Peter’s Repentance

Luke 5: 1-11; John 21 1-22

I’ve been here before.
Slogging away for no return.
I’d gone back to my fishing,
What I grew up doing, and knew well.
I sniffed the breeze, judged the wind and the currents,
Dropped down the net.
And hauled up with aching arms and hands.
Nothing.
I looked at Nathanael and Thomas. Caught John looking at me.
We could read each others thoughts.
What were we doing here?
How had it come to this?
We had seen Jesus twice since his resurrection
Not just seen but touched, – Thomas even more so.
Yet we felt flat, as empty as our nets.
The selfish retreat of fishing for fish that weren’t even there a meaningless routine,
A hollow comfort of escape to the past, fear of the future.
As I hauled on the wet rope another weary time I felt a disbelief and frustration born of guilt. I had denied him three times in public, was now denying him with my life returned to normal.

I thought back three years back in this very boat.
It seemed like an instant replay of when it all started.
I was there again, hauling up the unfilled empty weight. All night, nothing caught.
This man Jesus had asked to step on board, preached the gospel to crowds on the shore.
And when he had left speaking told us to go out again, to launch into the deep, let down the nets. I remembered and felt the pointlessness of the time, the weariness and memory sending a shudder down my spine.
I’d answered for all of us. What’s the point, – the fish just aren’t biting.
Yet we obeyed because he had asked.
When I hauled up, I had nearly fallen in with the jolt. The net had broken with the weight of fishes.
We’d had to call James and John, – and here we were again. Time was all confused. We had struggled to bring the catch to shore, -it had filled our two boats, and we only just made it.
The fish had been there all the time.
We had been dumfounded, and when he said to follow him, we followed. Left all.
Three years of miracles, lepers cleansed, limbs restored, multitudes fed, storms stilled by his word, – he had even got me to walk on the water, until I looked down and began to sink! I knew he was the Christ, – I’d told him! He shewed us what could be done.
He overcame death. I’d seen him twice! And here I am fishing.
And I have caught nothing.
The rocking of the boat seemed to mock us all.

I stretched up long and hard, the early morning light glinting on my sweat drained nakedness. Turned to James and John.
“I’ve just been thinking back three years ago. It’s just like it was yesterday. We caught nothing then either. Yet one more time, at Jesus’ command, and we couldn’t bring them in! Don’t you remember? It’s like a bad dream!”
Had I achieved nothing in all this time? The daft panic question…Was Jesus just a dream?
I hauled again at the reality of another empty net.

A stranger on the shore called out.
“Children, have ye any meat?”
He can’t see the barren wooden floor, awash with froth and weed.
I shout back the understatement of the year. “No!”
He calls out yet again:
“Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.”
We felt impelled to obey.
The net went over the other side, and it was barely drawn across the water when it resisted, almost fought against us; it was heaving with fish!
John said, “It is the Lord.”
Tears filled my eyes with re-ignited memory..
I now knew! Grabbed my coat, tied it quick and tight, dived in!
Jesus! Jesus!

Powerful strokes gave the lie to previous weariness.
I reached the shore, stumbled through the dragging water,
Dripping joyously as I ran to him.
He was sat calmly by a fire of coals, with fish and bread.
“Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.”
We all heaved the net full up the beach
Renewed strength, newly awakened.
Another flash back those three years hence, – those nets had broken, but this now not spoiled. We stopped to count the abundance. One hundred and fifty three!! And they were big fish too!
Was I living in the present or the past? I heard again Jesus words from the past besides those broken nets: “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
And I had selfishly gone back to my fishing….

The present jolted back at me:
“Come and dine.”
We ate of our fish, the work of our hands. The bread and the fish were the best I’d ever tasted, but that was not why I remembered that meal. It was Jesus, my Lord. The Christ. Sought me out yet once more. Me not deserving. I had disowned him three times, but here he was, not disowning me, any of us. We had even denied him by going back to our fishing, despite having seen him alive since his awful crucifixion. Why did he even bother to look for us? How did he find us? I felt his love.
The rising warm light of a beautiful cloudless day was matching and lifting heart and soul.
We had finished, all comfortable round the fire. Wondering. Trembling with anticipation.

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”

What a question is this! Why pick on me? Why Simon and not Peter? Had my reversion to fishing, my denials, robbed me of the rock he expected me to be? Not “Have you truly repented” but “Lovest thou me.” That’s the real proof. Who or what is more important? What do I really value most? What I think of myself, or how much I really love him? I give my answer.
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

“Feed my lambs.”

Be a fisher of men… do as I first asked of you! Change again. Genuine repentance, not skin deep, convenient….

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

He’s reading my thoughts. Supporting the true repentance taking place. No comparison “more than these”, just the direct need to love him. That is all that is needed. I reply exactly the same:
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

“Feed my sheep.”

Look after my flock, feed them with the gospel of Love, the manna from heaven; I leave them in your charge. Lord am I worthy?

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

You ask me the third time whether I love thee. How deeply I love thee. Are my affirmations not stronger than my denials? Guilt makes me aggrieved. I am being tested.
I feel his love, it revitalizes my very being. I am caught in the memory of fish too many to haul, that first command to be a fisher of men, to reach out to the world and bring them the gospel, not just to feed but to nourish. They are waiting for me. They need my obedience. I answer with the assurance of his blessing:
“Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

“Feed my sheep.”

His final command confirms his forgiveness and re-establishes the purpose and rock of my being, the selfless demand to love God and not self, before which we all must bow.
And in that true repentance of thought, changed wholeheartedly from self to God, I know I can never again go back. A new and deep awareness fills my being. Words are easy. I must now reach out, and prove my love for Jesus by my love for others. No more denial, but stronger, much stronger, the affirmation of God-based action!

My life-purpose changed: Not about me, about others.

FEED MY SHEEP!

And I just knew in another blinding flash of understanding, that as I had been given this command, so God would give me all I needed to fulfill it.

 

****

Matt 4:17 Jesus
Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Luke 9:23
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Not born blind, but born again

John 9

Life had not seemed fair.
Born blind. Stayed blind.
Led wherever I had or wanted to go.
No freedom, no light,
A life full of imaginings,
Empty of hope.

The nagging questions “Why? …Who to blame?
Who can be sinless? Why should we suffer for the sins of our parents?”
Endlessly debated and always those unanswerable accusations.
What had they done?
What had I done wrong while in my mother’s womb?
What chance had I for repentance before thought or conscience sparked my will?
The fact is I was born blind.
And in those repeated low moments of jaundiced bitterness and self-pity I again condemned the sin of the world and those who laid blame upon my heritage and knew everything and nothing.

That’s how it was. And one day, one special glorious day, it all changed.

Sitting by the wayside, stick in hand, quietly listening to the sounds of passing feet and distant birds, I heard as if talking directly to me, the sound of a stranger’s voice, talking about me as if I was an old acquaintance. I focused hard on the conversation taking place. I felt like reaching out and asking who was there, but heard yet once more voices querying that deep question that had so occupied my thoughts all my life:

“Master, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

They were clearly talking about me, but who was this “Master” they addressed? It must have been him I first heard. My whole being focused on a picture I could not see but felt, and how felt! A sense of warmth and love brushed across me, as though my past had been erased and a new painting drawn. I yearned for his answer.

“Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

A lifetime of belief denied in one simple statement of what to this man was truth. The love that radiated round me was more tangible than the stick in my hand. I stood up. The stick dropped from my hand, as I began, with hands outstretched, sensing, feeling, the security of Love, to move towards the direction of that voice as it spoke on.

“I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”

I didn’t understand, – my thoughts were still repeating and repeating I had not sinned, I had not sinned. His love was still drawing me closer; I could nearly reach and touch from where he spoke. My heart was hammering. I felt he was talking directly to me.

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Despite my blindness, for the first time I could sense true light, – much like I could feel the sun’s rays with their warmth, and knew it was there, but could not see it, so this new light was shining. It was the light of prophecy, for I somehow knew that this man, this Master, was indeed a prophet, and my life had already changed.
As he was speaking I heard those with him move to one side as I continued to move slowly and steadily forward. I stopped. My lips moved in silent acquiescence, expectant of more but not knowing what more was or could be. Every sense was alive, yet somehow at a different, higher level of being.
I heard him spit! Heard the spittle land on the ground, stretched every sense to imagine what he was doing. There was a deep silence. I didn’t know what was happening, but I had no fear. I felt a trust borne on his love. A hand touched the side of my face with great tenderness, and then a warm sensation as he anointed my left eye with clay, and then again over my right. He spoke once more with love.

“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”

I knew I could get there, and knew that this man knew too. It wasn’t far, but I had dropped my stick. Yet been given this instruction. I had to obey, not quite knowing how. He had told me what to do, and it must be possible. Turning round, a hand touched my arm, a voice said “Come, I’ll take you”, and I was led. What had I to learn as I followed his command? For I was following his command! I hadn’t questioned it. The pool was sufficiently far for plenty of doubts, stopping, thinking, asking why, was the whole thing real? The clay stuck to my eyes but I had to work at my balance and obedience, – why couldn’t I just reach up with my hands and pull the clay away there and then? Much easier! But no, – the pool must be and was significant. Knowing I was being obedient gave me strength and courage. Didn’t Siloam signify the seat of David, the House of God? He was making me go back to my true heritage, each step requiring confirmation of that way I had to go, the way I had to be. Another negative thought sprang up at me. It was the Sabbath, – that would get me into trouble with the Pharisees, – but this prophet had spoken, given me an overriding authority because he spoke with true authority. Am I dreaming? The clay sat heavy on my eyes. Why dust and spittle? I am to wash it off. Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents. The Adam story of the dust of the ground! He had spat at that! I have to wash off the false belief of mortal heritage! I am the child of God! And it shall be made manifest! I felt born again.

My dear guide told me we were near, then by, the pool, ushered me to its edge. I pressed his hands in thanks, knelt, felt for the edge, the water, cupped my hands and washed off what was the dirt of ages. I watched disbelieving as the drips dropped back in to the water, looked trembling at the next handful of water as it came up to wash my face again. Turned round and saw my guide, saw the walls of Jerusalem, sky, colours, people, birds, looked back down at my reflection! I could see!

I grabbed my guide’s hand in joy, looked if not stared at his kindly face, touched his smile with my hand, revelling in the wonderful link of sense and sight. “I’ve got to find the prophet!” We went running off to find him. I didn’t know where to go! We looked and ran and looked but could not find him.

I kept stumbling, looking at everything around me, new associations replacing old imaginations. We met with some people that looked aghast and I recognised the voice of neighbours. They did not believe it was me. To them my sight was impossible. I explained what had happened. How blind can they be! How can I not be me! Their fear of believing was greater than any joy they could have felt for me!

They grabbed at me and took me to the Pharisees. They all needed to prove me an imposter. I didn’t fit in with their expectations, their superior knowledge; I had been healed by a sinner! He did not come from the God that spake with Moses. Argument after argument. Why could they not accept the simple truth? I could see! And this man had healed me because he was of God. Had that ever been done before? They could not share my joy and so tried to kill it.

They cast me out to wallow in the sins in which I had been born. A doubt crossed into my thinking, – is this just a fantastic dream after all? Will I wake up and be once more a blind sinner? Was this healing somehow a lie? But then so clearly came the thought that there could be no reversion to what that man had uttered with such surety and conviction. He had spoken of a deep Truth, and I was now the standing, moving, living proof of what he said!

A white-robed man came up to me and spoke in a familiar voice, kindness once more radiating, but now visible as well as felt. I knew immediately it was the Master. He offered out both his hands in love and friendship:

“Dost thou believe in the Son of God”

I had glimpsed myself in a new light, and knew that God must be the underlying reality that sourced my healing. But who can His Son be? I asked who it might be, that I could believe on him, understand more what had happened.

Jesus answered: “Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.”

The full realisation of who he was and who I was brought me to my knees in reverent acknowledgement and praise. He had restored not my sight but me to my true being and sinless son-ship.

“I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and they which see might be made blind.”

My eyes had been blind and now I see. Oh may all our eyes so blinded by dust and clay that we see not, be washed clean that all may see the true light that is now come to the world!

Not born blind, but born again, that the works of God are manifest in me, in us, so that we all can see! My life has fundamentally changed, from blind pessimism to light, to the glorious feeling and knowing God’s ever-present Love. Jesus told me how to pray, to call God “ABBA, Father”, to see God as my only true and sinless heritage.
Love is our Father, and I truly understand: we are all His sons. And in His Love, I see!

Simon The Pharisee

Luke 7:37-48

Life is all about credibility.
And this Jesus of Nazareth is certainly building his!
He is becoming the rising star of the region.
Teaching in the synagogues, preaching about the kingdom of heaven being here!
How would he know? I’ve been around longer than he has, and I’ve never seen it!
What’s worse, he’s healing people, not just of their diseases, but claiming also their sins!
How does a carpenter get to do that!
By all accounts he’s a dangerous man,
Upsetting the order of things,
Challenging what we do, what we’ve always done.
I suppose I’ll have to invite him to my home,
Check him out.
I feel a mixture of arrogance and intrigue.
He’s on my patch, I need to know what he’s up to,
But I’m also interested…
What’s he got that’s making people follow him rather than us?
Is he just some new fad, or is there something more real.
The healings seem genuine.
What if they are?

I complete my ritual of afternoon prayer, making sure I am seen of others.
I have a responsibility to maintain appearances.
It’s a comfortable routine, and I feel the better for it.
There’s time now to go out into the street and see this man for myself.
I watch from a distance, catching the odd word.
He’s in preaching mode.
I begin to make my way towards him through the crowd.
How they are listening!
I need to gently push my way through,
Minor irritation gives way to acquiescence when they see who I am.
Slowly and surely I reach to the front.

He is younger than I expected, and obviously less experienced than me.
Yet he has an authority about him that is somehow ageless,
A meekness and knowledge that speak of a higher power,
An effortlessness in every word and movement as he unveils the scriptures.
I can see why he is attracting crowds…
My earlier thought returns. Is it just novelty, the age-old hope of the new Messiah attaching to any thing original and different? I feel within myself it is something far deeper and suddenly resent his preaching and teaching and healing. That’s our job, our duty. Even though we can’t heal. We’ve all rather left that to the older prophets, – that was their special role. So what’s this Jesus doing? I will find out for myself, invite him to my home, be seen with him.
It makes me feel uncomfortable, but I shan’t show or admit it!
Jesus has seen me approaching. I feel in that one glance he has dissected my very thoughts, yet he continues untroubled and confident.
No wonder my fellow Pharisees hate him! He’s more dangerous than I imagined!
He finishes his parable, leaving the crowd thoughtful, and turns to me, expecting and granting my request.

And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

This wasn’t the plan! How did she get in! All the kudos of his presence ruined by this harlot! He must know what manner of woman it is who is touching him! He read my thoughts readily enough!

“Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”

He’s reading my thoughts again! His meekness against pharisaical pride! Love against my surprising hatred of his superiority. Everyone is listening. I must be careful. I bid him continue.

“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?”

The question is too easy, but I phrase the answer with due caution. “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.” Where’s he going with all this. I am nervous… He looks at me and responds with calm assurance.

“Thou hast rightly judged”

He looks at the harlot, – how does he get away with that! And I feel a sinking premonition of his wisdom putting me to shame…
.
“Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little”.

His rebuke is harsh and uncompromising. I cannot fault him. My disdain in sharp contrast to the genuine repentance of the harlot woman. Yet who is the real prostitute? Aren’t I selling my pharisaical robes for my own purpose, getting money for worn out creeds and empty blessings?
Aren’t I putting myself before God!!! All the time!! Jesus doesn’t care what I think about him. He knows what God knows, and that’s all that matters to him. What does God know about me? He turns again to the woman:

“Thy sins are forgiven.”

She looks at peace while I am in turmoil. I have heard of Jesus’ demand that we should repent. Dare I change the habits of a lifetime? I ask myself the desperate question, do I really want to! I am too comfortable, too well set. I am a Pharisee! Yet she is forgiven, she has repented, she has loved much.. Who do I love more, – myself or God? The first commandment rings through my consciousness, – how many times have I said it out loud in the synagogue and in the streets? If Jesus hadn’t come, I wouldn’t be having this battle. Do I hate him or love him?

Jesus looks at me again. Despite his damning words there is love in his eyes, the promise of redemption. His love is constant.

Am I prepared to put God first? Before me?
The choice is mine.

 

The Magdalene’s Ressurection

John 20:1-18

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” John 17:3

Jeering crowds were baying in unison,
Caught up in the hatred of the Council towards Jesus.
I was near enough to hear the hammer blows
Four horrific sequences of heart-shuddering thuds,
This was no place for fearful disciples,
They had fled in fear and shame and disbelief.
Only the beloved and ever-faithful John remained.
Our loyalty made us a lonely sight,
Womanly devotion deep-rooted and self-less,
Hands held in wincing agony and tightened grip as the cross was embedded.
No cry of pain from my Lord and Saviour,
He who had delivered me from seven devils now himself undelivered,
Now lifted up on the deadly cross,
Exposed to ridicule and organised malice.
To die a helpless death.
We moved nearer, fighting back tears, being brave for Jesus.
Showing him we cared, but just not understanding anything anymore.

In the midst of all this brutality, his love still shone through.
He looked up and saw his mother. Her face cried out in maternal yearning
Seeing also John he called out from his cross:
“Woman, behold thy son!
Behold thy mother”
His words were with no care for himself, no hint of physical pain,
But that outpouring of affection that first drew me to him,
A selflessness so pure, so re-assuring.
My eyes filled with tears, and when I blinked them away his head had bowed.
I looked, yearned, for any signs of life, willing some movement, anything.
He had raised Lazarus from death, but then he, Jesus, was alive to bring him back.
Who was now here to restore him?
His lifeless body hung limp.
I fought the evidence.
Looked again for any telltale movement of continued being.
He’s said in the optimism of life, he would raise himself after three days.
But how can what is dead do anything?
A soldier thrust his spear into the corpse.
Mary cried out. We hugged and held tight, knowing the final truth.
Her son, the man to whom I owed my life, so innocent, so maligned.
Dead.

When faced with reality, how can reason give hope?
When or how does faith take over and become somehow more real?
Just a week ago, the four-day dead Lazarus emerged whole from his tombed grave.
Jesus had commanded him to come forth, and he did.
So why wasn’t he at the cross?
Did he feel guilty he couldn’t do anything?
What more could I have done? Where is my faith? I felt guilty and helpless.
I felt sudden remorse, and momentary anger at his disciples.
Did Jesus have to die? Where was his God? Why has this happened? How can he raise himself?
An angel thought tried to creep in: it all meant nothing unless he does come back from death. He’s been right in everything else he has said and done. Why not this? That is what he promised. But that’s the point. I watched as Joseph took the body down; the noble Nicodemus helped him A second witness confirming the inevitable. You don’t lay the living in a sepulchre and roll a stone across ….

*****

I arrived early to the sepulchre, while it was still dark.
The stone had been rolled away!
The body had been taken!
I ran as fast as I could to tell Peter and John.
Breathless tell them. Urge them to do something. At least check what I say.
I felt empty. Without the body I could not grieve. There was no finality.
I told them again! The body’s missing! We did not know how or when or who had taken it.
They too ran; John arrived first, but it was Peter who went in, confirmed without doubt the grave was empty. Then John also looked in, saw the same.
They left, seeming to believe something, but lost in their wondering thoughts.

Where else could I go? What to do?
Who-ever took the body might come back. I had no other option but to wait and weep.
The last few days had been as much as I could bear.
I went back towards the tomb. I hadn’t yet looked inside, to see for myself.
I peered inside. The body was not there.
Angel thoughts again reached out to me.
“Why weepest thou?”
Once more I replied with the expected and obvious concern. They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have taken him. Self pity made me withdraw, and tears streamed down my weary face.

“Why weepest thou?”

The insistent question, this time asked by some person standing near, I supposed the gardener, and again I reply Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him and I will take him away.

“Mary”

I turned round.
Saw Jesus!.
Saw my risen saviour!
Rabboni! Master!

His words came as if in a dream, but this was the reality!
I wanted to hug him! To hold him dear! The shock realisation! Of course he was not in the tomb! Why weepest thou? Why indeed! I had been looking for the wrong thing!
Searching for death when there was only life! And what life! Glorious! Eternal! He had won! Love had won!

“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

And I understood the dominion over the seven devils that had bound me, the raising of Lazarus, the love of Jesus Christ, that the God of Life was his Father and my Father, the only God and my God..
Oh what resurrection! What joy!

Go to my brethren? I ran!!

The Mother of Eutychus

Acts 20:7-12

We’d all heard of Paul.
We had first known and feared him by his former name and reputation.
A violent tool of the Sadducees and High Priests,
A zealot that had robbed families of their kinsfolk,
Sorely challenging their first early steps of Christianity and faith in God.
But since then what a conversion had taken place!
He’d travelled more than anyone I know,
Spreading the true Gospel,
Preaching and healing, proving his words.
And now he was in our home village, – Troas.
One of his disciples had a relative here.
And what a blessing that gave us, what an opportunity to see him first hand.

It was the first day of the week.
A group of his disciples had gathered together, with many from the village, to break bread.
We’d got to know them well, and it was a happy occasion.
Our whole family was present, huddled somewhat in the upper chamber, although our eldest son had typically sat way up in the third loft. I don’t think he really wanted to come.
Paul stood up and began to speak.
I say speak rather than preach. It was as though he was chatting to each of us individually, a normal conversation recounting his adventures, for such they truly were, but inter-twined with each an explanation and assessment of Scripture that was so pertinent and made so relevant to our daily lives.
He talked at length about his conversion. For him, the change had been so radical it came as a blinding light. Sudden and intense guilt at his mocking presence at Stephen’s stoning to death, the countless Christians roughly and aggressively led to Jerusalem and put to their death, – his mission in life so mis-placed that he marvelled at how wrong one could be. And thus his blindness! – the once so-mighty Saul being led by the hand, humbled by the truth, humbled by the words of Jesus that shook him to the core. Three long days of thinking, fasting, learning to trust.
He painted a picture so vivid we could feel the hot dry dust dislodged and scattered by his shuffling feet, as he was led on the road to Damascus. But far more importantly we could also feel with him the hand-hold of the Christ, – both in his re-living and sharing of his experience and right then as he talked amongst us.
And he asked us, as he asked himself so many times on his journey, how would Ananias respond? What a lesson he gave in how to listen and be obedient to God when every thought challenges what told to do! Paul was healed of his blindness, and now how many miles had he travelled, how many people had he seen, how many healed? And here he now stood, God’s vessel of proclamation! A killer now himself the hunted, but sharing with us his love of the gospel, he now protected by the Lord.

The oil in the lamps was replenished, fresh candles were lit, as Paul talked on. His face was shining, glowing against the lamplight, but with its own inner radiance. I looked round at the gathering. They were spell bound, – not caught up in some hypnotic worship but living with Paul his sense of Life and sharing his knowledge of Love. There wasn’t a cough or a shuffle, – the unfolding of Scripture was just so natural, matter of fact. The healings described not so much miracles but the relating of what God’s love and Jesus’ demonstrations meant in practice.
We’d learned from other disciples the key message that God’s kingdom was here and now, experienced the instantaneous healings that proved we didn’t need to wait to find heaven, but could experience it at this instant. But with Paul I’d learnt something new. How to forget the past. It was only relevant if you held on to it! True forgiveness was won at the moment of repentance, – when thinking so changed that earlier positions were no longer tenable or allowed into consciousness. Paul’s recounting of his conversion was not phrased in terms of regret of his past, – but an acceptance of its history being history, no longer part of him. His present actions were what mattered – his closeness to Jesus, his love for mankind, his desire to share what he knew with open arms and heart.

Midnight was drawing near and Paul continued in full flow. I looked at my family with such a feeling of love, impelled to hold them in God’s care. I glanced up to see Eutychus, but he was hidden from sight. I felt my love for him as more than just a mother, aspiring to that selfsame Christliness that so emanated from Paul.

Someone cried out “NO!!”

In those few few seconds before we heard that awful thump outside I knew my son needed me. How can such a short time contain a million thoughts? A mother’s instinct and anguish forcibly brought back to everything Paul was talking about, – God being Life, Love, holding all His children in his arms. Did I really believe what he had been saying! I grasped my husband’s hands, seeking, seeking his assurance and support. God is Life! Believe it! Know it! Feel the active presence of the Christ! Hold fast to the Truth!

Gaius reached him first. Touched the tangled body. Looked up at Paul, looked up at all of us.

“I’m so sorry. The young man is dead.”

It was as though Paul had not heard him. He didn’t rush. He walked calmly to where my son lay. I hugged my husband and two girls, praying oh so praying. I felt the support of everyone turning to God and trying so hard to trust.

Paul wrapped the boy in a warm embrace, breathing evenly, peacefully. He too was praying, knowing. Living in the present. We all watched from where we were.

He turned his face and somehow knew to look at us.

“Trouble not yourselves: for his life is in him.”

My son stirred. Opened his eyes, staring at Paul, seeming to drink in and draw strength from his knowledge of life everlasting. He turned and saw me. Got up as though nothing had happened and ran to my arms. No words were necessary. We were blessed by the pure presence of Love, the touch of Christ even more tangible than before.

We stopped to break bread. We took ours directly from Paul. I didn’t know what to say to him; his outstretched hand touched my cheek with tenderness. Our thoughts met and rejoiced. I kept looking at Eutychus. Unmarked and unblemished. So wide awake now and serene. He looked back at me, his broad smile a visual acknowledgement of new life. And how that simple ceremony has transformed itself in our hearts. It ever reminds us to live in the present, to be alive. To always rejoice.

Paul preached on til break of day. I remember him saying: “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation”. Every word spoken with the authority of a man of God and a man with God, every word ringing true with experience. We spoke once more at sunrise, bringing Eutychus with us. He held his hands and blessed us all. As he left, everyone waved. We had all grown in grace and love. The comfort and healing that had taken place beyond measure.

As I watched him walk away, these thoughts reverberated in my consciousness:
God is Life, here and now. Everywhere and ever present.

And Eutychus smiled at me again in simple agreement.

 

Transfiguration Remembered

Matthew 17:1-8

Acts 4:33
And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Acts 5:42
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

Peter is calling his fellow disciples to action:
It’s good to be together as we need to catch upon the things which took place nearly two months ago, before the extraordinary events which have now overtaken us. I’d like you to think back just before we came into Jerusalem for the last time with Jesus.
I remember, you may too, that there had been a strange and different atmosphere for getting on for a week.
I felt we were building up to something, but didn’t know whether good or bad. Good in that I believed it had to be progress, but a premonition it might be without Jesus. He’d said he had to be killed, but raised again. How could he let himself be killed! And then be raised up again?! I’d said it would never happen, and really got told off! I’m sure you remember that!
Jesus, – this man who had come into our lives and turned them upside down. Challenged us all more than we thought could be possible, but he’s been there, sometimes harshly, always with that infuriating loving expectancy that always took me and us forward. You know what I mean.
Sometimes I said the right things, – that he was the Christ, sometimes the wrong, – when he called my words of the very devil! So typical of me, – impetuous two footed Simon! He could read my thoughts. I did mean well, just didn’t think!
Those last six days he’d kept very much to himself. Deep in prayer to our Holy Father.
And we just sat, watched, waited. Talked about the past, his miracles, what must be thousands who have been healed of divers diseases and maladies. Discussed our failings, but then we too had also healed, proved his words. So what was the point, the purpose, where were we all going? What was he leading up to?
Now my friends, I have to share something with you that you won’t yet know about. I was chatting with James and John, wandering amongst other things how Jairus’ family might be getting along. James and John will certainly remember, – Jesus had just spoken to a young girl that had not long died, confident that she was only asleep, – and to our amazement she just got up, as if being asleep was literally all that was wrong! I don’t know what caused her death, but she certainly enjoyed a sizeable piece of fish and bread with the rest of us! It was as though nothing had ever been wrong with her, – which is exactly the point Jesus was trying to make! “The damsel sleepeth!” How many times have those words rung through my thinking, and challenged my sense of awake! I digress.
While we were musing about the past Jesus suddenly appeared besides us, knew as ever what we had been talking about, indeed what I was thinking, and smiled! I felt him say, “Peter are you still sleeping? It’s time to get up!!”
He took the three of us with him up the mountain, we three that had seen him raise this girl from the dead. Brought back all those memories even more clearly. He was leading us again, but what was the intention this time? What was it we were now going to be shown? Jesus led the way, – that steady untroubled walk, full of purpose and surety, ever higher, never faltering. We were fit fisherman, but gradually our breath became heavier, not equal to his effortless step, not relieved by the stunning views that were emerging as we climbed ever higher towards the summit. As we chatted, he gradually moved ahead, turning now and again to tease us as to our progress.
We were several yards behind him when he stopped, just feet from the top. The wind was just catching his hair, blowing it gently against the background of the busy sky. He stood there, standing quietly with such an air of dominion and peace, absolutely at one with his Father. A shaft of sunlight lit his face, but then his face began to shine all by itself. He was shining more and more. It was incredible. I thought of Moses, coming down from the mount, having spent forty days and nights with God, his face shining so bright it had to be covered by a veil. But this was brighter! It was a spiritual glory that transcended his very flesh, and so strong that even his clothes were shining from the radiance within. The light was more powerful than the sun, yet it did not blind. Purity fathered its luminosity.
I instinctively put my hand up to shield my eyes, and through my fingers saw two others talking with him! Where’d they come from! My thoughts were spinning, I glanced at John and James – somehow we knew it was Moses and Elias, – oh to have heard what they were saying! The symbolism of their meeting rocked my thoughts, – Jesus, – the ever-present Christ, Moses, – bringer of Law, and Elias, bringer of Prophecy. All here together on the top of this mount! Past, present and future. But Jesus dominant, – the fulfilment of everything, the shining example of all good brought together in one man, and yes, this strange thought that came from nowhere, that I was unbelievably, his friend! I didn’t deserve him! He had brought me up here! What did he want me to do? My wanting to act, do something, prove myself, took over once again.
Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
I wanted this fantastic symbolism of past present and future to be remembered forever, to make this mountain top their physical home. “If thou wilt” was followed by my plans, my weakness, – O what a big mouth I had, and still not learned! Oh listen, listen!!

And in that instant, while I was yet speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed us all. Once more my thoughts raced in revelation. I was being given a preview of heaven, the almighty presence of God, – the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites out of bondage, the cloud that enveloped the chariots and horsemen of fire that took Elias into the realm of heaven unseen to the senses, that lifted Jesus from our sight. I thought I was ready for anything.
The voice that thundered to Moses, whispered to Elias, and had spoken to us through Jesus, now spoke through the cloud.

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

The voice came from all round us! We turned our heads, bodies, trying to track it down. Was it just inside our heads? But we all three heard it, and the cloud was hanging over us, almost beckoning, but how could we not be afraid!! We sank to our knees, frightened men holding on to each other, way out of our depth, faces to the comforting ground because we could not accept what we had just witnessed in the air.
Jesus came down and touched us. Oh how comforting was that physical reassurance, and his words that he spoke:“Arise, and be not afraid.”

We had just seen God’s beloved Son in all his true splendour and glory! We looked up, and he was alone. The symbols of past and future had disappeared, leaving the present once more. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. What we had seen had been a great revelation, but it was a present experience. I had wanted to commemorate the past and the future as well as the present, – but they were not relevant. They had had their time! We had glimpsed the present glory of Man, at one with God his Father, and that was all that mattered! The raising of Jairus’ daughter suddenly made sense, – the fullness and radiance of life was so real, no other outcome had been possible. This was what Jesus saw all the time! His vision of man’s life as present glory wiped out any past cause of death or future fear of dying! Life was of God! Unchanging in its spiritual glory. I can’t remember coming down the mountain, – the words out of the cloud were repeating and repeating, – “My beloved Son”, “well pleased”, “hear ye him” And what were the first words Jesus had spoken to us, – “Arise, and be not afraid.” Wake up your thoughts! Don’t be afraid to follow through their implications, realise and prove that God is pleased with His Son and by association pleased with all His children! Pleased with you and me! How could it be else?! Arise, and realise there is no reason to ever be afraid!

Now listen. Jesus asked us not to share this experience until after he had risen from the dead! I can see why, for who would have believed us? Did we believe what we had seen! Do you believe even now what I’m sharing with you, all its implications? So here we all are again. James and John stand here as my witnesses.

My dear brethren, we’ve all now seen the risen Lord, seen the proof that life is immortal. Take now our testimony, and the testimony of Jesus, Moses and Elias as further witness, that Jesus is indeed the risen Son of God, in whom is life everlasting. This is the gospel we must spread. “Hear ye him” was God’s demand, not just to us but to everyone.
“Arise, and be not afraid.” was Jesus’ demand, and again this is not just to us but to everyone.
He has indeed risen from the dead and now he has ascended, taken up in that same heavenly cloud beyond our earthly vision, but we know the Christ is still with us, here and everywhere, declaring man as the radiant child of God.
Let’s lift up our thinking! Let us too behold and prove this radiant presence of the Son of God in our lives. For we now have our mission. We have been chosen, and all those that believe can share with us in his glory and behold the perfection of spiritual man in all his glory.
Our Master told us to tarry here in Jerusalem to await the promise of the Father. Let us do so now in full faith and expectation.
Brethren, this is now our great adventure! What Jesus wants us to fulfill.
We must listen, and obey God’s command, and then we know we need not be afraid to go forward.
God is pleased with us too, we are also His beloved children.
So let us then arise! Get up! Wake up! For we know we are not alone.
The Christ is always with us.
It is our turn to shine.

The Gadarene

Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39

Let me tell you my story.
I was a proud young man , – intent to show my worth to family and village.
I received good training, was married and had children. The synagogue was my second home, and my prayers deep and devout.
But somehow I never met my high ambition. Never achieved what I expected or what was expected of me.

I’ll tell you: some habits are no good and self-pity is one of the worst.
I found myself caught in a deep rut, deeper than you could ever imagine, banging against the sides, unable to turn round, unable to escape a sporadic forward motion, the utter helplessness of seeming to be controlled by something else, being led I knew not where, unable to change direction, hating myself for not caring what I might do. Self-pity consumed me, like an army of hungry ants gnawing away at the inner core of a once proud tree, leaving it hollow.
Frustration and anger and emptiness made me lose my mind. I became dangerous to all around me and was cast out to protect those I loved and those I didn’t even know.

I lived in the tombs, but my world was wilderness, mountains and tombs, tombs and mountains. The chains they bound me with could not withstand my rage. My strength frightened me. In bitterness and guilt I would smash the rocks and tombstones and no man could or even dared to stop me. Over time, the clothes ragged off my body, blown thin by the mountain wind. For up in the clear air it was glorious, – I felt a freedom away from everything, – I would run and jump, skip and laugh out loud with the scant grass and burnt-out bushes as companions, feeling at one with nature, the pure happiness of life as it can be. But it never lasted. I would descend once more down, down the slopes. Bitter contrast. Even the unclean swine were my friends, secretly being fattened on the hidden hillsides for the blackmarket traders. I knew: I felt I knew everything. I did not care. Here was I, free, but trapped more thoroughly than any prison or chain could bind. Often I would slump against a tombstone, worn out yet exhilarated, lonely and looking for danger to end my life, cutting myself with stones out of spite against myself and God, daring Him to kill me.

Then came the day that changed everything. I remember the ferocious storm. The wind and rain blowing, lashing, pushing me along the shore. The rain stung on my naked flesh, and through the squall I could just make out boats on the sea, being tossed like corks. I made the effort to stand still, hand up to my eyes, willing them to sink while yet praying for their safety, dancing with delight at the futility of everything and nothing.

The boat in the front was in the greatest difficulty. I could see fisherman hanging on for their lives, – a few of them were making their way to the prow. One bent down, and I could see someone getting up. Though the winds were fierce, I swear that boat stopped rocking! I rubbed my eyes through the rain. The waves didn’t crash into it, but seemed somehow seemed to move round it as though it wasn’t there! A man stood up, stretched out his arms, and the storm ceased completely.
How I wish you could have been there with me, seen too what I saw. I tell you it was no coincidence. One followed the other. Immediately. Suddenly. Heavy clouds that had covered the sky just rolled back and disappeared. The wild waves that moments before had crashed ‘gainst the shoreline gone, just lapping quietly, tinged white against the khaki-sand and now clear-blue sky. Had I imagined it? My wet skin and dripping hair gave proof of the storm, that was no dream! My eyes and the warm sun spoke of a new horizon. Mountains and tombs, tombs and mountains. Storm or peace. Peace, no storm. What was real?

The boats were landing. He got out with the fisherman all round him. I was sufficiently close to see his features. In a flash of insight I suddenly knew who this man was.

Recognition overtook my consciousness. I knew he would read me! Would lay bare my demon thoughts. I feared the truth, whatever that might be. I ran down towards him, barely a hundred yards, shouting and yelling, the mad man from the tombs in full cry! He might control the storm, but he won’t control me! I didn’t want to be healed, yet I yearned to be free. I wanted to get rid of him, yet I knew he was my master. Even as I ran towards him, I knew that the power he expressed was invincible, but that didn’t stop me.
He called out, addressing the error and not me, calling for the evil spirits to leave me. The power of his command stopped me in my tracks just yards from him and his disciples. I knelt to the ground.
And I felt as though a voice not mine answered back to him:
“What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.”
Even as I spoke those words and looked in his eyes, I felt a glorious battle taking place in my thoughts, – all the demons of my past ranged against the simple standard of his unity with God. He asked me my name and again I heard my answer “Legion”, a final throw at him of all the spirits and goblins in my mind, a final attempt to outnumber and challenge his authority. He stayed calm, – what was I compared to the mighty storm! Once more he raised his arm, this time to the storm in my head and not the sky. He extended his hand towards my head, and then towards the herd of swine on the hillside in a throw-away gesture. It was if he was saying “Look and behold! God’s power and goodness are infinite! His is the only power, and the only true power we have is by reflection. His goodness is supreme. Share my understanding and be whole!”
And the storm inside me ceased. Was gone.

The pigs leapt and danced, ran in to each other, squealing, scrabbling madly. The swineherds could not control them. They gathered pace down the slope, sliding, falling, crashing down into the sea. Not one was left.
Not one was left, my friend. All the fears, torments, the self-pity and latent violence, all gone. Not just removed from me to live again, but destroyed. It was as though the whole area around us had not just witnessed the stilling of the tempest but also the absolute destruction of all that was wrong or not under the control of the infinite God. Infinite and exception don’t work.

Jesus was smiling at me.
That’s the real point of my story.
Where the storm was, he saw peace and calm. Where I was, he saw not a mad man, intent on murder and self-mutilation, but God’s child. He smiled because he loved what he saw, and I felt in that smile and in his eyes such power that, like the demons were not me, that power was not him, but came straight from God, was God, and he was God’s mouthpiece.
He saw the truth so clearly it was manifested to all around him, and all around him partook of the same sense of power and might, – he gave us our true sense of dominion as God’s children, – we were all his brothers and sisters, yes, that’s it, my friend, for God is the Father of every one of us, including you and me.I too could love what he saw, what he was seeing.

I remember so clearly what happened next. I stood up, looked at my naked body, – all signs of mutilation had gone. One of his disciples brought me a robe. For the first time in I don’t know how long I was dressed and complete. I was at peace.
Jesus talked with all of us, sharing the gospel, sharing his love of God. He had proved everything of which he spoke. And we just sat listening and enthralled. The utter restlessness of mountains-tombs no more, no longer how I saw myself. He was at one with God, and we were too. And I had found a new ambition, – to have that same mind that was in Jesus, to be at one with God.

Jesus and his disciples got back in their boat and went back whence they came. I watched the sail disappear over the horizon of the peaceful sea, knowing that although they had gone, His God was still here and everywhere. The power that had calmed the storms and tempests was universal and supreme, was not confined to one person or place. I could feel God’s presence remaining with me. I was a new man, God’s man.

Jesus has said to me to spread the good news. And here I am now, back with my family. My fellow villagers didn’t want Jesus to stay. They were, and many still remain, too frightened of what he did. They look at me, and pass by on the other side. But here I stand as God’s witness!

God has restored those years the locust devoured. My storm has gone. I am at peace and free! And with that freedom, the mind of Christ,  I too am healing, spreading the good news. That’s what Truth does.

Joel 2:25, (to first ,) 26
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten,
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.

Phil 2:5
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

II Cor 13:11 Be
Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

John 8:32
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

A Withered Hand Restored!

Luke 6: 6-10; 10:1, 2, 9

I was there, witnessed the miracle.
Even now I can scarce believe what my eyes saw,
What I now know.
But it was my best friend who was healed.
And it has changed our lives for ever.
Are you willing to take that risk, listen and believe what happened?

We’d been friends since childhood.
He’d never fussed about his disability, –
His right hand, (why did it have to be his right hand?), severely withered,
Utterly useless.
But it didn’t stop us playing games, running ragged and breathless up and down the hills, laughing and forgetful of any limitations.
Yet there were other times his natural compensation could not cope,
And I’d be there, or his parents, to help.
I loved him for his joy, his lack of self-pity.
I sometimes felt he was more of a man than me.
I’d often wondered why he had been so afflicted.
His life had been blameless, – indeed so much better than mine.
His parents as far as I’d known them had always been good.
Perhaps a distant ancestor had done wrong.
It seemed a harsh thing for him to suffer, – especially as there was no possible release.
There was no way out, no healing, no hope.
What sin must have caused that?
It seemed so unfair.
Why did so many people have to suffer with illness or misfortune?
Living lives of acceptance and managing.
Yet the paradoxical question:
How is it that the sick and disabled often seem so much better than we?

That Sabbath we’d met and entered the synagogue together as usual.
There was a lot more interest and buzz about the place that day.
Jesus of Nazareth had been invited to address us.
We’d both heard about him, – some talk or remark about him being the Messiah or Christ, – but so unlikely, – Nazareth was only a village and that not many miles away, and by what little we had heard he was no more than a carpenter by trade. Still, there must be something about him to have created an interest.
The Pharisees and scribes knew that we would be there, but that day when we arrived there were nudges and knowing looks.
One of them asked us to sit at the front.
We chatted for a bit. A fly tried to settled on my friend’s face. He brushed at it with his withered hand.
I felt compassion for him, – his handsome looks marred by this senseless deformity.

The service began and went through its normal routines.
The time came for anyone to stand and speak.
From the back a man stepped forward.
He had an air of authority that commanded attention,
His seamless white robe somehow a symbol of his natural stature.
This had to be Jesus.
I suddenly realised it didn’t matter what village he came from.
He came from God.
As he took his place his love seemed to shine and when he spoke that same love permeated everything he said. The scriptures became alive, meaningful.
I’d always thought that the kingdom of God was something to come,
Some far off event, powerful, as a result of mighty battles, with a great commander to the fore.
But this kingdom was altogether different, stronger, immediate, grounded in love.
I glanced at my friend.
He too was watching enthralled, – his eyes shining, accepting every word spoken.
They were fine words indeed, – but was that it?
Comforting, but without proof, fine words were all they were.
I suddenly thought what if he did prove them true? How would he? What evidence would I want? How would anyone prove the kingdom of God here and now?

“Rise up and stand forth in the midst.”
In the sudden bewilderment of being brought back into the present I thought for a moment Jesus was talking to me. But no.
My friend levered himself up, and stood alone in front of Jesus.
There was a stillness, an expectancy borne of his undoubted authority.
He turned to the Scribes and Pharisees.
I could see them shifting uncomfortably. It was as though he had read their thoughts and they knew that he knew what they were thinking, and in some way those thoughts would be exposed.
He spoke to them directly:
“I will ask of you one thing”
He paused a second, but that pause seemed to contain a lifetime of moment.
“Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?”
He looked round each of them in turn, the silence and expectancy deafening.
We all knew what was going to happen.
I looked again at my friend.
“Stretch forth thine hand.”

I said I was a witness.
But how can you own up to seeing the impossible.
He obeyed Christ’s command.
We all watched transfixed.
His arm extended, fingers uncurling, filling out fully formed.
We all looked at one another, knowing it was happening yet still disbelieving.
My friend’s face shone as his hand was restored whole as the other.
He knelt before Jesus, giving thanks amidst his awe and wonder.
Then turned to me and shouted my name.
Leaping forward his hand outstretched to take mine,
Right hand to right hand.
What mixed emotions I had! Joy for my friend, but shamedly half frightened to grasp what may have been only illusion.
His handshake was firm, firmer than mine.
And then I responded truly.
Grip to grip, laughing and praising with him in the midst of the synagogue.
No dream but reality, but dear God how?!

I’d asked for proof, and here it was! The only proof possible!
No wonder the scribes were scowling! Here was true authority! No longer mere words, but the consciousness of God’s kingdom here and now seen in health and completeness. Faced with full health, sickness had become impossible! Health the reality and sickness the dispellable illusion. This was the uncomfortable but wonderful import of what Jesus had been saying and had now proved! Yes, proved! – How else can you explain what had happened! And yes I’ve seen similar things happen so many times since.

Look, let me hold you by the hand in love. Don’t be surprised our lives changed! This was not just a one-off miracle of some prophet, a magician’s trick. It was the coming of the Christ. The recognition of Love, God’s love for you and me, all-embracing. The true “Our Father” of which Jesus spoke and commanded us to pray, lifting our thoughts above human heredity to our true and guiltless origin, that we are even now the sons of the one God. It’s the only explanation I can understand.

Look, I’ve been doing all the talking. Let my friend say it, prove it to you, directly himself. Let him hold you firmly with both his hands. Rejoice with us in the nowness of the kingdom of God. Jesus has sent us, is coming soon to your village, but here’s the real point, – the Christ is already here!

Rise up and see!!

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