St James’ Church, West End, Southampton SO30 3AT Registered Charity Number 1132863
Photography: Donna Ash
Time was running out for both Abram and Jesus in our two Bible readings this morning. The clock was ticking as they were both aware of the end of their journey of life. They both felt under pressure from their commitments with God. The covenant relationships that they had both entered into with God at the start of their journeys had reached a critical phase.
Abram, yet to be re-
Under pressure Abram had not trusted enough in the covenant relationship he had with God. Abram was getting old, he felt that God was being too laid back. God was leaving things too long for Abram’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars in the sky!
Up until this point in the story Abram had listened when God spoke. It had been very much a one-
Abram pointed out that he had done everything that God had asked of him. He had kept his side of the covenant. He and Sarah had left their home in Ur and started on the journey that God told them to take. God was yet to fulfil his promise and this made Abram angry and disappointed. God was made fully aware of his feelings!
God accepted Abrams bold outburst -
Imagine for a moment the scene -
Splitting the animals in two in that way suggested that Abram and God were equal members taking part in the covenant. An exhausted Abram must have had a full-
Abram was left in no doubt that God was fully committed to their covenantal relationship.
God’s commitment extended from that time onwards. The relationship with the nation from Abram’s offspring was still in existence through the test of time until it was necessary for God to send His Son to once again display His commitment to His people.
In our Gospel reading Jesus was seriously under pressure. We are surprised to hear that some friendly Pharisees came to warn him that Herod was out to get him. It makes us realise that not all the Pharisees were the bad guys that they have been painted with the pens of the gospel writers.
Jesus knew exactly what the situation was -
He gives us the memorable image of himself as the mother hen protecting his followers, the chicks under his wings. Hens will endure all manner of hurt in order to protect their chicks. This image encourages us to place our trust and hope in him in the same way that Abram under pressure would put his trust in God the Father.
What we have seen in our readings today is the importance of our relationship with God in giving us a firm foundation and protection in our lives when we pass through periods of difficulties, doubt and pressure.
We have to remember that God is always there for us! Amen
We are all familiar with the need for an annual service for our cars and our central heating boilers if we have them. The annual service ensures that these items run smoothly, efficiently and safely. Lent is an opportunity for us to perform and annual service on our bodies and spirits and today, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent it can be the start of our programme to get our lives back into a good running order.
The word Lent is from an Old English word for spring and this year with Easter on 21 April we are already in springtime. The next 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, not including the Sundays, we remember the time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and how he learnt to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.
In former times, before the industrial revolution, spring was a time when fresh food was in short supply. The cupboards that had been stocked by the previous year’s harvest were becoming bare. It made sense for the Church to use these weeks to encourage fasting and to link the bodily fast with a time of spiritual self-
Fasting and spiritual self-
We now live in a part of the world where we have food in abundance. We are overwhelmed with choice and we expect all varieties of foods to be available matter what the season. What we have enjoyed may change if there are problems in trading with foreign countries and hold-
Today, we need more than ever an ‘annual service’ of our bodies and our spirits. In many ways it is less about restraining from luxurious indulgences and more about looking for ways to re-
During Lent we will see the ‘penitential purple’ displayed on the altar frontals and in the vestments worn by the priests. Additional penitence in our Eucharistic worship is acknowledged by omitting the Gloria and Alleluias. Also our hymns and psalms during Lent lean towards the more solemn.
This evening at the start of Lent we are invited to receive the mark of a cross on our foreheads. The ash having been made by Doug from last year’s Palm Crosses that have been burned and mixed with a little olive oil.
These outward symbols and actions are part of the annual service for our church community, but we also need to make a personal commitment through prayer and study in order to be reminded that true happiness comes from knowing that God loves us. Our true vocation as practising Christians is to love God and our neighbour.
We heard in our Gospel reading that Jesus condemned those who forced their penitential humility down the throats of others by being boastful. He told his disciples to continue to go about their daily lives ‘so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’.
As part of our annual servicing it may be that we prayerfully reflect on what is ‘treasure’ to us -
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