Tuesday, November 21, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.' 
Luke 21.8

Reflection
Christ warned us that we would not know when he would come again. Wait for that day patiently, living as if it might be tomorrow, according to the way that he taught.

Monday, November 20, 2017

prayer diary Monday 20 Nov 2017

‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ 
Luke 21. 3-4

Reflection
Christian giving is about more than giving what we hardly notice or can easily spare. It involves self-denial and sacrifice. In Christian giving one can see the Cross.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

bury not your talents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 18 Nov 2017

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 
Luke 18.1

Reflection 
It is important to persevere in prayer. And the Christian at prayer seeks to conform himself to God's will, rather than trying bend God to his.

Friday, November 17, 2017

prayer diary Friday 17 Nov 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating & drinking, & marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.' 
Luke 17. 26,27

Reflection 
The great and terrible day when the Lord comes again will come without warning. Those who would be ready must live every moment as if our Lord will come in the next.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 16 Nov 2017

‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed … For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ 
Luke 17. 20,21

Reflection 
Those of Jesus' time mistakenly thought the Messiah would bring about an earthly kingdom rather that a spiritual one. Neither must we, in this materialistic age, put our faith in the things of this world; but rather keep our hearts on higher things.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 15 Nov 2017

Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean?' … Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ 
Luke 17.17-19

Reflection
God gives of his bounty to all, the grateful and ungrateful alike. But a much greater gift falls to those who give him glory – the spiritual gifts that lead to eternal life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 14 Nov 2017

'So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’ 
Luke 17.10

Reflection 
God has given us everything – life itself and the means to sustain it. Why then should we think that he is in some way in our debt because we have followed his laws?

Monday, November 13, 2017

prayer diary Monday 13 Nov 2017

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!' 
Luke 17.1

Reflection 
Each person is liable for their own sins; but the one who leads another astray, whether by the example of their life or the exhortations of their lips, is by no means innocent and they will be held to account.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

knowledge, wisdom, and eternal life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 11 Nov 2017

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

prayer diary Friday 10 Nov 2017

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 9 Nov 2017

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 8 Nov 2017

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 7 Nov 2017

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

prayer diary Monday 6 Nov 2017

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

false prophets: yesterday and today

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 4 November 2017

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

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

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

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 2 November 2017

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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

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

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