Sunday 24th October – Church & Zoom Service led by Geoff Peterson
In his introduction to the reading from Job, Geoff noted that it was a very early book – probably before the time of Abraham. It was a story about a man who suffers total disaster and is afflicted with a repulsive disease. His friends assume God rewards good and punishes evil, so it can only mean Job has sinned. But Job doesn’t accept this because he has been a good and righteous man. He can’t understand how God can let so much evil happen to him, and he challenges God.
He doesn’t lose faith but longs to be justified before God. God tells Job that it’s not for him to query what he, God, has done. Heather’s reading covered Job’s acceptance that God was all-powerful and his shame and repentance for his challenges. In the final verse Job is made prosperous again.
The New Testament reading covers Jesus restoring sight to blind Bartimaeus, who waits by the roadside hoping that someone will come along. Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem on his last journey, which, as we know, will end with him on the cross. He’s teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him and what they have to do with their lives. For safety they are travelling in a crowd, with Jesus teaching the crowd as the go along to pass the time. Geoff supposed the crowd had those looking for a sign from Jesus, but also some officials who would be looking for points to trip him up.
Geoff noted that the Gospels were written long after Jesus’s death and resurrection. He was intrigued as to why, when so much had happened and so many miracles performed, this one had remained so strongly in the minds of the disciples that it is recorded in three of the Gospels.
The crowd tries to shut Bartimaeus up, to get him out of the way, but Jesus hears him and has time to stop and think about this one man’s needs. Bartimaeus clearly has trust, belief and hope, the elements of faith. Jesus tells him to “Go!”, that his faith has made him well.
Geoff wondered if Bartimaeus went to Jerusalem with Jesus.
Sunday 17th October – Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Well, it was an interesting test today on whether we could survive without an organist, since our planned replacement for Stephen was a “no show”.
It was a lot quieter, and we started a bit late and finished early to rush out into the vestibule for the recently re-introduced coffee round. When the time came for the first hymn our Church Secretary counted us down to a “vocals only” rendering which – emboldened by the lack of disaster on the first hymn – was repeated for the subsequent two hymns. Those viewing the Service video may want to make up their own minds on this?
The New Testament reading, Mark 10 vv 35-45, had James and John in competition for who should sit on the right and left side of Jesus’s throne in heaven and the rest of the disciples pretty miffed when they heard about it. Jesus takes them to task for – for the umpteenth time – getting the wrong end of the stick about what being a disciple was about. He had come to serve and that was their role as well. They were not to be in it for the glory and honour!
David shared a few personal insights with us – the reality behind that confident demeanour was much less self-assured; social interactions with other were a challenge and all his many interventions as a Minister required preparation and prayers in advance to overcome that anxiety and nervousness – something which he said on the positive side kept him from becoming complacent.
So it was a simple message for us (as for Jesus’s disciples). As Christians, we are there to serve others as our skills allow, be it on the global or national scale or – more likely – in our own locality and community. We should not be looking for recognition or for honours.
Interestingly, in his personal history it was apparent that those he dealt with did appreciate what he did and that some of the interactions he most feared were valuable and uplifting for all those who took part in them.
Something that keeps him motivated and engaged?
Phew – we survived!!!
Sunday 10th October – Church & Zooom Service led by Anne Walton
Anne always likes to spice things up a bit, so we started by singing the first hymn (HON 422) in the round. Anne divided us into two groups and her response to the rendering is best captured below.
Her Sermon was drawn from Mark 10, probably best described as “the rich man, the camel and the eye of the needle”. Anne came with a camel, but no needle.
Knowing Anne was going to preach on “What do we have to do to gain eternal life”, I mentioned the topic to two of our more elderly members of our congregation whose response was “not in this body please!”
Anne gave us a picture of a rich and successful young man, also a ruler, who is pious and keeps all the Commandments but feels something is missing in his life. So he comes to Jesus wanting an answer to the question “What must I do to receive eternal life?” The answer, to sell all he has and give it to the poor (in return for riches in heaven), then to come and follow Jesus knocks him back because it is just too hard, so he goes away sad.
The camel and the eye of the needle is one of those vivid pictures that Jesus uses to illustrate his preaching. Anne felt that it was not really about camels and needles, or about how much money is too much or who is rich and who is poor. The issue was trust: whether we trust ourselves, our money and our popularity – or God and Jesus, who also asks us to follow him.
She noted that if everyone gave all their money away to the poor the system would collapse, there would be economic chaos and society would begin to disintegrate. (It would perhaps make more sense if you thought the coming of God’s Kingdom was imminent, as Jesus and the early church did). So it was a hard “ask” for the rich man and for us as well.
Anne felt that the rich man had asked the wrong question. “What do I have to do to win God’s favour” reflects a transactional relationship with God. What he couldn’t do was simply put his trust in Jesus to look after him.
Life may not be easy, but Jesus assures us that everything is possible with God’s help. This is the heart of the message that we should take from the Gospel reading. Jesus’s words remind us that God’s kingdom is open to everyone who puts God and Jesus at the centre of all they do – even though we are, and always will be, a work in progress.
Sunday 3rd October – Harvest & Communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
Having prepared the Service before going on a week’s holiday, John returned to find that it had morphed into a harvest celebration and so he had conducted a quick “rejig” (a warning to those who prepare early?). So there were two themes; Harvest, and to be a child.
The flowers, fruits and vegetables decorating the church reminded him of the churches of his youth and all the symbols of God’s abundant provision. He also remembered the lump of coal and glass of water – symbols of the other things that God provides. They remind us of the hard price paid in terms of human life for many of the things we use every day. The lives of miners, fisherman and farmers (by suicide) are testament that food comes at a cost.
At Harvest we come to give thanks to God for the richness of the world, to repent our greed and selfishness and celebrate the fact that year there is a harvest.
And with the second theme – to be a child – the decisions we make on climate change will impact on our children and grandchildren, and on future generations too.
In the reading from Mark 10, Jesus says that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it”. John took us down the memory lane of his childhood, noting that children can be sweet and innocent but also have the capability to be cruel to each other and to other creatures (the fun of pulling legs off spiders was mentioned). So why did Jesus single them out?
Casting off any sticky nostalgic gloop about children, it is the fact that children are powerless, at the bottom of the pile, ready to be exploited. In God’s eyes each one is important, created in his image, the children of God, loved by God.
Jesus was angry with his disciples because they had bought into the value their society put on children – that they were not important, had no status or rights. In fact, the Kingdom of God belongs to such people; people who are powerless, vulnerable, weak or feeble.
In rejecting the children, the disciples had not just made an error of judgement, they had missed the whole purpose of Jesus’s ministry. Not only are children poignant examples of the types of people for whom God’s Kingdom is intended, also the manner of their receiving it becomes a model for adults – for us. Are we ready to receive God’s abundant grace? It is offered to all of us today; as we look at God’s abundant harvest, as we break bread and share wine together, and are reminded of the price that God paid in his son on the cross.
Are we ready to learn again what it is like to be truly loved despite our faults and failings – and to reflect that love out into the world so that our father can be proud of us? Because when we let Jesus into our lives, we become children of God.
John noted that Jesus’s teaching on divorce was a difficult and painful topic for many. He could only comment that what ever happens for good or for evil we meet it as children, meet it as those who are powerless and have no bribes to bring, who cannot but our way into heaven by good works alone, but rather by the faith that drives our lives.
And it’s the amazing picture of otherwise rejected children being welcomed and given a blessing that sustains us all.
Sunday 26th September – Family Church & Zoom Service led by Canon Richard Osborn
This week Richard chose to comment on both of the Lectionary Readings.
James was one of his favourite writers – not just because of his brevity, but because his letters are full of practical advice on how to live our lives. It is full of imagery, such as the tongue, which might be the smallest member of our body, but which has the power to inflict the most damage – a caution to us all to choose our words carefully.
We are encouraged to pray at all times regardless of our situation, whether in trouble or happy. Prayer for healing was the main theme of the verses we read. A prayer made in faith will heal the sick and the Lord will restore them to health. But it raises the question – what if God doesn’t heal someone despite fervent prayer? The apparent lack of an answer leads some to lose faith, but we must remember that it is God who heals, not us. If the answer is not what we want or expect, can we believe that God’s will is ultimately for the best? It’s hard, but we are encouraged to keep praying that God’s will be done.
The reading from Mark 9 was a very challenging passage and Richard gave us a master class in making a silk purse from what looked at first sight like a sow’s ear.
Jesus taught whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself. He spoke simply and powerfully and liked to use stories, images and cryptic statements which we find challenging. Above all he wanted us to think deeply about what he said. Some of his greatest ideas are presented in the form of stories and some people try to interpret his statements too literally – when he simply wants us to see things differently, understand things differently and be changed.
The passage groups a number of stories together and if you take what he says literally you end up with a huge contradiction. Taking each one as a picture of God’s invitation to see life differently, we end up with an invitation to a new way of life.
The person casting out demons was not to be stopped because there would be a reward for the person who simply gives a cup of water in Christ’s name. God’s will is at work in the strangest places and the most unlikely people. The spirit of God is not orderly, it blows wherever God wills.
Jesus told his disciples that rather than causing a little one to sin it was better to have a millstone around your neck at the bottom of the ocean. Cut off your feet and pluck your eye out if they might lead you into sin. So just one small slip and a disciple might end up in eternal damnation. God appears vindictive and judgemental, ever vigilant for the smallest mistake and looking to punish for the slightest of reasons. Perhaps it was better to be a non-disciple because the non-disciple seems to receive the good words and rewards?
But what if the statements are simply vivid pictures? The disciples were thinking exclusive “only one of us” but we have a generous God who does not want to restrict his love. God wants us to be inclusive in our thinking.
Perhaps the group of statements about a future hell were just more pictures from a man who loved to use pictures? So the millstone story was actually about God’s infinite care for the weak and vulnerable.
As for Hell – something we try not to think about – Richard told us of the quote that “Hell is not to love anymore”. A place without God, a place where you are absent from God.
Jesus used the word Gehenna, which was a valley near Jerusalem housing the local rubbish tip – a place with constantly burning or smouldering rubbish. At the time it was taken as a metaphor for the fate after death of those who rejected God’s teaching.
For us it is a warning to avoid at all cost ending up so useless that you get thrown on the rubbish tip. A message not to lose contact with the values of God’s Kingdom.
And finally, to the picture of salt. We are encouraged to live in peace with one another, leading distinctive lives that make a difference to the world – just as salt brings a distinctive flavour to our food.
Sunday 19th September – Church & Zoom Communion Service, led by Revd. David Aplin
In his Sermon David reflected on Mark 9, verses 30-37, which he illustrated with a number of his personal experiences and beliefs.
In Mark, Jesus tells his disciples about what is going to happen to him. Not only do they not understand, but they also don’t want to hear the message. They want him to be the Master, the Messiah who is going to rescue Israel. And though they were close to him, his talk of death – even though it had been prophesied in the Bible – was something they simply didn’t want to hear.
Later, when he spoke to them about how they should behave, they also ignored him and argued amongst themselves about who was the greatest.
David told us we can see this in the life of many of our church congregations. They are not united: they form rival cliques and argue with each other. It’s something that shouldn’t be, but it seems to be part of the human condition, so the disciples – so close to Jesus and his message of love – still argued amongst themselves.
Jesus was disappointed and told them that the first would be last. What we do, however important, we should do for others, not for our own self-esteem.
When Jesus came into towns, his disciples didn’t want children in the crowds that gathered. They were too young, they didn’t matter. Jesus told his disciples how important a child is. Not just the sweetness and humility of children but the regard he and his father have for them.
The tendency to look down on children can also be apply to those with disabilities. We have to care and not look down at others. We are all equal in the eyes of God – and we are all a part of his creation.
Sunday 12th September – Family Church & Zoom Service , led by Anne Walton
It was nice to have Anne, still a semi-detached member of our church, to lead our worship on our “Relaunch Picnic Party” day.
The Gospel reading Mark 8 vv 27-38, has always seemed to me to be to the human response on the part of Peter to Jesus’s description of the very sticky end he was facing (or in Mike Findley speak, the fate the writer might have thought – with the benefit of hindsight – that Jesus would have described). Jesus had clearly had a profound spiritual experience, bringing with it the sense of new powers and in the wilderness had put his life back together and chosen his path despite multiple temptations. Peter’s “surely not” response could only be seen as a further temptation.
Anne’s interpretation in her sermon was fascinating as well as opening a difficult challenge for us.
Anne’s theme was disillusionment, the profound sense of unease, panic, and fear for the future that people experience when they find that their life “story” – that they have told themselves, lived, believed, and committed everything to – is no longer true. It’s often an in between state: they have lost faith in the old familiar story, but not yet developed a new one. So the disillusion is not just with what goes on around them, but also within them. Peter illustrates this.
Peter has just told Jesus that he thinks he is the Messiah, with all the biblical expectation that this title implies. He would have had his own “story” about what the Messiah is and what he should do for Israel, and for Peter himself. But Jesus’s response completely undoes and rewrites Peters Messiah “story”.
It was not what he expected to hear, so he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. “God forbid it Lord! That must never happen to you!”, according to Matthew.
Anne described this as speaking with a forked tongue, a symptom of division within a person, or a society, revealing both disillusionment and the arrogance that we know exactly where things are headed and what should be done.
Jesus has no time for this – “Get away from me, Satan”. He sees Peter’s rebuke as a temptation.
Anne told us that disillusion tempts us to be less than we really are or would like to be. It can also lead us to be arrogant and self-assertive, losing sight of what we are really about. In our personal disillusion, we put our “story” ahead of God’s “story”, giving more credence to what we see than to what God sees. Isn’t that what Peter has just done?
Despite what we may feel, the world is not coming to an end, not falling apart, going to hell – although it may seem like that at times. The truth is that we don’t understand what is happening: our “story” doesn’t fit, but we believe it and have invested in it. We need to invest in a new “story”. Jesus gives both Peter and us a new “story”. He is the “new story” – a story of self-denial. It has to become our “story” too, not just giving up particular behaviours, but changing the parameters we use to define ourselves, and others – bringing our beliefs more in line with those of Jesus.
Self-denial is the feat of loving our neighbours, our enemies, God and even ourselves. It’s paradoxically what allows us to come alive, re-examine our beliefs about who we are and who God is – and not take ourselves more seriously than God.
Tough, and a challenge for us to achieve this. But it might just be that magical medicine we need to cure our own disillusionment?
Sunday 5th September – Church & Zoom Communion Service, led by Mike Findley
We were grateful to Mike for standing in for Lilian Evans – even more so when we learned he’d already taken a Service that morning and had the remains of a cold to boot. A true hero!
Leading into his sermon, Mike told us of the difficulties of being a preacher when they faced a challenging reading such as that from James 2. There were two ways not to do it:
You should not be an actor, with beautiful, meaningful words, or perhaps stick to “motherhood & apple pie”. You should be genuine, be yourself. But you should also remember that it’s not “just me”, you are a conduit, helping others to hear God’s voice speaking to them and to respond.
There is a narrow path between these two “do nots”.
James’s message was both important and controversial – so different from Paul’s “justification by faith” – and so not accepted by the early church as being authoritative until after AD200. It is not clear who James was, or indeed whether he even wrote the passage. It could have been an imagining of how James might have responded to a major situation. Writing “what James would have said about the situation” was an accepted literary form of the time.
It seems to have been about a specific situation, around AD 100, possibly in Alexandria, where an influx of affluent people to a church led to the earlier, poorer, but faithful stewards of the church being pushed aside. This was a wrong thing to do!
For some churches,” Salvation by Faith” is the overriding thing and any social action is secondary – not seen as important. Mike believed in a balance between faith and works – something he described as “Respect for all Creation”. And to illustrate this he used the Celtic Cross.
The cross is Jesus, but in the middle is a representation of the universe, and below it a representation of the heart of God. The message is that everything comes from the heart of God – Jesus, creation, and us. All that we see around us in the world comes from the heart of God, and we are stewards of it.
When we see somebody who is different, who we don’t like, we have to think “God loves you, and so do I”. All of creation comes together under Christ, and we have to see people and situations in that light and start loving all of that- a real challenge! But one thing we must not do is to look down at people from a dominant position and “be nice to them”.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are, “Can I hold up a mirror to my life and see the Christ in me – in what I say and what I do?” , “Can others see the Christ in me?”, and “Does my faith shine forth in my life, or do I have to do things differently”.
And neither poverty or wealth is a sign of God’s favour or disfavour.
Sunday 29th August – Church & Zoom Service led by Martyn Macphee
We started our Service with a rousing Happy Birthday for Mary Deller, one of the four (remaining) church members who were born in the year our church was founded (as Janet O’Connor told us, she being another one – Mary was the youngest!).
Martyn told us that the Hymn “Now thank we all our God” was originally a family prayer written in 1636 by Martin Rinkart a Lutheran clergyman who lived in Eisleben during the thirty years war. Eisleben was a fortified town, a refuge for those displaced by the war. It was hit by the plague and 8-10,000 people died – including Martin’s wife. And yet he could produce such a moving prayer.
Martyn’s Address was based on Mark 7, where Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees because his disciples were not following the law.
Martyn felt that the Scribes and Pharisees, though we generally tend to see them in a negative light, had a deep religious conviction and a desire to please God. At least that’s how it started. The problem they faced was that though Jewish Law is based upon a number of broad principles, on the whole, how you apply the principles to particular situations was not covered. They fully rose to the challenge!
Keeping the Sabbath holy and not doing any work, for example, raised thousands and thousands of questions each of which required a specific answer and they tasked themselves to provide this. But like bureaucrats everywhere, they didn’t know where to stop.
Jewish Law requires priests to cleanse their hands before approaching the altar. This is a ritual cleansing – just a few drops of water – and has nothing to do with hygiene, but they decided that the cleansing should also apply to the Scribes & Pharisees and from them on to the population in general. They had lost sight of the line between God’s law and their own rules and regulations. This happened in so many areas that their whole lives were governed by restrictions on what you could and couldn’t do. Give them a little power, and they go crazy?
Martyn drew a comparison to the events in Afghanistan where now people face a set of rules made by MEN to govern society – the religious basis for which is pretty rocky. But it is about power, and that’s pretty much the world we are talking about in Mark 7. The Scribes and Pharisees started out trying to please God but ended up trying to control the world. With rules comes power!
The Church and some Christians can be a bit like this. People who know all the questions and answers can drive people away from church. Jesus never mentioned the importance of knowing everything: he emphasised loving everyone – much more difficult.
So when Jesus was challenged about why he allowed his disciples to eat food with unwashed hands and how could he pretend to teach the people when his own disciples were out of control, he spoke harsh words in response. “You honour God with your lips, but not your hearts. You set aside the commandments of God and hold tightly to the traditions of men. There is nothing from outside of man that can go into man and defile him. The things that proceed out of a man are those that defile him.”
Jesus told the Scribes & Pharisees to honour God by what came out of their hearts, for out of the hearts of men proceed evil thoughts.
Martyn felt that in the 21st century we are not far removed in our obsessions, but these are not dictated by the law (we are enlightened, so free of constraints, so “woke”), they are driven by societal pressures and “what sells”. So we obsess about diet, about sex and slander and defile our hearts.
Freedom from rules brings its own challenge to find the right path, so it’s important that we feed our hearts with love of God and for our neighbours.
What do we feed our hearts and those of our children and grandchildren? What kind of ‘heart food’ does our money support – the sorts of things we read in the press, see on TV or in films and video games? Because it is also from the heart that good intentions come.
Let us lead the world towards a healthy heart and a healthy life.
Sunday 22nd August – Church & Zoom Service led by Mike Findley
In his lead-in Mike reminded us that the conditions we see, or fear in Afghanistan are similar to the conditions of life in Jesus’s time.
Some may deride Christianity’s message as “soft and soggy”, but Jesus was brought up against just this background of fear and horror and it didn’t stop him developing his Gospel of love. It is meant for times like this. It says there is another way to live your life.
Mike’s address was based around Psalm 84 (Longing for God’s House) and Ephesians 6 vv 10-20 (The Whole Armour of God)
The questions from Psalm 84 – “Where is my Home?” and “Am I on a pilgrimage?” – are still relevant today.
Mike has lived in his house for over 40 years, the last 15 of them alone. It’s too large, but he’s at home there; content. But is it really home?
From a very early age he’s felt something undefined that was deeper, broader and longer than this life on earth. He can’t explain it: it’s very deep and he was very small when he first felt it. It’s always been with him, and he’s always felt he was on a journey to that undefined thing we call God. His home is not his material home with all his belongings, but there in that dwelling place. He’s on a pilgrimage into God. He’s still travelling: he’s not there yet, and it’s not been an easy pilgrimage.
People are often uplifted by a pilgrimage and find it a deep and moving experience as they reach their objective. With a pilgrimage into God, you don’t get there in this life but on the journey you are at peace within and without, knowing you are going somewhere. It’s an essential part of his life.
Pilgrimage is a privilege, and we are all made for that pilgrimage.
As we approach old age, do we do it with confidence or with fear? The reading from Ephesians is an example of Cosmic Christianity – the giant battle between good and evil. The elements of the Armour of God – truth, righteousness, readiness, peace, faith and salvation – are all spiritual things to prepare for spiritual warfare. On the pilgrimage of life into God you need a spiritual shield. It won’t protect you physically but give you a shield of spirituality to withstand what happens to you. You are not walking alone (in Mike’s case, in his imagination, hand-in-hand with God) and the shield enables you to face with confidence and peace whatever comes. It keeps you cheerful and outward looking in peace and love, and other people can see what drives you and want it for themselves.
We get the shield through prayer, so we are not doing it alone. We pray for protection and get peace and confidence.
A moving and very personal insight.
Sunday 15th August – Church & Zoom Communion Service, led by Anne Walton
Anne’s Sermon was on John 6, verses 51 to 58 – starting with “I am the living bread that came down from heaven”.
Bread, as Anne told us, is one of the most basic foods. Indeed, in some languages, the same word is used for both bread and food. So what does Jesus mean when he tells us that he is the living bread?
Anne says that if we open our hearts to him and let him take control of our lives, we in turn can become the living bread for other people. We will not become perfect, but hopefully a bit more aware of our imperfections. When Jesus feeds us the living bread he gives us humility, passion and forgiveness that we can shower on others without expecting anything in return.
The idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood was difficult for his contemporaries to accept. It was counter-cultural and risked them becoming unclean in the eyes of God. In Aramaic “Eater of Flesh” was a name for the devil. So many were uncomfortable with his message and went away.
Are we shocked?
John starts his Gospel telling us the word became flesh. In John 6 Anne sees Jesus patiently raising the bar on incarnation. He was not just a gifted teacher, a compassionate healer, a worker of miraculous signs and wonders. He is also our bread, the bread come down from heaven – flesh to be eaten and blood to be drunk.
So incarnation (the act of being made flesh) can be very vivid for us, but also slightly repugnant if we take Jesus’s words literally. We eat flesh to survive, and blood is the essential stuff of life.
So we are not just to follow him but also to consume him – “we are what we eat”, as the man said!
So whether or not we believe in trans-substantiation, on a spiritual level, when we participate in Holy Communion we remember Jesus’s death but are also filled with his life. Through the Holy Spirit God comes close to us in Jesus. God enters our lives in Jesus. God feeds and nourishes us with the living bread from heaven.
What a great thing to think about?
Sunday 8th August – Church & Zoom Service led by Tony Corfe with other Elders.
Tony’s address was focused on the Old Testament Reading from 2 Samuel, describing the death of David’s son Absalom during the battle that ended his insurrection and attempt to take over the kingdom from his father.
Faced with an openly rebellious son, David faces a decision of whether to be ruled by head or heart. His tumultuous life is a messy tale, out of balance with his relationship with God, and the cycle of pain that he endures derives from the choices he has made in his lifetime. The messiness of his life catches up with him and his legacy – at least where Absalom is concerned.
Absalom has revolted to secure his place in the line of succession. David’s head would be crying for Justice, but his heart would plead for Grace. His love for a wayward child is also a portrait of the nature of God, who does the same for his prodigal children. He loves them and wants the best for them. At the heart of God’s redemptive story is the wonderful notion of Grace.
Joab’s response when he learns about Absalom caught in the tree is standard military practice – get rid of the threat.
Tony shared with us that the untimely death of his son was the single most painful thing he had experienced – so he could well imagine how David felt.
The real tragedy of the story was that death arrived before reconciliation – a reminder that no matter how badly relationship may be broken, there is always the potential for grace to prevail whilst the parties are alive. Once they are dead there is no chance of reconciliation.
Too late for David.
Tony prays that the same is not true for us.
Sunday 25th July – Church & Zoom Service led by Martyn Macphee
It seemed like Martyn had been with us only a couple of weeks ago – and indeed this was the case. However, things had moved on. We had Stephen back in church playing the piano and the organ and we all agreed that we would from now on sing the hymns behind our masks (and with the fire door open) as the legal restrictions had been removed. So we sung a rousing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Janet O’Connor to test our lungs – and all synchronised now!
Our New Testament reading was from John 6 – “Jesus feeds a great crowd” and Martyn’s address was entitled “Every little bit”.
He started with a small congregation of ordinary people in a village, struggling to keep their church doors open. Nonetheless they had the vision to support the Heifer Project, a charity providing livestock to needy people in the third world. A single cow can make a huge difference to a family or a community.
The church members didn’t have a lot of money, so occasionally they fund-raised. They couldn’t give too much, but they could give enough to help. And their support also energised themselves and gave them a reason for being – truly walking the way in “URC speak”.
The focus shifted to the feeding of the 5000+ (the plus being women and children, since in those days only men were used for a headcount). Philip was a local man but finding someone in the region who could bake 5000 or more loaves on demand would have challenged the most practical of men. Martyn thought Andrew might have remembered the miracle at the wedding in Cana when he mentioned the boy with the five barley loaves and two wee fishes – but still would have been pretty uncertain.
Martyn was drawn to the boy: the loaves and fishes were his lunch. We don’t know how the disciples approached him, but what if he’d said “clear off, that’s my lunch!”. Perhaps Jesus was counting on the boy, just as he counts on us today to do things? A great deal depends on our response to his call.
Even those with just a little to offer are important: that little bit in Christ’s hands becomes a blessing. Each of us in our own way has our own five loaves and two fish – a small gift that Christ can use for a larger purpose.
The women with the Heifer Project understood this.
Look for the loaves and fish that you can give to Jesus and he will bless them – and who knows what they will do.
Sunday 18th July – Church Anniversary, Church & Zoom Communion Service, led by Revd. David Aplin.
This week was our 87th Anniversary week, originally intended to have been marked by a concert (well we did that on the 7th July) and a BBQ. The latter duly fell victim to Covid restrictions. David, however was not going to let the moment pass without praise for the past and reflections on the future – and we ended the Service with a ginger biscuit prepared for us on the morning by Barbara Corfe.
David’s sermon drew on Mark 6 – Jesus and the apostles trying unsuccessfully to get away from the crowds by crossing the lake but being recognised and confronted by new crowds who brought out all their sick people. They would beg Jesus to let them at least touch the edge of his cloak to be made well. David described how the act of responding to each touch of the cloak drained something out of Jesus – something that reminded me of the powerful musical portrayal of this moment in Jesus Christ Superstar.
David felt Mark’s words were a very simple description of healing. He contrasted it with all the bells and whistles of the sacrament of healing as practised by some church communities. It was all about faith and belief.
He recalled two incidents from his days as a student at Oakhill College. At the first, the healing of a fellow student, David sensed that the spirit was working with the students who laid on their hands and prayed, and the recipient who believed – a mixture of sacrament and faith. In the second case a much-loved course director was suffering from cancer, and many wanted to try healing. David felt it was all wrong. The Spirit was not there that day to do the healing, and indeed the course director died soon after.
I’m minded that at the heart of this is faith and belief. We know of many examples (also in non-religious contexts) of healing though belief. How that belief and faith are sustained is a matter for each individual, so perhaps bells & whistles have their place at times?
David wondered how we would react if Jesus was there with his cloak (queue up politely?). Of course, he’s not there physically, but the Spirit is amongst us and if we believe and have faith he will always help us. Our faith offers us no magic wand to make all the bad things go away, but whatever happens to us, though we may not be able to touch that cloak, if we reach out in faith he will answer us.
After the Service we enjoyed Barbara’s Ginger biscuits on the spot – well at least some of us did.
As usual, the ladies of the church showed us how!
Sunday 11th July – Family Church & Zoom Service led by Anne Walton
Anne’s address, drawing on Mark 6, ‘The death of John the Baptist’, was about the cost of discipleship. The passage is a historical “flashback”: John was already martyred, and Jesus was seen by some as John come back to life.
John had been beheaded because he had told the truth to Herod about marrying his brother’s wife and she held a big grudge against him. But as Anne saw it, John would have felt he had a “get out of jail free card” – his cousin Jesus – but sadly it did not happen. When John was imprisoned, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news and carrying out many miracles. John would have known this and wondered why Jesus was letting him languish in prison. Jesus’ words “how happy are those who have no doubts about me” was effectively saying “I’m not coming for you, sparing your life. I may have saved other people, but your path is different. You will be blessed if you still believe in me”.
A hard pill for John to swallow?
Anne also reminded us of the passage where Jesus warns Peter about the nature of his death (he was to be crucified upside down) but still telling Peter to follow him. And when Peter asked about John, Jesus responded with “If I want him to live until I come, what is that to you?”
So life is not fair, and the transactional expectation that following Jesus will bring us good outcomes (like good health and wealth) is flawed. “Better that I suffer than others”, or “Why am I so special that I shouldn’t have this happening to me?” are responses that seem to reflect the grace that Martyn Macphee referred to – the grace to live well despite life’s hardships.
And we know that if Jesus doesn’t pull us out of a situation, at least he’ll go through it with us. Jesus, John the Baptist and Peter were all doing God’s will. We don’t know our own paths, but it will be unique for each and every one of us.
Anne’s message about life not being fair challenges a transactional relationship with God – do this, and …………….
It may for a dispassionate observer all be simply the random workings of fate, and a warning to us about the risks of challenging the authorities – both secular and religious – of the day. But whether random or not, the knowledge that whatever we face, Jesus will go through it with us is indeed the source of that grace that Martyn referred to.
Sunday 4th July – Family Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
John’s message to us drew on the two Bible readings (Ezekiel 2: 1-15 & Mark 6: 1-13) – the latter recounting Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth.
It seems to be a common experience for people who have moved away and experienced a new world to find, if they return home, that people cannot accept that they have changed and moved on. How uncomfortable it is, not to be allowed to be yourself, but to be boxed in by someone else’s view of you?
As Mark tells us, in Jesus’ case his community recognised the amazing things he was doing but took offence at the things he was saying about himself and his relationship with his Father, and this restricted the success of his ministry. Jesus had to wrestle with what to do when things went wrong, and his rejection was something he doesn’t seem to be prepared for. But he had Ezekiel to draw on.
God had told Ezekiel that even if he failed in his task, at least he remained faithful to God, and if he was getting nowhere, it was OK to move on. It would be the people’s loss, and at least they would know that a prophet had been amongst them, speaking with God’s authority.
John noted that we are all driven by our ideas of success (and how many conversations have we shared about numbers attending our church, rather than the depth of relationships and spirituality). Success is not bad – and is something to be celebrated – but we also have to embrace the reality of failure, caring for others when things go wrong, and working together to find meaning out of failure and rejection. This can be hard to do if we’ve not experienced failure or rejection and come to terms with it in our own lives.
We each have our own criteria of success – what makes life meaningful. Sometimes what society regards as success, we regard as failure and vice versa. Mark focuses on the tension between Jesus the son of God, and the broken, crucified Jesus who cries out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ passion on the cross, with barely a glance at the resurrection, suggests that what the world sees as failure is the moment when his life has the most meaning.
Jesus didn’t allow the people of Nazareth to define what he was but continued with his ministry. We on the other hand often take failure with us and allow it to colour what we do – past experiences stopping us from trying something new. Jesus’s way of dealing with failure was to draw a line under it and move on. He advises his disciples to do the same.
We are all on a journey and can’t afford to get stuck in the past. God will always present us with new challenges and opportunities to show His love for the world. Sometimes the seed will bear fruit, but often not. If we’ve done our best to spread the message and not touched people, we have to be prepared to move on. God will see what we have done, and people will know we have been amongst them. We will travel along with God into the future.
Sunday 27th June – Family Church & Zoom Service led by Martyn Macphee
Martyn has led our worship just a few times, but we have come to expect prayers and an address that are thoughtful and thought provoking, capturing our attention – and so it was.
Martyn’s address reflected on the reading from Mark 5 vv 21-43 “Jairus’ daughter and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak”.
The story covered the last two of Jesus’ four main miracles:
Calming the storm, showing his power over nature; healing a man with evil spirits, showing his power over demons; and the two miracles in the reading, showing his power over sickness and death and to bring salvation in a pretty hopeless situation.
The woman who touched his cloak demonstrated great faith. Jairus also demonstrated great faith in Jesus’ ability to save his daughter, something not easy for a religious leader who was part of the establishment. Jesus treated a poor woman and a rich and influential man equally. The two stories were about ritual uncleanliness, bleeding and death, which if you touched the person involved rendered you unclean. So Jesus was going into forbidden territory.
Setting the two stories together created real dramatic tension which Martyn played out for us. A man desperate because his daughter was on the point of death pleads with Jesus to “come quickly”, but Jesus gets caught in the crowd and the woman with haemorrhaging distracts him and he stops to talk to her. Her situation is not life threatening, so how must Jairus have felt about the delay and the words to the woman “Go in peace”?
When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house the girl is already dead, but Jesus goes to her and tells her to get up – and she does and walks around.
Intermingled with the biblical story, Martyn told us about the story of Andrew Bateson, a boy with acute meningitis, rushed by his parents to hospital, close to death, and needing the amputation of his legs to save him . The parents pray that he will be able to keep his knees so that he can walk and run more easily, place scapulas (pieces of cloth with religious images and prayers) on his legs just below the knee. Their church holds a healing mass. The amputation take place just below the spot where the scapulas have been placed. The parallels with Jairus are strong. Jesus has somehow redeemed the situation, just as he did for Jairus.
Martyn does not suggest that prayer works on every occasion or that Jesus will always redeem situations: people of faith have bad things happen to them. Jesus loves us in good times and bad, and is with us – and helps us – in the worst of times. That help comes in many ways. Sometimes it is the gift of grace to live well in spite of life’s hardship.
He also talked to us about Joyce Kilmer a young American poet who died in the trenches in 1918 and wrote about his experience of the power of God to redeem every difficulty. Martyn’s prayers for us this morning were to receive from Jesus the grace to live faithfully through life’s ups and downs and keep him in our own lives.
Sunday 20th June – Family Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
I’m not sure whether it is related to the Brian Cox series currently running on BBC2, but over the past few weeks we have repeatedly looked at our understanding of God in the context of our growing knowledge of the universe. This week it was David Aplin’s turn, and he did so in the context of the parable of the mustard seed.
David does not believe that we must slavishly follow a belief in the rightness of the biblical story in the face of knowledge God has given us. Does he believe the story – well yes and no.
The little mustard seed that grew and grew is not unlike the theory of the universe starting from a tiny rift in space-time and growing to a universe of galaxies, stars and planets, beyond what we can imagine.
We think the universe was formed about 13.8 billion years ago and our own solar system was formed 3.6 billion years ago. Human beings have been evolving over the last million years.
So do we chuck out the biblical creation story or perhaps look at the universe and see a parallel to Jesus’s account of the growth of the mustard seed. If we do, does the tree of the universe have those branches and spaces where birds or humanity can one day nest on other planets, in other star systems?
David suggests that in the mustard seed story Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God, so that wherever we are, God will be with us.
My sense is that we are being encouraged to stretch our minds, but if we do so, do we have to make a bonfire of some of our beliefs?
- We say that God made us in His own image (which helps us visualise and relate to something that is beyond our understanding), but unless we believe in a Star Trek universe where all sentient races are humanoid like us – or that we are the only sentient race in the universe – this seems implausible.
- If we can accept that there may be sentient life on other planets in God’s Kingdom, can Jesus be God’s only son, and the way to God be only through him? If the God of our Universe loves all intelligent beings equally, will he not find ways to bring them to Him?
- We accept that we have evolved, but are we being arrogance to put ourselves at the pinnacle of God’s creation? Has evolution stopped? In an evolutionary universe, is God perhaps also evolving?
- If it is intelligence that God values and loves, what about the other examples of high intelligence we see on our own planet. Are they not also loved? And why would God then give us dominion over them?
David noted that our universe may have reached its maximum size. Some suggest it may then start to contract again. Mike Findley told us that however vast God’s universe may be, he is able to deal with the smallness of us. We are like mustard seeds in the universe. From the vastness of the universe back to mustard seed it is the power of God’s love?
Experiencing the presence of God in our lives as a real thing (whoever and wherever we are) is the promise of God’s Kingdom. In an evolutionary universe we should grow to be the best we can be in both spiritual and moral/societal realms, and this is essentially a dynamic, evolving experience.
A Celebration of the Life of Nora Richardson – 18th June 2021
Sunday 13th June – Family Church & Zoom service led by Anne Walton
Anne’s Sermon reflected on the reading Mark 4 vv 26-34, the parables of growth of the seed – wheat and mustard – to illustrate how the Kingdom of God will grow (is growing). Mysterious, Momentous, Miraculous.
Mysterious, because we don’t know how seeds grow. The mystery of life – actual and spiritual – is beyond our knowledge. We live by faith.
Jesus reminds us that mystery and majesty is built into creation and that it should make us to wonder and to worship the Creator. We may plant the seed and nurture it, but God is in control.
Momentous: the tiny seed grows to a huge plant that birds can build their nests in. We should not underestimate the power of a seed – but we do need to give it time. Jesus is asking us to be patient.
We may be tempted to take a short cut to speed things up by aligning our church with earthly power, but the parable reminds us that what may look small and insignificant will grow momentously.
It will grow because of our sacrificial service, so we should not be discouraged (by the size of our congregation, for example) but go out and spread the Word.
Miraculous, because the tiny seed shows no signs of life, but germinates all by itself (it might need a bit of watering) and we can’t hurry it up. We live in a culture of instant gratification, but Jesus comes and slows us down as he describes the growth of the Kingdom of God.
We are only commissioned to plant the seed by sharing his word with other people: success in witnessing is in the power of the Holy Spirit. The results are brought about by God – the harvest of new souls and the transformation of people’s lives is the work of God.
This may seem humbling, but it is also reassuring. Only God can open closed eyes.
So when you take out your roll of 3M’s duct tape, think about the growth of God’s Kingdom and the other three Ms, the Word of God in action with the power to change lives.
Sunday 6th June – Family Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Mike Findley
Mike’s theme this week was “Letting go of our old vision of God” and for me it hit the “sweet spot” – well worth listening to again!
Our visions of God are still very valid and we should keep them with us, but there are four areas where the vision is may not be right and needs to change:
Space: Our understanding of the vastness of space – 200 billion galaxies, each with a billion stars in our universe, and the possibility of parallel universes – is so different from that at the time the Bible was written. Then people believed in a three-level universe – God up there above the clouds, earth where we are at the centre, and the waters below. We made God a humanoid being in our own image, manageable, and typically our God, not theirs.
We need a vision of a God for the vastness of this universe but also understand that God is able to deal with the smallness of us. We can experience the presence of God in our lives as a real thing that means everything and governs our lives.
Time: We should not “freeze frame” our vision of God to that current at the time the Bible was written and reject a view that God ceased to communicate with us 2000 years ago, and that anything more recent is of second-rate importance. Resurrection is for now, for us to participate in, to be changed and become a new being.
Place: Traditionally we have put God in one place (above the clouds?). The Jews put him in the Tent of Meeting, then the Ark of the Covenant and finally in Jerusalem. God is here with us now, not up there, and not just in church (to be bottled up and brought out on Sundays). So we should not concentrate our activities in church, but take them out with us to where there are people who might need our message. Take God out to where we live so people can see God in us.
Static: Is God static? Is there a place for evolution – the language of growth and change? Mike told us we need a dynamic notion of God. Static means a limited experience, but we experience life and love as a dynamic and cumulative experience.
The Bible is not afraid of a dynamic and unfolding understanding of God. The Trinity is a relational thing, a divine dance and it is a dance of four, because it includes us. If our faith is dynamic, we can cope with change, embrace the future with confidence, love and companionship. That’s the message we have – and the challenge.
Sunday 30th May 2021 – Family Church & Zoom service led by Geoffrey Peterson
Having survived a couple of unscheduled ‘mutings’ and a rescheduling of the musical introduction, Geoff was ready to talk to Trinity Sunday and selected passages from John 13 &14, read by Heather.
As Geoff told us, John was writing around AD100, 60+ years after the cross, so his writings reflect his time spent thinking about the teaching Jesus had given to his friends – as remembered – and putting his interpretation on it. He was writing to a predominantly Greek audience (in language and culture) reflecting the Greek thinking and understanding of the time.
Jesus’s first message was the New Commandment – to love one another. Our God was a God of love – a big change from the historical picture of gods that were often arbitrary and spiteful. A loving Father had sent his Son and would send the Holy Spirit. His disciples struggled to understand this and indeed where he was going.
Geoff had often wondered about Jesus calling himself the “son of man”. For a country under occupation (as it had been for centuries, and generally a pretty uncomfortable existence) to claim to be the Messiah, with the associated link to coming insurrection, would be foolhardy, so Jesus was talking in code, using Old Testament prophesies, which would be understood by the people, but not the occupiers.
Jesus was saying “I am the Messiah”, but this was “a messiah, but not as we know it Jim” – not the expected war leader bringing the return of the kingdom, but a loving and caring Messiah coming from the father with a message of salvation.
And then John’s recollection of the message of the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and the way to the Father through the Son – the idea of a 3-phase unity (Trinity) that we still struggle to understand. As we also do with the message of Jesus being in his Father and the Father in him; his disciples being in him, and he in them.
So John’s memory of the instructions about discipleship; to believe, to have faith in, and to trust in the Trinity and to reflect on the love Jesus was showing for his friends. “I am the way, the truth and the life”.
Sunday 23rd May 2021 – Family Church & Zoom Service led by David Ramsay
This week’s worship was led by David Ramsay and the Elders. Sounds perhaps a bit like a pop group and the starring lead singer – and if so, rightly – since David had mapped out the Service and put the meat in the sandwich.
It was a bittersweet day: we celebrated Stephen’s forthcoming 70th birthday in style………..
………….but also digested the sad news of Nora’s passing. We were so pleased to have Caroline & Nigel Wick with us in person and could thank them both for the huge support they had provided for “Aunty Nora” – bringing her to church, visiting her at her care home and being with her, playing her favourite hymns, as she passed away.
A model for all of us. And Nigel lit the candle for Nora.
It was Pentecost, and David Aplin had offered words of encouragement to our other David, “It’s one of the most difficult topics of the year for a minister!”
So David started cautiously. Pentecost had originally been a Jewish festival; the 50 days from the beginning of the early harvest (first fruits) to the final big celebration of the goodness of God when the harvest was safely in. So it was Harvest Festival – a bit counterintuitive for us on a cold, rainy, May morning.
Janet Green had read the account in Acts 2 of the moment the Holy Spirit came forth, its effect on the disciples, and the public events that heralded the start of the Christian church. It was the very moment the Church was born.
And then to the hard bit – putting the Holy Spirit into context for us all.
From a distance it’s easy; the Bible Reading says it all, but close up and personal it’s much harder. David confessed to us that he felt he was still waiting to experience the Holy Spirit coming to him.
Some people feel they experience it in the “madness of crowds” – at big communal experiences. For others it is suddenly there in a time of great crisis. But for many it will be that quiet voice that comes unexpectedly out of nowhere and then goes again, leaving us comforted, or with a new idea, or a new challenge to be faced.
We may not always recognise it, but others may see it working in us – as I think we did today for David.
Sunday 16th May 2021 – Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
David gave us two vignettes today.
In Acts 1, v 1-9, Paul gives the lead-up to Jesus’s ascension into heaven and the instruction to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were hoping for the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, but Jesus ducks that issue and focuses them on the coming of the Holy Spirit, bringing the power to witness so they can take his word around the world.
John 17, vv 6-19, records Jesus’s prayers for his disciples, asking God for their protection as he sends them out into the world. David took us back to the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may provide guidance, strength, support and love, but the most important element is the power to go out and grow the church. This the disciples did to great effect.
We are not just observers; we are involved, and Jesus’s prayers, the teaching and the love are for us as well. We are tasked to go out and evangelise, to bring people to belief in Christ and through that to their salvation.
God may have the whole world in his hand, be he doesn’t take care of everything. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left the world to its own devices. Nobody is forced to do anything – they have choice to believe, to love or to reject. There is plenty of evil in the world – today, as at that time – and though our immortal souls are protected by the spirit, we are not protected from physical actions. Christians are in the world but not of it. We are holy through our faith and belief, and God takes special care of us.
As we listened to our final hymn – Walk in the light – David’s natural exuberance could not be contained, and he danced in front of us whilst Stephen sang on Zoom. If you wanted an image of someone walking in the light – look no further!
Sunday 9th May 2021 – Family Church & Zoom Service led by Canon Richard Osborn
Richard’s address drawing on the two readings – 1 John 5, vv 1-6 and John 15, vv 9-17 – was about Love. With Ascension Day approaching he speculated about the feeling of bereftness the disciples must have experienced, and then returned to the words he spoke to them on that last evening- not to be afraid or anxious but to trust in the power of love.
And his commandment to “love one another, just as I love you”.
God shows that he is with us by sending the Holy Spirit to help us know that love, and to teach us how to live God’s love in this world.
Of course, there are times when it’s very difficult to love: hateful, hurtful and unkind behaviour, attitudes and actions put a strain on our love – both in our community and (even more so) in the wider world.
The Bible says that God’s commands are not too hard for us – possibly best seen in the context of the 600+ elements of the Jewish Law at the time. Love is simpler perhaps, but still a challenge.
It’s a command that’s not easy or without cost. Jesus talked about a love that found its expression in the ultimate act of self-giving – laying down his life for a friend – and this on the night before he was to die on the cross. We are called, day by day, to love people who are different, imperfect and undeserving, to love our enemies – and it’s hard!
It’s a calling we are invited to revisit again and again, and to reflect on how we allow the spirit of love to shine through us in our world. In our troubled world, Christ is relying on us to fill the world with love. It’s not an optional extra – it’s an order, a commandment. And not just in our own community but across the world.
As we wait for Pentecost, we pray that we are made more open to receiving the Holy Spirit, and so become more capable of showing the grace and love of God in all that we are and all that we do. For this love – generated from our connection with Jesus – presents for those around us a testimony that we are his disciples, called to build up his kingdom in this corner of his vineyard.
And at risk of embarrassing Richard mightily, I can’t think of anyone who more clearly illustrates this message in his daily life.
Sunday 2nd May 2021 – Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Anne Walton
It was great to have Anne back with us in person in our church: she was also glad to finally be let out!
Coming out of a year of lockdown was, she thought, a time to reflect on our basic values in life. Do we use productivity (and the rat race of life) as a measure of success? We are conditioned to think that productivity is the goal of our lives and the danger is that we carry this thinking into our spiritual lives.
The reading from John 7, vv 1-8 and the fruits of the vine seemed to have a simple message – fruit bearers go to heaven, non-fruit bearers get punished! Anne felt the passage went deeper and was more about connectivity in our relationships as a manifestation of our interior lives.
Are we connected or disconnected?
She noted that in real friendships when we meet up after a long separation, we just pick up where we left off. Such relationships “never, ever, sever”. If we can establish this kind of union with Jesus, the love goodness and holiness of Christ will flow within us and the fruits of that life will be overflowing.
Jesus said he was the vine and we the branches. Anne said the branches draw their life from the vine to produce fruit (though I note that the branches also feed the feed the vine, perhaps a metaphor for a symbiotic relationship between God and humanity?).
Galatians 5, vv 22-25 tells us about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control – qualities we need to navigate a rough and tumble world. Covid has highlighted the uncertainty of this world and Anne felt we had all needed some of these fruits to get through the last year.
She hoped that we might emerge as changed people. We know we can’t serve both God and mammon. As the Pope has said, people need land, lodgings and labour (the three Ls) to which she added education and good health. Putting money at the centre of our lives creates a pattern of sacrifice – whatever the human cost, that tower has to get higher and higher. As in the tower of Babel, bricks have more value than human lives. If we put people’s dignity at the centre we create a new logic, a logic of mercy and what is truly of value is restored to its rightful place.
Perhaps what was just a dream could then come to pass?
We were pleased and relieved to have Tony Corfe log in from his Livingstone home with some local friends. Possibly – if the internet allows – we may next week see the church community at Katombora?
Sunday 25th April 2021 – Family Church & Zoom Service led by Geoff Peterson
Geoff led our worship and started by reading Psalm 23.
Heather delivered the two Bible readings from Acts Chapter4 vs 5-12, and the First Letter of John, Chapter 3 vs 16-24. So Geoff’s task was to find the thread to draw these three reading together.
Psalm 23 expresses David’s simple and total trust in God to keep him safe.
The back story for the Acts passage is Peter and John going to the temple to pray, finding a lame man lying on the floor and commanding him in the name of Jesus Christ to get up and walk – which he did. The people are amazed, but Peter takes them to task and tells them that his power comes from Jesus, who they had handed over to the authorities.
As Geoff told us, the temple authorities by this time were primarily concerned with maintaining law and order under a nervous Roman oversight. The priesthood was a hereditary order, concerned with maintaining their position and “job for the boys”. So not surprisingly Peter & John were arrested and brought before the high priesthood.
Geoff asked us to reflect that only a few days earlier Peter had run away and disowned Jesus. Now, after the Holy Spirit had come upon him, he is confident, articulate, and courageous – knowing the likely outcome of his actions and putting his life in the hands of his Lord. He tells them to their faces that he has done what he has done in the name of Jesus Christ, that Jesus is alive, raised by God and that salvation is through him. The priesthood has no part in this.
John’s letter is to a church having trouble with different ideas about resurrection. He tells them to focus on love. Love is the cross, helping the needy, looking after their neighbours. They must believe that Jesus is the son of God. They should love the Lord their God with all their heart and mind and soul – and their neighbour as themselves.
So the thread is the comfort, the courage and the strength that comes from belie, putting our trust in Jesus and loving the Father.
Sunday 18th April 2021 – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
This Sunday many of us were reflecting on the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, and David had been struck by the comment of Sophie, Countess of Wessex – “It was like somebody took him by the hand and off he went.. very, very peaceful” – something he told us he had also experienced during a number of his pastoral visits.
The Bible reading, Luke 24 vv 36-49 tells of Jesus appearing to his disciples, showing them his wounds, eating in their presence and then opening their minds to understand the Scriptures. Like John Wainwright last week, David has a certain sympathy for Thomas: his belief has also been underpinned by personal experiences.
The metaphor of being led gently and then taken into Gods arms resonated with us. In his Sermon David gave us a view on what comes next – a courageous step, given that, as we know from our Bible Study discussions, each of us has a different idea of what resurrection might mean.
David drew on Luke 23 v 43 – “…..today you will be with me in paradise” – to propose an immediate resurrection in heaven with a new body. For some, this view raises as many questions as it answers, but as David told us, our non-conformist heritage encourages us to question what we are told. Our understanding of the world in which we live and its place in the vastness of the universe is quite different from that at the time the Bible was written. Making sense of it all is for each of us a part of our faith journey.
And as I think we can probably all agree that we’ll only find out with certainty when we get there.
Sunday 11th April 2021 – Family Service led by John Wainwright
John was as pleased as we are to be slowly returning to worship in church. For him we were still firmly in the Easter season and his sermon was focused on the events later on that Easter Sunday in a locked room.
John asked us to reflect on the mood of the disciples. They had been full of hope that Jesus had come to liberate the country and bring in the messianic kingdom – now he had been crucified. He had been a great person to know, but had they been wasting their time over the last three years? They were worried about being in trouble with the Jewish authorities (hence the locked room). They were also not inclined to believe the testimony of a mere woman. So, they were thinking about getting back to normal life without Jesus.
And then “Wham!”, Jesus appears in the room with a message of peace and hope, and a commission – “as the Father sent me, so I send you”. His work is to continue, now by his spiritual body, and his disciples were to take the good news of sins forgiven, new hope, new life and new joy to people who did not yet know it.
This commission applied to us in 2021. Christianity may be a personal faith, but it is not a private one, and we are also commissioned to take the message out.
Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. We are also empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And then the story of Thomas, grieving alone and missing out. He was not somebody who believe just because somebody told him – faith had to be appropriated personally. John had great sympathy with Thomas because he too has a questioning mind. Questioning and searching for answers is good. Thomas longed to believe but he had to experience things for himself and having done so declared “My Lord and my God”.
So, we should not bottle things up but share our questions and concerns with others on our path. John’s prayer for this morning was that we should all experience for ourselves the risen Saviour.
Easter Sunday 4th April 2021 – Communion Service led by Anne Walton
This was our first official ‘open church’ day this year with 15 people attending the service and 14 log-ins on Zoom – hopefully a rewarding experience for all. Anne was streaming from home.
David and Tony were presiding at church.
If we pick up on last Sunday’s ‘Crime Thriller’ theme, I think this week’s ‘End of Season Finale’ might be judged a bit of a disappointment – unless you’d already viewed the next series (as I think we all have!).
The first of the two readings from John’s Gispel (should have) captured the moment when Jesus died on the cross. The second covers the moment when Mary Magdalene and the two disciples discover the empty tomb on the Sunday morning. And we get a glimpse of what might be coming.
We know, as Anne told us, that when Jesus said “It is finished!” the sacrifice that took away the sins of the world was completed. For those there on the ground it looked quite different. For the Jewish leaders, a challenge to their authority had been eliminated and they could continue life as normal – as they do, in effect, to this day. For the Romans a possible insurrection had been avoided – at least until the next one came. The Disciples had scattered, scared and confused, and were nowhere to be seen. Only four women and John stood by the cross and later Joseph and Nicodemus came and looked after Jesus’s body.
Notwithstanding the many occasions when Jesus had told his disciples what was about to happen, the empty tomb came as a complete surprise to Peter and the other disciple, and to Mary. And Mary did not recognise Jesus until he addressed her personally.
It is in the next series (to continue with the TV analogy) that Jesus’s many appearances to his disciples and to others over the next 40 days brings a growing conviction that something earth shattering had happened. With the intervention of the Holy Spirit, they begin to make sense of the things Jesus had told them, and understand the significance of both crucifixion and resurrection from the tomb.
As Anne said, only the unconditional love of God could turn a symbol of Roman cruelty into a symbol of beauty and hope for all mankind. And it was the empty tomb that made the empty cross a symbol of hope.
Jesus walked out of the tomb and as Paul cried out, ”O death where is thy victory? O grave where is thy sting?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Sunday 28th March 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Mike Findley
Today was Palm Sunday and Mike streamed from the church, with a handful of church members having crept in (we formally restart next Sunday!) and some Palm Crosses to distribute.
Mike told us that the Palm Sunday story has all the necessary elements of a TV crime thriller. Jesus had been to Jerusalem twice before, only to leave because of death threats (and a head-hunter bounty) from the religious authorities who saw him as a threat to their authority and way of life. However, they knew they could not touch him whilst he was supported by the crowds.
Riding on a colt fulfilled biblical prophecy and had also been the trademark of the leader of an earlier insurrection in Jerusalem – which had achieved a measure of success until overturned by the Romans.
Whilst Jesus approached from the East, Pilate was arriving from the north west with a large military formation to ensure law & order over the Passover period when Jerusalem was full of thousands of extra people. Pilate had a chequered career to that date with some spectacular failures and couldn’t afford any further mistakes. The confrontation between Jesus and the authorities was set.
What was behind the massive crowd support for Jesus on Palm Sunday. Some undoubtedly saw him as the Leader who would restore social justice and overturn a corrupt and oppressive temple-based Jewish “Mafia”; others that he was the military leader who would free them from the Romans. Some might have looked to him for healing and some for teaching.
Jesus knew exactly what awaited him in Jerusalem and approached it with resolution and great human courage. He would continue his teaching and his challenge to the religious authorities and the fate that would follow. His betrayal might have been an attempt to “bounce” him into becoming the military leader so many wanted, but that failed. The authorities believed that by killing him they had removed the threat to their way of life, but in this they also failed, because God had other ideas.
Courage was Mike’s theme, and he believed that as we emerge from Covid lockdown we also need courage to face a future that will be different to that which has gone before; courage to be creative and do things differently. Courage to reach out to people in spreading the word and in helping those who have suffered great loss and are looking for comfort and those who are so tired because of all the extra work they have had to do. Courage to share our hopes and aspirations with God and bring God into them – with the joy and peace that results.
Sunday 21st March 2021 – Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
David led our worship from the church for the first time this year – fully robed as he felt was appropriate for the occasion.
Moving into Passiontide we again see the human side of Jesus, fearful of what awaits him, humble in his prayers to his father, but determined to fulfil his task – which he did for us.
From John 12 vv 20-33, David saw in Jesus’s anguish a lesson for us. It’s not the sign of a bad Christian if you suffer inwardly, have thoughts of guilt and unworthiness. Our Lord had doubts. We should not be overwhelmed by anxiety, doubt and guilt. We should be prepared to suffer in this world for the great rewards that await in heaven.
John 12 vv 34-38 is about Jesus as the light, a light there with his disciples for a time, but would then be gone and they would need to find the light again. David told us that he’d imagined the light of the world being huge and bright, like the sun. This he felt was more like Jesus using a storm lantern (as he did to feed his puppies as a boy). Jesus had said to his disciples that they would have the light for a little longer and to walk while they had that light before darkness overwhelmed them. They should put their trust in the light, so the light might be in them – the light that is Jesus.
The light of our beliefs in our congregation would be like many small lights, lights for ourselves and for others. Showing that light to others, that more may come to be saved, is the biggest job that Jesus left us to do.
Sunday 14th march 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Geoff Peterson.
This was Geoff’s first “trial by Zoom” and he (and Heather who did the readings) came through with flying colours!
Geoff’s theme was the love that God has for us, and for me it was a masterclass in getting a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Old Testament reading Numbers Ch 21 vv 4-9 was, as he said, an odd story – sending down poisonous snakes to bite and kill people isn’t exactly what you’d expect of a loving God – but the context was that of a moral tale and a piece of history. The Israelites had rebelled against Moses and lost their trust in God. God was demonstrating his power, his care for his people, and his presence with them.
The message for us was “when in trouble look up to God”. Life has a purpose. We have a creator who cares about us and the way we live.
(He then noted wryly that the use of the bronze snake later led to the people to worship other images which got them into another bout of trouble).
In John 3 vv 14-18 , Geoff told us that John had understood what was going to happen as a result of Jesus’s challenge to the authorities and the symbolism of the Son of Man being lifted up like the snake on a pole.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life”.
The price of saving us from the results of our waywardness was enormous because that son died on the cross for us. Jesus didn’t come in judgement but as a way of salvation. We may have pursued our own pleasures, ignored the rules he gave us and not recognised God in our lives, but he wishes and wills us back to him – not to lose us for all time, but to enjoy fellowship with him.
So the offer is for all of us. All we have to do is believe in him.
Geoff said “no ifs and no buts”, but John says that to believe is essential if we are to avoid judgement, a hard edge that sits alongside our image of a God of absolute love.
As our church plans to resume a life after lockdown what do we offer someone thinking about joining our church? We are a community of folks who are living in Christ and who know there is a God who cares for us. We know we don’t always follow the rules, but we trust in him for our lives – now and in the future. We have faith.
As we prepare for Easter, the message of God’s love is the one we should be preparing to share with others.
Sunday 7th March 2021 – Zoom communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
John’s theme this week was our relationship with God.
In the previous two weeks we have heard about God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham. This week it was about God making a covenant with the Jewish nation.
In Exodus 20, verses 1-17, God sets out for the Israelites the Ten Commandments, a set of rules to run their lives, and the land he had promised them. In return, a generous God would protect them from their enemies. The rules have come down through the ages and form the basis of our legal system today, though later they became hedged around with many other rules and regulations.
John noted that non-Jews working for Jews on the Sabbath seems to be OK today, though it does seem to break a commandment to observe the Sabbath that included slaves and foreigners living in their country. Today we might also wonder why God seemed happy at that time for the Jews to possess slaves?
The world today is more complex and the commandments perhaps more difficult to interpret. We may not always like the rules, but without rules we have anarchy. What started off as Ten Commandments has become complicated as we try to codify every single offence, but the world is not a place of peace and justice. If the Ten Commandments are not sufficient, what hope then for Jesus’s commands to love thy God and thy neighbour?
John 2, verses 13-22, shows us a hard Jesus, a Jesus of action – not the picture w are familiar with. He goes to the temple in Jerusalem and drives out the merchants and moneychangers. Tough on them, going about their lawful business, which was to provide untainted animals for sacrifice and temple money to give to God – but essentially a challenge to the Jewish religious authorities who had introduced all those extra rules and customs. Driving them out of the Temple set off a chain of events that lead to the cross and to resurrection.
How do we cleanse the temple of our body, soul and spirit? If we follow Jesus all will be well. We repent our past sins and live a new life as a follower of Christ. John told us that it is possible to begin again. We can have an individual relationship with God in the spirit through faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
But how do we cleanse our community? John told us about his experience with the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland who live by the rule “together is better”. Places change when people of faith (and no faith) begin to work together. If we want justice, peace and harmony there is only one source, the Lord God, and he tells us that any change begins with us when we become the change we want – or rather the change that God wants.
Sunday 28th February 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Revd. David Aplin
David’s Theme was about faith and belief but the back story, drawing on Mark 8 vv 31-33 and Romans 4 vv 13-25, focused on the Jesus’s human side and the apparently hit and miss progress of the development of Christianity.
At a time when things were going well for Jesus, he tells his disciples that he is going to be rejected by the religious leaders and put to death but will rise again to life. It was important for his disciples to know the truth in advance, so they understood. Otherwise, he might have been judged a failure – an itinerant preacher talking to a small part of the world at the time and nothing more.
The Bible reading was from Paul, probably the most important next “actor” in the spread of Christianity. Righteousness that comes by faith was contrasted with ritual obedience to the law and David noted that again and again men built structures around religious belief to cement their own power and wealth.
Though Christianity had spread widely, it first became acceptable to the Roman authorities in the time of Constantine. Before a major battle in AD 312 he had a vision of a P with a cross on it and decided this was the God of the Christians under whose banner he went into battle – and won. By AD 380, under Theodosius, Nicene Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
David showed us a well-used URC Service Book with the Nicene Creed.
By the sixteenth century salvation was on offer against a payment to the church and it fell to Martin Luther in 1520 to press for reform. He believed that faith alone brought salvation and was excommunicated for his efforts.
With hindsight, Christianity might appear to have advanced through a series of random chances but David sees a historical thread of the development of the church guided by the Holy Spirit. Do we accept and believe that Constantine saw the vision?
Being “put right with God” – our justification – is a free gift from God to those who believe – the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
After the Service Anne showed her less battered Service Book (do I hear anything you can do…..?). A big chuckle!
Sunday 21st February 2021 – Zoom Communion Service led by Anne Walton
Anne was set a hard task to draw a message out of the two readings Genesis 8 vv 8-17, and 1 Peter 3 vv 18-22.
The story of Noah and the flood – implausible as it is at multiple levels – is a reminder that for the Jews, their God was some way from the loving and forgiving God we believe in. Nick used tell us about a “trial and error God” making mistakes and then taking action to put things right – but however you look at human sinfulness, wiping out almost all animal and bird life as well (not sure about the insects) seems a bit tough on them?
And if the sky is covered with clouds, you don’t get rainbows – you need the sun as well for that.
Perhaps Peter has it right, seeing the story of the flood as a symbol pointing to baptism, spiritual cleansing, a promise to God – and salvation through the resurrection of Jesus.
Anne’s image of the Ark, cleansed of earthly sinfulness being lifted upwards by the water was a nice drawing together of the two passages.
Peter’s message was to communities who were suffering repression. He sent them the good news that those who suffer but live their lives as people who belong to Christ will be rewarded. The reading was also about Christ’s victory over suffering and death.
Preparing for the flood caused Noah and his family suffering, but the water was also Noah’s salvation. The water washed away sin and wickedness, leaving a new world with a fresh start. So the water of baptism falling on our heads symbolises death to sin and the draining away of the water symbolises our salvation – and yes, a symbol, because that salvation that has already taken place.
Sunday 14th February 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by David Ramsay
Valentine’s Day and not a massacre in sight!
Apparently, there were at least three Valentines (the name comes from the Latin word for “strong”), and David took us back in time to the martyrdom of one St Valentine in 496 AD. Claudius II was growing tired of Roman soldiers going soft and getting married, so he banned the ceremony. A priest who continued to marry soldiers was imprisoned and beheaded.
St Valentine, when not knitting together twin souls was also the patron saint of beekeeping, epilepsy, the plague and fainting – but thankfully David chose not to celebrate any of these!
After the Reading- 1 Corinthians 13 – Love we considered the many forms of love; maternal. paternal, filial (kicking your sibling under the table – been there done that!) and romantic love.
It had been love at first sight for David and Christina (she of the purple blouse) and for Michael Deller and that young maiden on a bike. David wore the famed golfing sweater in his memory.
And then there was Agape, a Greco-Christian term referring to unconditional love for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans. David felt that all love is a gift from God to us. God is involved in all kinds of love, but we typically focus on the love of a father for an errant child – going its own way and making its own mistakes. But God has experienced the good times with the bad, having to watch the death of his son on the cross.
And Jesus laying down his life for us so that we might come to love him and the Father.
Sunday 7th February 2021 – Zoom Communion Service led by John Wainwright
John started with a reading from Isaiah about the grandeur of God – a message of reassurance for us in these troubled times.
He thought that Mark’s Gospel would appeal to us – short and snappy: he ‘gets on with it!’ – as well as to Sue, his wife. Mark 1 vv 29-39 had three stories:
The first, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, brought to our attention that Peter was married, and John noted that later she had also shared his martyrdom. The role of spouses who support their partners in spreading the Gospel is one we should all give thanks for.
After Jesus had healed her the mother-in-law went on to serve them – a reminder that when we are healed, we are also called to serve. And if women’s servitude was part of the culture of the time – and sometimes in ours, as some men can gratefully attest – they still played quite a prominent role in the Gospels, not least remaining with Jesus at his crucifixion when the men ran away and being the first to experience his resurrection.
The second, healing the many sick people who were brought to him, cemented his position as someone out of the ordinary, though John told us that his miracles were primarily aimed at bringing people into a closer relationship with God. The ‘take’ on some aspects, like the casting out of demons, he left to us, noting that God can work though medical science as well as through the miraculous.
The third, the need to spend time in quiet prayer with his father, was a reflection of Jesus’s essential humanity and also of the importance to us of regular methodical prayer.
At Communion, John broke the bread and he and Tony served each other.
Sunday 31st January 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Anne Walton
With the theme of the day “Jesus the Teacher” Anne was firmly in her element and comfort zone. True to the VARK teaching mnemonic (Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinesthetics = hands-on) we were given plenty of samples of each during the Service.
Even the hand movements at the close of prayers were sign language for Amen.
The reading – Mark 1, vv 21-28 – had Jesus teaching in the synagogue and casting out demons.
Anne noted that Mark loves to recount that the people were amazed – doing so on multiple occasions. He doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching, just that people were amazed by the authority of his teaching.
We do know that he was brought up as a devout Jew, with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament writings. Mark tells us he taught with authority. Anne told us the secrets of a successful teacher were a love of the subject, enthusiasm, charisma – and a certain personal magnetism. Everything in the Bible suggests Jesus had these as well.
As we touched on after the Service, exorcism is a difficult topic, but undoubtedly belief in personal authority by both the exorcist and the person believed to be possessed are important. And Jesus had personal authority like no other!
So something about his teaching stood out – the innate knowledge and authority to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom; it’s urgency and closeness demanding a personal response to repent and share the good news.
And our response to the message of the reading?
To read the Gospels frequently;
to acknowledge that when he came to earth, the Kingdom of God broke into our world;
to proclaim that the Kingdom is still here, believe in Christ, live our lives with him, and share Christ with others;
and with all authority in Christ, to do our part in spreading the Good News.
And then before we closed, we were taught to “sign” the words of the chorus of the last Hymn:
Sunday 24th January 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Canon Richard Osborn.
A real pleasure to have Richard lead our worship this week. Richard first came to us 15 years ago (he says) in a pulpit exchange as part for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – and once we get our hooks into somebody…………………. anyway, no regrets on either side!
Richard told us that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is timed to fit between the feast date for St Peter and the date, a week later, of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus – though he noted that even these two didn’t always see eye to eye on religious matters.
He believes that Prayers for Unity are still relevant today as we’ve not achieved the unity that Jesus would wish of us. Joe Biden in his inauguration speech (addressing another example of disunity) said that the answer was not to turn inwards; instead to open our souls instead of hardening our hearts; to show tolerance and humility and be willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.
And our unity would be noted by others.
The Wedding in Cana – John 2 vv 1-11
We may be surprised and questioning why Jesus’s first miracle was the production of fine wine – and bucketfulls of it! (600 litres according to our GNB).
Well one explanation might be that he wanted us to know that God’s kingdom is a joyous place?
Richard’s insights focused on the six stone water jars, part of the Jewish rights of purification. Although brought up as a devout Jew, by Jesus’s time the religion had become obsessed with minor detail, ceremony and enrichment: the old ways needed to be renewed and transformed, just as the water was transformed into wine. A religion of law and ceremonial was to be replaced by one of spirit and love.
For those in the know, the miracle revealed the glory of God and switched a focus on Temple and God’s creation to one on the person of Jesus as the Son of God.
And the links to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
Richard saw this in the need for a transformation of our relationships with each other; to work alongside other Christians to find new ways to extend God’s Kingdom in a post-Covid world.
And whilst keeping the best wine ‘til last – our unity in heaven – to do everything possible to achieve this now on earth as well.
Sunday 17th January 2021 – Family Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin.
This was another “Plan C” week for David who stood in for both Tonys as they were unable to lead our worship.
Building on last week David spoke once again about coming to the Lord quietly and gently. He felt himself held lovingly in God’s hands.
When we see the size and scale of the universe that God has created, we realise that He is completely beyond our understanding. As we look out through our telescopes, or in through our microscopes, we see both structure and complexity in all parts of creation.
With so many stars and planets it is likely that earth is not the only planet on which life exists. How then should we then understand ourselves as being the high point of creation, created in God’s image as the Bible tells us?
I listened and thought “perhaps a high point in an ongoing creative process, but there will be other high points and they may not look at all like us”. Perhaps what would link us is our intelligence, our sense of good and evil and an increasing understanding and power to decide and to act. In this, as David said, we would share in the Godhead. And if God loves and cares for each one of us and holds them as David did his teddy – that’s enough to know.
The reading 1 Samuel 3, vv 1-10 dealt with that moment in Samuel’s life when through the working of the Holy Spirit he became aware of God’s presence. His response, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”.
God is calling us, even those who do not know him. And if we listen, God can do great things through us.
David’s Bible is inscribed with the words from Corinthians “we are Christ’s Ambassadors”.
David encourages us to let the joy of knowing God shine through in or lives, so that when we go out into our community, people see we have something they would like to share. He knows it is not enough just to keep our church going for the next ten or so years – the church must survive and thrive for Christ.
And that is a message for each and every one of us.
Sunday 10th January 2021 – Family Zoom Service led by Revd. David Aplin.
David shared with us his thoughts about Baptism and the events surrounding Jesus’s Baptism by John in the River Jordan.
He noted that there is confusion about the significance of both Baptism and the christening of children amongst the different branches of our Christian faith. The age at which people are baptised or confirmed is certainly an issue: there are those who believe it should only take place when the person involved is mature enough to understand and take on the commitment involved.
David reminded us that at our URC Christenings, the threefold commitments – by parents, godparents and the church community to nurture and support a growing life in faith – was fundamental to our approach. Not said, but perhaps implicit, is that for all of us on our spiritual journeys, the support of family and those in our worshipping community and the ability to talk about our beliefs and doubts is so valuable for all of us – particularly when our faith and beliefs are under challenge from what life is throwing at us.
Mark 1 vv 9-11 recounts that moment in time when Jesus was Baptised by John – probably the most life-changing moment in his life, and essentially the moment at which Mark takes up the story of Jesus’s life.
Such was the impact of that moment that Jesus took some considerable time alone in the desert coming to terms with it and reshaping his future life down the pathway we are so familiar with. We can’t claim this was a “one-off” happening: the Bible tells us that Paul experienced something similar as did Mohammed and they too reacted quite similarly. *
For those of us who have not had such an experience – an intense and deep moment of communion with our creator – our faith and belief has a more nuanced well-spring.
David has previously told us of his own intense experience in 1988 and gave us more detail of about it, how he came to terms with it, and the impact it had on his life.
He doesn’t think he was particularly special or worthy – perhaps more that he needed that “kick up the pants”. He had to take time to work through it all to find the humility he needed for his future work.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily descend on us at Baptism, sometimes it can happen before and sometimes it comes much later – when we are ready to accept it.
David believes God’s words to Jesus at his Baptism are also words for us – that through the Spirit we are all his sons and daughters who he loves. We don’t need to have received the Spirit in such a dramatic way. Many will have received the Spirit almost imperceptibly, day by day, going through their lives, something that can come gradually and that we then live out through our lives.
*This comment is not to equate the experiences, only to observe that they are part of the human condition in relation to our creator.
Sunday 3rd January 2021 – Family Communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
John Mackerness led our first 2021 Service – a Zoom-only Communion Service in view of rising Covid-19 infections in our area.
John noted that Jesus had shared meals in all kinds of places and with all kinds of people. We might be used to celebrating Holy Communion in a more formal setting, but it all began in the ordinary places where people lived, surrounded by the clutter of daily living (so no change there?).
And he had a rather fine piece of rye bread to break and a good glass of wine to drink when the time came.
John, as a chaplain at Heathrow knows all about people travelling, so best able to tell us about the “Three Kings”.
Well firstly there might have been up to 12 of them – kings, magi, wise men, astrologers, astronomers – certainly they were gentiles. There might have been more gifts, but the three important ones were gold, for a king; frankincense, for remembrances; and myrrh for death.
They were looking for a king in a palace and were surprised where they found Jesus. We also need to look beyond the expected places for the opportunities that God has for us.
Journeys today are generally easier than in those times. Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus were refugees – from war in Nazareth as Mike Findley told us and later from Herod and the slaughter of the innocents.
The Magi were also on a spiritual journey and were much changed and deeply troubled by their encounter. We are on a spiritual journey, even if we don’t always recognise it. We’ve no personal spiritual SatNav and can easily get lost or go off track. But then God can call us, to get us on track.
We are now in a New Year and uncertain what it will bring but can be confident that God and Jesus will watch over us. And if we don’t have gold, frankincense or myrrh to bring, we can bring ourselves. God will equip us and use us.
So rather than asking for a light to find our way we should put our hand in the hand of God, stepping out into the New Year with confidence. And on our spiritual journey, “seek and you will find”.
Sunday 27th December – Family Service led by Anne Walton
We were so relieved to hear that Tony Alderman is now out of intensive care and recovering -albeit slowly – and thankful to Anne for stepping into the breach and leading our worship.
We started with a YouTube track featuring Stephen’s choir, the Aeolian Singers and Peter Skellern in a performance of his song ‘Waiting for the Word’. It was a fitting opener for the reading, Luke 2 vv 22-40, ‘Jesus is Presented in the Temple’.
Anne’s Sermon “Is it OK to doubt” picked out from the reading the two elderly people in the Temple who had been waiting for so long for a Messiah to come and set Jerusalem free. They must have had doubts during their long wait. The Bible is full of doubters – starting with Adam – and doubt is a part of the human condition.
But is it a good thing? Anne says yes – we can’t grow unless we doubt. We need the challenge of curiosity and doubt to progress. So we should celebrate and embrace our doubts which give us the potential to grow.
Many of us worry less about doubts than about what we are going to do with them. Anne encourages us to embrace our doubts and work through them. Doubts can be a prelude to great faith.
And don’t forget that even Jesus had doubts – “My god, my God, why did you abandon me?”
Faith and hope are both belief tinged with doubt and doubt is the front door to faith.
After the Service tony shared with us some pictures of the children’s party in Uganda to which we had made a contribution.
Friday 25th December – Christmas Day Service led by Revd. David Aplin.
We were glad to see so many log ins to our Christmas Day Service – especially those juggling the preparation of Christmas Dinner with listening to the Zoom Service. We should thank God for multi-tasking (even if this time the men missed out)?.
A special thank you as well to David, who offered us a very personal perspective on the events surrounding Christmas – taking the accounts from the Gospels at their face values and convinced of the truth of it all.
If last week Mike Findley wanted to home in on the fundamentals and tomorrow (Sunday 27th) Anne’s Sermon is entitled “Is it OK to doubt”; recognising the importance of Christmas and the challenge it represents to us today is something I think all three will agree on.
David sees the Holy Spirit being active throughout creation and active today in all our lives – most certainly in his. The challenge is to recognise that the Spirit is working in our lives – a power beyond our understanding. Do we trust in the Holy Spirit and take up the opportunities it offers us? Some of these will be tough, but we will be supported by the Spirit. Through our faith we will grow in understanding and also grow closer to God.
Sunday 20th December – Communion Service led by Mike Findley.
A real pleasure to welcome Mike Findley back to lead our Communion Service from the church.
Mike told us of his certain sense of disappointment with Christmas – too full of story and not enough meaning – in that the real importance gets lost in a wave of traditional practices and celebrations. He noted that in the reading (Luke 2 vv 1-7) – a bit like in “The Crown” on Netflix – Luke doesn’t always let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Instead, Mike asked us to focus on the drama of a young girl, having left her home in a war zone, frightened, heavily pregnant, with nowhere proper to stay, giving birth in the most rudimentary circumstances at a time when many women were dying in childbirth.
Somehow, she managed it; one of the many Biblical examples of God taking the initiative to help the world He loved and mankind get back on track. His solution started with a baby, God living with us, God sharing our lives. This story of a new life, a new creation and a new start was both a story and a challenge for us. Will we let God be with us, let God into us?
It requires a response from us all.
2 Corinthians 5 vv 17-20, tells us that anyone being joined to Christ is a new being. Mike felt that much that we do in our lives is an attempt to reconcile God to us. But God is already reconciled to us and loves us unconditionally. He loves what he has created and wants to get his people back. It is we that erect the barriers.
We need to open up to God, accept new life and become a new creation.
“Don’t push God into the stable of your life” – keep him at the centre!
Sunday 13th December – Family Service led by Anne Walton
Well, this week the internet access didn’t fail us, but we had Anne at home (with her Christmas jumper and finely crafted backdrop), our church Secretary and the Bible readers in church, and our Director of Music off with his City Chamber Choir performing the Carol Concert that they will be bringing to us this Wednesday (16th December). So it was “virtual Stephen” playing and singing for us today!
So we had a bit more complexity than usual, but it does show just how flexible our hybrid Church/Zoom Service format has allowed us to become.
Some of us look out from the comfort of our homes – others look…….well I’ll leave it to you to decide (but it is great to see people back worshipping in our church).
It was also a very nice touch to have a photo of Ken and Lilla Smithson with our Advent Candles. Ken died recently and his funeral is tomorrow (14th December). We hold them both very dearly in our hearts.
Anne’s Reflection and Sermon were indeed a reflective look at Exodus 3 v 1-14 and John 1 v 6-8 & 19-28.
In the first reading, with God telling Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and Moses asking for a bit of ‘backup’, Anne honed in on what she felt was the intensely personal interaction between Moses and his God (who is “I AM” , “I am who I am”, or “I will be who I will be” ). Like Moses, we cannot understand what God is – though we are encouraged to strive towards a better understanding – but the relationship is personal: He will be with us, but for each of us in a unique way that reflects our needs.
In John, the theme was “I am NOT”. John was being questioned by the Jewish authorities about who he was. His answers were about who he was not. And yet as the messenger who came before he was seen by Jesus as the most important man ever. John was not concerned with his own importance, what was important was the message. Anne suggested this should apply for us also.
Sunday 6th December – Plan C – led by Revd. David Aplin
Well we might have wondered how the Zoom members of our community would cope if the internet link from the church wet down. Today we found out.
John Wainwright led worship in the church and we at home had the pleasure of experiencing David Aplin – with no prior warning – leading worship for our Zoom community. We were able to follow John’s Order of Service, but the prayers, the sermon and our Communion were provided for us without preparation by David – a measure of the true professional he is. We were all truly grateful!
(Probably the only one disappointed was David’s dog, who missed out on his share of the usual ginger biscuit at communion – David used bread this time because he was leading communion)
We had a thoughtful and challenging sermon on John the Baptist. David went to the heart of a current day issue – does a loving God really sort the wheat from the chaff or forgive everyone?
David takes the word in the Bible at face value, even if he’s less sure about the fate of the chaff. Being condemned to an eternity cut off from God would certainly be enough of a form of Hell for him. So faith, a belief in God and Jesus and true repentance are for him (as promised) the way to heaven and eternal life. And the task for us is not only to prepare ourselves, but to spread the word to others.
David was critical of church leaders who are so reluctant to defend their faith in a multi-faith world. Perhaps they sense that in this world there may be more than one way to God and the issue is not to challenge the other faiths, but to ensure that everybody is on one of these paths.
We have chosen our path and there are many around us who perhaps have not yet understood the need to be on one – a fertile field for action?
After the Service in our chat session we were able to see Nora Richardson (in a gazebo outside her care home – with Nigel and Caroline Wick) – a great pleasure for us all.
Meanwhile at the Church, John Wainwright took the planned Toy Service with music supplied from our CD collection. Tony reported it was also a great service.
Family Zoom Service – 29th November – led by Lilian Evans
It being the first Sunday of Advent, Lilian’s theme was about Hope. Although we tend to focus on the coming celebration of Jesus’s birth, Advent was also about the Second Coming.
Three Bible readings gave us vignettes on Advent;
- in Corinthians the grace and peace of a society in expectation of an imminent coming,
- in Mark, Jesus’s description of what we would experience in the hours before he returned – and that was going to be soon – so be alert!
- In Isaiah, frustration that God had abandoned his people because of their sins and a plea to Him to be merciful.
Hope about the Second Coming – tinged with impatience perhaps. Hope that Jesus will come despite the way we disappoint him. The early Christians had been told the Second Coming was imminent and many shared everything they had with the groups in which they lived. Even Paul felt that there were many things from normal life that were no longer important (like marriage) though he still encouraged people to get on with living and serving God’s purpose by growing his kingdom.
Looking on two thousand years later, Jesus’s reported belief in the imminence of his Second Coming is one of many challenges the Bible throws at us. Lilian’s recital of the Nicaean Creed brought back (for me) the many discussions we have had about the realities of resurrection and eternal life, which none of us could visualise. Difficult to believe in something you cannot conceive of. Hope – belief, tinged with doubt – is perhaps the better description, and as Lilian said we hope that Jesus will come again, gather up his people and take them home to a place where everything will be put right.
Family Zoom Service – 22nd November – led by Revd. John Mackerness
John is a member of the multi-faith Chaplaincy team at Heathrow and the airport is coming to terms with much reduced throughput and an expectation that things won’t really get back to normal until 2025. Lots of job losses and worried people to care for.
In John’s sermon, based on Matthew 25 “The Final Judgement”, he noted that the judgement was not based on how faithful people were or how they worshipped but whether they were compassionate. He felt that many faiths incorporated an essential trait of humanity – to be compassionate – to respond with help to those in need and not ignore them.
To help people you first had to listen to them to find out what they really needed: sometimes just listening was sufficient. Those in Matthew were outcasts and what mattered was to treat them like human beings and not to judge them.
He acknowledged that helping can make us vulnerable and put us at risk. In his role, he routinely makes risk assessments and is sometimes questions whether some people are really in need. He has found that in many churches it is not the Elders or specially chosen people but ordinary people who feel called by God to help people by word, deed, and prayer. All those who care help put the church at the centre of the community, with Christ at its head.
John feels that there is something of both the sheep and the goat in all of us. So as one who has always wondered what God has against goats – much more intelligent and independent than sheep – John’s view that even goats can be redeemed by loving God is a comfort. There is still time to change!
Zoom Communion Service – 15th November – led by Revd. David Aplin
When David told us on Friday evening he was going to wear his Pilots hat, I think we had visions of the Virgin adverts with a couple of gorgeous blonds on either side of a handsome pilot captain – but it was not to be.
David wore his Pilots cap as a badge of honour for many years involvement with the youth group at his church in Borehamwood. That URC church may have fused with another, but the youth group continues to operate in the local Baptist church. Pilots had provided David with many hours of stimulating involvement – not least in preparing the religious elements of each session’s proceedings.
His thoughts on the Bible Reading, Matthew 25 vv 14-30 – The Parable of the Talents in the NIV – were very much about our talents – gifts from God – and how we should use them in our lives. He believes that when life returns more to normal (post-Covid) there will be a great appetite for communal activities – including worship. We should be using our talents (and our golden coins too?) to plan for the renewal of our church when that time comes.
Zoom Remembrance Service – 8th November – led by Martyn Macphee
A thoughtful and quietly emotional Remembrance Service. We all stood in silence for 2 minutes at home at 11.00 remembering the sacrifice of the fallen.
The Lectionary Reading (Matthew 25, vv 1-13 – The Parable of the Ten Young Women) might have seemed a little out of place for a Remembrance Service, but being spiritually prepared for death – as for the Second Coming – was important for many soldiers in the trenches, as their conversations with their chaplains testified. And none could know the time of their death just as we cannot know when Jesus will come again.
The Parable drew strongly on wedding customs of the Middle East, still widely practiced today. Not knowing the time of the wedding required forethought and preparation (in terms of containers with extra lamp oil). If that is the message for us as well, the idea that not being ready at the time of the Second Coming – a time for repentance and a time when it is too late! – will see us shut out of heaven permanently does not fit easily with our belief in a loving and forgiving God – but as we have heard on many occasions it’s one of those things we’ll only find out for sure when it happens!
Being ready spiritually for the Second Coming as for our own deaths requires preparation. Martyn told us this was not a ‘box ticking’ or ‘ jumping through hoops’ exercise. Rather we needed to accept and believe what Jesus has done for us and let him set the direction of our lives.
Family Church & Zoom communion Service – 1st November – led by Mike Findley
A very thought-provoking address from Mike at a time when we are about to go into lockdown again and will not be able (or so it appears at the moment) to worship in church for a number of weeks.
In the readings – Micah 3: vv 5-12 and Matthew 23: vv 1-12, Micah and Jesus were both critical of the behaviour of the leaders of the time – prophets and Pharisees in the two readings. Each reading had been “edited” later with the benefit of hindsight. Micah reflected on the loss of the Jewish homeland and exile to Babylon. Matthew was written at a time when the Christian church in Jerusalem was at odds with a Pharisee teaching centre on the coast
The edited messages included examples of ’wrong theology’. The Jewish kingdoms were rich and powerful at times when they worshipped a number of gods, including Baal. Invasion and loss of their lands came at a time when a particularly devout king ruled. Quite a few Pharisees were also critical of the behaviour of some of their members.
Put aside the negative criticism and another theme emerged, that of the behaviour expected of those who would lead by example – to be humble, to serve, to walk with God – and not to look for praise or even for acknowledgement of their works. This for Mike applies equally for us.
So a saint is someone who seeks out the opportunities to serve, doesn’t show off or look to be greeted in the street as if important.
We should not expect to be favoured, to be spared getting the coronavirus or becoming unemployed because of our beliefs. God has a purpose for us and will help us fulfil that purpose.
We should not lose hope or feel depressed, ‘New Normal” will be different and there will be no going back. We are all likely to live a more distributed lifestyle. We should pray for God to put his hands around us and enable us to withstand whatever happens to us. As we seek opportunities to serve, people will see we are coping and ask why this is. Walking with God, we show strength and calmness as we face the future. Maybe others will want this too?
Family Zoom & Church Service – 25th October – led by Revd. David Aplin
We were grateful to David for leading our worship despite the crises that he faced within his family circle – some of which he shared with us during the Service.
David is marked by his real-life experiences which for him underpin his unswerving belief in the power of God, his existence as a person, his love for us and the certainty of resurrection. This came over in his Talk and his Sermon, which was on Matthew 22, vv 34-40.
David expressed sympathy for the way the press hounded our politicians daily, drawing a parallel to the challenges Jesus faced, without perhaps mentioning that Jesus’s preaching represented a more profound “turning on its head” of Jewish religious beliefs than anything our politicians get up to today.
So an attack and an attempt to trap Jesus with a question by a ‘teacher of the Law’ was perhaps unsurprising, but elicited an answer about “the greatest commandment” that is as much a challenge to us today as it was to the Pharisees then.
David recognised the difficulty that many have in “loving Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind” because their understanding of what God is is nebulous. Loving neighbours as we love ourselves is a much easier concept – albeit not always an easy one to follow – because neighbours are people like us. We know what we are dealing with.
So his strong belief, supported by real life experience, in God as a loving person, ready to help us and overlook our warts is for David the starting point and the key to fulfilling The Greatest Commandment.
Family Zoom & Church Communion Service – 18th October – led by Anne Walton
Some nice touches from Anne this week – lighting 10 candles during the prayers of intercession (and holding them up to the camera!).
Also introducing some sung refrains during the Communion Liturgy. Both were implemented seamlessly and added to another excellent Service from Anne.
Anne’s Sermon was a reflection on Matthew 22 vv 15-22 – ‘The Question about paying taxes’. Although intended as a trick question – and one that got an even trickier answer that confounded the Pharisees – it challenges us by suggesting that there is a clear divide between the spiritual and the temporal. The reality is somewhat different and possibly the real challenge for us is to navigate that fine line where they meet.
Family Church and Zoom service – 11th October – led by Canon Richard Osborn
Well it was not a normal service by any means! Just as we are getting used to Services back in the church and refining the way we do things in the hybrid “Church/Zoom” world, we had a loss of power to a part of Potters Bar, so the internet of our Music/Hymn provider and our Bible reader went down for pretty well the whole of the Service.
Richard Osborn valiantly offered to sing the hymns for us – we all knew he has a great singing voice – so we could preserve the usual format, albeit without the pleasure of the usual musical introduction and finale. Our sincere thanks to Richard – a real trouper!
Richard reflected on aspects of ‘New Normal’ following a trip into London (He had felt almost as excited as his first trip on the Underground as a child) and how we all had to come to terms with it. We should not forget that God is with us especially in these times.
Richard’s sermon looked mainly at our second reading, Matthew 22 vv 1-14, one of a series of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. He noted the poor industrial relations tactics in ‘The Workers in the vineyard’ and the seemingly unfair treatment of a guest in ‘The parable of the Wedding Feast’ who had come off the street without his wedding clothes. “The last will be first, and those who are first will be last” and “Many are invited, but few are chosen” are hard rules to interpret, particularly for God who we perceive as loving and ready to forgive, opening the Kingdom potentially to all.
Richard’s interpretation is that whilst open to all, we all have a responsibility to look into our hearts and do our best to follow God’s laws. As for not being chosen, this was hard for us to square with our understanding of a loving and compassionate God, but this was something we would only find out when the time came.
For the writer, perhaps a slightly different ‘take’. It is that our behaviours that cut us off from God; the door is always open, but we feel unable to enter. Until we change our behaviour and so feel able to enter, we are cut off from God, the Kingdom and everyone in our lives who we have loved. This Isolation in itself must be hell. But there must always be the chance to change and repent, however late we may opt to do this.
Harvest Festival and Communion Zoom Service – 4th October – led by Lilian Evans.
This was our first Service with the church open for worship and 10 people came to the Service in the church, with about 20 people following the Service at home on Zoom. All the Zoom attendees could be seen on a television screen in the church and the sung Hymns were also provided by Stephen Jones from home. A traditional Harvest arrangement in the church had been prepared by Albert Waite.
The readings from Isiah 5 and Matthew 21 both dealt with vineyards and harvests.
We are used to the serial misbehaviour of the Jews in the Old Testament, and Isaiah used the example of the likely fate of vines in a vineyard which produced only wild and sour grapes to remind them that they, the people of Judah, were the vines in the vineyard of the Lord and they were not doing what he expected of them!
In Matthew, Jesus took a slightly different slant on the vineyard theme. In his case the landowner lets his vineyard to tenants who when the time comes refuse to hand over the agreed share of the harvest and mistreat and kill the landowner’s servants. When the landowner sends his son – to whom he believes the tenants will show respect – they kill him as well. Jesus asks what the people think the landowner will do. The chief priests and the Pharisees knew they were the subject of the parable and wanted to arrest him but were held back by their fear of the crowds.
Lilian wondered what God sees when he looks at us – does he see what he expects: are we going to bear fruit? Are we giving back to God he things that belong to him?
Like the vineyard owner God has sent his son to us. Do we respect him and follow his guidance. On the face of it he made it easy for us, sweeping away so many of he rules that Jews had to follow. But loving God and loving our neighbours -perhaps not so easy? Lilian shared with us her experiences and the insights that guide her life. And she suggested we ask ourselves “Is there anything more we could do?”
Family Zoom Service – 27th September – led by Martyn Macphee.
Today we welcomed Martyn Macphee to lead our worship. Martyn may be a new face for some of us, but he has led our worship on at least one occasion over the years. A serious face, difficult for the camera to capture, but powerful and thought-provoking words in his prayers and address.
Martyn and Frank Palmer took us one stage further in our process of bringing worship back into our church and could talk directly to the handful of members who had come into the church to worship and attend the Church Meeting that followed. We formally re-open for worship next week.
Martyn’s address gave us his reflections on the third reading, Matthew 21 vv 23-32 – the Question about Jesus’ authority, and the Parable of the Two Sons. Jesus’ words and actions were a challenge to the whole edifice of religious practices that grown up and stood in the way of the path to God, so his authority to do this was challenged. The ‘country boy’ outsmarted the chief priests and elders with a question they could not answer. At the core was the question of whether he was indeed the Messiah and so entitled to overrule the Church leaders of the day.
The Parable of the Two Sons was a rebuke aimed at those who by following all the complex rituals that had grown up felt they were beyond reproach had no need to repent. People who knew they were sinful heeded the calls to repent from John the Baptist and Jesus and would enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the others.
There was a clear message to us about how we saw ourselves. Would we recognise our weaknesses, open our hearts to repentance and change and through Jesus come closer to God?
Zoom Communion service – 20th September – led by Anne Walton
Zoom Communion Service – 6th September – led by John Wainwright.
We were pleased to welcome John Wainwright back again to lead our worship. We had hoped that John could stream from the church, but we had some problems with Zoom “dropping out” during the week and decided to opt for caution, so John was at home. Tony Corfe was alone in the church from where he gave the welcome and read one of the Bible passages.
The reading was Ezekiel 37 vv 1-14 – The Valley of Dry Bones – about God breathing renewed life into dry bones as a metaphor for restoration and renewal of a Jewish community in exile in Babylon. John felt that that there was a message for us, self-isolated and possible a little downcast as a result of the Coronavirus, to look to God for strength, hope and renewed vigour when we are able to come together physically to worship.
The latest figures for Coronavirus cases suggest we may have to wait some time for this.
Family Zoom service – 30th August – led by Anne Walton.
Anne’s themes this week were “Post Lockdown Church” and “Singing in worship and evangelism”. The first -accompanied by a humorous video clip from Bethany Baptist Church – was appropriate for the day we had our first short video stream from the church. Frank welcomed us, gave us the notices and lit the candle in front of a webcam in the church. Great to see it again and experience the special quality of the sound from the Sanctuary.
For Anne, singing is a vital and integral part of any Service and the ability to sing at home to the music and vocals from Stephen and Paula has been one of the big plusses of a Zoom Service – and one we will hang on to (at least for those at home) when we stream Zoom Services from the church. The reading, Psalm 96, tells us to sing a song to the Lord, but also that the earth and sky will be glad and the trees and woods will shout for joy when the Lord comes.
We are singing to God, but also to our neighbours and to the world and our hymns give us the words and the courage to go out and share our faith in the wider community.
Family Zoom Service – 23rd August – lead by Revd. David Aplin.
David was fresh back from his golden Wedding celebration in Devon and full of the joys of being physically with family and friends. He was looking forward with a similar sentiment to the planned restarting of Services in our church in September.
A present of mugs illustrated the clear family ranking order chez Aplin’s – Mr Right & Mrs Always Right – though we may have our suspicions as to where the family dogs are in the ranking order.
David’s chat and his sermon on Matthew 16 vv 13-20 focused on the rock foundation of the church – something God has provided. Although it might appear that the church had lost its way in society, he believed it remained relevant for us all – and still growing world-wide. It provided a base that secular fashions of today could not provide.
Covid-19 had forced us to accept changes in the way we worshipped, and the Zoom format allowed people to be with us digitally, who could not be with us physically in church. This was something to be treasured and sustained as we moved forward, to spread the church from the building to the community. Zoom and the Holy Spirit will spread the vital aspect of fellowship amongst us all.
Family communion Service – 16th August – led by Mike Findley.
This was Mike’s first Zoom Service for us and we thank him for leading our worship even though he finds the lack of direct audience feedback with Zoom a little troubling.
Mike’s theme, based on the two readings; Isaiah 56 v1, & 6-8 and Matthew 15 v 7-20 was the approach to returning to or rebuilding religious life – whether to look outward or inward.
Isiah gave advice to the Jews returning from exile to Jerusalem to look outwards, but Mike felt that the later prophets had encouraged the Jews to look inwards and concentrate on being closed community bound by ever more detailed rules. Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel aptly nailed this mis-step.
As we contemplate “new normal” and a possible return to a physical presence in our church Mike encouraged us to be outward looking, open and welcoming to new ideas and diversity. He reminded us that God would never ask us to do things that we could not with his help achieve.
Family Zoom Service – 9th August – led by Anne Walton.
Anne’s Service this week focused on Matthew 14:22-33, “Jesus walks on the Water”. Life was not without risks – as we found trying to integrate “Virtual Stephen” into the day’s live Service.
Being a Christian brought its own risks, but was a life without risk a life worth living? A strong faith and leaning into God in times of difficulty would see us through our lives of living and sharing Jesus’s message with others.
A realist, as ever, Anne noted that for those of us without the faith and belief of Peter, if we were going to try to walk on water it was good to know where the steppingstones were!
Family Zoom Communion Service – 2nd August – led by Anne Walton.
Another enjoyable Communion Service from Anne.
Her Sermon focused on Compassion and Jesus teaching his disciples – learning on the job – about their (and our) responsibilities to look after other people. The sharing of a meal also looked forward to the last supper – something we were to remember in the Eucharist that was to follow.
It was later suggested that Anne (who now misses her Sunday morning breakfast on the way to Potters Bar from Milton Keynes) might have used a croissant for Communion.
In a similar vein we can observe from last week that Tony Alderman is still on track to get his wish granted – just one more match (The Bees will play Fulham at Wembley on Tuesday for a place in the Premier League).
We were also able to sing (if sing is the right word?) Happy Birthday to Noah in Zambia, who was celebrating his 38th birthday.
Family Zoom Service – 26th July – led by Tony Alderman
A bittersweet morning.
Tony Alderman led our worship, but against the backdrop of the news that our Church Secretary had become ill and needed to step back from his role. Tony assured us of support and good wishes from the Synod Executive as well as other friends and told us to take courage and find some hidden treasures amongst our membership to continue to take us forward.
It being Tony, his chat on “dreams” had to include the fortunes of Brentford – relegated 73 years ago – now on the cusp of promotion back to the Premiership, but needing just a few more points. In the case of Solomon (1 Kings 3 vv 5-12), when God offered him anything in the world, he chose wisdom and that Tony felt was the challenge for us – what would we do.
(Listening to Tony again, I got the feeling that he just might opt for seeing Brentford in the Premiership over the gift of wisdom – he seemed to have plenty of that anyway!)
In his sermon he started with the words from the first hymn “Don’t worry what you have to say, don’t worry because on that day, God’s spirit will speak in your heart, will speak in your heart.
The readings from Matthew were the parables about the Kingdom. “Cometh the need, cometh the hour” and we should be looking for those hidden talents in our community. We had a responsibility to carry on as an Eldership, not necessarily always to agree but to take care to understand the other persons’ points of view as we moved forward.
We also received words of encouragement from friends who have shared recent Zoom Services with us.
Zoom Communion Service – 19th July – led by Revd. John Steele
A big thankyou to John, leading his first Zoom Service with us – and Communion too!
The theme was dreams (Abba, not the Rolling Stones this week), something we experience each in our unique way.
The readings from Genesis covered Jacob acquiring Esau’s rights as firstborn in exchange for a bowl of soup (perhaps not a very nice brother?), missing out the deceit of his father to get Esau’s final blessing and being forced to flee, but going forward to Jacob’s Dream at Bethel.
John saw some similarities between Jacob and us: we also try to flee from God at times, we have a promise from God and the responsibilities that go with it.
During the Covid-19 Lockdown, our Bethel has been our own homes and we’ve seen the work of “two footed angels” – all our health and caring services – around us. As we slowly come out of Lockdown, John hoped we would see other examples of the stairway, examples of Gods direct workings amongst us and rejoice.
Family zoom Service – 12th July – led by our Elders
This Sunday was another opportunity for our Elders to provide “team worship”, with Tony Corfe as team leader. I think they passed the test.
Tony took the New Testament reading Matthew 12 vv 1-9, 18-23, “The Parable of the Sower” for his message. He took us through a variety of possible interpretations about farming methods and soil quality – what kind of ground are we? – before taking us back to the title of the passage.
In his view it is all about the Sower – God – and the seed – his Word. Unlike a farmer, because of his love for us he sows the seed on all types of ground – and Tony felt there was a bit of all types of ground in all of our hearts – as a gesture of his wildly extravagant love for us. And if some of the seed finds even the smallest portion of good soil within our hearts, he nurtures the Kingdom within us.
Family Zoom Communion Service – 5th July, led by Revd. David Aplin
David certainly offered us some food for thought.
If you can get away from daytime TV (a bit of a struggle for David, based on his comments), Lockdown can be a time for introspection and getting rid of some of the “baggage” of our lives. We need to be challenged and to grow from the challenge; be willing to accept change and have an understanding relevant “for now”.
Arrogance and conceit are a barrier to God: we should be thankful for his love. If there is a gulf to God, there is often a gulf to other people in our lives. So it’s time for us to examine who we are and what really matters to us; to ask “Lord, what will you have me do?”
Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest”.
In Lockdown many of us are dependent on others and feel a lack of “wholeness” because we cannot do many of the things we used to. We give ourselves to the generosity of those who offer to help us, giving up some of that desire to be independent – and so it can be with God.
This is not to be totally dependent, but to know He’s here for us. And maybe by depending on others during Lockdown we’ve learnt a little more about our relationship with God and how to “lean on him”.
Family Zoom Service – 28th June, led by Tony Alderman
A great pleasure to have Tony Alderman to lead our worship – broadcasting from the BBC (Barnet Broom Cupboard), after a spell “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure” in the Royal Free Hospital.
Tony returned home with all body parts and his sense of humour intact and functioning. He enjoyed his first meal at home of lamb and mint sauce, reflecting that he’d been looked after by a Mr Lamb and a Ms Myint – taking us into “What’s in a name?”.
In answer to “What is a Christian?”, his theme was welcome. Hospitality, however small, was a sign of God’s presence. It’s the welcome you give that marks you out as a Christian and sometimes we in our churches forget the importance of making people welcome.
Family Zoom Service and Holy Communion – 21st June, led by Anne Walton
Anne’s service confronted us with a very difficult Bible passage – Matthew 10, vv 24 to 39. Taking us into it gently, Anne started with triangles and plenty of visual aids, before we heard the Bible reading and Anne’s thoughts on it, latter using the theme of Love Triangles. Mostly used in the context of two people in competition for the love of a third, who loves both, it was more difficult to visualise in the context of love for Jesus and for one’s family. From Matthew, Jesus appears to be demanding that we prioritise love for him above all others. Anne believes that our love for Jesus (and God) enrichens our love for our families and friends. A priority yes, but not a competition.
Family Zoom Service – 14th June, led by Canon Richard Osborn
Richard talked to us about life during “Lockdown”.
The Bible reading Matthew 9 v 35 to Matthew 10 v 8 sparked a comment on the difference between pity (GNB) and compassion (in Richard’s version) which he felt was a more appropriate word. Jesus whilst controversial, stood out by being a teacher, a prophet and a healer and for his compassion for the crowds that followed him.
When Jesus called together his Disciples and sent them out as his Apostles it was with the same motivation – something that he felt carries over to us today as we share his message with others.
Holy Trinity Service – 7th June, led by Revd. David Aplin
Another enjoyable service with up to 29 “log-ins”.
In David’s talk and Sermon he shared with us his understanding and conception of the Trinity (it being Trinity Sunday). Although he was inclined to see all three elements as distinct persons, there was no hierarchy involved. David has experienced the working of the Holy Spirit on numerous occasions.
Nice to have Paula Jones slightly more into the field of view this week – and the little vocal excursions were delightful!
Pentecost Service – 31st May, led by Tony Alderman
We welcomed Tony back to his second Zoom Service with us. He chatted about Lockdown, with the inevitable (golfing) joke.
It being Pentecost, the reading and the Sermon dealt with the coming of the Holy Spirit – something Tony felt was as true for us today as for the disciples at that time. Tony is involved with education and a care home charity. He highlighted some inequalities and encouraged us to do what we can to help address failings or gaps in provision – covid-19 testing in a care home being an example of a successful intervention.
We welcomed two newcomers to our Service and the Chat session – Nkosingibhile Dlamini, who we met some years ago when he visited Potters Bar for a Scout Jamboree,
and Katherine (Kate) Arnold a former member of the church now living in the New Forest. Kate said “It was nice to be able to put faces to names. Also being able to see Margaret Barton again and Paula and Steven. By the way, can you tell Paula, I love her ginger cat”.
Meanwhile John Knott was in telephone contact with his mother Joan, to help her log in and activate her sound – which she finally did. We sang her a typically chaotic Happy Birthday at the end of the service in case she had missed the professional version (Stephen Jones) at the start.
Ascencion Service – 24th May, led by Anne Walton
Another good day with 30 “log-ins” this time – church members and friends near and far. We’d hoped to have Revd. Kenneth Bamuleke from Uganda giving us the prayers, but he could not get internet access and so Tony Corfe read his prayers for him.
Anne’s Theme for Ascension Sunday was Goodbyes and New Beginnings – for the Disciples and for us. Lots to be joyful for and tell people about! The card says ‘Let your faith be bigger than your fear’.
We managed to ambush Stephen Jones trying to sneak a birthday past us so he was forced to play and sing “Happy birthday to ME!”
The edited Service follows:
Family Zoom Service with Holy Communion – 17th May, led by Revd. John Mackerness
Some problems with Zoom software for this Sunday Service, with a number of people unable to join or left without microphone or video stream. Hopefully Zoom will have solved this by next weekend. A number of other churches had problems with their Services.
This said we pushed on and John Mackrness led our worship and Holy Communion. The reading from Acts had Paul in Athens taking his mission to the Athenians. John felt Paul was giving us a masterclass in outreach, noting that our current situation with Covid-19 should not stop our mission to share the Christian message of hope in these troubled times.
We were pleased to see some new (to Zoom) faces, but were frustrated that some who had really persevered were not able to enjoy the full experience of a Zoom Service.
We wished David Morris a very Happy Birthday – in church?
Our usual duet for hymns gained a third voice?
The edited Service follows:
Family Zoom Service – 10th May, led by Revd. David Aplin
An enjoyable Service from David, with plenty of chat before and after the Service and some close friends of David joining us to experience a Zoom service. Although the live Service was fine, the recording had big problems with synchronisation of sound and video streams, so the video stream in the recording below has a few gaps.
Zoom Service including Holy Communion – 3rd May 2020, led by John Wainright
Twenty five people logged in, of which four (Audrey Ward, Jean Morse, Marion Poulton & Pam Perrot) phoned in. We were probably over thirty in total – and that’s not counting all Noah’s family, who joined us from Zambia!
Margaret Barton and Mary Deller logged in without assistance – and celebrated their success.
Lots of chat before and after the service as usual but this time edited out!
You can view and edited version of the Service below.
Third Zoom Service – 26th April 2020, led by Tony Alderman.
Our third Zoom Service led by Tony Alderman was well attended. We welcomed Jennifer Cameron (now living in Ware) to her first Zoom Service. We also had Jean Morse joining us by telephone – the first of our members without internet access to do so. She was very pleased to hear the Service and the sound was clear as a bell! Hopefully others of our members without internet access will join us in the coming weeks.
The reading and Tony’s sermon was based on Luke 24, vv 13-35, The Walk to Emmaus. “Moments of Revelation” linked to a vignette in Tony’s past and his experience of many discrete moments of revelation in his faith journey that came together to build his belief.
As usual, Stephen Jones provided the music and he and his wife Paula sang he hymns for us. We are so grateful to all who produced the service for us.
Second Zoom Service 19th April 2020
Our second Sunday Service on Zoom was notable for the number of new members joining in but it was not as ‘slick’ as the first service, with a few unplanned insertions and some lapses in microphone protocols. These are largely cut from the edited video below.
We all have to learn to keep our microphone muted unless we are asked to make a specific contribution during the service. Also even during the chat sessions before and after the Service, we have to take care not to talk over others. Zoom tends to prioritise he or she who speaks loudest and cut the video and audio from anyone else – sometimes mid-sentence!
A thing that is really great is the interactions – seeing the faces and following the questions and answers about how other members and friends are doing, keeping us all up to date. We even had a member of our sister church in Katombora, Zambia and his family join us!
Easter Sunday Service 12th April 2020
Our first attempt at a Sunday Service on Zoom went better than expected, though there were a few glitches – like Janet Green’s Internet going down as she was about to present the Intercessionary Prayers – but we came through it to have a thoroughly enjoyable time of worship. Anne Walton was our worship leader and Holy Communion was led by Tony Corfe (we all had bread and wine ready at home).
As you’ll see it was a genuine community effort with many individual contributions. We are particularly luck to have Stephen & Paula Jones providing live music and vocals. We did try community singing in a dry run, but because of synchronising difficulties it was utter chaos. Also everyone has to remember to mute their microphones during he service, so they don’t intrude on the video stream.
The video clip below gives you a flavour of the service, also of the personal interactions as we prepared for the service and chatted after it. No coffee unless you had made it at home however!
You’ll see that Zoom sometimes loses synchronisation between sound and picture, which occasionally leaves gaps in the video footage – but it’s something we can live with – I hope?
We had lots of congratulatory e-mails from those who logged in to Zoom and could participate in the service.
We hope many more members and friends with Internet access will join us in the services we intend to hold in the coming weeks.
Sunday 22nd March – A “Last Hurrah”
This was the last Sunday service to be held in our church for some time as we take measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Our planned worship leader Nick Alexander and our Director of Music Stephen Jones were both unable to be present at the service as their partners are at a higher risk from infection. Stephen recorded the hymn music for us at home (and it was perhaps good that he wasn’t there to hear the singing!).
With many of our church members in the 70+ cohort, most decided not to come to the service, so we were a small group, well spaced out. The service itself was pretty ad-hoc, with our Church Secretary, David Ramsay, leading worship. It was nonetheless an enjoyable worship experience for those who attended.
We concluded that holding services in the church was not a sensible way forward. We are going to look at developing an on-line form of service using Zoom software. Once we have something up and running we’ll let everyone know.
Sunday 15th March – Communion Service led by Fredwyn Hosier
As usual, Fredwyn had a surprise for us. She shared the running of the Service with her Grandson Luca. And Luca was to tell us about the Gruffalo, and later, the Gruffalo’s Child.
The theme was about fear and facing fear with God’s help – most appropriate for a day when many of us may be looking forward to a long period of self-isolation and uncertainty.
Mary Cook also had a story to tell about the importance of an emergency call unit if you are living alone.
And Tony had a prayer from the minister of the Church in Canada where he and Barbara worship when they are over there.
We don’t know yet when (or if) we may need to close the church for Sunday Services. It appears churches in some countries are doing this. We await Government advice. This week’s video clip is longer than usual because for the first time it includes Holy Communion.
Our Organist this week was Jonathan Gregory.
If you were unable to come to church today, you may want to watch the video clip – and Luca, a little star!
Sunday 8th March – Family Service led by Canon Richard Osborn.
Another memorable Sunday.
If Richard Osborn thought he could sneak a secret birthday past us – he had another think coming. Our spies are everywhere. And he’s still just a ‘stripling’, with a couple of years to go before he gets his bus pass!
Richard read us Psalm 121 whose writer’s message is about God as provider of help and comfort. The importance of help and care for one another, in church and in our community, was particularly relevant for a day when we were to dedicate our defibrillator after the service.
Geoff Peterson read John 3, vv 1-17 which tells us about Jesus and Nicodemus – the latter a “fleeting actor”, a Pharisee who wanted to know more, who came to understand that “believing is seeing” – seeing life in a completely different way – is to be born again.
Hertfordshire County Councillor John Graham and his wife attended the service as did Teresa Travell from the Potters Bar Society and Mark Herbert.
John Graham had given us a contribution of £569 from his Locality Budget towards the Defibrillator – facilitated by the Potters Bar Society – and Mark had installed it for us at his own expense.
We were joined for the Dedication by Arline and David Hursey, founders of the charity Defibrillators in Public Places (DIPPs), who had provided the Defirillator.
After the dedication by Richard, our church Secretary, David Ramsay, presented Arline with a cheque for £1200, raised by the church through donations at charity lunches and a number of events, including the very successful Quorum Singers pre-Christmas Concert “On Christmas Night” on 14th December.
We were pleased to know that the contribution from County and the monies we raised had covered the cost of the defibrillator, with a surplus going towards funding another unit elsewhere.
Sunday 1st March – Family Service led by John Wainright
John’s theme was Lent, the “testing” of Jesus in the desert – Matthew 4, vv 1-11 (read by Frank Palmer) – and some ideas for us as we go through the Lent period.
Sunday 23rd February – Family Service led by Revd. John Steele
John’s Themes were about transformation and transfiguration – 2 Corinthians 4, vv 3-6 and Matthew 17, vv 1-9 (read by Janet O’Connor).
We started with the “Ugly Duckling” , then God’s Glory as seen in Jesus (1) – as seen by us and through us (2) – and as seeing our world through different eyes (3).
Sunday 16th February – Family Service and Holy Communion, led by Revd. Carole Elphick
A new chuch layout for Communion and an old friend back to lead our worship.
Carole’s reflections were on the decisions we must make – not the least of which was the colour of scarf to wear!
The real meat of her reflections on the readings from Deuteronomy 30, vv 15-20 and Matthew 5, vv 21-37 (read by Jean Morse) is in the video clip below.
Sunday 9th February – Family Service led by Tony Alderman – 11.00.
It was really great to have Tony back to lead our worship after his latest brush with the NHS. Their attempts to lose him in the system (somewhere between UCH and Royal Free) would be a fine “Patient Story” for our NHS Commissioners to reflect on. For us, as “Patient, patient Mark 2” , they were great comedy – vintage Tony!
Having, as usual, found a message for us in his experiences, Tony went on to share with us his thoughts – “Taught by the spirit” – on the three Bible readings. Kathy Howe read Isaiah 58, vv 1-12, Tony 1 Corinthians 2, vv 1-16 and then Kathy finished up with Matthew 5, vv 13-20,
With Storm Ciara in full flow we were a little light on attendance. If you would like to hear or re-live Tony’s gems, click on the video clip below.
Sunday 2nd February – Family Service led by Dr Geoffrey Peterson
Geoff continued his recounting of Jesus’s early life and Baptism in this 4th week of Epiphany. His insights on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) formed the second part of his address.
Christine Emanuel was in church today – a very welcome visit, but tinged with sadness as her Moravian church has recently had a fire and they are currently worshipping in a hall.
Mike Findley – 26th January
Mike gave us his thoughts on Jesus’scalling of his first disciples (Matthew 4) and “The wisdom of the Cross” (1 Corinthians 1).
Fredwyn Hosier – 15-12-19
An inspirational pre-Christmas message from Fredwyn.
Anne Walton – 8-12-19
Tony Alderman – 1-12-19
David Aplin – 24-11-19
Mike Findley – 17-11-19
Remembrance Sunday 10-11-19
my world, my universe.
Fredwyn Hosier – 3-11-19
Fredwyn shared her thoughts on the lectionary readings of Habakkuk and Luke 19 (The Tax Collector) – which were read by Marion Poulton.
Baptism of Isabella Ford 13-10-19
We were delighted to have a very full church again for Isabella’s Baptism Service, led by Anne Walton. Anne did her “magic water” demonstration and children demonstrated their faith in Anne by passing under the upturned glass. The address reflected on Jesus’s Baptism, in preparation for Isabella’s.
To see scenes from the Service, click below.
Esther Krakue comes into Membership 18-8-19
Today we welcomed Esther into membership of our church at a Communion Service led by Revd Dr Nick Brindley.
We were joined by our friends from Brookmans Park URC and were also very pleased to have Rosemary Sargeant and members of her family with us.
Nick and David Ramsay, our Church Secretary, welcome Esther.
Sunday 28th July 2019
A very special Sunday, with the return of (Revd) Jeanne Ennals – looking as sprightly as ever after her hip operation – to lead worship.
We were also so pleased to see Rosemary Sargeant, brought in by her relations for some spiritual food, before going off to the Admiral Byng to feed the body.
There was a lot to catch up on, both before and after the service – so much so that we ran out of coffee. And that’s something we never do!
With so many people to talk to, Jeanne was (almost) the last person to leave – with our duty officer waving her keys (a put-up job of course).
Jeanne will be back with us on the 15th September.
It was a very moving service, so if you’d like to relive it, please click on the triangle in the image below.
Sunday 16th June 2019
Today we welcomed Ali Araghi into membership following his recent Baptism.
Nick’s sermon was about the Holy Trinity.
Sunday 9th June
A bittersweet moment this week as our Minister Nick told us that he could no longer sustain the full-time workload of serving two churches and would focus his reduced working hours on our sister Church in Brookmans Park.
Following Nick’s serious illness, he and his wife Pam showed amazing courage and perseverance in the recovery period and we followed with joy each new step along that journey. We now know that the ambition to return to full-time leadership of our two churches has placed a heavy load on them both and is now negatively affecting Nick’s health. In short, he is exhausted.
We pray that this move will provide a rewarding and sustainable future for them both.
Sunday 2nd June.
We were doubly blessed this Sunday. Our choir could postpone their rendering of “Oh for a closer walk with God” no longer – despite their misgivings – and it turned out fine!
We welcomed back Carole Elphick a long-time friend and the day’s worship leader. Carol’s sermons always have those quirky bits – her children describing Jesus’s ascension as the “blast off”……….
………. and those feet up in the ceiling of some churches, reminding those below that he’s up there somewhere.
The choral piece and Carole’s sermon are to be enjoyed (again?) below.
Baptism Service for Ali Araghe – Sunday 26th May 2019
A very special Sunday evening.
Ali Araghe – probably better known to us as Mosayeb Areghi’s nephew – who had supported his Uncle as he came into membership, had asked for a full Baptism before he too came into membership of our Church.
A full immersion is Baptism is not on offer at our church, but fortunately our Minister Nick and his good friends Joel Mercer and Roger Taylor had a solution. We could all attend the evening service at the Potters Bar Baptist Church and Ali could have a full immersion Baptism – and so it was on Sunday the 26th May.
Unfortunately, Joel was ill that evening, so Roger agreed to do what he called the “wet part”, leaving Nick to conduct the joint Service with our friends at Potters Bar Baptist Church. For those of us who had never experienced a full immersion Baptism this was a great new experience as well as a very moving Service.
Ali was supported by Tony Corfe, one of our Elders, who also did the “wet part” – probably a “first” for Tony as well.
We are now looking forward to welcoming Ali into membership in a second Service at our Church.
If you’d like to see more, please click on the triangle below to see highlights of the Service.