A Tribute to Mark Everson

It is with great sadness that we share our dear friend Mark has passed away. Mark was part of the St. John’s for many years and served as Church Warden, Organist and was the source of much humour and laughter. He also served on the Parish Council, were he spent a number of years as vice chair.

A Tribute to Mark

I first met Mark in about 1968 when I joined the choir of St. Pancras in Chichester where he
was organist and choir master. Being of a similar age and both single we spent a lot of time
together. At the time he was working at Toynbees Nursery in Barnham.

I had been a Morris dancer with the Martlet Sword and Morris Men for over 10 years by
then and it was natural that I invited Mark along. I gave him the club’s accordion and
suggested he might like to play. He was very reluctant at first, but he came along to
practices and began to play along side the other musician. Mark was self-taught and,
because he had a very good ear, he was able to pick up the tunes very quickly.
In the summer of 1970 the Men were due to dance on The Green at West Wittering but the
main musician was late in arriving. There was a crowd waiting so I said to Mark that he
would have to play and asked him what he would like to play.

He chose a dance that he was comfortable with and so his career as a Morris man began.
Mark became lead musician a few years later and played for the dancers in festivals abroad,
Morris gatherings all over this country and in the Royal Albert Hall on at least two occasions.
Mark loved the organ and spent many hours playing in St John’s Church in Chichester which
had a better organ and acoustics than St Pancras. In his terms he loved to ‘give it wellie’.
He was my best man when Jan and I got married in St Pancras in 1972 and shortly after he
moved to become organist at Southbourne where he had lived with his parents since a small
boy. According to Mark there were only four people in the congregation at the first service
he played at! But Mark being Mark struck up a very good relationship with the vicar, Ron
Poil, and things improved. About this time he moved from Toynbees to work for Arun DC as
Arborist.
Mark was very popular in the folk and morris dance world and became bagman (secretary)
and squire (club leader) of the Morris Men and then chairman of the Folk Dance and Song
club.

By the time we came to live in Southbourne in 1983 Ron was thinking and planning to re-
order the church. One of the first things to happen was that the robed choir was disbanded
and ‘modern’ songs were slowly introduced although Mark already knew a number of songs
from ’Sounds of Living Waters’. A singing group was formed to lead the worship, a keyboard
was purchased and Mark had to learn new songs from ’Songs and Hymns of Fellowship’.
Adult musicians slowly started to appear but as the congregation increased, young
musicians came along until there were enough to form their own worship group. Mark loved
seeing the youngsters and gave them a lot of encouragement where many organists would
have been put out. Musicians came and went but Mark remained ever faithful. His sense of
fun was there for all to see. He often played Morris tunes as the congregation left after a
service and any tunes that took his fancy such as the themes for Captain Pugwash and Z cars
which amused people and gave everyone a lift.

He was a great mimic and no one was safe! One of his favourite ones was copying Roy
Barraclough who impersonated a large bosomed lady on TV. At Morris festivals on the
continent he would play the ‘Englishman abroad’ by rolling up his trouser legs and putting a
knotted handkerchief on his head much to the amusement of his mates and bewilderment
of locals.

Once he retired from work he enjoyed going to music recitals in Chichester and Portsmouth
Cathedrals and even as a resident at Glebe House, he would get on the 700 bus and travel
all over the countryside, changing buses several times, and going for a walk at the farthest
point, much to the worry of his friends.

Mark was a ‘one-off’ and will be sorely missed by all who spent time with him.

Written by Geoff Collett, 2021

Nunc Dimittis

A tribute from Revd Cliv & Marion Jenkins

Every Sunday morning I would be greeted with the words,
‘Morning Vicar!’ Often mimicked in a ‘posh’ accent! I would
respond ‘Morning Organist!’ in a variety of regional accents
from across the UK. There was a joke circulating a number of
years ago in ‘vicar’ circles: ‘You can negotiate with terrorists,
but with organists, don’t even try!’
Mark was nothing like the caricature of a traditional Church
Organist. Just the opposite, adaptable, able to improvise and
create musical arrangements never heard in Church before!
Who can remember the theme from the children’s cartoon,
Captain Pugwash being played at the end of a service?!
For Mark’s 70 th birthday, the Church family came together for
an evening of musical skits and entertainment with a few
cameos. A Brief Encounter and the nineteen eighties trilogy,
Back to the Future. The scripts centred on Mark,otmail who
laughed throughout the evening.
He was a faithful Churchwarden for my early years at St John’s
and a good friend. He could always be relied upon to offer his
counsel and support.
For gatherings outside of the Church Mark was often
accompanied by his trusty accordion. On the seashore; carol
singing around nursing homes and even dressed as a shepherd
for the toddler group Christmas nativity.
He will be sadly missed by young and old alike, but what a joy
to have known the NOT grumpy old organist! Order! Order!!

A tribute from Revd Sara-Jane Stevens 

Dear dear Mark.  What a kind friend!  Full of laughter, smiles, encouragement, comfort and wisdom.  You made me ache with laughter, and I know I made you giggle too.  You were such an encouragement when I was accepted to theological college, and told me about all the things a vicar should not be (you’d known a few!). We laughed ourselves sore rehearsing and performing my Vicar Of Southbourne sketch, “no no no no yes!!!!!).  And you had such a heart of love for those around you, we cried in prayer for those we loved. I will miss you, sir, you funny ole soul.  Rest well and keep smiling! 

A tribute from Revd Stuart Silk

Just a little note to say I was sorry to hear about dear Mark. It is over a decade now since we came to Southbourne, but I can clearly recall his welcoming smile, friendly interest, and heart for God and his people (of all ages).  I know he will be greatly missed, but we grieve not as those without hope, but knowing we will see him again as he is safe with the Lord. I would liked to have been at his funeral, but fully understand the limitations of lockdown.  I’m sure it will be a fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

A tribute from Mark Warwick, Tree Officer

I remember him very fondly. I had returned to West Sussex in 2001 as a relatively inexperienced Tree Officer and got to know him through work. So for 20 years or so we had infrequent but regular contact and I always enjoyed his company. It is nice to follow in his footsteps at Arun, where I assumed something similar to his old role back in 2018. I see much evidence of his work, particularly those Tree Preservation Orders which are a nice legacy. Following his retirement Mark used to visit the Greenspace offices occasionally and always brightened up the room! He will be greatly missed not only by staff across the District Council, but also by his colleagues at the West Sussex Tree Officers Group, of whom he was one of the originals.

A tribute from Rosie & Richard Harrison

As a family, we have always had a real affection for Mark. We have many happy memories of
him – always friendly, kind and cheery. We especially remember the love and acceptance of
our young people, including our three who loved to share jokes with him and make him laugh.
His boyish humour was irrepressible – our teenagers loved him for that but also because they
knew that he cared about them. Mark was genuine and real – he had no ‘airs and graces’
(unless he was pretending to be ‘posh’! )


We remember him too for his musical gifts – carol singing with Mark playing his ‘squeeze box’
was always such fun! His enthusiasm for playing the organ was evident, adapting to different
music styles, whether it was playing alongside guitars and keyboard or playing the more
serious sacred music. He always gave his all to playing and singing in church – ‘give it some
welly’ he used to say – and we did – how could we not?!


One lasting memory of Mark was at our son’s wedding when he decided to toll the church bell
(the first time in many years) as the happy couple processed down the aisle! He didn’t bargain
for the cobwebs that fell on his best suit- from a bell that had been dormant for years!
Although we haven’t seen Mark for some years, we still remember him well. He certainly was
‘one of a kind’ and he will be remembered for years to come. We are so glad to have had the
privilege and joy of knowing and sharing many happy times with Mark.

A tribute from Arun District Council

We are very sad to share with you that Mark Everson has recently sadly died. Those
of you who have worked at ADC for some time will remember Mark who worked as
the Tree Officer until his retirement in 2010.
Mark was a true and original member of the ‘Arun family’ having started with Arun in He used to refer to rising every morning to stand at the end of his bed and to
sing the ‘Arun anthem’ – he never did say what the anthem was, but we got the
picture.
Mark was the Tree Officer for many years having worked his way through the parks
service. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and trees which was
regularly tapped by his colleagues – he also knew many of the more interesting trees
in the district personally. He could be described as old school in his methods,
utilising his trusted Dictaphone and the services of word processing colleagues up
until his retirement. He would be well remembered by many of the public of Arun who
dealt with their tree issues – he is still likely to hold the record in the number of cups
of tea provided when on-site visits.
Mark had a wicked sense of humour; he introduced many of us to various members
of the community and our colleagues through his impersonations and had an
unmistakable snigger, which would often have to be constrained at team meetings –
there really was never a dull moment in his company. The office was a lively place
with Mark the ‘lark from the parks’ as he used to refer to himself. One of his stories
was of the customer who phoned Mark to explain that he had ‘nettles in his back
passage’ and wanted Mark to do something about it immediately!
Mark had an eye for unusual gifts, the tackier the better, and would delight in
presenting these to his colleagues on notable occasions. Anyone leaving the team
would be filled with a slight sense of dread as to what he may have procured from
his favourite retail outlets. His retirement was the perfect opportunity to return the
favour but of course he relished the sentiment.

Another string to his bow was his musical talent. He was a self-taught organist who
played for his local church and played the Accordion for the Martlet Sword and
Morris Men. Several of the team would often go and join Mark with the Martlets at
the pub on a Wednesday summer evening.
Until recently Mark continued to visit the office to see his old colleagues, proudly
making use of his free bus pass from Southbourne to Bognor and revelling in
introducing himself to the newer members of the team. He would talk about old
times and share many of his stories and experiences whilst at Arun, it was clear that
he genuinely missed his ‘Arun family’ and held his time at Arun in such high regard.
More recently it was clear that his memory was not what it once was, which was
difficult to see for those who knew him well. Mark was a much-loved colleague and
very decent man. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by all those who
had the pleasure to work with him.

A tribute from Cliff Robinson

What a lovely, lovely, man – a great and valued colleague and, since he retired, wonderful company when we sat together at the weekly lunchtime concerts at Chichester Cathedral, listening to glorious music, with Mark’s (not so) sotto voce asides sometimes reducing me, and those within earshot, to tears of silent laughter.
I was a planning officer with Arun DC and, for many years, enjoyed a superb, often hilarious, working relationship with Mark whose arboricultural advice was invariably spot-on, and often delivered in a humourous, sometimes outrageously irreverent, but always hugely professional, manner. But, The Trees, and the Environment, were his top priorities every time. I worked with him “for the other side” since we both had retired from Arun, and his qualities of professionalism, humour and warmth endeared him to clients. Mark was a joy to know, and to work with, and I will miss him sorely, and treasure my memories of him. Lunchtime concerts at the Cathedral will never be the same again. 

A tribute from The Poil Family

What a wonderful human being ! His humour and good sense kept us all sane, so many times. He was always able to get a great tune out of whatever instrument he was playing. So many years of fantastic service to the church community in Southbourne. Much loved and fondly remembered.

Funeral & Remembrance

The Funeral for Mark Everson took place on Tuesday, 23rd February at 11.30am. You can view the service via the crematorium web portal:


Website: https://www.obitus.com
Username: Nuro7851
Password: 131042

If you would like to share a memory of Mark, or a picture, please email admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com

A Bench for Mark

If you would like to make a donation towards a bench to remember Mark, please see the donation page.

Every Blessing

Daily Update #222

Pause:
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

Mark 1:14-15

6  Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:6-9

Isaiah is densely packed with theology!  Our passage today deals with two key theological principles.  Firstly, God overcomes sin and makes us his own (vv.6-7) and secondly God is not like us (vv.8-9).  

Let’s look at the second of these first.  Have you ever paused to think about how different God is from us?  It’s worth considering in some detail.  Christians argue that our purpose is to get to know God and to enjoy him forever.  It’s worth lining up the differences between God and mankind!  

Here’s a table to get us thinking about these:  

GodMankind
CreatorCreated
SaviourIn need of salvation
“I am” – from and of himselfContingent and dependent
Love, light, spiritDust, flesh and blood
InvisibleVisible
Simple and triuneComplex and unipersonal
InfiniteFinite
ImmortalMortal
UnchangingFickle and unfaithful

Some of these differences are easy to follow, others are harder to grasp.  Ask me if (like me) you puzzled over the fact that God is simple and triune, whereas we are complex and unipersonal!  

Given the vast differences between God and mankind, it’s not surprising that God’s thoughts and ways are radically different from ours.  Yet we can often be amazingly presumptuous in our thinking about God.  How often has someone said to you something like “I like to think of God as…..”  What a massive presumption!  Who are we, mere mortals, to try to express an opinion on what God is like?!?  A much more appropriate (and fruitful) approach is to mine the riches of scripture to learn about God as he reveals himself in his word.  

Secondly, let’s look at salvation.  Isaiah commands his readers to seek the Lord and to call on him while he is near.  What is the purpose of this?  It is so that the wicked will forsake their ways and thoughts, turn to the Lord and he will have mercy on them.  Isaiah promises that our God will freely pardon those who repent.  As our introductory passage from Mark shows, this is how the Lord Jesus began his ministry.  The good news (or gospel) is that God will freely pardon all those who believe in Jesus.  We know this to be true from the gospels and also from the evidence of the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus.  His body and blood, laid down as a fitting sacrifice for all mankind, is the way the Lord chose to provide the salvation which we enjoy now.  The prophets (including Isaiah) foretold it, Jesus delivered it.  We just need to put our faith and trust in this free gift and reconciliation with God is ours!  

As we ponder the grace of our God, his love for mankind and his condescension towards us, our only possible response is to give him all the thanks and praise which are his due.  He was under no obligation towards any of us, and yet his overwhelming love has restored us and given us eternal life in Jesus.  

Sometimes we need to pan back from the cares and concerns of the day and survey the wider picture.  There’s a lot on our minds right now.  Pause for a few minutes and set aside these cares and concerns and instead focus on how different God is from us and how gracious he is towards us, offering each one new life and reconciliation.  Let’s rejoice in this good news now, and make sure we share it with others as soon as we can, it’s so much more important than those cares of today!  

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Tomorrow’s passage:  Ezekiel 18:21-28

Daily Update #221

Hello everyone,
Today’s readings include Jonah chapter 3, Psalm 51 and Luke 11:29-32. As we looked at
Psalm 51 last Wednesday and Luke 11:29-32 refers to the sign of Jonah, let’s look at Jonah.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne,
removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
One of the things I occasionally wonder is, ‘What do people actually do with what I say?’ By
that I mean, do they hear and obey what I think God is saying? Or do they think, ‘That’s nice,
thoughtful, or even helpful?’ Or even on rare occasions, ‘I’d never realised that,’ or, ‘I hadn’t
thought it applied to me,’ and, ‘I had forgotten that…’ A preacher’s life can be perilously
uncertain. However well crafted our words, once they leave our mouths, it is up to the
listener to hear..
The reason I mention this is that few people must have felt this more than Jonah. He is sent
to a faraway and hostile place. If he isn’t frightened, he is not that fond of the people and
was even disappointed with the outcome. But he did deliver the message. A lone voice. You
may be a lone voice, and it might feel inadequate, but be encouraged, for God’s voice
comes quietly to the listener and can open the heart.
Jonah Chapter 3 pays far more attention to the response than the message.. Though
Jonah’s message is likely to have been longer than presented here, the Hebrew uses just
five words, putting the emphasis on the response. Which definitely makes an impression.
We simply see four things which mark his repentance.

  1. He arose from his throne – giving up his right to rule.
  2. He removed his robe, giving up the finery of self aggrandizement.
  3. He covered himself with sackcloth, rejecting earthly comfort and pleasure.
  4. He sat in ashes, expressing his grief over his sin.
    Clearly the king took God at his word. When the message God gave Jonah to give to
    Nineveh was received, he can’t have known what to do with himself….
    So I wonder if reading God’s words, what happens when I read something striking home,
    that reminds us of our need to change. The reality is that God’s word brings light and mercy
    into darkness and deviance, [Powlison]. The chaos of our sinful selves will be well exposed
    and explained to us when we meet the Lord, but let’s not put off change until then, let’s allow
    God’s word to change us now.
    If Lent is a time of reflection, then which thrones do I need to give up? What self promotion
    fools me into thinking that I am more than a mere person? What sorrows can I give to God?
    Which griefs can he turn to joy?
    Reading prayerfully, quietly and honestly, we can learn to accept that God loves us enough
    to change us, rather than destroy us. Perhaps it is time to revisit Psalm 51 after all….
    Be still, take time to remind yourself that he is God and that he loves you. Give thanks that
    Jesus came to rescue you and not to condemn you. And pray. Pray honestly, pray about
    your need, pray in light of God’s character, pray to build that relationship.
    Perhaps you could start like this…..
    Almighty God,
    whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
    and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
    give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
    and, as you know our weakness,
    so may we know your power to save;
    through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
    who is alive and reigns with you,
    in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and for ever.
    Amen.
    A prayer for a global pandemic
    ‘Love…bears all things,
    believes all things,
    hopes all things,
    endures all things.
    Love never ends.’
    (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
    Loving God,
    strengthen our innermost being
    with your love that bears all things
    even the weight of this global pandemic
    even the long haul of watching for symptoms
    of patiently waiting for this to pass
    watching and waiting,
    keeping our gaze fixed on you,
    and looking out for our neighbours
    near and far.
    Instil in our shaken souls
    the belief and hope that all things
    are possible with your creative love
    for strangers to become friends
    for science to source solutions
    for resources to be generously shared
    so everyone, everywhere, may have what they need
    for your perfect love that knows no borders
    may cast out any fear and selfishness that divides.
    May your love that never ends
    be our comfort, strength and guide
    for the wellbeing of all and
    the glory of God.
    Amen.
    From Christian Aid
    Tomorrow’s readings – Isa 55:6-9, Ps 138 & Matt 7:7-12

Daily Update #220

Today’s Readings:  Isaiah 55:10-11.    Psalm 34:4-6, 21-22.   Matt. 6:7-15.

“9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For just as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but, to the contrary, saturate the earth, and make it germinate and sprout, and give seed to the sower and and bread to the eater, 11 so is my word which goes out of my mouth: it does not come back to me empty, but, to the contrary is bound to do what I please and to flourish where I have sent it”(from Alec Motyer’s ‘New Devotional Translation’).

Our two verse reading from Isaiah 55 provides great encouragement and reassurance about the power of God’s word. This is about more than the Bible. It encompasses the will and the commands of God plus the work of the Holy Spirit and of His Son Jesus Christ. As we read each Christmas in the wonderful first chapter of John’s gospel “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Peter Kreeft has summarised all this quite helpfully as follows: ‘Christ is the Word of God in person. The Bible is the Word of God in writing. Both are the Word of God in the words of men. Both have a human nature and a divine nature.’

Isaiah 55:11 makes it clear that, like the rain and the snow in verse 10, when God speaks, His living Word “will never be fruitless, never come back empty-handed…His Word is full of His creative power to achieve what the Word expresses. God’s Word is His personal messenger. It goes where He ‘sends’ it and achieves what He commands it” (Dr Alec Motyer). The prophet, Jeremiah wrote “The Lord said to me, ‘You have seen correctly for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled’ ” (Jeremiah 1:12). So God not only proclaims powerful commands, but He is also watching to ensure that they are fulfilled! This is just like Genesis 1:3 where we read “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” This is the first of nine occasions in that chapter where God speaks out, as the Creator, to bring aspects of our world into being – including us! We can struggle to share God’s truths but Isaiah 55:10-11 shows that:

1.  God’s word has both a present and an eternal purpose that reflects His holiness.

2. God’s word fulfils His intended purposes. It always does His work completely.

3.God’s word is fruitful. It supports the essentials of life and it brings beauty and joy.

And finally, here are three wise and encouraging comments on today’s theme:

1. ‘So our building and promotion of the church is not the result of our works but of 

    the Word of God which we preach… Here you see that everything is produced by 

    the Word’ (from Martin Luther’s ‘Lectures on Isaiah’).

2. ‘The soul can do without everything except the Word of God, without which none at

    all of its wants are provided for’ (from Martin Luther’s ‘On Christian Liberty’).

3. ‘God and His Word are the reality we need.the Rock under our feet’ (from John

    Piper’s ‘Coronavirus and Christ’).

Today’s Prayer: Thank you Father for the power of your word. We praise you that it enables you to accomplish the good things that you desire and that your purpose is always pure and loving. Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, thank you for bringing your Father’s truths to us and for fulfilling your mission to save us from our sins. Holy Spirit please reveal to us each day new and wonderful truths from the Bible. Amen.  

Daily Update #219

Lev.19:1-2,11-18                    Ps 19:7-end                   Matt 25:31-end
Are you a good neighbour?

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament, on first glance seems very negative. I count twelve ‘do not’s’. The lectionary has also missed out verses 3 to 10, which would have added a few more!

Leviticus 19 
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbour.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
 
A close inspection of these laws shows a standard which protects both us and our neighbours. In this context, our neighbours are anyone we might come into contact with. I also believe that these laws protect us from ourselves and they promote a loving attitude. The Old Testament laws, passed on from Moses, predate social media, but the principle still holds on how our conduct might impact people, whether in the real or virtual world. There are so many ways we can reach people today, with communication at our fingertips.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke chapter 10), Jesus made it clear that your neighbour might be someone who’s path you have never crossed before (assuming you don’t walk on the other side of the road). Although this parable was an example of helping someone in dire need, we will come across people this week not necessarily lying unconscious by the road, who we can nevertheless bless with a word of encouragement, or even to just to allow them the opportunity to be listened to.
With respect to the wider law, especially the ten commandments, we can see two distinct categories. Those laws outlining our actions and attitudes towards God, and those dealing with those around us. When Jesus was challenged (in order to trap him) to state which was the most important commandment, he replied (Matt 22:37), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This was a direct quote of Deut 6:5, summing up the first category which covers our relationship with God. He went on to quote the other section of the law concerning our relationship with people, by quoting this passage we have read today from Leviticus, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
The expression we seem to have adopted recently is “new normal”, which we could morph into “new opportunities”. As a church we might now think of ourselves as a united congregation of those who love the Lord, by taking ‘church’ with us wherever we go; rather than describing activity being limited to meeting in a building. Who will God bring you into contact with this week? Let us be mindful of opportunities which are presented to us, to be a good neighbour.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Help us to be good neighbours this week, and let us be your church wherever we go. Prompt us to shine for you and to share the unfathomable depths of your love with those we meet physically or virtually. Enable us to be Good Samaritans and put into action the words of Jesus to ‘go and do likewise’.
Amen

Tomorrow’s reading: Isa 55:10-11

Daily Update #218

Pause:  As we prepare to look at God’s Word let us quieten our minds, so that
   His Holy Spirit may speak to us today.

Readings:  Isaiah 58 : 1 – 9a;    Psalm 51 : 1 – 5, 17, 18;    Matthew 9 : 14,15

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.  Raise your voice like a trumpet.  Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.  For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.  “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?”  Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?  Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

These verses from the prophet Isaiah proclaim the Lord’s strong condemnation of the irreligious “fasting” that the people seemed to be engaged in.  The Lord’s condemnation of this doesn’t come like a whisper in the night.  Isaiah is told to shout it aloud, to raise his voice like a trumpet, so strongly does Yahweh feel about what is going on.  So, what is going on?

Although the people appeared to be devoting themselves to the Lord, ostensibly obeying the rules regarding fasting and seeking to know the will of the Lord, their real motivation was for what they could get out of it for themselves.  The “fast” that they were proudly observing by walking around with heads bowed as if in prayer and lying around in sackcloth and ashes was purely for show; it had no effect upon their behaviour and it certainly did not impress the Lord.  As Isaiah tells us they were still quarreling with each other, often resorting to violence to sort out their differences, and they also continued mistreating their workers.  This passage has a New Testament parallel in Matthew chapter 23, where Jesus speaks out strongly against those whose hypocritical actions, done in the name of religion, are purely for their own satisfaction, or done in order to appear in order to let others see how pious they are.  True fasting is a part of the life of the people of God, but the aim is not to make ourselves feel good, or to make others see how religious we are.

There are many instances of God’s people fasting in both the Old and New Testaments, for a variety of reasons.  As we saw a couple of weeks ago Nehemiah fasted when he heard of the sad state Jerusalem was in; David fasted when his infant son was seriously ill; Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the wilderness; John the Baptist’s disciples fasted, as we see in the verses above from Matthew’s Gospel.  Throughout history, in times of need, God’s people have been called to fast and pray, not to get God to change his mind but to put themselves in line with his will. As we see from our reading genuine fasting leads to action, helping the oppressed, meeting the needs of the hungry and homeless, sharing what we have we those in need, following the example of our Lord Jesus who went about doing good.  The season of Lent began this week, traditionally a time when God’s people are called to fast in preparation for the events of Holy Week. 

When I was growing up Lent was purely a time of giving something up, usually sweets or chocolate, sugar in one’s tea, or perhaps not going to the cinema!  We now know that this can also be a time of taking up something which can help us to focus on our loving heavenly Father and his will for us, how better to serve him in our walk with Jesus.  We might determine to spend more time in prayer, in reading the Bible, or participating in a Lent Course.  The “what” that we do is not what is really important; what is important is why we do it.  However long we have been Christians there is always more to learn, always the possibility of a closer walk with God.  If we can somehow find a way to spend even a little more time with the Lord during this time of Lent then we will reap a blessing; our relationship with our heavenly Father will deepen as his Holy Spirit leads us on in our walk with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, cleanse and deliver us from all our sins, confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us into the way that leads to life; through him who is the Way the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Update #217

Pause:

25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

John 11:25-27

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Our passage in Deuteronomy is from the end of that great sermon by Moses as he is summing up his instructions and commands to the people of Israel.  He makes it clear that his instructions are straightforward and easy to understand and implement.  No-one needs to go up to heaven to get these instructions.  No long distance overseas travel is necessary.  God’s word, mediated by Moses, is right in front of them, it’s in their mouths and in their hearts.  All they need to do is to obey it.  

What is the choice before them?  It is put in a clear and simple way by Moses.  On the one hand, life and blessing.  On the other hand, death and destruction.  If they chose to love God, obey his commands, life and blessing is their destiny.  The alternative is turning away from God, disobedience and idolatry, which will certainly lead to destruction.  

Moses emphasises his instructions by calling the heavens and the earth as witnesses.  He implores the people, in the strongest possible terms, to choose life.  He tells them that the Lord is their life, and will give them many years in the promised land which lies before them.  

Simple choice, surely?  Which of us, faced with these options, would hesitate for a second?  

Yet we know that it all goes wrong.  Even before it does, God tells Moses that it will all go wrong.  The Lord knows that the people will forsake him, break the covenant he has made with them, and prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are about to enter.  (Deuteronomy 31:15-16). 

So what can we learn from this?  What is to be done?  

The reality is that all mankind is in exactly the same fix.  This is not just the people of Israel, this is the whole of humanity.  Collectively, we are steeped in sin and unable to save ourselves, as Matt showed us from Psalm 51 yesterday.  There is no health in us, as the Book of Common Prayer underlines.  

What we really need is the Lord himself, as he is our life (30:20).  The spiritual transformation that is needed is radical.  We need the Lord to change us from the inside.  We need him to save and rescue us from ourselves.  We need the Lord’s Messiah to change us into the people the Lord wants us to be.  By ourselves, death and destruction are inevitable.  If we put our faith and trust in him, then eternal life and blessing are ours forever!  

The Lord Jesus knew the mission, he knew precisely what was at stake.  Talking to Martha in Bethany, he invites her to confirm her belief in him.  Immediately she replies:  “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  The miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead confirms her faith and reveals God’s glorious plan of salvation for all.  This is the life and blessing we are all offered, through faith in the Lord Jesus.  Thanks be to God for being our life, through the life-giving blood of the Lord Jesus, shed for each one of us on the cross.  

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  

Psalm 51:7

Tomorrow’s passage:  Isaiah 58:1-9a