Thursday, June 14, 2018


Holy Communion: 1 Kings 18:41-46 and Matthew 5:20-26

The back story to our Old Testament reading is this. The king, Ahab, had made a marriage alliance with his neighbour to the north. His wife, Jezebel, had brought with her the worship of her gods, Baal and his consort Asherah – who controlled the rain, and the fertility of the land – along with a systematic marginalisation of Israelite worship. A hostile takeover bid. Ahab leads a realignment from trust in the god who had rescued a people from slavery and established a society based on freedom from fear, to deference to gods who wished to enslave them once again.

In a direct show-down, Elijah, a prophet of the Israelites’ god Yahweh, declares that there will be no rain on the land except by his word. Elijah goes into hiding for three years of drought. During this time, Jezebel schemes that the companies of the prophets of Yahweh – the forerunners of monastic communal life – be rounded-up and killed.

After three years, Elijah presents himself to Ahab, and proposes a contest, between himself and the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, to decide once-and-for-all where the loyalty of the people should lie. It is a resounding victory for Elijah, who then personally carries out what was always going to be the outcome, the execution of the defeated side in the battle. Then, the land released, Elijah calls up rain.

This is unambiguously the realm of enemies, and of warfare between opposing rulers. We might substitute gods for nation states, or diametrically-opposed political philosophies.

Against this backdrop, it is remarkable that Elijah instructs Ahab to eat and drink, and then to hurry home. In other words, his concern is that his enemy should celebrate the breaking of the drought that was – at least in the worldview of the story – both caused and prolonged by Ahab’s policy. His enemy should not miss out on the celebration. And at an even more fundamental level, Elijah – for three years on the run – demonstrates concern that his enemy should reach shelter.

That is a mind-blowing way to treat an enemy.

It is a way that – with absolutely no guarantee – might just turn an enemy into a friend.

It is a way of righteousness – of seeking to live in right relationship – that exceeds tradition and inherited wisdom; and triumphs over self-interest – and, ultimately, over self-destruction. The righteousness of freedom, found in the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Morning Prayer: Judges 5:1-31 and Luke 13:22-35

After the victory recorded in Judges 4, the song of celebration. This is a political telling, that sets what has taken place in a very particular context. Though all the tribes of Israel benefit from Barak’s victory, only some of the tribes came out to fight alongside him. Others are left – or, ought to be – with great searchings of heart. This is a song of judgement on Israel, as much as a song of triumph. A warning to those who put attending to their own concerns ahead of helping their neighbours, who are also their sisters and brothers.

And having honoured Deborah as the mother of Israel, and Jael as most blessed of women, the song turns to the mother of Sisera, who intuitively knows that something has gone wrong but who – encouraged by her ‘wisest’ ladies-in-waiting – desperately holds on to the false hope of business-as-usual, the powerful exploiting others; powerful women condoning the exploitation of other women by powerful men.

The song concludes with the hope of a lasting freedom, a return of light after the darkness of night.

In the Gospel reading we see a summary of Jesus’ activity of going through the towns and villages. Like the judges of old, he is calling people to his side, in the Lord’s cause. And as the judges found, there were many who wanted the benefits of deliverance without its cost, who turn up for the party after the dust has settled. Others make a cautious, half-hearted response; but these, too, are left with a great heart-searching to be done.

Jesus is the latest in a line of those sent to gather the people together, only to find them resistant. Yet he holds on to a vision that people will gather from east and west, from north and south – whether they are the ones you would expect or not. A people defined not by tribal self-interest, but by a bigger story. One that scorns death; that does not fear laying down a life it cannot keep in exchange for life that cannot be lost. On those who sit in darkness, in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, a great light has dawned...

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Morning Prayer: Judges 4:1-23 and Luke 13:10-21

Judges 4 is one of my favourite chapters in the Bible.

Deborah sits under her palm tree in her glory, which is to be the one to whom all Israel comes to judge their disputes.

Jael stands at the entrance of her tent in her glory, which is to be the one through whom the Israelites are saved from their oppressor Sisera.

And in the Gospel reading, the woman in the synagogue is unable to stand, bent over by accusation, by voices subtle and not-so subtle that keep putting her in her place. Except, of course, that this is not her place, was never meant to be. Jesus cuts through the crap, and restores to her her own glory –

and follows it up with an explosive parable in which he describes God as a woman.

In a world where women are so often kept in their place, the glory of Lappidoth is to release his wife into the fullness of her glory and not seek to contain, constrain or control, but be content to stand in her shadow. The glory of Barak is not in defeating Sisera, but in walking in Deborah’s shadow, her as his helper just as God is Israels helper. The glory of Heber is not in an alliance with King Jabin, but, like Lappidoth, in his wife being queen of her own realm. And the glory of Jesus is in restoring a woman constrained for eighteen years.

Here’s to the women. And to the men who know them as sister.

Saturday, June 02, 2018


Mountain hare,
deer, golden
eagles – a nesting pair,
right on the road side.

Tiny flowers,
scattered jewel-like in the grass,
wink yellow, mauve,
and violet eyes.

Gorse, in bloom;
fern, scrub heather;
a slow worm
writhes across our path.

The sea, electric blue
and eau de nil,
turned mercury
by late-afternoon.

And all day long
the skylarks rise up,
up, high above the meadow,
and sing their song.