Church doctrine, those privileged to be teachers of God's truth have no authority to make it any harder than it need be. So, for example, we may preach against drunkenness, but we may not try to claim that all drinking, even in moderation, is evil. We may preach against gluttony, but we may not try to forbid certain foods, claiming for example that it is more virtuous to be a vegetarian than to eat meat. Neither, it must be remembered, do we have authority to abrogate or reduce the force of any teaching, arguing that it is somehow more pastoral to allow those who find a particular teaching hard to live by to ignore it, or say that since certain teachings do not fit in with the values of the secular culture they must now be abandoned. Such behaviour, to paraphrase our Epistle today, takes what is the word of man and tries to present it as being the word of God. It may well bring earthly glory to the false preacher; but it does nothing to bring glory to God, and does nothing that aids in the salvation of souls.

For the salvation of souls is the purpose and aim of our faith. It was for that reason that our Lord severely criticised the religious leaders of his day who behaved hypocritically; it was for that reason he came to earth and suffered and died for our sins; and it the reason why we must do our utmost to be faithful to him and the teachings he gave us – something that I pray all here will be, this day and always, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 4 November 2017

But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher” 
Luke 14. 10

Prides often moves us to seek the riches and glory of this world. But the Christian is called to humility; which not only gives glory to God but makes us rich with treasure in heaven.

Friday, November 3, 2017

prayer diary Friday 3 November 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

When Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely … and Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. 
Luke 14. 1-4

Blinded by their opposition to Christ, his enemies disregarded even basic mercy for a fellow man. We must never become fanatics like them, attacking everything that comes from a person we mistrust; for even an enemy may speak the truth on occassion.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 2 November 2017

'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!' 
Luke 13. 34

Our Lord shows tenderness and love even toward his enemies, and longs for their salvation. Will he not then give great help to those who love him, even if they sometimes stumble and fall?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 1 November 2017 (All Saint's Day)

'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God'. 
Matthew 5. 8

A saint is not some plaster figure, divorced from reality and untouched by the troubles and temptations of the world. A saint is one who has struggled with the messy reality of human life and managed to remain faithful to the end.