Paul referred to himself as “the chief of sinners” (v.16). The main reason he believed this was because of his past. Before his conversion to Jesus Christ he had been an ardent Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. He had travelled up and down the country arresting believers, and in some cases had them stoned to death. Stephen, the first Christian martyr was stoned by those who laid their clothes at the feet of Paul (Saul in those days).
Paul was now mortified that he had persecuted the Church and had blasphemed against Jesus Christ. He was also now aware that all the things he thought had been good and what he had done to impress God were in fact worthless. He wrote: “All my righteous deeds are as filthy rags”. But he was not going to live the rest of his life flagellating himself for his sins. Jesus was indeed the Christ and the Saviour. It would be sacrilege to refuse the forgiveness so freely offered. If God had forgiven him, then he should forgive himself. Jesus had come to set him free, not to increase his guilt and failure.
Paul, as a Christian, was also aware that he was a sinner because he still continued to sin. He spoke of this constant struggle he had as he tried to overcome his ‘old nature’. He cried out, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)” So Paul not only felt he had lost his early years by fruitlessly attacking Christians, but he had lost opportunities by his own weakness and failure to win over the “flesh”.
He was also tempted to be frustrated with his long periods of imprisonment. How he longed to be out preaching and reaching out to the corners of the known world. And yet his time was not lost. Whilst in prison others started to preach. While he had been around their gifts seemed to be not needed, but now they emerged and served Christ. And even more importantly, Paul wrote letters. It is these Epistles that have survived long after anything else he did. His letters were a direct result of being in prison.
Lord, even my religious zeal may have been misplaced and not done out of love. Put a right spirit within me. Amen.
1 What did Paul think of his previous ‘good’ and ‘holy’ life?
We celebrate Mothering Sunday – a day when we remember our mothers and our church as “mother” church. Mothering Sunday has its roots pre-Reformation connotations of Laetare Sunday, on which the Introit, the first prayer of the Mass, says: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her … and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.” A lady called Constance Smith, who was a High Church Anglican, saw a reference to Jerusalem as the mother church in the BCP epistle set for the day. She developed the “mothering theme“ in a booklet called “The Revival of Mothering Sunday” in 1920. In it she suggested reviving the old Laetare tradition of simnel cake and she also collected customs relating to celebrations of motherhood from all over the country. Things snowballed, fuelled by the feelings of so many mothers who had lost their sons in the First World War. By 1938 Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish church.
Today we will enjoy a Simnel cake at 8.00am and 10.00am. Thanks to Joan Jay and Caroline Lee for making the cakes. Thanks also to Clare Mort and her team for the bulbs. Don’t worry – the posies will return – we just thought we would be a bit different this year!
“On the 18th February we became a legal benefice with St. John the Evangelist and this means we have a new ministry team. I am Incumbent of the new Benefice, Jane Eastell is Associate Vicar (with responsibility for St John’s parish), Dennis is Associate Priest and Sheila is Benefice Curate. Our three Readers, Daphne, Peter and Ronnie’s POT licences remain unchanged. The associate clergy – Dennis, Jane and Sheila – have received their new licences from the Archdeacon. I will be licensed as Vicar on 6th April at 6.30pm in a Eucharist presided by the Bishop of Taunton.
We hope this service will be a celebration of what God is doing here – building unity and oneness as it says in Ephesians 4.3-6:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
“He would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate” (v.16) RSV
The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known in the Bible. Sadly, it fits our theme over these weeks of ‘Lost Years’. This younger son decided that he was going to live life to the full. He cajoled his future inheritance out of his father and set off to make his fortune, or rather, to lose it!
After an unspecified time of riotous living he ran out of money. Some of the best years of his life had been squandered in self-indulgence, instead of steady work and application. In the end he “would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate”. He was reduced to looking after the animals that his race felt were ‘unclean’. His life had become dirty and immoral.
We too may feel we wasted our years at school or university. We avoided the dull and arduous route and pursued quick money or a life of pleasure. Maybe the last thing in the world we wanted to be was to be like our “elder brother”. In the story that elder brother was a man of duty but not of joy; he was unforgiving and ungenerous. So it is understandable that the younger one wanted to be free and be real, but it was nevertheless a selfish and dead-end route.
God knows, and he wants us to fulfil our potential in the years that remain to us. Our past need not be a ball and chain that drags us back for the rest of our life. Unlock it; let it go. The past is past. With God, let us turn to the future and start working and striving with all the strength and the talents that he gives us.
There is also a spiritual application from this story. We may have wasted the best part of our life in neglect of God and of our soul’s requirements. Our spiritual well is dry. But let us take heart, even now if we turn to the Lord in repentance, we will find he is merciful. Indeed he will “run to embrace” us (v.20). He will restore our relationship with him and fill us to overflowing with love, joy and peace.
Jesus, I am sorry for the past. Grant me the chance to live my future for you and for others. Amen.
1 What is God’s message to those who go their own way?