Creative Reflection with the Psalms

My 2022 Lenten discipline is to read through the first book of Psalms (1-41) and spend time reflecting on one a day, producing a piece of artwork in response (with space allowed for days ‘off’!)

This page will be updated throughout Lent 2022.

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Jesus Tree visual reflections

As part of my 2021 Lenten discipline, I decided to continue the project I’d started in Advent (see my Jesse Tree illustrations) – using the Jesus Tree Lent Devotion resource by TribeOfManyArrows on Etsy, I spent each day of Lent reflecting on a story from Jesus’ life from childhood to resurrection.

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Familiar words anew

Sermon for 13 February 2022, 3rd Before Lent (Year C)

Readings: Psalm 1; Luke 6.17-26

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks powerful words of consolation (and caution). 

These are Luke’s version of what we call the ‘Beatitudes’: the blessings given by Jesus in his teaching. It’s likely that you are more familiar with the eight sayings from the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5:3-12, and they may in fact be so familiar that if I start to list them you’ll be able to join in:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Common Worship

And because these sayings are so familiar, the ones from Luke feel almost incomplete. 

But I think this actually teaches us more about the general teaching of Jesus – not the parables and responses to specific questions, but the broader themes of his teaching which so compelled the crowds to come and listen.  That this teaching device appears in different forms suggests that it was one Jesus would use and reuse, reinterpreting the broader message for different purposes (in the same way that you will have already come to recognise certain forms, messages, and turns of phrase in my own preaching).

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From doubt to joy

Sermon for 6 February 2022, 4th before Lent Year C.

Readings: Isaiah 6.1-8; Luke 5.1-11

I rather like February – in the Church calendar it’s often a lovely period of ‘Ordinary time’ (which is church speak for a time outside of the major seasons). For me, it’s an opportunity to regather my bearings after the drama of Creation-Kingdom-Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and prepare myself for the approach of Lent-Passiontide-Easter-Ascension-Pentecost. 

And in our cycle of readings set for the year, this ‘ordinary time’ is an opportunity to appreciate that we have begun our annual meander through Jesus’ life and teaching – this year guided by Luke (otherwise called Lectionary Year C). If the Epiphany season was about revelation in Jesus’ childhood and pre-ministy, then over the next month, Luke will show us some of the pivotal moments of Jesus’ early ministry: from the great catch of fish (and call of the first disciples); to the teaching of the beatitudes; the calming of the storm; and finally the transfiguration. 

In many ways, these stories encourage us to reflect on our own response to Jesus, and our part in his story as we encounter him alongside the disciples and in our daily lives. And so we begin our response today…

My initial plan for this sermon was to talk about joy. It was my first response to today’s readings and I wanted to talk about being joyful in response to God’s call. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned when I got down to writing, and – as you will see – the story took me on a very different journey.

Today, we have heard the story of Simon Peter’s first encounter with Jesus teaching on the lakeside of the Sea of Galilee (a more familiar name for the Lake of Gennesaret). This is a very familiar story – in fact, we heard Mark’s account back in November. Luke elaborates more on the great pun ‘I will make you fishers of men’ by including the miracle of the great catch of fish. There’s a lot that I could say about this, but today I want to talk about the response to God’s call that we see both here and in our reading from Isaiah. 

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Candlemas and change

Sermon for Candlemas: Epiphany 4 Year C, 30 January 2022

Readings: Malachi 3.1-5; Luke 2.22-40

Like Simeon, may I grow old in hope and in wonder. 

Like Anna, may I be in love with you all my days. 

May I be open to truth, open to surprises. 

May I let your Spirit into my life. 

May I let your justice change my behaviour. 

May I live in the brightness of your joy.

Ruth Burgess, ‘Hay and Stardust’ (2005)

Candlemas is one of those festivals in the church calendar which you either only know in the vaguest of terms, or you go all out to mark it. On this day, we commemorate the presentation of the newly-born Christ at the temple – our equivalent contemporary christian ritual might be a service of the thanksgiving for the birth of a child, in which a child is presented to the worshipping community and prayers of celebration are offered (though often families will instead to do this alongside a Christening).

This marks the end of the Epiphany season of revelations, and we take down the last of the Christmas decorations by treasuring away the nativity scenes until we need them again in Advent. 

Candlemas is also a festival of light, and in some churches today people will bring the stubs of their old candles to light in prayer, and will take home candles which have been blessed for use through the year ahead. The twelfth-century abbot Guerric of Igny says this about the tradition:

“Today as we bear in our hands lighted candles, how can we not fail to remember that venerable old man Simeon who on this day held the child Jesus in his arms […] and declared him to be ‘the light to enlighten the nations.’”

Guerric of Igny

If Epiphany has been a season of revelation, then today we celebrate Christ revealed as the Light of the World. This is a ritual of hope and expectation in the imminent changes that he brings in our lives and to the world. 

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Jesus’ manifesto

Sermon for 23 January 2022, Epiphany 3 Year C

Readings: Psalm 19.1-6; Luke 4.14-21

As we travel through the season of Epiphany, we consider those first revelations of Christ leading to the start of his ministry. We began with the visit of the Magi, whose adoration and symbolic gifts demonstrated that the salvation significance and dominion of Jesus extended beyond the children Israel to include all nations and all peoples. 

At the Baptism of Christ, we discovered again the revelation of Jesus as the beloved son of the almighty, and remembered our own welcome into this family through our own baptisms, called to live in loving community and sharing in the radical inclusion of God.

With Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding at Cana, we were shown Jesus’ presence across all spaces – ceremonial and mundane. He revealed his power over matter itself, yet used it in service for our enjoyment. In doing so he revealed the abundant goodness of God’s provision. 

And on this third Sunday of Epiphany we join Jesus in his early teaching ministry – standing up to read from scripture in the Synagogue in Nazareth. In the Gospel of Matthew, this moment acts as Jesus’ self-revelation of his purpose – the opening statement of his manifesto. For those hearing the stories of Jesus’ life for the first time, it answers the question: what did Jesus think his purpose was?

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The Wedding at Cana

Sermon for 16 January 2022, Epiphany 2 Year C

Readings: Psalm 36.5-10; John 2:1-11

The wedding at Cana – that is, when Jesus turned water into wine – is the first miracle that we see Jesus doing in the Gospel of John. In this Gospel, the evangelist uses Jesus’ miracles as ‘signs’ which reveal his glory and point to the Kingdom of God. Each sign teaches us something about who Jesus is as the Word of God, and what his Reign is like.

But Jesus turning water into wine has become a bit of a joke, hasn’t it? It’s something which has become almost mundane, expected.  What’s something Jesus did? Well, he turned water into wine. It’s Jesus’ signature party trick.

Indeed, as a first miracle (the opening statement of Jesus’ public ministry) it does seem a bit domestic, doesn’t it? It’s no feeding of 5,000 from one small packed lunch. Nor is it restoring mobility to a fully paralysed man in the middle of a crowded house. No, this is behind the scenes at a wedding – with only servants as witnesses. Jesus doesn’t even take credit for the wine – he lets the bridegroom take the credit for canny planning. 

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Cat Jesus

Sermon for Christmas Morning (Year C), 25 December 2021

Readings: Set III – Isaiah 52.7-10; John 1.1-14

There’s a gorgeous ginger tom cat that likes to loiter on the path between the Rectory and Kingstone Church – if you’ve ever walked along the lane you may have met him. He is the most affectionate cat I’ve ever met, and completely indiscriminate about his attentions.

He will, without prompting, approach everyone he meets to say ‘hello’ and before you know it you’re crouched by him and giving him scratches and pets. He doesn’t often let you leave quickly, and will likely follow alongside you for a short while until it becomes clear that you’re now properly on the move. 

He will then return to his post and await the next soft-hearted sap who meanders down the lane. 

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Light in darkness

Sermon for Midnight Mass (Year C), 24 December 2021

Readings: Set I – Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-14

As I revisited our reading from Isaiah in preparation for tonight, I have to admit that I didn’t get much beyond the first sentence before my brain became caught in thought:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Isaiah 9.2, NRSVA

Quite an apt reading for a midnight service, right?

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