Extravagance at Cana

Bible Reading: John 2:1-11

Everyone plans well for a party, especially making sure there’s enough food and drink for everyone. Throughout history people have celebrated together by feasting, and this is something we all really missed during the coronavirus pandemic because these gatherings were banned.

Events associated with feasting make good memories for the future, and even a funeral reception or wake can be a place of joy, nurtured by food and drink.

Of course, waste is a concern for everyone, but running short of food or drink is always a failure of hospitality. When we come to that beautiful account of the wedding at Cana, all those themes and more are woven into the fabric of John’s story telling.

On the surface, there is the embarrassing awfulness of a wedding that runs out of wine. At a deeper level, we see the extravagance of God’s love and grace. Here is an overabundance of giving made real in Jesus for those who were present with him then, and with all who celebrate his presence now. It also points ahead to the great feast when the Lord will bring his promises to their ultimate fulfilment.

I invite to dig deeper into this wonderful story for yourselves, to discover its depths of meaning that reveal the extravagance of God and his love for us.

God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
With thy Spirit recreate me
Pure and strong and true.
Like thy springs and running waters,
Make me crystal pure;
Like thy rocks of towering grandeur,
Make me strong and sure.

Like thy dancing waves in sunlight,
Make me glad and free;
Like the straightness of the pine trees
Let me upright be.
Like the arching of the heavens,
Lift my thoughts above;
Turn my dreams to noble action,
Ministries of love.

Like the birds that soar while singing,
Give my heart a song;
May the music of thanksgiving
Echo clear and strong.
God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
Keep me ever by thy Spirit
Pure and strong and true.

Salvation Army Song Book 320 (TB 303/Whitechapel)

The Baptism of Christ

Today in the Christian calendar we celebrate The Baptism of Christ, here depicted in the wonderful painting by Piero della Francesca in the National Gallery, London.

You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 3:15-22

I’m reading Dave Grohl‘s book The Storyteller that Naomi bought me for Christmas. In it, he describes when his eight-year-old daughter Harper asked him to teach her to play the drums. His response was one of fatherly pride and humility, the latter because he was self-taught and didn’t have a clue where to start.

In the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are told that God was well pleased with his Son. By implication, God is pleased with us when we walk and live in the footsteps of Jesus. May we live like that in the coming days, not judging people but coming alongside them and loving them with the parental love of God.

Piero was the first artist to write a treatise on perspective – that is, creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Here, he has painted objects in proportion, so that they appear as we see them in real life. This emphasises the depth of the landscape, but also the harmony of the figures and natural features within it. Christ stands in a shallow, winding stream as John the Baptist pours a small bowl of water over his head. Three angels in colourful robes witness the event. At this very moment, the voice of God was heard – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16) – and the Holy Ghost, shown here as a dove flying over Christ’s head and towards us, descended upon him. This painting was made for the small chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey of Piero’s hometown, Borgo Sansepolcro. Source

The Gifts of the Wise Men

Bible Readings: Matthew 2:1-12 & 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Christmas celebrates the coming of God’s gift, the birth of Jesus as Saviour of the World. Epiphany celebrates our giving to God, symbolised by the wise men bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus. It’s traditionally celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas (January 6).

We know very little about them, and only assume there were three because there were three gifts. Those three gifts represent three distinct aspects of our lives that we need to present to Jesus.

Gold represents everything of material value; our money, our property, our belongings. It’s good to recognise that everything comes from God, and as Christians we offer it to Jesus. We may not have much, but let’s make sure give our symbolic gold to Jesus, for God to use.

Frankincense represents something less tangible than gold. It symbolises our inner treasure of thought and influence; our education, our talents, and our personalities. By offering these to Jesus we have a reference point for our actions and behaviour, recognising something greater than ourselves.

Myrrh, partly because of its use in embalming, has been identified with sorrow and suffering. We can bring the challenging times in life to Jesus, and experience God’s comfort.

Myrrh is mine; it’s bitter perfume.
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing. sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

A fourth wise man called Artaban belongs to the realm of myth and legend, but he is imagined having brought a gift representing the happier things in life. A reminder that Jesus:

…feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.

The whole of human life can be symbolised in the three (four) gifts, personal gifts of ourselves that we can bring to Jesus.

Father, I place into your hands
The things I cannot do,
Father, I place into your hands
The things that I’ve been through.
Father, I place into your hands
The way that I should go,
For I know I always can trust you.

Father, I place into your hands
My friends and family.
Father, I place into your hands
The things that trouble me.
Father, I place into your hands
The person I would be,
For I know I always can trust you.

Father, we love to see your face,
We love to hear your voice.
Father, we love to sing your praise
And in your name rejoice.
Father, we love to walk with you
And in your presence rest,
For we know we always can trust you.

Father, I want to be with you
And do the things you do.
Father, I want to speak the words
That you are speaking too.
Father, I want to love the ones
That you will draw to you,
For I know that I am one with you.

Sunday Devotionals 2021

This post is simply an index of my Sunday devotionals published in 2021.

January 3: The Letter of Joy (Introduction)
January 10: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)
January 17: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 2)
January 24: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 3)
January 31: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 4)
February 7: Finding Peace in Five Verses
February 14: Living Life in God’s Love (St Valentine’s Day)
February 21: The Woman at the Well (Lent 1)
February 28: Temptation 1 (Lent 2)
March 7: Temptation 2 (Lent 3)
March 14: An instrument of your peace (Lent 4/Mother’s Day)
March 21: For God so loved the world (Lent 5)
March 28: Cross Purposes (Palm Sunday)

This post is a work in progress which will be updated asap.

Psalm 18 (Selected Verses)

I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.

The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect:
the Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.
The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.

Elusive Peace?

Sometimes peace in our human hearts can seem elusive. We can so easily be knocked off balance, experiencing discouragement and distress in our inner being.

The psalmist expresses this in Psalms 42 and 43. These are two psalms which in many Hebrew manuscripts form one psalm, and when you read them together you can see why. Separated by number, but not by obvious thematic connection and narrative flow.

You can read them by clicking on the links here: Psalm 42 & Psalm 43

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. Augustine

Although inner peace and quietness characterise the Christian life, many things can knock us off balance. These times should be expected, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up when they come.

Peace in the Bible refers to the complete wholeness and wellbeing of body, mind, and soul. It’s about security, lack of conflict, and being in harmony with God, ourselves, and others.

If you’re feeling out of balance right now, the words of the Psalmist and the poet may help:

Peace of the tranquil heart,
Fall upon me;
Gift of the Father
My sentinel be:
Guard Thou my heart
In the presence of ill,
Hold me – encompass me –
I would be still.

See: Be still, and know (Will J Brand)

Psalm 23 (A Psalm of David)

clouds daylight forest grass

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23 from the King James Version (1611) of the Bible. For a more modern and accurate translation from the New International Version (1978) click here. See also: 10/05/20 Sunday Reflections.

Sea Sunday (2021)

Every year churches around the world celebrate Sea Sunday on the second Sunday in July. It’s a day for people to come together to pray for seafarers and fishers, and thank them for the vital role they play in all of our lives. Here’s a Bible reading (click on the link), a hymn, and a prayer for you to use.

Psalm 65 (NIVUK)

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Saviour, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amid its rage didst sleep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Holy Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go:
And ever let there rise to thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Almighty God, we remember those whose lives are lived on your great oceans. For those who go down to the sea in ships, we give thanks; they enrich our lives at great personal cost. May they daily feel the strength of your protection, the warmth of your presence and the love of your relationship as they seek hope of safe passage. Pray for seafarers who are stranded at sea and forced to survive using only the resources available around them. Comfort them in times of loneliness and need and remind them that, in you, they are never alone, particularly when they are struggling with poor weather conditions or sickness. Amen. Source

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Psalm 139 is a wonderful description of God’s spiritual care and protection, combined with a personal desire to live a life in keeping with God’s character. God surrounds us and hems us in, but not in a bad way. His light is so bright that ‘even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day’. The psalmist recognizes that he can’t escape from the Lord. His anxiety dissolves when he considers God’s loving care for him, even before his birth.

Towards the end, the psalmist criticises and wishes dead those who disobey God, probably because he is so committed to living his own virtuous life. This needs to be viewed in the light of the New Testament, and the love shown by Jesus to all people, even his enemies. The psalm is actually a strong affirmation of the value God places on humankind in all its variety.

The psalmist opens up every aspect of his being, character, behaviour, and speech to God’s examination. As hard as his life is, he wants to ensure his own spiritual growth so that he doesn’t come under God’s judgment.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.