Lent Reflections Week 5

 

 

Bible reading - Luke 7.36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Reflection

The Gospel addresses four deep questions about human experience, and the first is: Who are we? This story tells us at least three things about this woman, and by implication, about us. First, she is a sinner. The implication of the story is that she may be a prostitute. But according to Christian tradition we are all sinners, people who get things wrong and fall short. Sometimes, sadly, Christians seem to stop at this point.Second, though, she is a person of infinite value, made in the image of God, worthy of love and acceptance. She is aware of her own brokenness and capable of repentance and change, as we all are.And third, she is created for worship, for relationship with God, symbolised in the lavish extravagance of her gesture. And this, too, is true for all of us. It’s who we are.

Prayer

Thank you, God, that you have made us in your image, made us for worship and for love, for relationship with you. Help me to see all people as you see us. Amen.

Action for the week

This week, think about a book or a film or a TV programme that you have engaged with recently. How does it try to address these four big questions? How would you answer them?

Bible reading - Acts 17.16-18

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.)

Reflection

Hannah Steele writes: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we could ever offer to another person. To share with another human being the good news that in Christ we are known, loved, forgiven and set free is truly the greatest gift we could give them. But as with other gifts, we need to be thoughtful in how we offer it, giving consideration to what and how we might best connect God’s story to the person in view.There is so much we could say about the good news and its themes of love, redemption, reconciliation and God’s grace. One of the greatest challenges we face is in knowing where and how to begin the conversation.”Earlier in these reflections we looked briefly at Paul in Athens as an example of attentive listening. Today we see that Paul began his stay looking for cultural clues to help him begin the conversation about Jesus in a way that would connect with the Athenians.

Prayer

Lord, help us to listen for the echoes and to spot the cultural clues in our own context so that we might share the good news of Jesus in a way that connects with those around us. Amen.

Action for the week

This week, think about a book or a film or a TV programme that you have engaged with recently. How does it try to address these four big questions? How would you answer them?

Bible reading - Matthew 28.16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Reflection

Many Christians find the thought of talking to other people about their faith in God quite scary. Today’s reading, which comes after the resurrection and just before Jesus ascended to heaven, gives us three encouragements, if we are feeling nervous about this. First, doubt is no barrier. All of them saw Jesus. Some of them doubted. But Jesus commissioned them all, doubters included. Second we do this together. The commissioning is for the whole group, not just certain individuals. Everything is easier and more exciting when do it with others. Third Jesus himself is with us. He promises that he will be with us always, when we are conscious of that fact and when we are not. Anxiety about talking about things that mean a lot to us is understandable, especially if we haven’t done it before. But as we share our faith with others, we are never alone.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you are always with me, and that you don’t call me to do anything by myself. Thank you for the presence of your Spirit and the life of the church to which I belong. Amen.

Action for the week

This week, look for at least one opportunity to say something about your faith in Christ and what it means to you. For example, when talking about your weekend, you might mention that you went to church and be prepared to say why you go.

Bible reading - Acts 19.8-10

He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Reflection

Because telling the story of Jesus and his presence in our lives is such an important and wonderful thing, we can make the mistake of thinking that it should only be undertaken by special people in special places. We have already seen how God can use anybody to share their piece of the story. Today we are reminded that this can happen anywhere. Paul finds that the place of worship and prayer has become a difficult environment for sharing the message, so he moves to another, nonreligious, public space.

Many people who do not think of themselves as Christians are reluctant to go into a church building. They don’t know what might happen there. They feel they are in somebody else’s territory. It can be much easier to share our story with these people in a pub or a living room, on the bus or on WhatsApp.

Prayer

Please Lord, help me to be aware of your presence in my life all the time, not just in church or when I am praying. And help me always to be willing to share my story with others. Amen.

Action for the week

This week, look for at least one opportunity to say something about your faith in Christ and what it means to you. For example, when talking about your weekend, you might mention that you went to church and be prepared to say why you go.

 

Bible reading - Acts 10.1-48

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’ When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa. About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’ So Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?’ They answered, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’

Cornelius replied, ‘Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Reflection

Prompted by a vision, Peter tells the story of Jesus to a non-Jewish audience. At different times and in different ways, religious people can begin to think of themselves as the “in crowd”, those who have been chosen by God for special status in his kingdom, who can therefore look down on others, the “outsiders”. Some of our friends who don’t call themselves Christians may sadly have experienced this attitude from some who do.

Acts 10 reminds us how misplaced this view is. God’s love is for everyone, his purpose is for everyone, and his family is open to everyone. Even when God does call a particular group of people, that calling is for the sake of others, so that God’s goodness and glory might be reflected in the world. So we are not Christians just for ourselves, but for others, to bear witness to God’s love and longing for everyone.

Prayer

Loving God, your love is for everyone, and you want every person to know and love you. Help me to be a witness to that love, and a bringer of good news. Amen.

Action for the week

This week, look for at least one opportunity to say something about your faith in Christ and what it means to you. For example, when talking about your weekend, you might mention that you went to church and be prepared to say why you go.

Bible reading - Acts 8.26-39

 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Reflection

Yesterday we saw how the Holy Spirit prompts us to share the story of Jesus in ways that others can understand. Today we see how the same Spirit can give opportunities to share the story that we could not create ourselves. I was once travelling with a group from my church. We were sitting in an airport restaurant on our way home when one of my companions, bolder than me, felt nudged by the Spirit to speak to a man at the next table. I don’t know what she said to him, but I saw his eyes open wide and then fill with tears as she spoke to him about Jesus. Whatever she said touched him deeply.The story we share is both God’s and ours. We can feel nervous about speaking about things so profound and personal. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness, if we are open to that guidance.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the story I have to tell about the difference you have made in my life. By the Holy Spirit, please give me the words and opportunities to tell that story to others. Amen.