Sunday 19th March – Communion Service led by Jonathan Hyde

A good day tinged with sadness as we said goodbye to Pam Perrott who is moving down to Gloucester next Saturday. She went out not with a whimper, but with a rousing anthem where she (typically) took on the Soprano descant in the final part. The church will miss her, but particularly the members of the choir.

Stephen told us that Pam had sung with the BBC Symphony Choir, the Goldsmith’s Choral Union and finally with Potters Bar URC choir (the best of course!).

Jonathan read us three Bible passages with an introduction before, and an analysis to follow.

The first reading from Genesis Chapter 12 he called a story, because the Bible is a bit vague on occasions. It was written around the 6th Century BC looking at something that had happened at least 1000 years before, when God promised Abraham the Promised Land. It is suggested that at the time of the Babylonian exile, the remnant of Jews who remained kept to the story of Abraham coming to the Promised Land, whilst those exiled and coming back raised the story of Moses coming into the Promised Land.

We don’t know where Abraham came from (places in Turkey, Syria and Iraq have been suggested), but it was certainly somewhere in the fertile crescent.

The passage is quite often used because it shows the faith Abraham had in God. A 75-year-old, comfortably established in his house with family, servants and animals suddenly gets a message from God to up sticks, leave his country, his people, and everything else behind, and go to the land God will show him. It’s an example of phenomenal faith, leaving behind all his ties and following the will of God – and one which challenges us all.

The second reading from 1 Peter 2 is probably one of the hardest pieces of scripture to accept Jonathan told us. Peter writes the letter around 64 AD at a time when the persecution of Christians was about to ramp up. It was written primarily for the churches in areas that we would call modern day Greece & Turkey and in particular Cappadocia in central Turkey where there was a big Christian community.

Peter tells them to submit themselves to every authority under the sun. How many of us would feel happy doing this, Jonathan wondered?  When Peter wrote this there were some 60 million slaves in the roman Empire, and one reason why crucifixion was so popular with the Romans was that they were totally outnumbered and needed something horrible (a barbaric form of death over 3-days usually reserved for slaves)  to maintain control. Even the most respected slaves were in effect chattels. And Peter writes about being submissive – difficult!

If we see horror taking place, according to Peter, we should accept it. Jonathan thinks it is probably easier to accept abuse aimed at ourselves, than to see it being done to other people. If people are being badly treated, should we step up to stop it?

This was the challenge that the German church faced at one time. They were very much under the influence of Luther, and he was saying “You do what the state wants you to. Don’t fight against authority”. For most of us, we’d want to kick against a system if we see injustice taking place. Luther’s logic was that if we’ve got a God who we worship and trust, he’s permitting it to happen to us  – though we might question why God was letting it happen to us?

Jonathan asked us to consider that we have the Holy Spirit within us and are walking temples for the Holy Spirit. If we look beyond the immediate persecution and think to ourselves that we’ve got to live our lives for God, God will look after us, and our reward will be in heaven. Whoever hurts us hurts God – and he will deal with it in his own way some day. It’s not the most comforting thought, but we should consider what Jesus went through (to suffer and die) because he wanted every one of us up there with him. He’s setting an example for us to follow.

Peter was telling his audience that they were going to go through rough times, but to stick to their faith and God will look after them – still hard for us to take on board, Jonathan said.

(Leaving aside why – or even whether – God is permitting things to happen, Peter’s message seems to me to be more a pragmatic response to a challenging situation where in effect his people were powerless and the consequences of opposition likely to be horrible. I think Jonathan is right that the response to abuse directed at self can be different to that when it is directed at others – turning the other cheek for example. But if we simply accept it when we see injustice taking place, it will never stop, and humanity will never progress).

The third reading from Matthew Chapter 16 has Jesus taking his followers to Caesarea Philippi. One of the things that intrigue Jonathan is to define the moment when it dawned on the disciples that he was probably God. The first time someone had suggested this was when the Samaritan woman at the well told him he was the Messiah. Jonathan sees the Bible beginning to gallop as it gets closer to the time of the crucifixion, with Jesus having to cram things in to make sure his disciples really understand who he is, and what he’s there to achieve.

We got a historical perspective of that place on the side of Mount Hermon where over the centuries different peoples had come to worship different gods, building their temples in the rock. The cave of Pan and spring water at Caesarea Philippi was seen by many as a gate to the underworld. (They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld and the gates of hell. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats).

So it was not a place that Jews were likely to visit then, but Jesus led his followers (disciples and followers, including women) up there. Jonathan sees them seated, looking down on temples and the river Jordan below. A phenomenal place with a phenomenal view – imagine the impact.

And then Jesus asks them, “Who do you think I am?” (have they got the message?). They come up with various names, but Peter says “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.

Jonathan can imagine Jesus looking at Peter and saying “you’ve got it!” A place of great symbolism, the massive Cave of Pan was said to be the way down to hell. Taking them there was to stress the point “I am God and I’m going to be with you”.

And then Jesus could relax and say “They’ve got it. Now I’m going to start on my journey to Jerusalem”.

Sunday 12th March – Family Service led by John Wainwright

As David Ramsay said, today’s short piece of theatre was worthy of a nomination for tonight’s Oscars, but it’s probably a bit too late?

Nonetheless a big thankyou to the three artists (Mary Deller, Sue Wainwright and David) for performing John 4 “Jesus and the Samaritan woman” for us – and to John W, for coming up with the idea. It did look for a moment as if Mary – the Narrator – might “steal the show” but all were allowed to play their parts!



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