The Feast of St Michael and All Angels: Michaelmas and us …

Canon Alan Amos OBE, now retired from his ministry in theological education, hospital chaplaincy and parochial life, holds PTO in the diocese and has taken on several roles as a locum priest. He lives part of the year in Saint Julien in Genevois and worships at Holy Trinity Geneva. Alan draws here on the biblical readings for Michaelmas, Genesis 28.10-17 and John 1.47-end.

Fifty years ago, I was made deacon at a Michaelmas ordination, and I treasure particularly the collect for the day, with its reference to angels and human beings being joined in a common endeavour of ministry :

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order: grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so, at your command, they may help and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

I particularly like the sense of ‘overlap’ between angels and human beings; it reminds me of Rublev’s wonderful Trinity icon, which picks up on the three strangers visiting Abraham, who then get transformed into angels, sprouting iconic wings, and thence into representing the communion of the Holy Trinity.

This story, and this icon, begins from the hospitality of Abraham, linking into the divine hospitality which welcomes us into communion.

That prompts me to ask, ‘are there ways in which our worship is angelic?’ By which I certainly do not mean self-consciously precious! Rather, does worship really provide ‘a transport of delight’, a ladder of sorts between earth and heaven ? Certainly the Sursum Corda welcomes us into the fellowship of angels and archangels worshipping the Lord of all holiness.

As a choir member at Holy Trinity in Geneva, I find myself often uplifted by the music which we prepare and sing, and thankful for the wonderful tradition of Anglican choral music which draws, of course, on the musical riches of the universal church.jacobs-ladder-sheet-music1

But then back to earth. And to some other words of worship, from the Book of Common Prayer : ‘and here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves , our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this Holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction.’ And we pray that this our offering may be accepted ‘not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.’ The beauty of the language of this prayer is used to emphasise that we worship as a corporate body ‘all we who are partakers’ – and that we are not to be deterred from worship by our lack of worthiness. The invitation to worship is insistent, even compelling; we are not to be left outside the web of worship suspended between earth and heaven, but to find our own place in it.

Angels are messengers, and so if we really are to be part of this divinely constituted order which includes us humans with them, we have to be bearers of the message, not in word only, but in apostolic action.

There are many examples in our diocese of how this action is carried forward, often with ecumenical partners. I just leave you with a couple which I am learning about and which seem very necessary in our times, first there is action to engage with and support refugees, where the Chaplaincy in Athens and more recently in Calais have played a leading role. I am also aware how on a smaller scale, the priest and people of La Cote, our sister church in Switzerland, have been deeply committed to this work.

Then there is Stephen Ministry, see: https://www.stephenministries.org/stephenministry/default.cfm/917?mnbsm=1

Named after Stephen the first martyr and proto-deacon, this is a ministry of caring and accompaniment for those who are going through major crises in life. Several of our English-speaking churches in Geneva, who participate in our Geneva ecumenical Cursillo, have members who have received training in this ministry. I wonder if you have come across Stephen ministry, or your church community shares in it?

Sometimes, in my ministry as a hospital chaplain, a patient would say ‘Chaplain, could you be an angel…’ and I never knew quite what request would follow. Retrieving one patient’s dentures was the least of my angelic tasks!

 

Trinity 14: Pray for kings…

Keith Burrell, Reader at Trinity Church, Lyon reflects on this week’s lectionary Epistle, I Timothy 2.1-7, which seems only too relevant to current concrns.

 

ground zero 1ground zero 2

The memorial at Ground Zero

‘Never’ I’m tempted to say, ‘Never has Paul’s instruction (‘pray for kings and all those in authority‘, 1 Timothy 2.2)  been more relevant and important.’ A glance at the news and we see refugees spending days on board NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean because governments cannot decide where the ships might be allowed to dock; we hear bitter arguments in the UK and further afield over BREXIT; some leaders exchange insults and few seem to engage in reasonable discussions to find real solutions. The former Scottish MP Tam Dalyell pointed out that political discussion in the 1980’s became increasing conflictual. Since then the situation seems only to have got worse.  It reminds me of the line in Pete Seeger’s song which runs: ‘When will they ever learn?’

On the other hand, 18 years ago on 9/11 when the first plane struck one of the Twin Towers, ordinary people immediately set to work together to bring help to the victims. A recent visit to the Ground Zero memorial made that abundantly clear: there, along with the names of the other victims, are those of the First Responders listed by team: the men and women who gave their lives to help others. White roses mark the birthday of each victim on the appropriate day and are a reminder that behind each of these names is a person, an individual person, precious in God’s sight. But I also see in those white roses a sign of hope.

A sign of hope which will only be realised if we take Paul’s instruction seriously and pray regularly and earnestly for the leaders of the world’s governments. There are so many desperate situations all over the world, many but not all due to war, with so many innocent people caught up in them through no fault of their own. But so easily our prayers for them can fade like the television news headlines, replaced by other concerns.

Let us come before the Lord whole-heartedly, in humility and faith. As Archbishop Justin Welby put it, let us ‘batter the gates of heaven in prayer’ regularly and perseveringly… Let us batter the gates of heaven in prayer for kings and all those in authority, that all people may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness.

Trinity 11: Entertaining Angels Unaware

Dr Clare Amos, who among her other roles coordinates the Diocesan Ministry Scheme, writes on two of this week’s lectionary readings. She particularly focuses in Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16, though also draws attention to the Gospel reading, Luke 14.1, 7-14.

It is one of those pithy biblical sayings which has crept into wide use certainly among English speakers : ‘Entertaining angels unawares’ is a remark that is used by many more than avid readers of the Bible. Indeed, if asked, many regular readers of the Bible would be hard-pressed to immediately locate its origin in these verses from the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 13. It has to be said that the modern NRSV translation, which speaks of entertaining angels ‘without knowing it’ doesn’t have quite the same ring! It is of course referring to the story of Abraham’s hospitality to the three mysterious angels of Genesis 18, a visit which led to him and Sarah receiving in return far far more than they had expected.

It is a mixed bag of instructions and commands that are gathered together in these first 8 verses of this chapter of Hebrews. They are then summarized and undergirded by the striking statement, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13.8). It seems to suggest that giving hospitality isn’t just a sort of incidental niceness to strangers – but takes us to the very heart of the eternal nature of God. Hospitality is also a theme of this week’s lectionary Gospel reading (Luke 14.1, 7-14), and will also be so next week. The Gospel of Luke in particular makes clear how the receiving and the giving of hospitality are fundamental aspects of the earthly ministry of Jesus.

As I write this reflection, I am currently in Rome with the 2019-20 cohort of interns who will be spending time in several chaplaincies in our diocese between now and the end of June 2020 as part of the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme (MES). They will be learning, working, worshipping and exploring what may be their future vocations in the life of the church. We are having our induction meeting here in Rome – and as with many events in the life of our diocese it would not be possible without generous hospitality offered to us, in this case partly by All Saints, the Anglican church in Rome which is a chaplaincy of our diocese. Later today we will be visiting the Episcopal church in the city, St Paul’s within the Walls, to hear about the ministry to refugees which has been developed by that church. Such hospitality to refugees is a regular part of the work of many chaplaincies in our diocese.

Over the last couple of years the learning and reflection of the MES interns has been focused around a particular ‘theme’ which they have shared something about in a presentation to Diocesan Synod towards the conclusion of their time with us. Last year the theme was ‘pilgrimage’, this year it will be ‘hospitality’. It is an appropriate theme, both in terms of learning about the importance of hospitality in the life and work of many of our chaplaincies, and the hospitality that each of them will receive in the coming months which makes this MES programme possible. In her introductory talk yesterday one of our pastoral mentors reminded us that the writer Henri Nouwen had spoken of ‘listening’ as a deep form of spiritual hospitality: I am sure that our interns will both experience such ‘spiritual hospitality’ on the part of others, and I hope will learn more about practicing it themselves.

Deliberately, one of the motifs which undergird the Diocesan Rule of Life and accompanying prayer which were introduced at this year’s Synod in June, is hospitality. Both Rule and Prayer draw from the story of Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus in emphasizing its importance. The hospitable invitation, ‘’Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over’ (Luke 24.29) has consequences beyond their imagining and their hopes. In some ways that Emmaus encounter feels like a New Testament parallel to the Old Testament story of the angelic visit to Abraham in Genesis 18 to which Hebrews 13.2 refers, and it is interesting that a there is a depiction of the Emmaus story by the Indian Christian artist Jyoti Sahi which  clearly echoes the famous depiction of Abraham’s three visitors offered in the beautiful icon of Andrei Rublev. (Jyoti Sahi’s picture can be found as number 8 in the sequence of his art at https://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/142159343095/emmaus-art-india)

roublev trinity

The Icon of the Hospitality of Abraham, Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

Rublev’s icon is also a reminder that as Hebrews 13.8 suggests, such hospitality is not just a one off haphazard event, but that we are receiving, experiencing and perhaps even participating in something that is profoundly part of the nature of God. The short verses below, written many years ago now by my husband Alan Amos, dare to suggest in acts of hospitality we are being invited to ‘mirror’ the divine life revealed in our world.

Three in one, in closest harmony

Circled by love, in tender symmetry

Offering up the Lamb who is to be

Life for the world

 

Angels are they, yet hold in meaning more

Than angels visiting at Sarah’s door:

God’s life itself, ready for us to pour

Grace on this world.

 

Help us then this circle now to join,

Our lives in newborn harmony entwine

In action mirroring the life divine

Revealed in our world.

Trinity 10: Restoring a broader vision

Canon Alexander Gordon, chaplain of Holy Trinity Church Geneva, reflects on this week’s lectionary readings: Isaiah 58.9b-14; Hebrews 12.18-29; Luke 13.10-17.

The Sequence for Pentecost Sunday, written by a former reforming Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, in the thirteenth century has the petition in one English translation ‘What is rigid, gently bend, what is frozen, warmly tend, straighten what goes erringly’. Thinking of the plight of the woman in today’s Gospel for the tenth Sunday after Trinity those words came to my mind. It is difficult to imagine the depths of affliction which she must have endured. Aside from the premature aging that this curvature of the spine would bring, there was the sheer inability to delight in her surroundings, or even to see where she was going. No doubt her life would have been punctuated with expressions of apology for bumping into other people who either did not see her or want to see her. All of this contributing to her personal diminishment and spiritual deprivation.

bent woman medium

 This scene, part of the fourth century Sarcohphagus of the Two Brothers in Rome, may depict a beardless Christ healing the bent woman.  [ Christ healing the crippled woman who was bent over, from ‘Art in the Christian Tradition’, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51253, retrieved August 21, 2019. Original source: Collection of J. Patout Burns and Robin M. Jensen.] 

So the liberation which the Lord brings to this afflicted woman is enormous. But of course there is even more going on here than we see at first sight. Her affliction is a symbol for a profound spiritual illness – one concerned with a lack of vision.

The first reading set for this Sunday from Isaiah follows on from some defining of who is truly to be regarded as part of God’s people, and foremost in this is the requirement to keep the Sabbath. That said, there is an opening up of membership of the religious community to a wider group than before – and this section includes the famous verse quoted by Jesus ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples’ (Isaiah 56.7). But the prophet has also been concerned to attack idolatry, which is of course the refusal to see the reality of things – a failure of vision – and he repeats the need for true justice and right behaviour. In our passage, Isaiah describes what might be a true and just keeping of the Sabbath – ‘If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness’.

This is the background to Jesus’ confrontation with the leader of the Synagogue. What constitutes a just and right keeping of the Sabbath? Surely, Jesus argues, the removal of the yoke of affliction from this daughter of Abraham who has suffered eighteen years? But Jesus is also aware of the Mishnah’s commentary on Sabbath regulations which affect the use of animals – they may be untied (even the kind of knot to be used is specified) and taken to water on the Sabbath. Which may be why the leader of the Synagogue keeps addressing the crowd, whom he wants to stir up, rather than Jesus himself, whom he recognises as too much of a force to be reckoned with.

The woman in this Gospel story has much to teach us. Her condition left her unable to see properly – just the ground in front of her. Something that she needs to be liberated from.

In Western society today, we are in a similar kind of danger – the danger of limited vision. Populist politicians discourage us from looking further ahead or deeper into the situations which we face. So climate change becomes fake news. Migrants are a problem to be eliminated. International diplomacy becomes a shouting match conducted by Twitter feed. The European Union becomes a costly bureaucratic nightmare to be dissolved away. The Common Good becomes an extravagant fantasy.

All of this is about a limited field of vision. We need the faith and courage to look further ahead and deeper into the complex realities which our world faces, and to pose the difficult questions which we are not always welcomed.

The cure of our idolatrous short-sight brings us back to worship. In the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded of the holiness of God – a holiness which must be respected in reverence and awe in our worship. Our God, the writer tells us, is a ‘consuming fire’. Not a spiritual hot water bottle! As we open our eyes to this God in worship, our vision of the here-and-now is changed and enlarged along with our hearts to embrace in, through and with Christ the work of unbinding. A work of that love which is the fire at the centre of all that is, and which enables all of our being and our doing. We are told that the first thing that the healed woman did was to praise God. Such praise, the first task of Sabbath rest, changes literally everything. It restores delight – in surroundings, in other people, in the absolute love of the God of fire. And with the restoration of delight comes a longer view and deeper vision.

Trinity 9: ‘It is time for the Lord to act’

Revd Roxana Tenea Teleman, assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Nice, with St Hugh, Vence (France), reflects on this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Luke 12.49-56, drawing also on the Epistle for this week, Hebrews 11.29-12.2.

roxana and family ordination

Roxana and her family after her ordination to the diaconate by Bishop Robert Innes on 30 June 2019

My first ‘encounter’ with the Anglican Church, a turning point in my life, happened in Bucharest, just a few months after the fall of Communism in Romania (and in Eastern Europe) – a time of confusion, unrest, deep worries, even angst for some. Emotions ran high, society seemed ablaze, families were worryingly divided. We had been unprepared, the change had taken us by surprise, we had failed to interpret our time.

We could, perhaps, blame the decades of imposed ‘peace’, ‘unity’, uniformity, and one-track thinking that gave us a false sense of security, and lulled our (political) conscience into slumber, anaesthetised our capacity to discern, and nearly extinguished our fire of dreaming of freedom.

Thirty years later, divisiveness seems to have become a leitmotiv in Romania, in the whole of Europe, actually: social unrest, unprecedented political divisions, with feisty debates, with traditionally major parties being dealt strong blows, and unexpected election results, an unwillingness to negotiate or just to listen. We were still unprepared for these, and we are still puzzled. We were well equipped, though, with tools and research teams meant to probe beneath the surface of events, to recognise what is really going on, and what is likely to happen.

‘Why do you not know how to interpret the present time (καιρός, kairos)?’, Jesus Christ asks the crowds. Why do we fail, again and again, to read the signs of the times?

It is, perhaps, because we are so preoccupied with chronos, the continuous linear measurable time, which encapsulates our earthly lives, that we do not recognise the time (kairos) of our Visitation from God (Luke 19.44), when he is acting in our life, in the world?

Or, let us face it, we might be afraid to acknowledge the divine kairos: we are warned that God’s intervention in our human time is disruptive, that it can bring about division and lay bare our soul, with its abyss of fears, inconsistencies and contradictions, before our own eyes and “to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4.13).

More division? What an unsettling thought! We would so much prefer to avoid conflict and division at all costs, at least, in our families and our churches – these are, surely, the most painful instances of disharmony. Parents and church leaders have the experience and the wisdom that allows them to identify what might disrupt the good (and smooth) conduct of family or church life and peace, don’t they? Should they not build in a firewall to prevent division seeping in? Yet, this fear of disturbances, and of challenges, fear that the shallow peace of suppressed conflicts, questions and choices, of complacency might be disrupted, the ‘fear of fear’, might become the ‘fear of belonging to Another, […] to God’ (T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets), who is intent on leading us through mountains and valleys, when we would rather choose a flat landscape.

Christ, the ‘perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12.2), wants to kindle a fire of purification and refinement, the fire of God’s active presence in the world, that can effect changes by igniting our resistance, the fire of judgement that consumes all unrighteousness, idolatry and injustice.

The Church has been entrusted with Christ’s message of release and transformation, which is bound to be divisive – why do we try to ‘tame’ it? There is no mildness or promise of instant gratification and happiness in it (as ‘Good News’, which very often is used for ‘Gospel’ nowadays, may sound), but the announcement of powerful, life-changing events, of the ‘consuming fire”’ (Hebrews 12.29) of God’s Visitation.

In some Eastern Churches, before the Divine Liturgy begins, it is the deacon’s task to remind the priest that ‘It is time (kairos) for the Lord to act’ (Psalm 119.126). The liturgy, even if, etymologically, it means ‘the action of the people’, is, indeed, the place where God makes irruption into our churches, into our life, with the fire of his Word, that is ‘living and acting, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow’ (Hebrews 4.12), with the gift of His peace ‘which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4.7) and with the radical inclusiveness of the invitation to his table. With this renewed awareness of and opening to God’s presence with us, we could ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12.1).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity 8: Glad to be Unhappy

Revd Richard Bromley, Mission Director of ICS (Intercontinental Church Society), explores this week’s lectionary epistle, Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16.

To get the best from this lectionary reflection you might want to follow this link, to Watersky by Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy and allow it to play as you read. 

On a visit to Amsterdam, my daughter and I went to the Van Gogh museum to see a new exhibition.  Of course, the centre piece was his ‘Starry Night’, painted in the asylum in St Remy in 1889.  Van Gogh wrote at that time that he often felt the night to be ‘more richly coloured than the day’.  Unable to go outside at night he painted the Starry Night from memory.  We had to buy a print that now takes pride of place on the wall of my lounge.

1280px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night

The writer of Hebrews, having written of Christ and his work has moved to our response and now, reaching his peak in chapter 11, pronounces: ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’.  He goes on to develop what this faith looks and feels like.

By faith we have confidence in his invisible hand at work (11.3), all is not chaos, however the news reads, family life feels or the latest development on Brexit looks.

By faith we obey the call to go, even though we realise later we did not really know where we were going or what it would be like when we got there.  If we had known, we may not have left.  But this is what it means to be a pilgrim (11.4).

By faith we make our homes in other lands, realising this world is not our home.  We find ourselves integrating into and forming community, making friends, working, playing and serving.  We seek the good for our host countries, they become ‘our home’ because God has brought us here (11.9).

The Daily Telegraph’s Helen Brown commenting on Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ explains how the painting ‘maintains an electric tension between ecstasy and melancholy’.  It is wonderful, but at the same time is dreadful.  Don McLean wrote of the painting ‘It makes you glad to be unhappy,’

This time of year, in chaplaincy life there is a sense of the ecstasy and melancholy.  It is the summer holidays, we go places, see family and have time to pick up a book or paint a picture.  It is also the time some of our friends have packed their bags and returned home or to their next assignment, being less confident where home really is.  We are aware of people returning for family, for work, or for financial reasons.  We know people moving on as the journey leads them somewhere else.  We know people delighted to leave, others with a torn heart.

In Cyprus, where we lived for a time, we marked this time of year with our church young people.  On the last evening they were all to be together we took them to the beach in Larnaca, we played games and laughed in the evening sun.  As the sun went down and the stars came out, we sat in a line with our feet in the sea, lapping at our toes.  I read them today’s lectionary reading from Hebrews 11, emphasising v 12 and 13, ‘And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

God had brought us together and then scattered us.  It is a painful experience, especially for the Chaplain, who ‘starts again’ every year in a way not normal in an English parish.  But these stars are sent out, we as chaplains and chaplaincies rarely get to see the impact we have had.  The faith which we have created and the space to grow and develop in, the changes that are wrought in people’s lives in their time with us.

Occasionally a well-known person (Archbishop Justin) appears who was nurtured in one of our chaplaincies, but there are, like the stars in the sky, people who have been impacted, developed, grown in faith in chaplaincies who we will never really know about it until we get to that better country spoken of in verse 16, where God greets us in the place he has prepared for us.

 

Trinity 7 : The Would-be Rich Fool


Hector Davie draws on all three lectionary readings (Ecclesiastes 1.2, 12-14; 2.18-23; Colossians 3.1-11;  Luke 12.13-21) for this week’s blog.

Every year the newspapers here report the results of the various quality-of-life polls, and the Swiss scan them with enthusiasm. Have we been beaten by the Norwegians? Whatever are the Irish and the Icelanders doing there in the top ten? If we are not up near the top of the chart, the pollsters must surely be measuring the wrong things.

There is a strongly-held belief that material wealth is the main basis for a high standard of living, and the differences in wealth between countries, even within Europe, give rise to the idea that some nations are more developed than others. This is not a Christian view. We are not here for the money. It is easier, says Jesus, for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven. Even if Chesterton’s comment is true, that ‘modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle (and) biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel’, serving Mammon doesn’t mix with serving God.511px-Dortmund,_Bonifatius-Kirche,_Eingang_West

Sculpture of the camel going through the eye of a needle in St Boniface Church, Dortmund.(Mathias Bigge [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D)

Indeed the Gospel may well be far more radical than we are willing to accept. Perhaps we should take our cue from the lilies of the field, cancel our insurance policies, cash in our pension funds and give the proceeds to the poor? Or is this just an example of Semitic thought, of seeing things in terms of black and white? Is the real message perhaps the same as that of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.’?

The Reformers held equally radical views about wealth, but tempered them with their own thoughts about work. With the right ethic, as Max Weber famously pointed out, work can easily generate wealth and it is interesting that the three cities most associated with Swiss wealth are Zurich, Basle and Geneva – the cities of Zwingli, Erasmus and Calvin.

Our Gospel reading today, however, is not about work or wages. The voice from the crowd has not been working. The money in question comes from an inheritance. The brother refuses to share it. Surely that can’t be right. As with any domestic dispute, it was the done thing to go and ask the rabbi, and it was expected that the rabbi would decide the claim.

But Jesus, as often, does not give a direct answer. Instead, he tells a parable about a rich man and his crops – his life savings. The rich man’s response to wealth is simple: build a bigger barn and sit back, eat, drink and have fun. We’ve heard the story before (not least from Ecclesiastes!) Ecclesiastes does not condemn the merry-making – it is merely rather pointless, like most worldly things. The prophet who condemns it is Isaiah, and in quite a different context.

In Isaiah 22, Jerusalem is under siege, perhaps by Sennacherib, but after Judah is defeated the siege is lifted. The prophet calls for sackcloth and ashes, But the inhabitants use the opportunity to fortify the city wall, and then give themselves over to joy and festivity, eating and drinking. How mixed-up can their priorities be! They rejoice at their good fortune; but they neglect the God who guides their destiny.

This is the nub of Jesus’ reply. Why does the disgruntled figure from the crowd want the share of the inheritance? If you or I had Jesus in person in our midst – and we do – what would we do? Listen to his teaching? Seek his healing touch? Or pester him to take sides in a family dispute? The New Testament is full of advice on how to deal with disputes, but the underlying message is that disputes have no place in the powerful love of the redeemed community

So, as today’s epistle bids us, let us set our minds on things that are above, not on the earth. Not in the expectation that God will bless us materially, as God blessed Solomon in 1 Kings 3.13, or that we can lead a toil-free lily-like existence, for God does not work that way. Yet even if we repeatedly forget God, there is one reading today, from Hosea 11, that reminds us of anther truth – no matter how far we stray, now matter how far we neglect the things that are above, God never ceases loving us.

Many years ago, Hector Davie took advantage of the Church of England’s willingness ‘to pay to train a layman.’ He is a member of the congregation of St Ursula’s Church in Berne and tries to contribute regularly to communication within the parish and beyond.