Sunday 4th December – Communion & Toy Service led by Anne Walton
I think we all appreciate the regular commitment that Anne shows for us, travelling down from Milton Keynes to lead our Services, but this week was probably “beyond the call of duty” – coming down despite severe laryngitis. She couldn’t have done it without her support team, daughter Natalie who read Anne’s two reflections (peerlessly) and Janet Green, who took over the prayers, leaving Anne to conduct the Communion. In fact, Anne’s voice seemed to improve as we went through the service. The lemon and honey may have helped – and no whisky she assured us!
But first we congratulated Doreen on her birthday this Friday.
We also welcomed Leyla from the Young families Refuge in South Mimms to tell us something about their work. The toys and the gifts for the mothers we collect at our Toy Service bring joy and are much appreciated.
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 11 talks about a new king that will arise from amongst David’s descendants, possessing all the attributes of a perfect king and ushering in a new age of nirvana. So it’s a bit of a stretch to link it to the realities of Jesus’s life as recorded in the Gospels.
Anne focused on the many moments of waiting in our lives. How does it feel? Exciting, frustrating or just boring. Do we wait passively, irritably, or use our time effectively?
December is a busy time with much to do before Christmas and much anticipation. Do we make time to wait in quietness to hear God speak and experience the Holy Spirit coming to us? And the waiting also echoes the anticipation in “your Kingdom come, your will be done”.
Matthew 3 describes John in the desert preaching and baptising. “Turn away from your sins, because the kingdom of heaven is near”. And there was plenty of winnowing, and chaff to be thrown in the fire.
Anne told us that total immersion was something both Jews and Gentiles of the time would be familiar with. Indeed, just outside the temple at Jerusalem there were pools, called Mikva’ot where people who felt they were unclean could bath themselves before entering the temple. The bigger mikvah had dividing walls across the pool that you had to dive under, so you were totally immersed and ritually pure. The Mikva’ot were also used by Gentiles converting to Judaism and the dividing wall ensured they were completely purified before they could enter the temple. The Mikva’ot were filled from an active spring of living water to keep them pure. So why were so many people going out to John to be baptised in the Jordan – not the cleanest of rivers? Even the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders came to hear John (though they got pretty short shrift) and they placed great importance on ritual purity.
Anne suspected that it was because John’s fame had spread so wide that even they wanted to hear what he had to say – possibly the shortest sermon ever preached. But John went on to say that repenting, however sincere, was not enough, you had to do those things that showed you had turned away from your sins. You needed to bear fruit in order to escape being thrown into the fire as chaff.
Worthy fruit is something so powerful that other people want to turn towards it too. It’s a complete reversal in lifestyle, attitude, and the way we interact with others. Anne suggested we often think of repentance in terms of what we need to repent from, turning away from sin, but this begs the question of what God calls us to repent towards.
When we turn in the direction God wants us to go and we follow faithfully we demonstrate a life that is worth repenting for. Others take note and start to desire such fruitfulness in their lives. So let us live lives that are so compelling that others will see us as the child of God and they will want to share in the peace and compassion for others that we demonstrate in our lives. Perhaps most importantly we remember that repentance is not a one-off action, it’s something we should do regularly – which is why our Services contain prayers of confession. So as we wait patiently for Christ’s second coming, let’s keep turning away from our habits and patterns of sin and keep turning towards God’s love, made real in Jesus.
(Having worked through Mike’s seron last week, I wonder whether John saw in the Pharisees and Sadducees people who had not “moved beyond the survival and security questions”. Certainly, John calling them snakes suggests he thought so. And Anne’s “repenting towards” may be an echo of Mike’s ”Probably the most important way of bringing people into our faith is what people see of us in life – what we do. Can they see God working in our lives?” I’d like to think so.)
Sunday 27th November – Family Service led by Mike Findley
This Sunday it was the Hillyards turn to be in the spotlight with a birthday/golden wedding anniversary celebration during the previous week. Your reviewer could hide behind the video camera, but Margaret had to be up front there to receive a Golden Celebration Rose, a surprise gift from the church put together by Janet O’Connor and Chris Ramsay.
Then we got down to business. We were into Part 4 of the Journey of Faith – “It’s not about me, it’s about us” – and Mike told us he liked the reading from Genesis 1 because it set God’s creation of mankind in a positive light – original goodness, not the source of original sin (and I do, because it doesn’t present God’s creation of women as an afterthought).
Mike has difficulty with the idea of man being made in the likeness of God. This part of the Bible was written at a time when people believed the world was flat and the centre of the universe, with God an anthropomorphic being just up there above the clouds. It’s unlikely that we are made in the likeness of God because God in a physical sense is something – now we understand the size and scope of the universe – far beyond what we can possibly imagine. Mike suspects that this arrogance by man is one of the reasons that led to the Tower of Babel story – to bring man back down to earth!
God created the universe in order that we might have a relationship with him, and we exist to have a relationship with God. We are taught some things about him, but we can’t imagine everything about God. We need to be in relationship with all that God loves. This means we need to be in relationship with each other. We are not individuals on our own, we are part of something bigger that we have to relate to, and indeed we are dependent on each other. As we grow, we move from being dependent on our parents to becoming independent, and then hopefully to the realisation that we are interdependent.
Karl Jung talks about the ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’ of our lives. In the morning we are concerned with physical things, getting educated, making a career, having a family, buying a house. When these things are hopefully settled, we can start feeding back into our lives the things we excluded earlier on. We can become more philosophical, hopefully more spiritual. This is the afternoon. And Jung said you can’t live the afternoon of your life according to the programme for life’s morning.
Most cultures and sadly most organised religions seem to be ‘first half of life’ based. It’s all about me: how can I be important, be safe, make money, look attractive – and for Christians “How can I think well of myself and go to heaven. How can I be on the high moral ground?”. Ego questions, not questions of the soul. Mike thinks that many Christians have not moved beyond these survival and security questions. Wanting to go to heaven is language for security: my future, not the shared future of humanity. Religion becomes a private insurance policy for that future, still about me, but piously disguised. Any sense of being part of a cosmos, or that God is doing anything bigger and better than saving individual souls – and mine in particular – is of no interest.
In the second half of our lives, we must hope that God and grace can move us so that religion becomes more of a mystical matter than a moral matter; about union with all and participating in and with God. The work of true religion is to help us transition from stage to stage of our lives towards ever deeper union with God and all things. Prayer and contemplation takes the leap into community; we know that what we are experiencing can only be held by the whole and that we are only a part, a very grateful part. We begin to sense a presence that imbues all things – could this be God? – and we begin to experience mutuality within ourselves. We have begun to understand the nature of the spirit.
God refuses to be understood as any kind of object. God is not a being, something you physically define. God exists by mutuality, by sharing, by communicating.
And so to Romans 12. In Paul’s lifetime the church was not an institution or a structural grouping of common practices or beliefs. It was a living organism, communicating the Gospel through relationships. Paul’s metaphor for this was the Body of Christ. Many parts, and all do not have the same function. So we (though many) are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another since we have gifts that differ. And at the heart of this body, providing the energy, is the love of God that’s being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the foundational energy of the universe, the ground of all being. Jesus’s teachings of forgiveness, healing and justice are the evidence of such a shared life. Peace-making, forgiveness and reconciliation are not some kind of ticket to heaven later, they are the signature of heaven now.
Humans are essentially social beings. Each of us is just a fingerprint or footprint of God but we are essentially connected with one another. The pattern of the universe is that we are one. To make community a reality we must change the pattern of our lifestyles. We can be at rest; we don’t have to live competitively. We don’t have to climb or succeed, because there’s nothing “up there” that isn’t down here.
The Body of Christ metaphor is the template and pattern for our entire universe, from atoms to galaxies. We come to truly know God through exchange of mutual knowing and loving, not through a rightly informed believer. God communicates primarily through the Journey and the bonding that takes place throughout that journey, whether it is in communities, in marriages, in friendships, in families, in tribe or nations, schools or churches. We bond with other people. God wants to bond with us and when we bond with other people we are participating in God’s love – maybe without our seemingly knowing it.
Unless Christ is experienced as a living relationship between people, the Gospel remans largely an abstraction – a thing of the head rather than the heart. Christ has to be passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness to one another and through concrete bonds of union. Not so much by word, by sermons or institutions or ideas: unless we pass on the knowledge of Christ through our actions, our belief is meaningless.
Living in community is living in such a way that others can access and influence our lives: think of all the people who have brought us to where we are today, influenced our lives and helped us on our journey. We need to help other people on their journeys. Without communion with others we don’t fully exist as our true selves. We need to love ourselves, but to love others as ourselves – and the best way to love ourselves IS to love others. So we have to see ourselves as part of a living organism and then we share our successes and our failures, we help each other, and the last part of our Journey of Faith is hopefully not a journey we have on our own. That last part is a connected journey with others we help and who help us.
Mike believes we have to embark on the afternoon of our lives in co-operation with others. We need to find those people who shut themselves away, befriend them and help them, because being lonely must be a dreadful thing.
And as we move into Advent and towards Christmas we need to think about how we both build and are part of community with each other, community with all of God’s creation, becoming an integral part of the body of Christ now, which will help us integrate more easily into whatever realm we will wonderfully discover when this part of our life here on earth is over and we move on to another place.
God bless us, be joyful and thankful and share our lives with others.
(Last week I ended with the comment “If we want to keep that freedom that David talks about, we have to change our lives and behaviours to become truly compatible citizens of that future – or it won’t feel like heaven”. It seems to me that in the four parts of his Journey of Faith, Mike has given us a roadmap for this – something we should be very thankful for.
Mike’s approach is both mystical and philosophical. His description of a non-anthropomorphic God – encompassing the whole universe yet imbued in everything – is more subtle, less magisterial; at first sight perhaps less “great”, but in reality more complex and much larger. And his description of how we experience the Holy Spirit in those fleeting moments of joy, of love, of elation, of bonding in our relationships with our partners, family, friends and communities – and that which comes from our appreciation of great beauty in the world around us (and beyond) – is quite compelling. I think it is what many of us might hope to experience or re-experience in heaven.
So why not take his advice to maximise those moments in our lives on earth?)
Sunday 20th November – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
This was a Sunday of challenges:
Our Church Secretary was challenged to trim his beard so we could hear him more clearly (in fun it must be said!).
Our choir challenged to see in how many ways they could sing a single word (Alleluia), eliciting a wry comment from David.
And finally David himself attempting to link Old Testament prophesy to the reality and life of Jesus – something that was also in the minds of the Gospel writers and indeed those who selected the writings that make up our Old and New Testaments.
David’s starting point was a question from a Religious Education lesson at a local school he is associated with. “What did the Jews expect of a Messiah?”. In a non-exclusive list we had;
- A warrior King to drive out the Romans and set Israel free,
- A prophet like Moses,
- A king to create an earthly kingdom that would go on for ever,
- Someone of David’s line to be born in Bethlehem,
- A suffering servant.
Not all these fitted together but reflected what the various factions wanted. But there was a problem. The Messiah was to live for ever, but the suffering servant dies – and that was a pretty insoluble problem.
Was Jesus a warrior – No!
Was he a prophet like Moses – well possibly, but much more than that.
Did he desire an earthly kingdom – absolutely not!
Was he of David’s line – well Joseph was, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem we are told.
Jesus led a hard life, and we know he endured great suffering at the end of his life. And his death contradicted the idea that the Messiah rules on earth for ever.
David told us that when looking at the prophesies about Jesus, the last quarter of the Old Testament (the Messianic books) provide an incredibly accurate picture of what Jesus would be like. The Jews didn’t somehow pay much attention to these prophesies and stuck more to those of the earlier books, which fitted much more closely to what they wanted. So the teachings about his death and resurrection were ignored – no matter how closely the life of Jesus was following their own later prophesies – and he was seen as a nuisance to be got rid of, a threat to the power of the religious authorities and the political stability of their relationship with the Romans.
David’s sermon was based around the above and the reading from Jeremiah 23 about a king who would rule wisely throughout the universe, in heaven and on earth. This fitted well with some Jewish expectations. Jesus was the ultimate earthly king, but much more than that.
Where in our Good News Bible the reading ended with “He will be called the Lord of Salvation”, in David’s it is translated as “The Lord Our Righteousness” – something he felt encompassed the true meaning of what Christ is for us. It doesn’t say “The Lord of Righteousness” and it’s not a description of Jesus. Righteousness is the great gift he is giving us. The Lord by which we have righteousness. And so, six centuries before his birth, we have a description of salvation thorough faith. This was the essence of Luther’s 95 theses nailed to the church door in Wittenburg, “We are saved through faith alone”, but already in Jeremiah we have a description of our being saved through faith and by the gift from Jesus. He is our Lord of our own righteousness.
All the other things then fall into place. Jesus had to die so that he could be resurrected in triumph. He died so that we might understand that he was special – not just another prophet who died – because he was reborn, came again and showed the way forward.
He ascended to heaven, but if he’d not gone, we would not have had our freedom, been able to grow in our own spirituality, to make choices. We would not be free men and women. We would just be servants. God does not want us to be obedient servants. He wants us to make a choice to follow him, to believe in him, and gain salvation through the gift of righteousness that he offers us.
Next week we celebrate Emmanuel “God with us”. David feels that much of Advent points not to Jesus coming as a babe but Jesus coming again and what would happen then. Jesus is the fulfilment of so many prophesies but doesn’t rule in this world. He rules in the world beyond, unconstrained by time – and neither are we. Through our faith we have life everlasting.
(One of the problems with going back so far, apart from the risk of being selective in the choice of prophesies, is the archaic structures of the futures envisaged at the time, Kings , Lords , thrones etc. David’s comment about God not wanting obedient servants rather nails it. It suggests a different, more personal relationship between ourselves and our God, set within a much wider understanding of the world and universe around us. And the offer of life everlasting though faith alone – whatever everlasting life may mean, as Prince Charles might have said – seems to me not to be the whole story. If we want to keep that freedom that David talks about we have to change our lives and behaviours to become truly compatible citizens of that future – or it won’t feel like heaven. That’s a challenge for all of humanity, both on earth and in heaven).
Sunday 13th November – Reembrance Service led by Lilian Evans
It was nice that all the careful Remembrance preparations in the church by the Corfe family and the flower arrangers were complemented by the warm feeling of a Service that hit its mark.
We started with a poem written and read by Rod Chilcot, “The final Whistle” (and he blew the whistle at the close of his reading!).
We watched the action at the Cenotaph for those vital minutes, the chimes of Big Ben, the silence, the sound of the cannon and the bugles playing the last post, and then Lilian took us into our Service.
Our choir sang “Peace between Nations”. Our hymns were “What shall we pray for those who died”, “We cannot measure how you heal” and finally “Make me a channel of your peace” – all with musically a Scottish flavour.
The reading from Isaiah 65 was looking forward to a better future. God was in the creation business right from the very beginning, Lilian told us. Isaiah was told that God was going to create a new heaven and a new earth, and all that went before would be forgotten – perhaps a little odd for a day of remembering she thought? Lilian wondered how many people today would be remembering things they had forgotten or things they hoped they would forget. God is the one we think knows everything and remembering everything, but this new heaven and earth would be different. Jerusalem would be a place of joy and delight. When we think of it, it has for so many years not been a ‘place of peace’, despite this being the meaning of the word Jerusalem. Now there are three religions fighting over it, even though they all worship the same God (one God, lots of fighting!). The New Jerusalem is to be a safe place, where the children born will be expected to live; long life will be a gift, a life of freedom and safety.
(The reading from Luke 21 was written some time between AD 80 and 110. The destruction of the Temple in AD70 was a fact, as was the persecution of the disciples and the early church by the Jewish authorities and the Romans. The Second Coming has a cultish feel, certainly those at the time thought it was imminent, though wisely nobody put a date on it. And it sits alongside our hopes and beliefs in salvation and a smooth transfer into a welcoming afterlife.)
Lilian reminded us that the western or ‘wailing wall’ was the only remaining part of the Second Temple and a place where people came to pray and put their prayers in the gaps between the bricks. As to the “one day all this will end”, nobody knows when. The wars and revolutions, nations fighting nations, kingdoms fighting kingdoms, earthquakes, plagues, and signs in the heavens are all to come (and we’ve seen plenty of all of this), but they may not mean that the end is near. So we are to remain steadfast.
Then Jesus talks about the Christians, being arrested, brought before justices and kings. Lilian felt that one of the hardest things is seeing people that believe in the same God facing persecution. And betrayal can come from very close to home! So we just keep enduring; keep waiting for God to come to take us to a better place, a place of peace and justice. We wait and wait…….
…….but in her intercessionary prayers Lilian committed us, each in our own small way, to making our own world a better place, asking God to help us with this task.
At the close of the Service Rod shared with us some of the things his family had retained to remember those days of war. The ARP whistle, a “dog tag” from his aunt’s brother-in-law, Walter James Bifield, and a Christmas Card he sent home from Gallipoli at Christmas 1915.
Sunday 6th November – Communion Service led by Revd. Jonathan Hyde
It was good to have Jonathan Hyde – raconteur extraordinary – back with us again. An ex-military chaplain, we caught him exchanging experiences with Busi, who as well as being one stap further with his military training, has also learned how to swim (2 lengths!) – no mean feat of courage for someone who had never done this before.
We welcomed Brian and Doreen, Rod Chilcot, and David Morris, the latter coming out of a period of isolation.
David Ramsay gets lots of support from the floor when he’s giving out the notices – it’s almost like a mini Church Meeting.
Jonathan likes to give the back story to some of the hymns he’s chosen (we did most of the choosing this time), so the first by Martin Luther (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) took us back to Wittenburg in 1517 with Martin and his hammer nailing his 95 theses on the door of All Saints, the Castle Church. We knew Martin was particularly incensed by the Catholic habit of selling Indulgences (free passes into heaven), but not that the money was being used to pay Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Nor that support for the Protestant religion by the German princes was as much as anything about stopping good German money flowing into Italy (I think we’ve heard that complaint again quite recently?).
After the Hymn, we were into a Lesson in Doctrine.
If we’d had a good Service and going home we were asked what we’ve been doing, “Been worshipping God”, we’d say. “How do you know there’s a God”, we might be asked. We might say that every now and then we pray and get comforted and at times we are aware of his presence. But basically it’s a problem.
Three thinker/philosophers can come to our aid.
The first, Rene Descartes, a young man skilled in geometry and algebra, wanted to spend his life thinking. (Jonathan has tried this line out on his wife when there’s housework to be done – unsuccessfully it must be said). Descartes asked himself, “How do I know that I actually exist, not a dream, not dead?” and he came up with the idea “I’m thinking and therefore I am”.
For the second, we were taken back to 500 BC to Plato, who asked himself how he knew there was a God. “Actually, there has to be a God because I’m thinking about God, and I can’t think about nothing”. There had to be a God for him to be aware of God.
And the third was Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry I. He said that in order to deny the existence of God you would have to have an idea in your own mind as to what God was. It was impossible to conceive of something in one’s mind if it did not exist. Therefore, God must exist, and in that case there could be no greater being than God – it would be logically impossible.
These were the wonderful lessons you got when you did Doctrine at Theological College. So now we know that God exists because of these three people.
(Actually, I hope that I will still be able to think after I die, it being an essential aspect of resurrection for me. I also note that perhaps Plato would have had other Gods in mind, but that it is to observe that almost all human cultures seem to have developed ideas of God – a powerful plus point – but one that would lead to acceptance of the value of a multiplicity of faiths)
We moved on to the readings. Daniel was a difficult book to understand, it being the Old Testament equivalent of the Book of Revelations – a book that is alive to a persecuted church. Jonathan felt that in this country we didn’t really “get” the full meaning of Revelations. If you are facing persecution, Revelations is extremely helpful and it is the same with Daniel, a book from which the Jewish people have drawn much inspiration.
Daniel was a man taken into Babylonian captivity at the time of the downfall of Jerusalem. He distinguished himself but upset the wife of the king because he wouldn’t have an affair with her, so she got him falsely got him put in prison. There he interpreted multiple dreams (Jonathan asks whether God still talks to us in dreams and thinks that at times he still does). We learned that it was Asiatic lions that Daniel had to do with. They needed to be prodded and worked up to get them to attack people: if the lions failed to perform, the Roman lionkeepers were also fed to them. In any event Daniel came through unscathed. So if you are a persecuted Christian or Jewish person and you are looking for inspiration on how God works, you look to these stories.
Jesus was familiar with Daniel because it was the first Book where you get mention of the Son of Man – a phrase he frequently used about himself.
The Second Reading from Luke 19 was the story of Jesus and the Tax Collector Zacchaeus. There were two routes from Jerusalem to Galilee. One was along the coast through Samaria, not favoured by devout Jews because the Samaritans only accepted the first five books of he Old Testament and had fallen out with Jewish tradition. The other route via Jericho was called the “bloody way” because of the many street robbers waiting along the way. You travelled in numbers! In any event Jericho was a very prosperous entrepot and a very good place to be a tax collector. Of course, as we know, tax collectors were seldom honest and highly unpopular, though usually wealthy.
It was a hot day and Jesus was sharing his knowledge in the shade of a tree. If you were small like Zacchaeus and wanted a good view, you climbed the tree. What made Zacchaeus go to listen to Jesus? Possibly he’d met him before and wanted to see him again? Perhaps he’d been questioning himself about what he should be making of his life, and it had been brewing up? In any event it was a life-changing moment. Based on his own experience in Basra of three rats at the other end of the canteen taking away some of his carefully prepared Christmas message, Jonathan visualised Jesus in the shade of the tree realising that his audience was becoming distracted by some guy up in the tree behind him.
Zacchaeus’s responses had surely pricked our consciences and so it was timely to take up the offering!
We followed it up with a new Hymn (for us), “I want Jesus to walk with me”, and Stephen sang it for us line by line as an introduction.
A nice touch.
And then Communion.
Sunday 30th October – Family Service led by Mike Findley
Being forced by his schedule to deliver a 4-part sermon in just three weeks, Mike gave us Parts 2 & 3 themed as “The Journey of Faith – Part 3”. And Mike considers he’s on a journey to the heart of God, a journey of closer and closer relationships – a journey he finds exciting, problematic, challenging and rewarding. God is real and demanding, but he walks with Mike, and they have a growing interdependence, and he wants other to join him on this Journey of Faith.
The second part (which we nearly missed) is about new people when they come into church. What do we do with them? If we want them to stay, we have to help them and value them. A lot of people come because they feel unwanted, undervalued. We have to tell them that they are wanted. We have to allow them to contribute, to become involved, to be part of the team. They in turn have to let their barriers down, to let God come in, and to let other people understand them and help. People will stay if they find peace, purpose and worth. And early on they have to experience the presence of God in their lives, to seek out and know God’s purpose for them.
They won’t stay if we ignore them, if they feel left out, and in the way.
Another reason people don’t stay is that they feel that becoming a Christian is a kind of insurance policy, protecting them from things happening in their lives. When something goes wrong in their lives they don’t come back again. They need to understand it’s not an insurance policy; It’s being given the strength to overcome what happens.
And that led, pretty seamlessly, to Part-3. What happens when serious problems happen in our lives and how do we cope with them?
We may feel settled in a congregation, feel that we are at home in our church with our friends. But is this something we feel on the surface or is it because we have deep roots – roots that will withstand major problems that we are going to be very lucky not to find coming into our lives, rocking the foundations of our faith and belief system. Mike worries about us, about his own church and the churches he visits. Do we go beyond the surface things of our community life to build people’s spiritual foundations, so they have the strength to withstand whatever happens to them?
Because we will have problems. Something happens to a member of our family or close friends, somebody dies, we lose or job and our career, or because of the economy we don’t know if we can survive and bring up our families.
Barbara Johnson’s book “Pack up your Gloomers in a great big box and sit on the lid and laugh”, deals with how she dealt with the death of two of her children and the third being gay (she was on the US Evangelist right). She got over all the things that had gone wrong in her life by helping other people with their problems (hence the book!).
Mike finds that love and suffering are two side of the same coin, part of most human lives, part of our Journey of Faith. It’s been said that love and suffering teach us more about spirituality than anything or anybody else. Love is what we long for, were created for, what we are (an outpouring of God), but suffering often seems to be our opening to that need, that desire, that identity. They both are the doorways to open the mind-space and the heart-space. If we love greatly, we will soon suffer greatly because we’ve somehow given control to another – a definition of suffering is when we are not in control.
Suffering can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down our lives, or it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open because our hearts have been softened up – perhaps we feel we’ve nothing more to lose. It can take us to the very edges of our inner resource when we fall into the hand of the living God, even when we are not sure we believe in God.
Suffering can mean our own shadow self is facing internal conflicts of moral failures, undergoing rejection, abandonment or humiliation – all sufferings you can’t see.
Today we all battle with our fears and doubts, our frustrations about who we are and where we are going, our yearning for a life free of pain, of prejudice or discrimination, free from the constant struggle to survive and simply wanting to be us. We need to realise that there are times when life is infinitely more tolerable if the burden is shared, shared with human friends, but even more important shared with a God that loves us and watches over us – that knows us and wants to be a part of our lives.
When Mike’s wife became ill and was approaching death, he didn’t pray for a miraculous recovery. That would have implied he saw death as the end. He doesn’t see death as the end or something to be feared. Death is the moment when one door closes and another opens. After death we have a life with God. So he prayed that he and all his family would put themselves in God’s hands and that God would strengthen them to cope with all that happened – and God did!
He’d found a wonderful piece of advice. When you are facing tremendous difficulties, say to yourself “Let go, and let God take over”. Put yourself in the hand of God just for a little while until the challenges of life become more bearable. It worked for him, and he hopes it will work for us.
The Bible records that when people wanted a sign from him (like a miracle), the only sign Jesus gave was the sign of Jonah. Jesus knew well that the story of Jonah was of a man who ran away from God and was used by God almost in spite of himself. Jonah was swallowed by the whale and was taken somewhere he didn’t want to go – a metaphor for death and rebirth. We need at times in life to have a Jonah moment, going down into the depths of the whale and being spat out in a new territory, with new strengths, a new purpose, and a new life.
Paul commenting on the pattern of Jesus’s death and resurrection said that unless we’ve gone down, we don’t know what up is. Lots of religions talk about descent and ascent. We call it the mystery of the cross – a pattern of transformation that’s not rational or logical. We die to our old selves; we rise to be a new being. Possibly several times in our lifetime we’ll die and rise again metaphorically, and that allows us somehow to grow, to transform.
Mike chose the second reading from John 15 (“I am the Vine”) because it tells us that if we cut ourselves off from the vine on our journey we will die. It’s only by being part of the vine attached to the love of God that we will live, and break through our problems, see the future and the dawn of new life and new hope. We will have problems but if we put ourselves in God’s hands those problems will get sorted one way or another (perhaps not the way we had supposed). But we need to put down those roots to ensure we are getting that sustenance from the spirit that follows us through the whole of our lives. It’s a wonderful life despite those difficulties. More wonderful is the future we are offered, the opportunity to be in the presence of God and to be in his world – and that’s where our Journey should take us to.
(This is a rather long review and in preparing it it’s clear to me that though still on his Journey, there’s quite a bit of “been there, done that!”. It’s totally from the heart, but also from the intellect, which makes it particularly powerful advice for us all. He’s not told us what Part-4 will bring, but I’m sure it will be worth waiting for).
Sunday 23rd October – Family Service led by Martyn Macphee
Martyn congratulated us for being in church despite the downpour – which was just about right for a nice autumn morning in Mull he felt.
We wished Chris Ramsay a Happy Birthday.
One of the things we appreciate is Martyn’s lead-in to the hymns we sing giving us insights both on the writers and the religious background. It draws the hymns into the Service in a very special way.
The Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah 14 recorded the feelings of the Israelites at a time leading up to their being overcome and taken to Babylon – not a good time for them at all!
The New Testament Reading from Luke 18 was the very familiar parable pf the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (as a former tax lawyer, Martyn knew all about the latter). Jesus makes fun of the Pharisees in many places in the Bible, and in this reading the Pharisee is an easy target – obnoxious, arrogant and self-assured – someone you can’t help to love to hate. The Tax Collector is the one we ought to despise – in those days they were little more than white-collar thieves – but we take pity on him because he is contrite and beaten down by his feelings of guilt.
And then Martyn turned the story on its head. Because the twist of the parable in his mind is that in condemning the Pharisee as a prig, we condemn ourselves. In judging others, we judge ourselves.
We needed to take a closer look. The Pharisee is standing by himself and in some translations is said to be praying to himself – with good cause, because he merely reports to God on the reasons why God ought to be proud of him. But to be fair, he’s not just trying to satisfy the minimum requirements of the law, he’s actually going far beyond this in an effort to please God.
He’s standing alone, possibly because he doesn’t want to be associated with such ‘low lives’ as the tax collector, but also possibly because no one else feels worthy to stand by him. He’s at the pinnacle of his church.
The Pharisee’s zeal may be misguided, but he does have the zeal and the desire to please God – and he’s prepared to stand out for it. He’s worked hard, and apart from a lack of humility we might wish that others were more like him. Pharisees make good Elders, stewards of the church, the ones who do the work and provide financial support. They are devoted to God and most of their fault is in striving for too much holiness.
Martyn asks what it is that makes us all work so hard to please others. He suspects it reflects our need for approval, something that starts early in our lives with our parents, and leads us to strive to better ourselves, to excel. Taken in moderation it’s a good thing – it’s what makes the world go round – but add in a dose of insecurity and it becomes a recipe for disaster, because however much you can achieve, you can never do enough.
That could be at the root of the Pharisee’s arrogance: not necessarily that he thinks he’s better than everyone else but perhaps subconsciously he doesn’t think he’s as good as he should be. A superior attitude can perhaps be a reflection of an inferiority complex. Those who are the most comfortable in their skins are the most gracious towards others.
So perhaps we should think of the Pharisee as a little boy locked up in a grown-up body, still trying to win the approval of mum & dad. A good man, as good as he knew how to be, restrictive because all he knew to do was to try to win God’s favour by obeying all the rules even in their most minute detail. And if this is the case, we have every reason to feel sorry for him.
The Tax Collector couldn’t even lift up his eyes to God. He beat his chest, wallowed in contrition, guilt and shame. And if you knew about tax collecting in those days you’d say for good reason! Because of their behaviour, in Jewish society they were ranked just below prostitutes and murderers.
So the Pharisee was not the only one standing off by himself – no one in their right mind would have stood by the Tax Collector. We all know people like him, people who prey on others.
Jesus said the Tax Collector went home justified because he confessed his sins and threw himself on the mercy of the Almighty. But if we had been there, we might have asked ourselves, “I wonder what he’ll be doing on Monday?” There’s nothing in the parable to say that he wouldn’t go back to his unscrupulous ways. So though he went home justified that he counted as righteous, perhaps God knew he wasn’t.
In today’s world it’s often hard to know who to trust, and that can lead to judgements. We condemn the Pharisees of our world for their self-righteousness and the tax collectors for their unworthiness. Do we think the worst sinners are worthy of a place in paradise?
We probably see ourselves as the Tax Collector in the parable, saved by grace through faith. Are we able to fathom the depths of God’s Grace and move from making judgements to showing compassion?
What we should take home is that no matter what our sins may be – self-righteousness, unworthiness, or any number of things in between – there is His mercy and pardon for all those who call on the Lord.
And on our way, we shouldn’t forget to be forgiving of others.
Sunday 16th October – Communion Service led by Revd David Aplin
The Call to worship was 2 Timothy 3, vv 15. David told us that some people think they can take the Bible and say “That’s the bit I like, and I don’t bother with the rest of it”.
While some of the bits he reads, particularly in the Old Testament during Bible Reading sessions, make him wonder about that too; in reading the Old Testament we get a lot of truths that fit in with other parts of the Bible. This interlocking of the Bible is not just a concoction that man has done. The books have been related and correlated with each other by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
David was trained in college as an evangelical – meaning you believe the Word of God as written in the Bible and that is what you preach, believing the in the Word, and living what it teaches.
Our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 31 spoke about a new Covenant between God and the people of Israel and Judah. In one part of our Holy Communion, we talk about the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, which David sees as proclaimed by Jeremiah hundreds of years before Christ was born.
David hoped we had listened closely to the Gospel reading from Luke 18 and were suitably confused – a strange reading that we needed to try to understand. Comparing the corrupt judge to God, do we think that if we cry out to God, whether our faith is true or not, whether we believe or not, do good things or bad things, that we will receive? The message seems to be yes we will, but that can’t be fair. Giving to those who ask regardless of their faith, that’s what the unjust judge would do just to stop being pestered, but it wouldn’t be a very good God.
If God was that unfair and unfaithful to us, how would we reconcile it with the teaching and belief of the reformed churches that we are saved by faith alone. Perhaps we could be saved by keeping moaning at God? The Bible is hard with all its contradictions. If we look at the world, we will see many unworthy people with wealth and power. Is that fair? Of course not! – and yet it happens.
The final verse of the reading brings the “however” (the rub). When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth amongst all those people who have received so much? That people have received plenty does not prove their worth. The Lord will test their faith, and in many cases will find none. The only ones who will receive Eternal Life are those who believe in Christ.
David has been shocked at the levels of Unbelief of some church goers. One may have doubts, and God will help us overcome these doubts, but to say, “I do not believe” and yet still come to church? The current Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed some doubts. What does that do for all the people in the Anglian Church when their spiritual leader is expressing doubts and concerns? Why doesn’t he believe, have faith, absolute faith?
David thinks of all the things he has seen, the experiences he has had, the wonderful things God has done for people that he has seen personally, and what God has done for him. He knows that even if he’s the only one, he will still believe in the Lord. But he’s not alone. Many people in many churches bring their faith to their Lord in worship and love.
When Jesus comes to this earth – and he will return – he will be there when we die, and he will look for our faith. That is the test that many will fail. Those with no faith or who have actively worked against Christianity – they will be judged!
So the question is, despite all that God gives us on earth, when Jesus comes, will he find faith on earth?
So the question for us is, “Do we have faith? Do we truly believe?”
After the sermon, as the lead- in to Communion, Stephen pitted the choir against the congregation in singing “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” in the round. (I would say the choir won, but then I’m biased).
David was delighted!
Sunday 9th October – Harvest Thanksgiving led by Canon Richard Osborn
Never say we don’t get “value for money” out of Richard – multi-tasker extraordinary.
With our choir a man down and a new anthem “Thou visiteth the earth” (well new to me), Richard joined the choir, and we produced a quite creditable two-part anthem.
The church had been decorated by Barbara Corfe and Margaret Hillyard in traditional style, to balance a request for cash rather than dry goods for the Potters Bar Food Bank – decorated so thoroughly that Richard could not use the pulpit for fear of dislodging the produce there!
Richard told us that the traditional Harvest Festival was only about 180 years old, having been started as a special thanksgiving Service by the Revd. Robert Hawker at St Morwenna Church at Morwenstow on the north coast of Cornwall. The tradition of decorating the church with produce and flowers was adopted by the Victorians, with hymns like “We plough the fields and scatter” – translated from an 18th Century German hymn – becoming very popular, as it still is today. Although it might feel like a nostalgic look back at an age of rural bliss, Richard felt the hymn had stood the test of time because it summed up in a simple manner the eternal truths “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above” and “then thank the Lord for all his love”. He also felt that harvest was a good time to reaffirm our commitment to care for God’s creation.
Richard’s memories of childhood were of decorated churches, harvest suppers, a time of celebration, enjoyment, and a time to give thanks to God for providing what we need, to thank those who brought in the harvest – and also a time to think about the needs of others.
Thanksgiving was at the core of our celebration and both of the day’s readings reflected this. Israel was a pastoral society and in Deuteronomy 8, they were just about to enter a “land of milk and honey “. Moses reminds them that when they are prosperous and living well, not to forget to give thanks to God for protecting them and guiding them through the past years – and not to think that everything they had achieved was due solely to their own efforts. Don’t forget the Lord your God – a message that is still fresh and relevant to us today.
The Jews had three Harvest Festivals; all with a sense of giving to God in return for what he had given to his people. Paul also said that God loves a cheerful giver – those people who give generously and without compulsion in response to all we have received from God, sharing with others who have greater needs.
We are all going through difficult times and Richard wondered if God was challenging us to ask ourselves, “how much do I need to live comfortably”; to reassess our priorities, to live more simply and to do more to help and support others – to be a more cheerful giver in every way.
Luke also stresses the importance of giving thanks. Of the 10 lepers cured by Jesus, only on came back to thank him – and he was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Richard thought it was a good time to list our blessings in life and give thanks. He shared with us his “little list” (and pretty comprehensive it was!).
Richard also read us a poem from an unknown author about being thankful that you don’t have everything you desire;
that not knowing everything gives a chance to learn,
that difficult times are an opportunity to grow,
that our limitations give opportunities to improve,
that our mistakes teach valuable lessons,
and that each new challenge builds up strength and character. If we are tired and weary, it’s because we have made a difference.
It’s easy to be thankful for the good things, but a life of fulfilment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks: gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.
Harvest Festival is a day set aside to give thanks to God, but let’s remember to give thanks to God every day.
Sunday 2nd October – Communion Service led by Anne Walton
A “full on” Sunday Service, with Stephen playing from home whilst recovering from Covid, giving a welcome to Steven Knott with Eleanor and Rupert their baby son on Zoom, and a Corfe grandchild (Madison) to entertain us in church. Never a dull moment!
Anne treated us to the story of the atheist and the Grizzly Bear, with a nice twist at the end before moving to her theme of the day.
Anne’s sermon – drawing on the reading from Luke 17 – was about faith.
“If I just had more faith” is something most of us have at some time struggled with. As Anne said, if I just had more faith:
- I would not have so many questions or doubts,
- God would answer my prayers,
- I’d be a better person,
- I’d know what to do and would handle things better,
- Life would be different.
It’s always been an issue, right back to the Apostles. “Make my faith greater”, they said. But Jesus gave them a very clear response to the request to ‘supersize’ their faith. Having faith was not about size or quantity. Even if their faith was as small as a mustard seed, that faith could cause a tree to uproot itself and go re-plant itself somewhere totally unsuitable.
Faith is not measured out according to the task ahead of us. A little faith can go a very long way. And faith is not about an intellectual agreement to any particular doctrine or idea. Faith is a relationship of trust and love. It’s about putting Jesus at the centre of our lives; allowing Jesus to guide our decisions, actions, and words.
Faith won’t change the circumstances of our lives, however much we might wish it – but it will change us. Living in faith doesn’t shield us from pain or the difficulties of life. It won’t undo the past and won’t guarantee a particular future. Rather it is the means by which we face and deal with the circumstances of our lives.
It’s not lived out in abstract, rather it’s practised day-by-day in the unfolding circumstance of our lives. And when those circumstance may seem more than we can carry, it is through faith and our relationship with Jesus, that we manage to get out of bed each morning to face the stark reality of life.
There are also days when we feel the pain of the world and respond with compassion: we may experience the brokenness of a relationship and offer forgiveness and mercy. There are days when we feel dejected and powerless, not knowing how to go forward. Faith allows us to sit quietly and wait for the Spirit to show us the way forward.
Faith is the lens through which we see ourselves, we see others, and see the world. It means that wherever we go and whatever the circumstances are that we are facing, we do so in relationship with the one who created, loved, sustained, and redeemed us.
Anne cautioned us that faith does not earn us a pat on the back. It’s more important to be obedient and humble to what God wants us to do. And when we’ve done it, simply to say like the servant in the reading “We’ve only done our duty”.
Jesus doesn’t ‘supersize’ our faith because he doesn’t need to. We live by faith not because we have enough faith, but because we have faith – even if it’s just a mustard seed. It’s all we need. So it’s not how much faith we have but how to live in the faith we do have. If our faith and our relationship with Jesus doesn’t change our lives and our relationship with others, then more of it won’t make much difference!
The mustard seed of faith is already planted within us. It’s Christ himself. He has withheld nothing from us. We already have enough.
What we need is more response to the faith that we do have.
(It seems to me that that ‘mustard seed’ of faith is planted within all of us. It is ‘hardwired’. But we know there are many faiths, and as Anne said, it’s not about any particular doctrine or idea. Our faith is based on Christ, but other faiths have other foci and other values. “My faith is better than your faith” is to be puffed up – something we were warned against. So our faith journey will have questions and doubts as we live it in the world and universe as we now perceive it. Anne’s thoughts fit well with Mike Findley’s series, so it will be exciting to see where that leads us.)
Sunday 25th September – Family Service led by Mike Findley
Mike told us that he’s going to take us on a 3-part (3-week) series looking at someone outside the church who comes into contact with us, decides to come and investigate us, and then join us.
He tends to ascribe his ‘brand’ of Christianity to Celtic Christianity, which teaches that the whole of creation comes from the heart of God. He’s a part of that creation, cut loose into a wonderful but frightening universe. And if he does anything, it is as a journey back into the heart of God, a journey not of perfection, but learning by imperfection, and growing closer to God in the process.
During a recent visit to Melk Abbey in Austria, in the final room he read that Christian movements were on a journey – and quoting 1 Corinthians 13 – that Christian life was a journey, seeing through the glass darkly, until we can see face to face.
Quite a few churchgoers are not on a faith journey at all, Mike said, and gave us the examples of those who believe that Christianity is just being nice, or those amongst the Progressive Christianity spectrum of beliefs (including Ministers) who don’t believe in resurrection, or life after death, and want simply to build God’s Kingdom on earth. He sees this as a political/social movement and not a religion because it misses God out. Rudolf Bultmann a German Lutheran theologian had described it as “religiously tended moralism” and not religion. If you are on a journey into God’s heart, you need to know what God loves. The fulfilment of that relationship with God is at the heart of Christian life.
On a trip around the world meeting old friends, a friend in Australia asked him, “Where are you on your faith journey?” – and this got him thinking whether he was on a faith journey. He realised he probably wasn’t, more stuck in a rut.
He told us about the two and a half hours he spent changing the church bank account and the young lady helping him who asked, “What does a church do?”. He’d realised that many of the folks out have no idea what goes on in a church. People are no longer brought up in the church and have to come in to start their faith journey. The ‘front line’ with the rest of the world starts at the front door. So why should they come in? How do they come in? When do they start their journey? God calls people, yes, but what if God is using us to call them? And if we don’t get people into church, our churches will die.
There were four ways we can do something to help this – all simple but quite difficult to do:
- Firstly, (drawing on John Chapter 1) to be an Andrew – Simon Peter’s brother – and tell somebody else. People worry that they have to convert people. No you don’t: just say, “Come and see”! If they are to be converted, God will do that, but we have to put them into contact.
- Secondly, to have a “Many Doors” policy. Have as many doors as possible to the outside world using our premises and elsewhere to form relationships with groups – lots of activities to allow lots of interfaces with the church (and pre-school Services were a good way to get into contact with people), getting people over the threshold so they stop being frightened about what’s going on inside.
- Thirdly (and definitely in third place) the sermon. Mike knew that sermons are rarely productive in getting new members. They do help people along the road but don’t start them off. And he noted that the typical attention span which had been 12 minutes 10 years ago was now down to 2-3 minutes. People don’t seem to listen to sermons nowadays.
- Finally (and drawing on John Ch. 13, vv 34-45) “to love one another, so that everyone will know you are my disciples”. Probably the most important way of bringing people into our faith is what people see of us in life – what we do. Are we helpful? Can they see God working in our lives? Do we help people in need and go round and see them when they are grieving? Do we really love one another – not fighting one another? Are we different in some way? Can they see we go to church on a Sunday? People need to see what’s inside us, what drives us, and how we cope with the problems and turmoil of life.
Mike told us about how he came to Homewood Road (courtesy of Martyn Macphee, a fellow Scot). It was not the friendly welcome (including the baby) or the excellent sermon from their minister. It was an unprompted visit from the minister to his wife (in orange t-shirt and shorts, plus bike) for a cup of tea and a chat, and the fact that when the baby was woken by a clap of thunder, she was prompted to look after the baby while he went out in the pouring rain to bring in the washing. That clinched it!
People need to see that you don’t stand on ceremony or are standoffish. They need to feel you can integrate with their lives, that you can relate to them and they to you. It’s what the ‘front line’ does. And if we do these things and say, “Come and see”, they may do so, like it, and stay.
So that’s how we get people in. Easy to say – difficult to do. But it’s something we have to do.
Next time Mike will help us to work out where we are on our faith journeys and what we need to do to move ourselves on. He’s excited by journeys, likes to visualise where he’s going – and he knows he’s not travelling alone.
Sunday 18th September – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
This week our thoughts were with the late Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Family and King Charles, and in our Service we celebrated and gave thanks for the life of our Queen.
For our anthem we had an unexpected but welcome guest – Rod Chilcot – boosting our quintet to a sextet…….and perhaps we may hope?
David read us 1 Corinthians 13 with its message about love. His favourite passage is “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” – how much better the world would be if we all followed that!
And love is equally relevant for a Queen who devoted herself to her people in her vows and throughout her life, and of course to her family. This is not to forget her love for horses: even toward the end she was at the races with her trainer, happy and smiling because one of her horses came in first.
There were problems in the family and 1992 was a particularly tough year with media attacks and the fire at Windsor – an annus horribilis – but she kept going and became more outward. We saw her sense of humour with the James Bond piece at the opening of the 2012 Olympics and the tea with Paddington Bear at the time of her Jubilee (all the more so because she kept it secret from her family). She could have fun – and make fun of herself.
Despite serial problems within the family, she never flinched, and certainly never considered the easy way out of abdication. She was made of sterner stuff! She’s made up her mind to serve and her greatest joy (after family and horses) was in giving joy to people, especially the young and those with disabilities.
What she has done will form a basis for the strength of the country and for its future. And Charles, at times perhaps sometimes not going in quite the expected direction whilst Prince of Wales, has clearly been well trained and instilled with all the sense of duty, care and love that his mother has shown us. So today we do truly celebrate a life well lived.
I think with his focus on love and duty, David has missed another great asset – her wisdom.
From the start of her reign, she has understood the nature of the compact between the sovereign and her people that is a constitutional monarchy. She has repeatedly re-invented the way the Royal Family presents itself as the expectations of society have changed. She has used her non-political “soft power” to achieve reconciliations that no politician could have attempted (think dancing with President Nkrumah at the time of Ghana’s independence, or her statements and handshakes with Irish and IRA leaders). These actions stem from her wisdom, her strong Christian beliefs, and her vision of what she personally could achieve.
A tough act for King Charles to follow, but as David says, he’s been well trained and is thoughtful, diligent and committed.
Sunday 28th August – Family Service led by Pamela Llewellyn
We welcomed Pamela on her first visit to lead worship in our church. Pamela now lives in Potters Bar and is a member of the Potters Bar Baptist Church.
So that we could learn a little more about her, she told us about her own faith journey.
She’d been brought up in a Roman Catholic family but struggled to feel connected to God because of the rituals and a congregation socialising in closed friend and family groups. At 16 had left the church. She went to university and found that any time she found something hard to deal with, she would still “shoot it up in prayer” – to someone she wasn’t even sure was going to be there.
One morning she woke up with a longing to go to church (God said “It’s time!”) and as her mother had by this time moved to a Pentecostal Church, she went there and got involved. It was a big church and after a time she found it was easy to feel invisible, not part of a group. She blended into the background and one day walked out and did not return.
A few years later she was in a situation with which she was struggling, and a friend invited her to see her Minister and go to her church in Barnet (she lived in Chiswick). She got a lot of help and realised she needed to make a new commitment to God. So she went to that church every week for a year, found that this was the church she wanted to be part of, and moved to Barnet. She served in the church for many years, and grew and deepened her faith, before coming to Potters Bar.
Our faith journeys will be unique to each of us but Pamela felt it was important to reconnect with the start of our journeys, how we first came to know God, how it felt, the excitement when we first met with him. She is a questioning person, wanting proof which was not always possible, but what she learned was that she had to put her faith in God – and she’d been doing that ever since. It’s important to stay close and committed in our relationship with Jesus, that we might continue to walk with him, talk with him and hear from him, in order to serve him better (and there was a big smile as we sang “Just a closer walk with thee” together).
The reading from Exodus 3 has God calling Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. As Pamela told us, Moses had been hidden in the reeds by his mother as a baby, and saved from death and brought up by Pharoah’s daughter. For around 40 years, his life was that of a prince, well educated and well treated. He’d reacted with compassion to the mistreatment of his fellow Hebrews, culminating in killing an Egyptian. He’d been forced to flee and after helping women at a well trying to draw water had been taken into the family of one of the women and spent the next 40 years of his life as a shepherd in a wilderness area, gaining practical experience on how to survive under such conditions. It would have been a much simpler life, but he was content. Now he’s been met by God for what would the purpose of his life for the next 40 years. He’s been prepared from birth, shaped, moulded and prepared for what was to come as part of God’s plan.
Looking at us , Pamela supposed that we might also feel that we’ve had our time and now it’s time for others to step up and contribute. Possibly we might want to retreat from the inconsistencies and uncertainties of modern life and settle back to do the things we’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity or time to do. The Bible shows us that God does not discriminate on age or gender (think Sarah 90+, Abraham 100+ and Mary, the mother of Jesus, a teenager). Could we imagine even in our 90ies receiving a message from God today, “I want to lead people out of persecution, and you are just the person to do that. I want you to go to the Ukraine and help a community of people who are struggling”. We might imagine how Moses would have felt?
The meeting between Moses and God was pretty spectacular. Moses showed his reluctance, and we can understand that. Pamela wondered whether if Moses had not responded, God would have left him there and sought someone else. But he did respond, and God assured him that he’d not be alone.
There was no spectacular burning bush for Pamela, but she believes she was responding to a call from God when she woke up that morning. Now she finds herself with us on a Sunday morning – so he did have something in mind for her!
If we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. Pamela wonders if we are hearing from God. Are we open to hearing from him – even now – and are we ready to respond? Perhaps we are keen to serve God but don’t know how, or what we can offer him. If this is the case, we are to keep praying and listen out for God’s reply. It’s the quiet time we make to walk with God, to be with him and ask him to share a word with us. To speak to us in some way – through somebody, through the scriptures, through a song. And in those spaces wherever that is, that is our Holy Ground. And like with Moses, if he’s sending us somewhere, asking us to do something, he will be with us.
Pamela told us about her own difficulties to become pregnant and those of a church friend, still waiting after 11 years for a response to her asylum application. The two became prayer partners, with weekly prayer sessions where they prayed for each other. After just over a year, both prayers were answered. God had heard their prayer and answered.
In Trusting God by Jeremy Bridges, he talks of 3 essential truths about God:
God is completely sovereign,
Infinite in wisdom,
Perfect in Love.
God in his love will always will what is best for us. In his wisdom he knows what is best for us, and in his sovereignty has the power to bring it about.
What is God saying to us as individuals or as a church? Has he been preparing us to reach out and help, or are we perhaps in great need and calling out to God, but have not yet seen an answer to our prayers. Whatever it may be, Pamela urges us to put our trust in him. He sees all, knows all and is present in all situations. His love for us is vast and he will look after us if we hear him and follow what he says.
Sunday 21st August – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Perhaps it was the fact that David read the Old Testament reading himself that should have warned us that the Spirit had moved him to focus his address (unusually for him) on the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 1.
Yes, Luke 13 was also important: Jesus telling the temple Elders that it was alright to do God’s work on the Sabbath – thereby challenging what he felt was a temple hierarchy, mired in its own obsessive rule making, that had lost sight of God’s true purpose. It was a challenge to the temple Elders that set him off down the road to arrest, torture, trial and execution.
David had turned to the reading from Jeremiah because he could see how the words applied to him personally; words given to him by his experiences, beliefs, and readings from the bible, interpreted for him by the Spirit (meaning he could read the same passage multiple times and get completely different meanings). He feels directed by the Spirit when he preaches and also in pastoral situations – particularly when he’s messing up (the Spirit comes and helps him along).
So he had responded to a call to help a young 15-year old girl who had been in hospital for over 10 months with an eating disorder. The Lord had called David, and he’d visited the girl weekly to talk, finding her surprisingly spiritual and her closing prayers exceptional and moving. She was now home again in Bedford, with David now only needing to complete his railway guard training (with a heritage railway) to be able to fulfil his promise to take her in his guard’s van for a railway trip.
He told us that the passage from Jeremiah was not just for preachers and worship leaders. With our collection prayer, David had given thanks for the talents we’ve all been given and the strength, love and support we receive. We are to use those talents for God. David had been surprised how many people in our church had done good and valuable things in the past but seem to have given up. The number of non-serving Elders was so much higher than the serving Elders (perhaps not surprising, given how the role has changed, with so much focus on trustee responsibilities for governance, regulatory compliance, health & safety and safeguarding?). People were also standing down from serving on committees. Age and growing infirmity were factors, but he had observed that too often disputes had caused schisms.
He sees a church with a considerable reservoir of talent, lovely buildings, a lovely nursery school, money, and great traditions. We have so much, and yet we are in danger. He goes to other URC churches in our area and sees signs of growth. So we are not getting it right, and we have talent that has chosen to stand aside. We don’t want to be a church that dies.
There are ways: David sees other churches making full use of electronic media, paying youngsters to do things and giving the church an exciting face, making things happen, and changing the church to be fit for the modern age. How different is our church today compared to fifty years ago he asks?
David doesn’t want to re-make our church so that it makes us uncomfortable (though he has found resistance to change) but he does value keeping up to date. He’s seen things that work – building groups through social media, getting youngster in to do work. If we are not prepared to bring our time and talents to help, it won’t be like watching Rome burn but watching the last embers die out and only ash remain. We should ask ourselves “can I forgive that hurt or slight, or difference of opinion”? The demands of the Lord trumps all that stuff!
When the Lord asks PBURC “What do you see?”, if we can answer “We see a church working in harmony and love to bring more people to faith in Christ”, the Lord will say to us “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my will is fulfilled”.
So perhaps it was less a sermon to us and more a call to arms?
Later during the Service David talked about a newly formed Worship Committee, which will hold its first meeting in September. He needs people to get together who have thoughts and ideas to find new ways to reach out to God’s people.
(As a reviewer, I can say we’ve been here before many times and have not found that “magic bullet”. Perhaps it is because we have talked in concepts, not practical ideas, and have not seen how we as individuals can contribute making the concepts a reality. Sometimes we have gone along with ideas that we have felt were impractical for the sake of harmony. The ideas have remained ideas, because nobody has come forward to take them forward – and to keep on going for long enough to give them a chance to succeed. A real challenge for the members of the Worship Committee, but one perhaps we can rise to?)