Sunday 14th August – Joint Service with Christ Church Hatfield led by Martyn Macphee
This was a special Sunday for two reasons. We were holding a joint Service with Christ Church Hatfield URC – Zooming the Service from our church into theirs – and Martyn had been Interim Moderator for them in the past. We also enjoyed the visit of 4 generations of the Barton/Sive Family, Margaret Barton and her daughter Suzanne Sive (long time church members), Suzanne’s son Daniel and partner Toni, and their daughter Isobel. Not surprisingly Isobel and family somewhat upstaged the normal course of events – certainly on the pictorial side – but Isobel did not give Martyn any competition at all on the audio side. What a little star?
Martyn’s Address reflected on the New Testament Lectionary Reading from Luke 12. As Martyn told us, he felt he might have drawn the short straw on this reading. It was neither easy nor pleasant.
Martyn’s Aunt (his mother had died when he was young, and she’d brought him up) told him on many occasions “you only hear the things you want to hear” and he described his frequent mis-phasing of the eating of ice cream and the cutting of the lawn. In the wider political world, say at the current hustings for the vote on our next Prime Minister, we could see electors tending to split into two groups, hearing either “truths” or “lies”, depending on which candidate they support. Selective hearing!
Juan Carlos Cortez talks about the 5th Gospel that we in the 21st Century have failed to read. When we open the Bible, we find lots of bits that comfort us, but we don’t highlight the bits we don’t like reading. These “hard sayings” from Jesus make up the “5th Gospel”. We’d rather hear what we want to hear but can’t ignore the “5th Gospel” if we want to know the kind of people Jesus wants us to be. Martyn felt the verses of the Lectionary Reading were probably the most troubling of the hard sayings of Jesus.
“I’ve not come to bring peace but a sword” and “I’ve come to divide mother against daughter and father against son” are not how we naturally think of Jesus. We think of him as someone trying to unite people with peace at the heart of what he desires.
Martyn thought it was less easy in the 21st Century to understand what it was about than for those in the early church. When Christianity was a new religion, people were despised for following Jesus. If a Jew converted to Christianity, his family held a funeral for him. Very blunt! If a person claimed to be a disciple of Jesus, they were considered an enemy and a bounty was put on their head. They could have gone along with the crowd and a relative peace would have prevailed, but if they proclaimed their faith in Jesus, their past life was erased for ever.
Martyn told us about Murray, a Jew who at university converted to Christianity. This remained an issue between him and his father almost to the latter’s death. A few weeks before is father’s death his father said to him, you know Murray, sometimes at night I lay awake thinking “maybe you are right”. And Murray answered, I lie awake too thinking “maybe I’m wrong”. Such is the tension when a person’s life is radically lived for Jesus.
Martyn felt that the church in W.Europe has become very sloppy and we don’t see that kind of tension in our society.
(Thankfully I’d say, because we do understand this very well when we see the treatment some Muslim societies still mete out to anyone converting to Christianity, or Hindu societies to those believed to have converted to Islam – real death! And of course, burning at the stake was the fate for many Christians for relatively minor differences in belief.)
Martyn also noted that it can be easy to adopt Christian behaviours when in a like-minded group that we may not follow when we are alone. We can feel like hypocrites when we do this. Some of us may feel that at different times in our lives we’ve not stood up for what we believe, and feel torn when that happens. Such is the tension when Christ brings his velvet sword into someone’s life.
If we are committed to following Jesus in our lives, it can put us at odds with people who don’t share our convictions. Life would be easier if we didn’t take our faith seriously and went with the flow: peace in our families and peace in our friendships – but inside a bit of a mess, because we can’t serve two masters. That’s another hard thing. Jesus liked to say that if we try to live in two worlds, we will alternately hate the one and despise the other.
Hard sayings are only hard because they call us to live by our convictions – to walk the talk. We can’t just hear the things we want to hear, love those we want to love, serve those we want to serve, put our faith in a drawer and pull it out only in certain circles and at certain times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “there is a cost to discipleship” – and he paid it.
So if we want to live at peace with the world we should unapologetically and enthusiastically embrace the values of the world. It’s easier that way. But if inner peace is what we really think is important we ought to take the less travelled road where we listen to the still quiet voice of Jesus. It might cost us some friends or affect our families, but a different sort of peace will be ours.
Martyn was preaching to himself as well, because he doesn’t find it easy either, so he prays that God will grant us the courage to follow him, to bring the peace that comes from a velvet sword.
(Jesus is reported to have said “I wish you hot or cold but because you are luke-warm I will spit you out of my mouth”. For me, this is to see the world in black and white, whilst the reality is more complex and nuanced. There are risks, because we can see that many of the behaviours that today we find displeasing or downright evil are (or have been) carried out by people of strong faith, a rigid often archaic word view, and a strong belief that they are doing God’s will. It’s also interesting to note that the story of the Murrays is one of intolerance driven by beliefs moving gradually towards acceptance. It is certainly right to stand up for what we believe and listen to the still quiet voice of Jesus, but that voice for many of us is nuanced and sensitive to societal developments. We are fortunate to live in a society where we can take that less travelled road broadly without losing friends or affecting families unless we show intolerance. In recent weeks a recurring theme has been the hope that our behaviours and the inner peace we can radiate become a beacon for others who aspire to what we seem to have.)
We greatly appreciate the background that Martyn regularly gives us to the hymns he chooses and their authors. It also provides an opportunity for a fleeting smile.
It was also a pleasure to see that at least one young family – albeit with a strong family connection to our church – can feel relaxed and at home during a Service.
Geography and work circumstances preclude any regular presence, but perhaps we can hope for the occasional visit?
Sunday 7th August – Communion Service led by John Wainwright
Accompanied by the strains of Abba’s “Money, Money” (we are all Abba fans!), John courageously entered the minefield that is the Bible’s (and Jesus’s) advice on wealth management. John gave us all the legal health warnings about not being an expert in finance, or an economist. The fact that (as far as he knew) he’d not been asked to join the race to become Prime Minister appeared not to come as a surprise to him. He was able to confide in us that he’d not needed to marry for wealth, but with a partner rich in love.
Although it played well for Tony Corfe, our Bible Reader, John commented that the passage from Luke 12 was puzzling – as indeed is much of the conflicting guidance in the Bible as a whole. He noted that Jesus had criticised the Pharisees for giving all their money to the Synagogue and not having enough left over to care for their ageing parents.
We corrected John that “the Love of money is at the root of all evil” although this is manifestly untrue. Evil was around long before money was invented. (An obsessive regard for money is indeed a bad thing, however. And as for “God will provide” – tell that to the people of Somalia. And why do we all have bird feeders?).
As John put it in his polite way “we need to look at the context of the passage and to try to relate it to the whole gamut of scripture”. Though practising Christians, we cannot escape a world where money has considerable importance, and whilst as a church we speak out against the love of money, we also need to be responsible stewards of any money which the church may have.
Paul Mills in his Cambridge Papers notes that from the beginning of the early church, Christians have faced a tension. As people of the New Age proclaimed by Jesus, we are challenged to accept a new set of values. Our goal is to live lives that bring honour to God and benefit our neighbours, rather than indulging ourselves with material possessions – to be more concerned with giving than getting. I think we can all sign up for that, but as John observed, that’s not always the case.
For some “nominal” Christians, he noted, the last thing to be converted is their pockets. In some churches, if the members were more generous in their giving, they might avoid the dilemma of campaigning against gambling, whilst taking National Lottery money.
As Christians we are called on to support good causes at home and abroad (as we do), but there is a judgement to be made. We should be giving a hand up, not a hand down (and that’s a very difficult judgement to make). We should shop responsibly, supporting fairtrade and avoiding products which involve cruelty, even if they cost a bit more (if we can afford it?).
So we are called to follow a different set of values, but until Jesus’s final return in glory we live in the world and need food, clothes and shelter for ourselves and our families. And we need to navigate a society which is in many respects different to that of Jesus’s day. As responsible citizens, we pay our taxes (rendering to Caesar) which fund schools, universities, hospitals and the range of health and social care services which benefit us all, including the less advantaged members of our society. John noted that the Quaker entrepreneurs and benefactors, Rowntree and Cadbury, who were renowned for caring for their workforce, needed money to start their businesses. In the society in which we live, we can’t avoid the issue of money.
The biblical prophets spoke out against the rich, but the writer of Proverbs addresses the sluggards telling them to consider the ways of the wise ant. Jesus’s comment about the birds of the air is spiritual. How they get fed is practical. Part of spiritual growth is balancing that spiritualty with the practical. There’s a lot of teaching about wealth, but no easy answers.
Some Christians have regarded wealth as something to be avoided, like monastic communities, though they do not as individuals have families to be looked after. (reviewer’s note – the individuals might be poor, but the institutions which support them are generally not).
Some other Christians have adopted a perfidious attitude disguised as very pious Christian spirituality of simply expecting God to provide – often expecting us, as God’s people, to provide. It may be the right thing to do, but this is where the “hand up, not hand down” judgement is relevant. Paul criticized the Thessalonians, because looking forward to the coming of the Lord they’d stopped working and expected others to provide for their needs.
Worse still, in John’s mind, are those Christians who, whilst not lovers of money, have treated other people’s money irresponsibly – and then appealed to other with more foresight to bail them out!
Money can’t buy happiness or peace of mind (though at times it helps) and has no value beyond the grave.
John’s prayer is that God may help us to combine the wisdom of the ant in the way we earn, save and utilise our money and that of others, with living our lives so that we don’t overvalue our possessions, but put trust in the Lord to meet our most important needs – the richness of our relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.
Sunday 31st July – Church & Zoom Service led by Mike Findley
Despite holiday influenced low numbers we still managed an anthem from a slightly different quartet, the last until September, when Stephen returns.
Mike’s theme was the Holy Spirit, a thing we celebrate around Pentecost and then often seem to forget for the rest of the year. Three periods of lent before Christmas, Easter and Pentecost used to help keep it in people’s minds, but today we don’t look at it often enough.
The reading from Genesis has translations that have God hovering over the deep, but Mike prefers the Jewish idea of a violent wind which pits the irresistible force of creation against that which is rigid, petrified, without form, lifeless – imparting life. This was “God in Action”, and the Spirit of God was not a separate entity, being or person, but that God in Action doing things. It’s a way of looking at things that Mike likes, feeling that we’ve domesticated God and made him too small. A recent visit to an Astronomical Photography Exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich reminded him of the size and scope of the universe God created and the 13 million (plus) years of its existence.
So perhaps our God is too small, domesticated, nice and cosy, but it wasn’t always like that. The Spirit of God blew over the face of the deep and imparted life – so different from the western languages where the word spirit seems to want to separate an immaterial spirit from the matter of the body. “God in Action” was the picture in the Old Testament.
The second Old Testament reading has Job complaining that everything has gone wrong in his life as a result of God doing this and doing that. God answers him out of a whirlwind “Look at the stars. Could you have created all those? Do you doubt the power of God?”
Mike recalled a meditation by Eddie Askew, who goes down to the river after a storm and sees the reeds blown over, broken branches and plastic bottles carried down by the current. The grasses are beginning to pull themselves upright again, but other things don’t. He sees people in the water struggling with the torrent of life and a voice saying, “Maybe you should go upstream and mend the banks, so the floods don’t occur again, and the river of life is made safe?”.
John 7 has Jesus saying “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink……..whosoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from within them”, and that means the Spirit. And that’s a challenge. Do rivers of living water flow from us in our lives as we go about our daily activities?
In Romans 8 we are given the chance to become children of God. God’s Spirit joins itself to our spirits to declare we are God’s children. Here again we see the influence of Greek philosophy with the spirit being some sort of separate entity. Mike prefers the Hebrew version of the Spirit being God in Action. Either way it is not something stationary. It does things. It flows to strengthen us, to direct us, to provide purpose and to provide comfort. Do we fight it? Do we wrestle with it, get ‘hot and bothered’ and say NO to it? Do we try to keep it in and not let it flow?
Mike sees the Spirit as flowing through the world, pushing us all the time in the right direction, comforting us. But if we are self-interested, we fight it, and our minds are not at peace. If we go with the Spirit we find comfort, joy and purpose.
Mike sees life in the Spirit as being like a dance, not the turbulent conflicts of the Tango or the cosy twosome of the waltz, but a dance involving lots of people and lots of energy, like a country dance. He reflected that as a preacher, it counts as a success if just one of the audience remembers the sermon, takes it away with them and does something about it. So he provided us with the image of “hitching a ride on God’s Spirit” – saying “hold on, I’m coming with you. Let’s face the world together”. It’s exciting, challenging and helps you prepare for change with confidence because you are joined to the Spirit.
To Mike life is movement, a pilgrimage – not to some holy shrine or relic but a journey to closer and closer union with God. He talked about his experiences on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela over the Alps and into Spain, the interactions with people, supporting them and being supported by them. Many were not of a particular religious sect or religion. Some had no religion and came to “find themselves” and many did so. So if we have a pilgrimage of life, it’s not something to do alone. Like an eightsome reel, weaving patterns with other people. The Spirit encourages us to walk with others, help others, to encourage others and be encouraged and helped by them. The journey of life is full of obstacles and difficulties to be overcome, to be shared with others and the Spirit.
I think Mike has put his finger on a problem for many of us. We don’t sense the wind of the Spirit in our individual lives. But perhaps there is a special something about doing things as a community with a common purpose, helping and supporting each other, and we do get an echo of this in some moments of our church life. The joy of shared succeeding, or the success of an individual of our group. I know this is something I have experienced on particular occasions, and it may be why we look back with so much nostalgia to those times when the whole church did something together, like those wonderful church dinner events. And it doesn’t have to stop, even if our numbers are so much smaller.
Mike also talked of a wind of evil, blowing from people and gave us some modern-day examples. Perhaps the most obvious example for many of us is the almost religious fervour created by Hitler in his Nuremberg rallies, which infected almost a whole nation. And what of the Glastonbury effect? Is it negative or positive? As with so many journeys in life it’s not always so easy to find the right path.
Mike told us we shouldn’t put God’s Spirit in a box, to be looked at once a year, but live with that Spirit all of our lives.
Sunday 24th July – Church & Zoom Service led by Anne Walton
After a somewhat uncertain start (Anne had been held up in traffic) which had Joan Gooding doing chair-based exercises (when she was up, she was up………) and Alastair reaching for the power switch for the sound system, an anthem from our Quartet Choir (actually a secret quintet) settled us into Anne’s theme of the day, which was Prayer.
During her lay preacher training, Anne had been given a useful acronym for the four fundamental types of prayer – ACTS. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication – the latter covering asking for something for ourselves as well as the intercessionary asking for something for someone else. She noted that ACTS was also a useful reminder of the need to act on the things we pray for.
Mark Deller and American Rabbi is reputed to have rephrased the four types of prayer as Gimme, Thanks, Oops! and Wow! (though not necessarily in the same order).
Anne suggested we might reflect at the end of each line of the Lord’s Prayer on which category it fell into.
After the readings from Jean Morse, Anne reflected on the import of prayer for us. The late Robert Matthew Brown, an American theologian wrote “Prayer for many is like a foreign land. When we go there, we go as tourists. Like most tourists we feel uncomfortable and out of place, and therefore we move on before long, and go somewhere else”.
Anne suspected that he was referring to public prayer rather than private prayers (but I’m not sure she’s right on that one). In any event after moving to Milton Keynes she’d been exposed to the book of common prayer, discovering that many were very beautiful. She read us the example of the Collect for Purity:
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The collect is a thing of poetic beauty and there are many more examples of this. If we take them as a model for our own prayers – both public and private – it can be quite intimidating. We are not going to be able to compete in terms of beauty and art but we don’t need to. Jesus’s prayer (from Luke 11) is an antidote for intimidation, simple and straightforward.
Anne told us to “keep it simple” and to “be persistent” – ask, seek and knock, and keep on doing so!
Does it always pay off. Many are inclined think not, but Anne thinks he probably does answer our prayers – just not in the way we expected or the timescale that we had hoped.
Sometimes God’s answer is a definite NO. Anne wondered if there’s any way we can make God change his mind. Can we bargain with God? She was inclined to think not, but we had just heard the reading from Genesis 18, where Abraham conducts a somewhat comic Dutch Auction with God about the destruction of a city, raising the issue of the destruction of the innocent along with the guilty. God listened to Abraham, but still went ahead and destroyed the city – but at least Abraham’s brother Lot and his two nieces escaped.
Anne felt it boils down to God listening to our prayers and acting on them even if his actions are different from what we ask for. Jesus reminds us that God will give us what we need, not what we want: he acts on our prayers in the way he knows best.
She felt it was understandable that we might question the goodness of God’s gifts – we ask for peace, but still get violence…. and so on. Struggle and challenge will always be a part of our earthly lives, but God doesn’t leave us to struggle alone. What a privilege we’ve been given, that we can take our needs and concerns to the Lord in prayer. If we ask, seek, and knock God grants us the gift of his Holy Spirit to teach us, strengthen us and inspire us.
(And as for me, I’m inclined to think that God does not intervene in the physical world – beyond perhaps having pressed the button to start “big bang” for our particular universe – but it is indeed the gift of a means to communicate with God, both in this world and in the afterlife that we should treasure and make good use of).
To lighten the scene, we followed Anne’s Sermon with “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” which Anne insisted we should sing in rounds form and started organising us.
Some were clearly well pleased with the outcome.
Others less so, or perhaps a bit camera shy?………
or perhaps just having a laugh?
A very enjoyable and though provoking session.
Sunday 17th July – Church Anniversary & Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
This week we were celebrating our 88th Church Anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the formation of the URC in 1972. We could also wish Peter Willis (94) Janet O’Connor a Happy Birthday, congratulate Michelle Willis on obtaining her doctorate – and our friend Ravi on gaining British citizenship. Plenty of good news.
I think that for many of us our 88th Anniversary is something to celebrate (we have a lot of great history to look back on) but for David the URC anniversary was a bittersweet moment – 50 years of faith, hope and love but also in recent years a vertiginous decline in churches, ministers and members (but not money). So he felt it was a time to reset, to look for a new direction.
He offered us three reflections – on the Reformation, on the URC and on the future of the URC and our own church.
David started with the disciples and their sputtering attempts to spread the word about Jesus (the messages were often not welcome), then Paul’s conversion from persecuting Christians to being one of the church’s stoutest supporters; the epistles, often aimed at getting churches back to toeing the line; Christianity becoming the faith of the Holy Roman Empire and continuing to grow even after the Empire began to decline. And as seems to be the rule for many religions, building a hierarchy that over time creates an ever more complex set of interpretations and rules, some aimed at cementing their own power and authority.
And periodically someone rebels against the establishment, as Jesus did with the Jewish authorities of his time and Martin Luther did in 1517. Luther believed that we are saved by faith alone and are granted salvation by God as a gift, not by paying indulgences.
Luther was perhaps more fortunate, just excommunicated and declared an outlaw, but he was able to survive and, being unable to change the Catholic Church, founded his own reformed Lutheran Church.
In 1972, after much discussion the congregations of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches approved the formation of a joint church, the URC. It was a merger of “apples and pears”: the Congregational Church being a federation where the Church Meetings of the churches had the sole power and authority and a Presbyterian church much more of a hierarchy, with the centre having a fair measure of control over their churches (which they felt was more efficient). Actually this mismatch has practical merits because it gives congregations power (where the centre would like to control). And as with similar “works in progress” like the European Union, it’s easy to blame the centre for anything that goes wrong and complain about a top-heavy hierarchical organisation, which itself feels frustrated by lack of real power and the intransigence of local churches.
The decline in membership over the last 15 years may feel like falling off a cliff but it is in line with the experience of other denominations. David was reluctant to celebrate a fusion that many would regard as a failure (a bit harsh perhaps?), but felt it was a moment to think again about how we make the URC and our church continue to go forward.
Describing the present picture as one of despair, David noted how much the world has changed in the last 50 years – changed beyond all recognition – and people were also in a different place. There had been an enormous growth in churches that were defined by race and nationality (where the church offered support, cultural reassurance, and a meeting place for scattered communities). His church in Borehamwood had shared its premises with an African Church (as we did for a time with Life Church) but for some churches this was a bridge too far.
He gave us examples of three churches that had been hard hit, but surmounted their difficulties, be they in relation to a new building project, problems with their minister, or pressure from Synod to close their church. In each case there are now signs of renewal. The spirit is there driving people to want it to happen. The fire didn’t come from a minister, but from a congregation wanting their church to thrive. And in his descriptions, David offered us a clue to what had motivated the congregations. In one it was the opportunities offered by a modern flexible building, in another it was location in a place where the church could be a focus for an estate community and in the third an explicit move to provide a centre for community life and to provide the money to keep it going.
In effect these are all cases where the congregation identified a local opportunity and got behind it. So perhaps it was again a little harsh to give us the first of his three common threads:
- That Synod direction is rarely right because it is hidebound by rules and past procedures,
- That Ministry is not a key factor in success, but bad ministry can be highly disruptive,
- That it is the congregation working together to bring improvements in quality of worship, depth of spirituality and ambiance rather than worrying about “bums on seats” that brings success.
David said that the cold hands of tradition and defeatism were the Devil’s tools for the death of congregations and churches. He showed us his sign “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Certainly, we can’t just think “I’ve done my bit in the past”. It is a time of resetting, but I can’t help feeling that we’ve not yet identified that special something, that idea, that opportunity to grow our church that we all believe in and feel driven to get behind and make it happen.
If we can find it and can do this, our church can live to serve another generation.
Sunday 19th June – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
It being Father’s Day David told us of the importance of his father in his life (his rock) and his pride in the mug, bought for him, which said “If at first you don’t succeed, call Dad!”.
I think I heard a voice in the congregation expressing the hope that there was also one saying “Call Mum!” – certainly needed to maintain a fair balance. Linking (commercial) Father’s Day back to a father in heaven also seems like cultural appropriation. Our religious writings reflect the strongly patriarchal culture of the Middle East. The One God of the Universe has no need to have a sex.
(From my own experience, the greatest pleasure comes from working together with my son or daughter on projects where we solve the problems together – and succeed together – mostly!)
The passage from Luke 8 describes Jesus healing a man with demons – an exorcism. Allowing the demons to go into a large herd of pigs rather than into the abyss seems to show more sympathy for the devils than for the pigs – or the farmer who then loses his whole herd when they drown in the lake.
David told us that many people shy away from thinking about Satan, evil spirits and demons, but as part of his training to be a minister, his group had sessions with people from the Anglican Department for Exorcisms who talked to them about their experiences with exorcisms. A key point was not to try to attempt this alone (the demon might transfer to you).
He’d not expected to become involved with exorcisms, but when years later a lady came into his church looking for someone to help her get rid of an evil spirit, he decided he needed to do something. So he went to see her accompanied by his church secretary.
The lady was a widow, who was lonely, and the spirit offered her some comfort, but it also scared her. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit David told her to hold a cross and pray for the spirit to leave.
Two weeks later when they visited, the spirit was still there, because a part of her didn’t want it to leave. David told her that when she prayed, she really had to want it.
At his next visit things had changed. The spirit was now like a whimpering child, appealing to her kindness. Another lecture: “you have to see through this and pray for release”. At the next visit the spirit had changed again. Now it was aggressive and threatening and she was really frightened. David told her to hold the cross and pray. Through Christ she could be free.
And it succeeded. Faith through the Spirit drove the evil spirit out. The lady came to church for a few weeks and then abruptly left – something of a relief for the congregation as she had been very demanding.
Looking back, this doesn’t look like a traditional exorcism, because it was the lady herself who through faith and prayer got her release. But David was the one there at the time, so he had to help, and God gave him the tools and the understanding on what to do, what to say.
Christ uses us to do things and when we are called, we need the courage to step up and show our faith and discipleship of Christ. David sees the story in Luke as still being valid today. By faith, God will protect us.
Sunday 12th June – Family Service led by Tony Alderman
We welcomed Tony back for what may be his last Service with us – see later. The subtext of both his chat and his Sermon was about the future of our church.
In his Chat “Out of the mouth”, Tony commiserated with us about the lack of children in church but noted that children and grandchildren entertain – and they do tell you as it is. His own granddaughter, eating a biscuit in Nana’s freshly cleaned car was admonished not to drop any crumbs. Her response? “It’s your fault mum, you should but biscuits with crumbs in them”.
We should listen to children as we never know what they will say. They come up with ideas and make strong points, so even if there are no children in church, we should use every opportunity to listen to them.
He also mentioned an elderly lady in a wheelchair in church who told him, “There’s not much I can do. All I can do is telephone people with words of encouragement, write little notes and pray” – and if all of us did that it would be a much better world.
Tony’s Sermon drew on the readings from Proverbs 8 and John 16. The theme was the importance of NOW in our relationship with God.
In Proverbs, God’s wisdom is often personified as a woman (a change from the usual misogyny). In the first part, wisdom meets people in the NOW of everyday life and invites them to accept her knowledge rather than the ways of evil. The second part is a Biblical creation story: wisdom is a heavenly being, a divine consort, who rejoices and delights in the goodness of the inhabited world – even the human race with its capacity for carelessness and destruction. The poetic description of wisdom has influenced several New Testament writers, in particular John, and has been an important building block in Christian understanding of God as the Holy Trinity.
In John’s Gospel Jesus starts to talk about going away, starting in Chapter 7, and by the time we get to Chapter 16 it’s clear what he means. His impending execution will take him away from his disciples without leaving them desolate. He will be with them in a new way through the coming of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of truth in other contemporary Jewish writing underlines the link with Jesus and the truth. Like him, the spirit is sent by to teach God’s truth – a gradual, one day at a time, process. The Spirit as teacher and guide will enable his disciples to understand what it means when he calls them to “love one another as I have loved you” something very much in the NOW of the hostile opposition they experience over the years from local synagogues determined to exclude them from the family of faith.
The Holy Spirit provides the link to each new generation of the followers of Jesus. The continuing presence of Jesus in the churches is an everyday experience. The assurance of his enduring love, joy, peace, and hope. As Anne noted last week, John’s Gospel uses the picture of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to tell the story of God’s sacrificial healing love in a world so fed by hostility and violence.
Tony then moved on to talk about an article in Reform Magazine (Everyone’s a Leader) by Graham Handscomb – a new vision of church leadership entitled Everyone’s a Leader. As Tony said “Who me, a leader? You must be joking!” For most of us, the leaders are other people, not ourselves. Many people in our church are ready to do many small things and seldom see themselves as leaders or as part of the church leadership. But they are invaluable – try coping without them!
We say we are reformed because we believe in the priesthood of all believers: that God works through every Christian, and we are reformed because we all shape the Church together and we do not fear change. Tony asked to be shown a congregation that does not fear change and challenge (certainly not ours!).
He mentioned the minister of his church, a superb preacher, who is only 50% utilised – an underutilised resource he felt we might profit from.
He told us that the future of Potters Bar URC depends on each one of us. The church Secretary is not a “cut-above”, and neither is a Minister. If a Minister thinks he’s going to do everything, he mistaken. Also we might get a Minister who thinks he should do nothing (and there are such!). Choosing a new Minister is like a marriage – with all the preparatory thought that that implies. Tony encourages all of us to read the Reform article (click on the red link in brackets above).
We need to recognise that we all have a lot of work to do – and if we all turn out, what a team!
And then a bittersweet moment. Tony told us that he doesn’t have another Service booked because he’s terminally ill with liver cancer. His chemotherapy has stopped because it was affecting his immune system and had led to two heart attacks linked to infections. He begs us to think seriously about the future and working together, having a plan, being leaders together. If we play our part, each one of us for the jobs we see, then things will start to happen. And that’s what God wants us to do now. That’s the truth and he left the Spirit to empower us to do the things we’d never imagined.
Tony Corfe spoke for all of us in thanking Tony for all the support he’s given us over so many years, hoping that he’s not used up all his nine lives yet and will lead worship in our church again – or perhaps come to a recital and lunch with us.
I left the “Boom, Boom” moment to the end. Tony had commented on the Queen Anne picture, particularly the (missing) legs. He loves Queen Ann legs (furniture). Not sure how she returned to Milton Keynes he showed us what he thought would be appropriate – in miniature.
And so when a carriage arrive in the car park, we could only assume it was for Tony, to take him back to Barnet?
What a Man, and what a friend?
Sunday 5th June – Platinum Jubilee Communion Service led by Anne Walton
Our Platinum Jubilee Service was led by Anne, making it a nice “in house” affair. Stephen had chosen music to make the day: all of the composers had royal connections. Before the service we had Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of Greensleeves, followed by Elgar’s Nimrod. The National Anthem was Gordon Jacobs’ arrangement complete with fanfare. The communion music was a Vespers Voluntary by Elgar, and after the service Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 featuring Land of Hope and Glory (and it was good to hear a fair few voices joining in too!)
Anne had brought her usual selection of visual aids – on which more later.
Anne divided her reflections between the Earthly Kingdom and God’s Kingdom.
The reading from 1 Samuel 10 covers Saul being acclaimed as king. The Bible was written much later when the Jews were in exile in Babylon, and the writers were chronicling what had gone wrong and why, so Anne noted that this was a turning point in their history, when the Jews demanded an earthly king, like all the kingdoms around them – in effect rejecting God as their king. God and Samuel warned them that it wouldn’t go well, but they were oblivious to the warnings. And indeed, their kings proved to be a motley bunch, some sinning against the Lord and some loving the Lord and following his commands. As Anne pointed out, God chose Saul (so presumably knew what was coming), but the failure to walk in the ways of God was the personal failure of Saul, and that of many of those who followed as kings of Israel and Judah.
(Fast forwarding to 1952, Anne didn’t mention that kings and queens of England had also been a pretty mixed bunch at times, but that just as our understanding of God has changed and the relationship become much less transactional, so the role of monarch in a constitutional monarchy has changed. And in Queen Elizabeth II, we have been particularly fortunate).
At her coronation in 1952 our queen promised to govern the people according to their laws and customs, to do all in her power to cause law and justice in mercy to be executed in all her judgements, and to maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the gospel in the United Kingdom trough a protestant reformed religion established by law. In 2002 at the time of the Golden Jubilee, she saw her role as guiding her kingdom through changing times – and indeed what changes there have been!
Our queen has been a constant stabilising presence, staying true to her values and principles and the promises she made at her coronation. So long may she reign!
The reading from John 14 – Jesus the way to the Father – was about God’s Kingdom. Having had her Pentecostal thunder stolen the previous week, Anne had decided to pay Tony Alderman the same compliment and walk on the ‘thin ice’ of the subject of the Trinity. Whether she risks being charged with heresy (as some ministers reputedly fear) is for you to judge.
The reading had two important statements: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” and “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and make you remember all I have told you”. There is no reference to the Trinity in the Bible, but Anne felt there were a number of hints to the concept and the first statement was one of them. We may believe in the Trinity, but it is something we find very difficult to define.
So the disciples were a bit confused when Jesus said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”; but also a bit afraid, afraid of being orphaned, what they would do now and what would happen next, who would nurture and guide them. Jesus reassures them that though he will no longer be physical present, God will bless them with the gift of the Holy Spirit who will be there to guide them. They won’t be left to their own devices, to walk the way without guidance, support and encouragement – and neither of course will we.
Anne said that God is not a ‘Helicopter Parent’ hovering over our lives. He knows we will suffer; there will be trials and hardships, failed relationships. We’ll inadvertently hurt others and be hurt ourselves, get sick, lose loved ones – and lose our way. With the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll find our way back, find the strength and courage to spread the Good News and sow the seeds of God’s kingdom on earth as modern day disciples. The Holy Spirit is ours to share as well as to receive.
(We could see this as being all about communication, the direct communication between God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit our vehicle to communicate with Jesus and God. And if communication with Jesus and God and with other people is one part of what resurrection and eternal life means, our compatibility is an issue. We’ve seen how the Internet – also a wonderful means of communication – can be corrupted and misused. Walking the path is a way to be compatible)
So if we get it right the world will know about the love of God., the forgiveness of sins, will experience generosity, mercy, peace, joy, grace and hope.
And for your reviewer, Anne’s visual aids were an opportunity too good to miss. So at the Party that followed we snapped Anne in full regalia.
Anne will not reign over anyone, but I think we should celebrate that one of our own felt the calling, trained to be a lay preacher, and though now in Milton Keynes regularly takes the trouble to come down to us to lead our Sunday worship. Long may this continue also!
Sunday 29th May – Family Service led by Revd. Jonathan Hyde
It was great to have Jonathan back to lead our worship – and he didn’t test us on his last sermon in March.
He did admit to a slight hiccup in timing as his Service took as its focus Pentecost (a week too early) which may be a challenge for Anne Walton next week – and a perhaps pleasure for us to compare the reflections of two people whose views we respect and enjoy.
We had three Bible readings divvied up amongst the ladies of the church and an address to go with each.
The first – Genesis 11 – The Tower of Babylon (Babel) has God, jealous of human progress, putting a spanner in the works in the form of scattering them all over the earth and mixing up their languages. There’s an echo of God’s approach to the acquisition of knowledge in the Garden of Eden – too much knowledge being a dangerous thing?
Jonathan’s reflection centred on the tower, built of bricks and bitumen so it could be much taller than one built of stone and try to reach the gods. Ziggurats, representative of such towers in the region were historically used for astronomical studies of stars and planets and the wise men who led these studies (we’ll forget about the naked squaddies) would be just such men – the Maji – who attended Jesus’s birth. The link to Pentecost is of course the disciples speaking to everyone in their own language. A darker side of this was a historical view, for more obscure reasons, that if you couldn’t understand the Bible, you weren’t saved – a reason for the pressure to have vernacular Bible translations.
The second reading from Acts 2 described the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jonathan pondered the mindset of the disciples after a pretty traumatic year – lots of travelling, Peter realising that Jesus was God, Jesus talking bout his coming suffering (not understood) but also doing an incredible amount of teaching, packing so much in (“do you really understand what I am?”). Then after the triumph of Palm Sunday, Jesus is arrested, Peter’s denial, Jesus’s execution, the wonderful appearances to the disciples…….and then he goes. The sense of loss must have been overwhelming.
The disciples were in a house, leaderless, wondering what the next step is going to be, and the Holy Spirit comes.
The Holy Spirit is what many people have problems with. They can picture God and Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is a more difficult concept. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit was there from the very beginning (“the Spirit breathed over the waters and brought life”) but it was a difficult concept for the disciples to take on board, though they must have felt something very special.
The Spirit is bringing us life, bringing us a way of communicating with God. Jonathan sees each of our bodies as a temple for the Holy Spirit, so that when we pray it helps us, just as Jesus is helping us as we worship God the Father.
But there are dangers. Jonathan warned of an obsessive focus on interactions with the Holy Spirit. Some people judge their status within a Christian hierarchy (being properly a Christian) as being defined by the intensity of their personal experiences of God. They come to Services wanting to go out on a “high” and can be “me focused” (“I want, I need”). His life experience has been that people who are very much into the feelgood experience, when they take the knocks in life, don’t take them so well.
The description in Acts uses imagery to try to explain what is happening – not tongues of fire, but something like it. And something wonderful did happen. Think of the oppression, doubts and concerns that the disciples must have had. Suddenly they were really aware of the Spirit of God. From being cowed and beaten, they went out with absolute conviction – and then this miracle that everyone could hear the message in their own language.
At that moment the church had about 120 people, after Pentecost it grew into the thousands. Acts gives the impression of a church unified and all going the same way. The church has never been like that – ever! Christians are always going to fall out with each other. We talk about church unity, but Jonathan believes that God likes to be worshipped in different ways (and he’s not the first person to tell us this), but no one is better than anyone else. Just because we are not all up and jumping with our hands in the air, it doesn’t mean we are not all blessed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in different ways, and we should concentrate on this line of thinking.
The third reading from John 14 – the Promise of the Holy Spirit – must have been strange for the disciples. Jesus was talking about his death and the Holy Spirit, something they are not familiar with and do not understand – but they did record it.
We are all temples to the Holy Spirit, we all have troubles in our lives: no one lives a life always on a spiritual high. We are all going to have problems and come across some nasty people. If we are not challenged in life we are not worth challenging because we are no threat to evil. If we have faith in God, we are still going to have problems, but there is no problem so severe that God won’t be with us to see us through.
Jonathan has met many thousands of people who have been hurt and knows that if you have a Christian who has been hurt, you can give them a different message. If God is with you, whoever hurts you hurts God because he dwells in you. Let them answer to God!
It can be difficult to trust in God because what isolates us from God can frequently be worry. We wonder where God is. God is always there. If you can trust in God, you are on the right path. And you can’t, don’t doubt your faith either. God didn’t make us all the same. We are all individuals, and some find it easy to take on ideas that others find difficult. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses and that’s one of the good things about church. We can come together and share those challenges and weaknesses. We should be able to talk to people in the church if we have problems and know they are there to help and guide us.
If we can take this on board, we are there on the journey.
Sunday15th May – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Another mini-milestone this week, since David and Stephen convinced our 4-person choir (holidays and business travel having detained the other three) that we could sing an anthem (with Stephen playing and singing to support us). So we opened the Service with the anthem “I am the vine”.
David followed this up with a reading from Revelations 21, John’s pretty psychedelic imaginings about the coming of the New Jerusalem.
David’s Sermon focused on John 13, Jesus’s New Commandment.
And before we look at the Commandment, it’s worth remembering that in recent weeks we’ve had Jesus’s HR skills questioned in respect of the choice of his disciples, who it appears were a pretty motley crew, frequently bickering, jockeying for position and serially not understanding what he told them. There were also big differences in their expectations on a Messiah. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Jesus was worried that after his arrest and what was to follow, the group might not hold together.
So the New Commandment was to love one another.
David had Googled Love but was not really satisfied with the definitions (strong affection out of kinship or maternal ties, tenderness of lovers, affection based on admiration, benevolence or common interest including love of God, brotherly concern for others). His research into synonyms gave; appreciate, cherish, prize, treasure, value, all of which he felt were underwhelming. So he turned to Paul and 1 Corinthians 13 for a wonderful explanation of love.
Paul tells us how we must feel, and Jesus tells us how we must act and be seen to act. If we show love for one another then we are showing the world an example that is captivating, that makes people look at Christians and say, “They’ve got something”.
Unfortunately, within churches one doesn’t always see love. David talked about some big churches and the many cliques that can form. He remembers being taken to task by a cliquey choir person for choosing the hymns for the words, not the music.
(A study a decade ago by social psychologists on friendship groups suggested that larger groups may on the surface seem more diverse, but with a wider choice of possible friends, people clustered in like-minded cliques. With smaller groups and less choice, people were forced to forge friendships across potentially awkward differences in attitudes and beliefs. And this behaviour is a feature of human psychology.
So perhaps we are lucky to be a smaller worshipping community? And some of the descriptions of love that David found underwhelming do apply to how we relate and build a loving relationship with other members of the church).
David gave us examples of other churches that had split, but where the remaining much smaller groups had come together in love and rebuilt (and grown) their church communities. He told us we were not just here to fill the seats, we were here to give the love of God, and that people would see this and want to join and be with us.
(And in a further digression, I return to the debate last Wednesday about excessive focus on the “club” coming at the expense the development of our faith. It is through our “club” that we are able to experience the many aspects of love – both the definitions above and the guidance from Paul – to build that communal love that allows us to accept differences of views, be it in matters of faith or matters temporal, in friendship – something that I believe we do).
And (again as we said on Wednesday) as we go out into the community loving each other and showing love to those outside; to evangelise and bring people to Christ and the promise of eternal life, our love for each other is the starting stone.
And following our Church Meeting on Wednesday, we returned to a slightly tweaked more traditional church layout, with the Communion Table back on the podium.
Sunday 8th May – Family Service led by Lilian Evans
The traditional focus of this week is on Jesus as the shepherd and this and the two lectionary readings from John 10 and Acts 9 presents a challenge.
A pastor, Lilian told us was another word for shepherd. She had no experience of shepherds and sheep she told us – perhaps fortunately, as those who know sheep well will tell you they are not the brightest of animals. So why we would want to compare ourselves with sheep? But if the cap fits………
Lilian recalled Mark’s “take” on Jesus’s experience at the river Jordan. That at the moment of his baptism by John he had an intense and overwhelming interaction with God (a full-fibre broadband experience) and that, like others who it is reported had similar experiences, he took himself off into the desert to be tempted to misuse the new powers he sensed, to sort out his relationship with his father and to listen to him. We too need to take time to listen.
“Tell me, how do I get a straight answer?” is the title of an article in this week’s Sunday Times (Interviewers are changing tack in a bid to get politicians to say anything worthwhile). Lilian told us that when Jesus was asked the question about being the Messiah he usually turned the question round and asked the questioner what they believed. She also told us about those difficult questions that all parents face and also the “Ask a silly question……….” response. So Jesus’s response to the question “are you the Messiah?” reflected his view that those who were asking it had already made up their minds (though as we know, there were big differences in expectations about what a Messiah would be). And here the example of the shepherd is apposite: the sheep recognise the voice of the shepherd and follow him.
The story in Act 9 is of Peter in Joppa bringing back Tabitha to life. Lilian noted the similarities to Jesus’s raising of Jairus’s daughter, both in the way the crowd was sent away and the fact that Peter had been one of the three disciples present (an apprenticeship perhaps?).
Peter said “Tabitha, get up” – and she did. Lilian closed by asking us how we would react when Jesus calls us to get up. I think it’s a bit like David Ramsay’s response when the microphone was switched on: when it comes, you’ll know it – and you will know what to do.
Sunday 1st May – Communion Service led by Martyn Macphee
We were fortunate to have Martyn with us as he was just recovering from Covid (which explains the frequent coughs!).
We started with a retrospective Happy Birthday to Ann Chilcott who was another church friend sharing her birthday with the queen.
Then, after we had lit the second candle, Martyn led us in three prayers for Ukraine. The first was apolitical; lamenting such a use of armed forces, mourning every casualty and hoping that the leaders would have the courage to resolve the conflict through dialog. The second was a prayer for those in grief or fear, that that place would be filled with hope. The third, a little irreverent – noting that quite a lot of smiting went on in the Bible – was for a “localised precision smite” (non-lethal) on Vladimir Putin with support for Volodymyr Zelensky and for the people of Ukraine.
Martyn’s Address reflected on the reading from Acts 9, the Conversion of Saul. If we get a sinking feeling on the motorway when we see a blue light in the mirror and realise we have been speeding, it’s nothing to that experienced by Paul – probably the most frightening experience of his life.
There he was on the road to Damascus, minding his own business (which was the systematic persecution and extinction of that bizarre and disgraceful group of followers of a certain Jesus of Nazareth – a good and holy cause) when he has his “blue light experience” – he and his companions surrounded by lightning, brighter than they had ever seen before. And then a voice calling his name, saying “I am Jesus, whom you persecute”. When Jesus makes it clear that he takes mistreatment of his followers as mistreatment of himself, Paul fears for his own execution. The most frightening experience of his life looks to be his last experience as well.
What happens next brings about his resurrection. Jesus commissions him to become an outstanding advocate for the cause of Christ. The first shock for Paul is that Jesus is alive, not lonely in eternal light but in his maligned and persecuted followers. The other, no less forceful, it that there is no condemnation for him, but rather a way forward – a place for him with Jesus. That commission takes up residence in Paul’s life.
When the truth that the disciples cannot be understood outside Jesus and Jesus cannot be understood outside the disciples burst upon Paul’s awareness, it strikes him with the deepest horror, yet a few moments later it leads to immense relief and consolation. His old life is lost but a new life is gained.
Paul’s realisation that Jesus and his disciples are one is important for us today. Paul’s realisation was framed by his experience as a persecutor: others come to the realisation that Jesus and his disciples are one according to their own circumstances. Our validity as a congregation depends on the extent to which we allow people to experience this truth through us. As a congregation we are to allow people to meet Jesus, and to meet him through us.
Few will come, like Paul, as persecutors. Some will come out of pain and confusion, curiosity, spiritual hunger, their exhausted cynicism, their innocent hope, or state of sorrow. What matters is that each of us recognises that Jesus is alive and he and his followers – all of us – are one. We cannot determine anyone’s response or their timing. All we have to do is to manifest Christ (and that’s a pretty difficult task, but it’s ours).
Congregational vitality can be assessed according to many standards. Paul’s hope for any congregation might be that people would encounter the startling truth through the life and vitality of the congregation and whether or not, as for him, this realisation feels at least for a moment like their last experience of life, his hope would be that for many it would seem like their first experience of life. Amen.
And in our Prayers of Intercession, we prayed for Busi, with us in church for just a brief period as guest of Tony & Barbara Corfe, as he starts on the path to a possible new life. We asked Jesus to help him through the steps to his chosen career – and that he would always be a light for our Lord.
Sunday 24th April – Family Service led by Anne Walton
With two of our ladies sharing a birthday with the Queen, we could sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to both Margaret Barton and Joan Gooding. Joan was with us and admitted to being 94 years young – and the photo proves it!
Anne’s main theme was fear, but she talked to us about the various chains that can bind, noting that fear can be an unseen chain that binds us.
The New Testament reading from John 20 when Jesus appears to his disciples in the locked room. Why Anne asked us were the disciples hiding away on the evening of Easter Day? After all they had been told what was going to happen – that Jesus would be crucified, die and be buried, but would rise again on the third day. Peter had seen the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene had spoken with the risen Christ and told the disciples all about the conversation. So why weren’t they out celebrating and telling everyone who would listen that Jesus was alive again?
What they actually did was to hide behind locked doors in an upstairs room fearing that they would be the next to be put to death, and perhaps we can sympathise with this. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. The disciples had not been there at the cross. And history tells us that a number of the disciples would indeed later be early Christian martyrs.
Anne wondered what the disciples first thoughts might have been when Jesus appeared amongst them in the locked room. Would he rebuke them for abandoning him? Perhaps they might feel guilty that if they had been there for him, it might have turned out differently?
Jesus used his presence to reassure and comfort them in their distress. When Jesus speaks to them and shows them his wounds their fear dissolves and they rejoice to see him alive again – even ultimately Thomas.
Is it remarkable that death could not hold Jesus? Yes!
Is it remarkable that fear could no longer hold his disciples – again Yes. And when we experience the presence of the risen Christ, we are also freed of the fear of death that will come at the end of life, and also of all the other fears that blight our lives. When fear flares up in our lives, it’s all too easy to forget God just when we should be remembering him. We need to turn to God because he never forgets us.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw Jesus, the risen Christ. We also can rejoice when in the midst of our fears, when we recognise that Christ is here with us today. Our fear may not be swept away completely but it need no longer dominate our lives, because Jesus walks alongside us in all our troubles. And when we do meet him, we extend to him the chains of fear that hold us and know that he will break them by the power of his resurrection.
Easter Sunday 17th April – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Well fortified by the return of our traditional Easter Breakfast prepared by the men of the church, we listened to readings from Luke on the Resurrection (and the men, typically, treating the women’s news from the tomb as nonsense) and the Walk to Emmaus where Jesus is unrecognised until he breaks the bread.
So David was in a questioning mood. Jesus had been warned not to go to Jerusalem – too dangerous, a warrant out for him – so what would have happened if he’d not gone? A minor prophet at best, just a footnote in history. And what would have happened if he’d not come to life again in the Resurrection, just lying cold in that tomb, a minor revolutionary put down by the vicious Roman Empire to maintain peace? Nothing!
On Palm Sunday we celebrated his entry into Jerusalem. Some were disappointed that he wasn’t the revolutionary leader who would free them from Roman tyranny. Many, including his disciples, were afraid to speak up for him as the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy, baying for his head.
So Jesus was put to death, but he came back to life – necessary to prove he was the true Messiah and fulfil the prophesies. It wasn’t enough for many Jews, but for other Jews and Gentiles he was accepted as the true Messiah Jews (and it’s interesting to note how unspectacular, unassuming and uncertain this pivotal moment in history plays out. The gradual realisation and the slowly gathering momentum as the true import of that moment is discerned) .
David told us that it was necessary to provide a figure so iconic that so many would come to believe throughout the world. This was not a nobody; this was somebody great! (and yet in many respects he seems understated, and his messages of peace and humility don’t sit well with that description).
Most of all Jesus was showing us the way by defeating death and in doing so providing us with a gateway to our salvation – for David and for each of us. He died and came back to life again that we might have eternal life. Through our faith we are promised and guaranteed this (though few of us can comprehend what eternal life really means), and we have seen many examples of loved ones going forward into the Kingdom of God – all made possible because Jesus left the tomb to show he was alive!
And we too will go through death and our souls will continue to live in God’s presence.
The Easter Sunday Service was also the moment when our revived church choir took the courage to sing two short anthems – something we aim to maintain with the encouragement of our Director of Music. Stephen Jones.
Palm Sunday 10th April – Communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
It was a busy Sunday for John as the Service included the much-delayed formal coming into membership of David and Maren Aplin and David becoming a serving Elder of Potters Bar URC. The administrative side had been signed off some time ago and David has been a part of the Eldership for over 2 years, but Covid had intervened, so it was a bit like having a wedding in church as a follow up to a registry office ceremony.
The focus of John’s Service was on the reading from Luke 19 describing Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. We’ve learned that the literary culture of the time allowed the author to present historical facts as it was felt they should be, rather than what a bystander might have observed. John drew our attention to the differences between Luke’s account and those in Matthew and Mark. Specifically, there is no mention of palm leaves – which were associated with the revolt of the Maccabees and talk about Jewish nationalism. Luke’s audience was primarily the Gentiles, and the message was one of peace and that Jesus was everyone’s Saviour. So cloaks were used to line the path, the Hosannas were replaced by cries of Peace and it was Jesus’s followers, not the crowd who were singing praises to God – not the crowd who were later to call for his crucifixion.
John invited us to take the different versions from the Gospels of the events leading up to Easter and look at them with fresh eyes.
Continuing with Luke, our Lenten journey has now reached Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Passover feast, the time when God set his people free, just as the events of Good Friday and Easter Day are the time when God sets us free from all that would enslave us.
Everything in Jesus’s life has been leading up to this. It was physically an uphill journey through rough terrain, made doubly dangerous as by now the Jewish authorities had put a price on his head. But nothing would stop Jesus celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem. Everything was prepared, the tethered donkey, the password, so that Jesus could fulfil the prophesies and so he sets off to confront the authorities. The donkey was considered a noble beast but would be ridden by leaders as a sign of coming in peace rather than wanting to show off their power. So Jesus chose to enter Jerusalem on a donkey. Here was the prince of peace, not the leader of another revolution.
Jesus gave the people the choice of accepting or rejecting him. He wasn’t going to ‘play to the crowds’, to be a puppet king or a mighty warrior. He turned his back on all these trappings of kingship and power. But his arrival caused tensions: some people wanted him to be this great political leader, some thought of him as “simply another troublemaker”, some thought he was a good man and other saw him for what he was – the long-awaited Messiah. (Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey).
On Palm Sunday the crowd cried Hosanna. The powers that be tried to keep them silent, but if they had succeeded the very ground would have cried out because the whole of creation sensed that this was the time – God’s time. And yet by Friday the crowd would cry “crucify him!”, the disciples would run away or even worse, deny knowing him.
By Friday evening Jesus was dead and buried and the future looked bleak. And then there’s Easter Day and God fulfils his promise to his people that he would never leave or forsake them, and from death comes new life.
So how do we respond? Are we ready to take Jesus into our homes, our churches and communities, and our lives? Do we stand by him in his pain and suffering as he stands by us when we feel we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death – death of our friends, our partners perhaps, even of our church, our spiritual home? Are we willing to trust in God to fulfil his Easter promise of new life in and through us?
John knows where he stands – he’s happy to confess that Jesus is Lord with all that means for his life. And us? Where do we stand. Do we add our voices to those who proclaim that Jesus is indeed Lord?
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – and that’s us and him. Wherever we go, whatever we do and whatever we say, we should do it in the name of the God from whom all blessings flow.
And after the Sermon we welcomed David and Maren Aplin formally into membership.
Sunday 3rd April – Communion Service led by Revd. Jeanne Ennals
It was a joyful reunion with Jeanne, who last led our worship in September 2019, and who, as the ‘then and now’ picture shows (as Good Shepherdess for Darkes Fayre 1966), once played a much larger role in our church life as our Minister.
Jeanne’s Reflection was based around John 12, vv 1-8. Jeanne noted that these were tumultuous times both now and then. Tensions were running high as the Feast of the Passover approached and opinions about Jesus were becoming increasingly polarised after his raising of Lazarus. Many put their faith in Jesus. Others were disturbed and reported the events to the religious leaders, who in turn became doubly disturbed about Jesus and the impact on their survival. An explosive mix!
Jesus had returned to Bethany to enjoy the hospitality of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but could not escape the emotionally charged atmosphere. Martha had a practical gift for hospitality. Mary enjoyed spending time with Jesus, was sensitive to the political undercurrents and fearful of what might happen to Jesus.
Her sacrificial and loving action of anointing Jesus’s feet with very expensive perfume (at a cost of more than a year’s typical wages) might be seen as “over the top”, but for Mary the depth of her devotion could only be expressed in this tangible way.
Judas was quick to express his disapproval (300 silver coins that could have been used to help the poor). John, from his vantage point some 70 years later, is quick to impugn Judas’s motives, but Jeanne pointed to the deep polarisation amongst Jesus’s disciples, with Judas – ambitious and aspirational – becoming increasingly disillusioned with a Messiah that did not match his expectations for the Biblical Messiah he thought he had given his allegiance to.
Mary’s sacrificial devotion points to her demonstrating prophetic insight, anticipating Jesus’s coming death. Jesus says “let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people, but you will not always have me”.
In these troubled times Jeanne suggested that we like Mary spend quality time with Jesus, enjoying his presence, reflecting on his words and actions, praying – but praying doesn’t always have to be words. It can, like Mary, be a matter of feeling, imagining, silently enjoying the time together and in doing so knowing his presence, his strength and his guidance through these troubling times.
Jesus’s words were prophetic. – we still have the poor with us and the need for Jesus’s love to be shown is greater than ever. Our faith needs to be reflected in action, and in ministering to the needy we are ministering to Jesus himself.
When Martha challenges Jesus about his delay in coming to help Lazarus he points her forward. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Asked whether she believes this Martha, though she doesn’t at this stage understand what it’s all about, puts her trust and faith in him.
It is through his resurrection that Jesus today gives us assurance that all those who believe in him will be raised to life with him. Jeanne thinks of our life in this world as an apprenticeship for what is to come – just part of that eternal journey that he invites us to share with him. And we can indeed rejoice on this Passion Sunday that through worship all believers in heaven and on earth are united knowing the Lord’s love and presence, experiencing his eternal life which is started here on earth but continues in all fullness beyond the grave.
Sunday 27th March – Family Service led by Anne Walton
Anne’s Sermon reflected on the reading from Luke 15 – the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Parables are mental pictures designed, like a physical picture, to communicate a message much more clearly than words alone. And in trying to grasp the love of God, the reading gives us a particularly powerful picture.
The characters are the son who strayed, the son who stayed, and the father who watched and waited.
The son who strayed wanted out, asked for his share, and then took off. He lived the good life, but when the money ran out, his “friends” melted away and he was forced to take work and could barely feed himself. Having made a mess of his life and treated his father shamefully, he repents and returns home expecting nothing but is welcomed with open arms. He represents those who have at one time or another walked away from God.
For the son who stayed at home, this doesn’t seem fair. He’s served his father faithfully and feels he deserves his blessing, so he resents the fuss his father makes about the return of his younger son. He represents those who have lived a life devoted to God, but deep down have failed to appreciate that God’s love and grace is given unconditionally. (Anne talked about those who look good on the outside, but are still far from God on the inside, but it seems to me the position is more nuanced. We also have a picture of a just God, of wheat and chaff, and the expectation of reward in heaven for those who believe, and the unconditional nature of God’s love for us is not always easy for us to reconcile and integrate with this).
The father who gave his son what he asked for and then saw him go away was treated shamefully by his son, but still watched and waited for him to return, ran down the lane and embraced him. This is the kind of love that God has for anyone who returns to him with a repentant heart. The message is staggering. If we repent, no matter what we have done, how low we have sunk, God will welcome us home.
So we are left with a few tough questions. Do we expect fairness, and feel God “owes us” for good behaviour? Do we, like the younger son, come to God humbly with hands and hearts open wide? Do we, like the Father, welcome sinners back into the fold?
Which character do we identify with?
Actually it doesn’t matter which character we identify with. What we need to take away is that God’s love for all of us in unconditional, and that if we do stray, he’s watching and waiting to welcome us back.
We had a few problems with sound feedback at the beginning of the Service – hopefully you can bear with us?
Sunday 20th March – Communion Service led by Revd. Jonathan Hyde
This Sunday we welcomed the Revd. Jonathan Hyde, a new face for us, but an experienced military chaplain just entering retirement. A man one imagines has seen some of the harder sides of life and is ready to call a spade…. well at least a spade.
He warned us of the rather sombre character of the Lent readings, fearing we might not want to invite him again – though his threat to adopt a practice of his Hungarian mentor and walk the aisles questioning people about his last sermon was probably more of a threat. (you might want to keep this review – just in case. He may return on 29th May).
The core of his Service was built around three readings. For each he gave us a “situation briefing” before the reading and a reflection after it.
The first reading was from Joshua 24. A difficult book Joshua, full of carnage and a disturbing read. It was all about ethnic cleansing with Joshua the hero leader, but with some disturbing similarities to what is going on with Putin and Russian forces in the Ukraine.
Although the picture painted was of a ‘promised land’ conquered, and the people who lived there destroyed if they didn’t adopt the Jewish faith, Jonathan didn’t think it was really quite like that. There would have been a lot of people still alive and a multiplicity of beliefs and gods to worship. And given the transactional nature of the people’s relationships with their gods, little in the way of advanced theology, and a Jewish people just starting off in their faith, Joshua takes a hard-line position that we today, with our politically correct, multi-ethnic, multi-religion society, might well find disturbing.
And it was difficult for them, with a God who was everywhere but with no physical form to focus on, when all around them there were numerous statues of gods and people practising other religions and faiths. It remained a problem for the Jewish people over many centuries.
So simple thinking and simple theology was the order of the day. Joshua was saying to his people “you have to make a decision – a choice – do you want to follow the true God Yahweh or stray and worship the other gods – in which case you are going to have problems”. It was a real challenge and not that easy for them.
And because politics does creep into our faith, we also have to work things out. People can jump too quickly to condemn things like the armaments industry, but today we can see how essential it has been to people in the Ukraine to defend themselves. Developing a nuanced but informed approach to such issues is one of the challenges of our faith today.
The second reading from Galatians 2 dealt with a conflict between Peter and Paul in the aftermath of the first big Synod in Jerusalem. Peter and James (the brother of Jesus) were in charge of the church in Jerusalem. They were Jewish focused and their “outreach material” was aimed at Jews.
Paul was going out to the Gentiles proclaiming the message in a different way. He was not the easiest person to deal with but had a great impact.
The question for the church in Jerusalem was how to become a Christian. Did you first had to become Jewish, be circumcised, eat the right foods, follow all the rules and ceremonies – or could you just go straight into it. Peter and James had argued from the Jewish perspective, but then at Joppa Peter had the vision with all the animals and being told by God that he can eat anything, so is he going to stick to what he had said in Jerusalem, or will he change?
It’s a problem for all of us. How do we prove to God that we are living a faithful life?
Peter and James were saying if you really want to please God you have to go through all these situations and ceremonies. Paul was saying “Just believe what Jesus did – and it’s simple!”.
So the two great heavyweights of the early church were going at it hammer and tongs.
Reading Luke and Acts would give you the impression that by this time the church was one great unified happy bunch of people all going in the same direction. Yet we know that the churches frequently argued, there were fallings out,and some went off to form new churches.
Jonathan thinks that God likes to be worshipped in different ways and in so many different denominations. He enjoys the wide expanse of people and the way they look at things. And it’s instructive to see that even those with a direct experience of Jesus cannot agree and are falling out.
So perhaps we should not be upset or worried if our own church meetings have arguments and debates – particularly if, as is generally the case, we can leave as friends. If Jonathan is right, God may even enjoy hearing a good debate?
The ‘back story’ to the third reading is how much Jesus is packing into those last weeks. Jonathan thinks that his future path to the cross was revealed to Jesus at his baptism by John, so with each passing day, he’d be thinking “I’m one day closer to my death”.
And his disciples were a strange bunch, an odd selection of extremes, often bickering amongst themselves, worrying about their status and the pecking order. So Jesus on the road to Jerusalem is packing a lot of information in, wanting to know that his disciples have it right. There would have been a lot more followers including women – who for cultural reasons don’t get much of a mention – but Jesus’s enjoyment of women’s company is evident.
There would have been plenty of people who’d seen miracles and joined the crowd because it seemed pretty good, but when the going got tough people started backing away.
Jesus had been talking about the Lord’s Supper and the symbolism of bread and wine. The blood bit was difficult: meat had to have the blood drained out of it before you could eat it because blood was considered to be the life force, and God was the life force in the blood. So this talk was just too difficult for many followers.
He’d experienced setbacks, like the time he started his ministry in Nazareth and nearly got thrown off a cliff. Now he has people leaving him again because what he was saying was too difficult for them.
There is a difference between understanding the words and really taking on board the meaning. We can accept the idea that Jesus is God, but do we really believe it? And in today’s world it’s sometimes difficult to work out where God is. But Jesus has been there and knows what it’s like to be betrayed. He saw all his friends leave him (a few stayed, but they weren’t going to be the easy ones). Judas knew what Jesus was and Jesus gave him every chance to be saved and follow him, and he rejected it.
That’s also at the heart of the matter for us. To take on board and accept the fact of Jesus as Lord, trust it, believe it, and live it.
Sunday 13th March – Family Service led by Mike Findley
Mike’s theme was – unsurprisingly – the war in Ukraine, and he offered us a number of perspectives.
He quoted from Eddie Askew of an African’s story about war damage to the mission station. The bungalow was destroyed but the honeysuckle was still there perfuming the air. It reminds us how persistent life is and how patient God is. Our best efforts and plans may be shattered by violence as people struggle for power and advantage but when the guns have moved on, there in the rubble of pain and anguish, God begins again, pulls life together, and gives us another chance.
He reminded us that most of the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – had been written in a time of war or occupation and oppression. All the messages about love and peace were written in these circumstances. For the New Testament the Romans were the occupying power working with corrupt local officials to extort money and keep the people down. So when we hear the message of God’s love and loving our enemies, it is in that context. The message is to have faith in God in the face of adversity.
He told us about the City of on a Hill, Sepphoris, of which Nazareth was a satellite, raised to the ground in 4 BC by the Roman army after a revolt, the men enslaved and the women raped by the army. This was the place where Jesus grew up.
Some wars may seem far away to us but the first major war in 70 years in Europe crashes in and bulldozes away our sleepiness, bringing fear and a call for a response – but what response?
Mike’s belief was that political solutions, unless they have a religious substance are unlikely to be lasting and effective. It’s easy to respond politically and generate hate, but that’s not what we should do. We shouldn’t hate the Russians but try to understand them. And the Russian psyche is difficult to understand. The mindset is not European, but a complex of European and Asiatic thinking after so many invasions from the East where the invaders settled – and it is governed by fear.
During both Tzarist and Communist times the vast majority of people were taught not to think for themselves. About 5% of children were hived off at an early age to become decision makers. The other 95% were trained to do what they were told and lost the ability to think for themselves. Mike gave us an example from his own time in Moscow in the 1970ies. Today maybe 20% of the people can make up their own minds, but the rest have the old mindset. Putin is a clever individual and can manipulate this, telling people what to believe, and so they do. They are not stupid people: it takes many generations to break out of that mindset, so we should have sympathy with the Russian people because they are being manipulated and oppressed in the same way that the Russians are oppressing Ukraine. So the message in a time of war is not one of hate but one of love for those who are being manipulated.
The reading from Luke13 is the only recorded case where the pharisees seem to be on Jesus’s side, warning him of danger. Herod was a Roman puppet. Caiaphas was appointed as high priest by Pilate and was also a Roman stooge. He ran the Temple like a Central Bank, manipulating taxes and finances to his own advantage, just like the Oligarchs do today – nothing changes?
But Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he had to face down the authorities and all the trouble that it would bring. He despaired about the reaction of the people but still evoked that wonderful picture of a mother hen gathering her brood around her.
So in the current climate we have to have faith that God’s kingdom will come and the people of all the world, of different backgrounds, will come together in the Kingdom of Heaven, because it’s not just for us, but for all those other people, including those we find it difficult to like.
And he asked us to pray for those people who still have memories of the horrors of WW2 and may have unresolved PTSD issues relating to what they experienced. Often alone with nobody to talk to, these revived memories compound with the anxiety that today’s crisis In Ukraine brings. We pray for them and encourage them to talk to other to share their concerns.
Sunday 6th March – Communion Service led by Revd. John Mackerness
We were pleased to see John “in the flesh” as he emerged from a bout of Omicron, which he said had allowed him time to do a few things he normally has no time for in his busy life.
His themes were both on Lent – a time for getting ready with God to remember the events of Holy Week and Easter. Our two readings offered quite different perspectives.
The reading from Deuteronomy 26 was about people putting some of the good things they had grown in a basket to offer to God in thanks for his great support for them, as they saw it. What would we put in such a basket John wondered? Probably not fruit and vegetables, but as we go through Lent, we might want to reflect on the things we might want to give thanks for.
Lent is a time when we usually try (and fail) to give things up. Maybe the reading is a reminder to give thanks to God for what we have, and to work for a more equal sharing of the world’s resources?
John had selected a meditation based on Luke 4 for the second reading. He particularly liked it because it doesn’t talk about Satan, but rather that quiet seductive voice that whispers in our ears, tempting us to do what we want, not what God wants – something that is perhaps closer to our own experiences.
Not said, but we know that though created by God, so many behaviours that were essential to our survival as we evolved, and are built into our DNA and RNA, are things that today we would say are not what God wants. These too would be part of the silent whispers we have to reject.
If we believe that the Holy Spirit whispers in one ear, encouraging us to follow God’s plan, then the other voice also has a name (but sometimes it may be difficult to know which ear is which, because God’s plan is evolving way beyond the cultural norms that are reflected in some Biblical writings).
We are fallible beings, and we are so often tempted to turn away from our Creator. But as people of faith, we know we have no right to expect angels to appear at our beck and call and miracles to happen every time we get into a fix. Instead, we are asked to live in the firm belief that whatever happens, it’s all part of God’s plan for us, and humanity as a whole. We believe in God’s loving presence in the world and in our lives, without depending on visible signs.
So Satan leaves Jesus and goes to work on someone more vulnerable. And as he returned again and again to test Jesus, so he will test us again and again throughout our lives. He knows our weaknesses, some physical, some by lack of faith, and perhaps worst of all, the desire to do good at all costs, forgetting that the ends do not justify the means, forgetting that all will come right in God’s time if we have faith and trust in him.
In a period of Lent, we are invited to look at our lives and prepare ourselves for that walk with Jesus to the cross and his death – but also to celebrate his resurrection. Part of that preparation is to try to identify the areas where we are open to temptation – to remove a vulnerable area from our lives. It’s not just the big things that lead us astray. It’s the endless stream of seemingly minor compromises that we make that are just as dangerous.
John advised that if we intend exploring vulnerable areas of our lives, not to do it alone. To do it prayerfully and thoughtfully and in the company of those we feel comfortable with and who can support us should we expose things – demons – which have been hidden for a long time.
We can resist temptation and call on that same Jesus Christ and the powers of the Holy Spirit. God also knows our faults and failings, knows what we need to stand firm. And we are assured that if we have faith, repent, and begin again with Christ, we will find strength. God says “I will deliver those who love me. I will protect those who know my name. When they call me, I will answer
Sunday 27th February – Family Service led by Revd. John Steele
We welcomed John back, with wife Mary and her mother Anne Williams, whose husband Colin used to lead our worship a rather long time ago. John starred at David’s birthday party in Tlbury Hall two years ago with his rendering of “the old curmudgeon” (David!).
Not averse to a bit of free advertising, he came with a visual aid to help us into the theme of the day “Shining”. He put his on (well sort of) and noted he couldn’t see many on display amongst the congregation.
Halos were created by artists to portray people who had something special about them. They had been around a long time when Christianity adopted them artistically, initially for God, Jesus and Mary, and later for the apostles and disciples. The halo was attached to them as a sign that these people had been with God. We may not be worthy to wear a halo, but we should have something about us that stands out because we have been with Jesus – and he says, “don’t keep it to yourself, share it with everyone else!”
The Bible readings (Exodus 34 and Luke 9) has Moses returning from Mount Sinai , carrying the ten commandments and his face shining. Luke describes Jesus’s transfiguration up on a hill where he and three friends had gone to pray.
How easily our faces display what’s going on inside us. Our faces are a barometer of our conscience: sometimes we need only to look at a person’s face to know their story. The readings tell us about the faces of two famous people at a highpoint in their lives.
When Moses returns with the tablets, he’s oblivious to the fact that his face is shining, because he’s seen what his people believe no human could ever see, and live – the face of God. But it’s a sight that makes his people so afraid of him that they demand he covers his face when he comes to speak God’s word to them. A man who has been with God, and his people know it.
Jesus is on a mountain, walking with three friends and his face is transfigured before them, face shining like the sun, and his clothing a shining white. In a cloud, he is seen speaking with Moses & Elijah, and then God’s voice saying, “This is my son, listen to him”. A man who has been with God. His face shows it, and his friends know it.
John told us about friends whose faces shine because they have been with God. There is something about them that marks them out as people of faith. He told us about something the Christian author Adrian Platt had written about; an elderly lady who recognised him, came up to him and simply said, “Haven’t we got a wonderful Lord”. His memory of the incident is filled with light. Her face was filled with light, and the very air around her was filled with light. It was as if a bright stream issued from her and was being continuously replenished in her. His spirit was strengthened beyond words.
The principle of “shining” is of giving and being replenished. It’s not just with the faces but the other things in our lives that give away that we’ve been with God. Money, generosity, care, listening to people, and giving up things for ourselves in favour of other people, because that’s how we shine.
As followers of the risen Christ we are called to give, and give again, so there will be space to receive more form God.
We stand awestruck like Peter & Paul. Jesus wants to cast his light over all that we are, with fresh meanings, new visions and new strengths. So may our prayer be “Lord transfigure the whole of my life; fill me with your spirit; fill the whole of all life with your spirit. May I know what it is you want from me, even when the sense of your presence has gone.”
Sunday 20th February – Church & Zoom Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Let us never accuse David of a lack of courage!
As he told us, most worship leaders steer well clear of Revelations – “a series of revelations and visions presented in a symbolic language that would have been understood by the Christians of that day, but would have remained a mystery to all others” – probably including ourselves. The man in the street today would probably ask himself what drugs John had been taking.
As a vision of heaven, it is extraordinarily ornate and not, at first reading, a particularly attractive prospect. David gave us his interpretation.
Although many people at the time thought that Jesus would come back in their lifetime, “soon” in God’s time can encompass the whole breadth of human existence on this planet. David had been comforted at the time of the Cuba crisis by the thought that a nuclear war did not fit with the ‘end of time’ description in Revelations.
John was in exile in Patmos when an angel came to him with a revelation from God. It was not a dream, and the first three chapters talk of the glory and power of Christ.
Chapter 4 (where we took our readings – verses 1-11) provides a description of Heaven. When asked about heaven David had usually responded that it’s part of God’s mystery, but Revelations provides a description of what is going to happen.
David drew on his near-death experience: a pathway ahead of him that his soul could have journeyed along. His earthly body discarded; his soul would go on for ever.
The throne in the centre, the description of the person sitting on it and the flashes of light and peals of thunder represent awe-inspiring majesty. The 24 thrones were a symbol of the wide spread of the Christian church by the time Revelations was written (AD 81-96). The four living creatures with their many eyes remind us that God can see right inside us. If there is evil in our hearts, he will see it. Their ceaseless worshipping through all eternity could be boring, he felt. They were not worshipping constantly but they were constantly loving God – and showing it! And for us, “if you were trying to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to prove it?” We should constantly be striving to be good Christians, to show love, care and passion in our lives for Christ.
We can wonder at the vastness of the Universe, but we and all around us were created by Jesus, not God (In the beginning was the Word). He came as our companion and was also there as our saviour, that through faith in him we might have eternal life.
A nice concept (if I understand it right) that in the vastness of the universe, Jesus is that special part of God, personal to us and our world, our creator – the beginning, the end and everything in between. It is a happy day when we meet our Lord in heaven.
Sunday 13th February – Church & Zoom Service led by Tony Alderman
It being Tony, we expect an “eclectic mix” of topics and THE JOKE, but Brentford’s no goal draw with Crystal Palace passed without comment.
Tony asked us whether we could remember what we were doing on Wednesday 6th February 1952 when the King George VI’s death was announced. He could – and he had the newspaper to prove it!
In honour of the late Barry Cryer, Tony recalled the moment last year before his Golden Wedding Anniversary when he had asked his wife how they should celebrate. She’d said she didn’t want any fuss: “well would you if you were married to me?”. So, he had suggested a second honeymoon and asked where she would like to go. She’d looked him in the eye and said, “For you, Lords!”
Barry Cryer was the “go to” person for the media when any comedian died, and Tony had wondered who would cover Barry’s death. It turned out he’d done his own commentary.
And then we got more serious and moved to the Sermon, which was based on Isaiah 6 and Luke 5.
When Isaiah encounters a vision of God in heaven, he recognises is own inadequacy for his calling, but is finally able to say “Yes – here I am Lord, send me”. If we imagine how we might feel having an audience with the queen, how much more so if we if we were taken into God’s throne room?
Isaiah was clearly completely overwhelmed by his encounter, “a man of unclean lips”. While we should all take heed to speak truth, mercy and love, how often do we achieve such simplicity in our lives? Tony tells us that if we acknowledge we are completely out of our depth in this, God will supply what we need.
And then to Luke. If we had been asked to advise the Son of God on who he might want to work with, would we have put fishermen at the top of the list? Sure, it’s a respectable trade, but not one from which we would expect a great speaker or actor to emerge. A tough job, requiring patience and long hours on the water perhaps, but God extends his grace to those we might not expect. Simon Peter is so overwhelmed by his encounter with God’s grace (the catch of fish would have been colossal) that he asks Jesus to leave him alone because he is a simple man.
Perhaps Jesus has shown his friends that just as they have caught fish, he has caught them in God’s grace, and from this moment on nothing can be the same. And like the fisherman’s net, the net of God will set them free to be more than they could have dreamed.
Tony noted that Jesus’s team expanded to include a tax collector and even someone who would eventually betray him. Something to ponder when we consider who we would prefer not to include in our work, and why?
And then to that miracle. We’ve all encountered things that are astonishing or wonderful. How might discern God in such experiences or situations, and what might it tell us about the nature of miracles or how we might get caught up in God’s net?
Are you feeling brave? Are you clear what your gifts are? Do you know what God wants for your life? Are you confident enough to say yes to God? In both readings, the first reaction to God’s call is to say “I am not worthy”. Can we believe in ourselves?
And then, in an abrupt reversal, the thought from Marianne Williamson that our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond our measure. It’s our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” – that’s enough about me Tony said – but what about you?
Fishermen have to work hard every night with persistence, patience and stamina. Perhaps these were the skills that Jesus was looking for among ordinary hard working people? None of them would have expected to be picked out from the crowd. “Who me?” says Peter. Ordinary people who get caught up in God’s story and go on to do extraordinary things.
Is God transforming our everyday into something extraordinary?
PBURC – People Blessed URC.
Sunday 6th February – Church & Zoom Communion Service led by our Elders.
It being the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, the theme of the day was “service”, and David Ramsay duly recounted the great service that the Queen has rendered to her country, and to us all. That, he told us had started well before her father’s death and had included during the war learning how to strip down and rebuild a car engine – something probably none of us could do with the motor engines of today.
He also reminded us of the service to our country rendered by Violette Szabo, who had gone to France as a secret agent to be captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo on 5th February 1944, the day he was born (and yes, we did sing Happy Birthday to David).
With the Queen’s years of service in mind, David drew on the thoughts of the Canadian author Jim Taylor. In Romans 12 we are encouraged to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, which we accomplish when we start living for the Lord and doing those things the Lord wants us to do. When Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, he was telling them to be of a mind to serve others, to have regard for their needs and to do what they could to help them.
James said that if we are to have a saving faith, serving others is an essential aspect of that faith, because faith without works is nothing. One can profess again and again to be a Christian and have a great faith, but if he/she does not see the needs of his brothers and sisters, he/she may in reality have no faith whatsoever.
And picking up on one of John Wainwright’s thoughts from last week, in serving God we also need to serve ourselves, to look after ourselves, in order to be able to serve others. It was no good being a great healer if you fell ill yourself.
Communion was led by Tony Corfe.
We closed the Service with “God save our Gracious Queen”.
Sunday 30th January – Church & Zoom Service led by John Wainwright
We are always pleased to welcome John Wainwright back to lead our worship – and not least because we also get the opportunity to see his wife Sue, who today read the Epistle for us. A “two for one” deal always goes down well with us!
This week’s theme was love, and the first two readings were both about The Great Commandment. John took us into the day’s theme by showing us a Mezuzah, a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case.
The parchment is inscribed with verses of Jewish prayer (Shema) beginning with the phrase: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”. A Mezuzah is fixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfil the Biblical commandment to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house”. The Shema also includes the words of the Great Commandment.
We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind (Matthew) and strength (Deuteronomy). We love God because he loves us, not to win a favour, appease, or gain some advantage, but in response to the love God has shown to us and to other people. (In the Old Testament the relationship sometimes appears more transactional).
Loving God can be challenging, both because what we experience in life (think Holocaust) can challenge our faith, and because our understanding of God is something personal for each of us – and much more difficult to envisage in the vastness of the Universe as we now know it.
For John, God is a “someone” who wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us, ongoing; something eternally present in our own hearts.
How do we love him? John drew on Wesley’s idea of the warm heart, not just cold academic knowledge of God, but an expression of something passionate, which stirs our emotions. Yet faith should not just be based on emotion. Our soul is the complete expression of ourselves and our lives, our lifestyle. With our mind we balance the heart: we need a balanced faith. John quoted Peter “to have a reason for the faith that is within you”. And strength – all the strength at your disposal.
Loving your neighbour, doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but to respect them, respect being a characteristic of love. We can’t say we love (an invisible) God if we can’t love a neighbour who we can see.
Our neighbours are our close family (perhaps we take them too much for granted?), people within the church (dissent between church members goes right back to that church in Corinth), other churches (tell me about it?) – and those who don’t go to church. Then there is the global Christian body, persecuted in some places – and in some workplaces closer to home. And as with the Good Samaritan, anyone in need.
John told us that a part of the letter to the Corinthians was about the value and the contribution of the people who spoke for Jesus. We may sometimes feel our contribution is not recognised by others: and this leads on to… Loving ourselves.
We tend to think we are not supposed to think about ourselves. God thought it was worth sending Jesus to die for each of us, so we must have some value, value to God. God wants to use the skills we have been given, so we need to love and take care for ourselves as well, so that we can witness (and remember that we may witness, but the result is up to Jesus).
John’s prayer was that we can love God ever more, day by day, can be more loving to our neighbours, even when it’s a bit hard to do so, and that we may also have proper regard for ourselves. Amen to that!
Sunday 23rd January – Service for the week of prayers for Christian Unity, led by Canon Richard Osborn
“Speaking through the flowers” (etwas durch die Blumen sagen) is an old German way of describing careful, friendly advice, critique and challenge. We didn’t plan the positioning of our flowers for this purpose, but it’s maybe appropriate for the message this week?
Prayer for Christian Unity was the theme of Richard’s Service this week, starting with Jesus’s prayer in John 17, “May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”
Jesus’s prayer came at the Last Supper, on the night he was to be betrayed, and Richard told us that the church had also betrayed Jesus by allowing itself to be divided.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was established in 1908 sited between the feasts of the Confession of St Peter (where he declared Jesus to be the Messiah) and of the Conversion of Paul – quite good bookends you might think?
Jesus’s prayer is central to this week and is a prayer for us also, to realise a vision of Christians united as one holy universal church. It’s a time for reflection but also a time to rejoice at the progress achieved in the last half century. Yes, we do not meet that high benchmark, and others can still look at us and think “how can we take them seriously when they worship in different buildings, sing different music, wear different clothes and have differing opinions on faith and other matters?”
Richard spoke of John Habgood, a former Bishop of York, who had a vision of a church that could celebrate differences without division. Increasingly we can accept one another and work together to build the kingdom, and that is something to celebrate and give thanks for.
Richard reminded us that quarrels and disputes go right back to the early Christians: in Corinthians Paul is appealing to the church to desist from such quarrels. Jesus is the cornerstone on which the church is built and there is only one Gospel, the Gospel of Christ.
The reading from 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that all members of the church are interconnected, intertwined and interdependent.
Richard has pondered how the disabled might read the passage, for Paul seems to present the image of the interconnectedness of a perfect body. He felt verse 22 – “the parts that seem to be weak are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honourable we treat with special honour” – tells us that those with a disability should be honoured and cared for, and that they have much to contribute to the body of the church. The church needs all its parts and all its members to work properly: we all have a part to play in making the church work properly and none of us should think (or be made to feel) that we have nothing to offer.
The task to continue the work that Jesus announced in Luke 4 is enormous – and it is for all Christians to play their part. A divided church will not convince a divided world.
We can celebrate that churches are growing closer, whilst recognising there is much still to do. We can celebrate diversity without division knowing we all have a part to play in the endeavour – to preach the word and build God’s kingdom.
And if we want to look for an example of someone who truly “walks the talk” (management speak for “doing what it says on the tin”), we need look no further than Richard, who in his interest, affection and care for us, and the wisdom he brings in these words to us, is a shining example for us all.
Sunday 16th January – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
One of the pleasures of having a number of different people lead worship on a Sunday is the range of perspectives and interpretations offered on the lectionary readings of the week. From these we can build a base of experiences from which to appreciate each new reflection offered.
This week David chose to major on John 2 – the Wedding in Cana, or “water into wine”.
We’ve been told that at that time, the performing of miracles was important for people with a non-establishment religious message to get noticed, to be taken seriously, to get people to believe in them and build a groundswell of support, so for those who were chronicling Jesus’s life they would be an important element of establishing his credentials.
David gave us the picture of a simple carpenter, a nobody, who following the events at his baptism and a period of reflection in the desert, had begun to recruit disciples. This, his first miracle, revealed his glory to his disciples. When she tasked him to help, his mother Mary showed her faith in him, and he was so dependent on that love and confidence.
Jesus’s work was to save souls through faith, and miracles were a means to that end. So having established a group of faithful believers he moved on to explaining things and teaching. The Bible records the great story of his achievements.
Then came the time for his testing by the authorities (which David believed he could have got out of if he wanted), his sacrifice on the cross, the battle against evil, and his resurrection at Easter. By his reappearance he proved that he was alive, and that we too can live beyond death. His later ascent into heaven left us – freed of his presence – with that God-given free will with which to make our own decisions for good or evil. We are offered everlasting life through faith in him – something to accept or reject. And David was clear that those who choose to reject the offer would not be saved.
Because Jesus knew we were “rubbish” (as David put it), we needed help, so he left us with the Holy Spirit to support and guide us, something we could turn to for strength so that we could return to him the strength of our love and our faith that he so sought.
Although both the quantity and quality of the wine was exceptional, the miracle was a low-key event with but a few people knowing about it. Jesus appeared still to be coming to terms with what had taken place at his baptism and typically still shied away from publicity. And interestingly it is only John, who as the last gospel writer had the greatest distance (or perspective?), who saw this miracle as important enough for a mention in his own interpretation of the significance of Jesus’s life and achievements.
Sunday 9th January – Family Zoom Service led by Anne Walton
Anne gave us two reflections based on the readings from Matthew 2 and Luke 3.
The first dealt with Epiphany – that moment 10 days after Jesus’s birth, when the Good News was extended to gentiles, as the wise men came to worship Jesus.
Anne felt Epiphany tells us three things about worship:
- it’s Christ centred: where Christ is worship happens.
- It’s meant to be joyous
- It’s sacrificial, just as the wise men brought gifts.
And she felt the Christian church largely met these criteria.
The church’s year revolves around Christ. It begins with Advent, a time of waiting. Then Christ’s birth at Christmas. Epiphany – journeying with the star – and in the weeks to come, following Jesus from baptism to transfiguration. Then Holy Week, ending in his death for our forgiveness. Easter brings resurrection and the gift of eternal life, followed 40 days later by his ascension. At Pentecost Christ sends the Holy Spirit to continue his work in the church, and the year ends as we look forward to his return.
Along with reflecting on God’s word, prayers of thanksgiving confession and intercession, our worship is joyous. We sing joyful hymns, listen to beautiful music, and enjoy fellowship with others in the congregation.
And it’s sacrificial, as we give of ourselves in so many ways – our time, our talents and monetarily (as we are able) to the life and the work of the church.
So in this period of Epiphany we can come to worship the Lord joyously and sacrificially.
Not My Job – Anne noted how Luke jumps almost seamlessly from birth to baptism. She’d have liked a bit more meat about his childhood, but perhaps that’s the problem with backstories? So just turn a page and God’s spirit descends on Jesus, commissioning him for his life’s work, which was fixing what was broken – broken systems and broken people – loving others, confronting the religious and political leaders who fostered corrupt systems, and working for the common good.
One of the many reasons why things remain broken is “Not My Job” – the reluctance of people to tackle our world’s problems. When we are baptised, God commissions us to join with Jesus to fix what’s broken. We become healing agents throughout our own world. Some problems are very complex and overwhelming, beyond our abilities, but each of us can do something. God has commissioned each of us for some vital work. So may we know the work God calls us to do, and may He give us the energy and the inspiration to do it well.
Sunday 2nd January 2022 – Communion Service led by Mike Findley
A bit of a change this week as we went back partially into Zooming from home as well as from the church. We had some problems in capturing the singing in the church but otherwise it went fairly smoothly.
Mike led our worship on the 35th anniversary of his first Service taken in January 1987 and he followed the advice of a good friend – Ivor Brooks – who told him that people remember the talk to the children long after they have forgotten the sermon.
So he told us a story.
The scene was a forest in Israel with a Grandfather tree and 3 younger trees about which he worries. The first tree was tall and strong, and said he would have a big role to play in the world. The second was short and fat, didn’t like what he was, but had a lot of wood in his trunk. He worried about what role he would play. The third had been planted on poor land and was very weedy. The Grandfather worried about what role he could play.
Roman soldiers came into the forest and requisitioned the tall tree, cut it down and made it into the cross on which Jesus died. Fishermen came from Galilee looking for wood to make a boat. They cut down the short tree, making many planks to build the boat from which Jesus would still the waves. The last to come was a poor farmer from Bethlehem. The third tree had struggled just to keep alive, but the farmer only wanted a small trunk, so the woodsman gave it him for free. He took it back to Bethlehem and made a feeding trough from it – the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid.
The moral was that we should not think too much or too little of ourselves. God has a role for us in his Kingdom and He will find it. We all have a place in God’s Kingdom regardless of which tree we identify with.
Mike’s Reflection following the readings from Jeremiah and John was on the New Year.
Jeremiah’s words were aimed at Jewish exiles, encouraging them to return to Jerusalem. The wonderful picture painted was in reality “super-hype” (boosterism?) because their lives would be very hard when they did get back. Mike likes the passage because we need encouragement after two years of Covid, isolation and lockdown. We need to come out of the dark, but also need to think about how we change the way we live, particularly how we crowd together in so many of the things we do.
John’s Gospel was written around AD 90, the last gospel to be written after 60 years of struggle against the Romans and the Jewish authorities. It’s believed to have been written in Ephesus because the writer had been persecuted in Jerusalem. It is late 1st Century theology, when people had thought it all through and realised what the coming of Jesus was all about. The key wording was in verse 12 of John 1, “some, however, did receive him and believed in him: so he gave them the right to be God’s children”.
January comes from the Roman god Janus with the two faces looking backward and looking forward – a god of transition. Mike told us it was good to look back and to look forward, but in looking back we should learn from our mistakes but avoid being too judgemental. We have fallen short and would be lost without God’s Grace, but with it we are saved.
We should know that we are accepted and loved for what we are, learn to be children of God, children of a loving Father. One of the difficult parts of a Christian’s journey is to learn that we are accepted, loved and wanted equally – something that sets Christianity apart from some more hierarchical religions.
As we make our New Year resolutions, Mike cautioned us about making plans for ourselves (what I want). Rather, we need to understand what God’s plans are for us, how we fit into his purpose. We should stop planning and start listening to God to find out what he wants from us his year. How we can spread His message to other people so they too can become children of God.
And Mike hopes that as we do this we can dance, sing and be merry (as in Jeremiah), change our lives, be happy and spread joy to people.
Christmas Day – Morning Service led by Tony Alderman
Tony’s Christmas Day service was perhaps more Christmas Carol than Christmas morning – he’s a hard hitter, and sometimes you have to listen carefully to hear the joy come through A nice contrast perhaps to all that artificial joyfulness and consumption that we see around us?
In his first of three mini-sermons – “Share the Word” – Tony quoted from two theologians to reflect on the factual differences in the readings from Isaiah and Luke, both traditional at Christmas.
In Isaiah, the descriptive follows a tradition of using words not to describe the ruler himself (i.e. the new born child) but rather the intentions of the deity that has placed the ruler on the throne – an interpretation that is in tension with the traditional Christian interpretation.
Luke’s account is beautiful in its human simplicity. We can have sympathy for Joseph and pregnant Mary on their journey to Bethlehem, where she delivers her baby in the lowliest of conditions. We share the delight of the Shepherds as they hear the joyful announcement of the birth of the Messiah and finally we accompany the Shepherds to the manger where they share the remarkable birth announcement to the amazement of all. Something that we, like Mary, can treasure in our hearts.
In Isaiah, the sign of the child points beyond the child itself to a future event. In Luke, the sign points to the fact that the child is already the Lord and Messiah. It doesn’t have to wait for the resurrection to be recognised as such. Perhaps Luke wants to make the point that the Messiah does not make his appearance in visible might but in the form of a vulnerable baby? The Christmas story is of a Lord who is pleased to be born amongst the humble, of a God who keeps his promises, and is in control of history. With such a God on our side, we do not need to fear, and with the Shepherds we may praise and glorify God for the gift of his son.
The second piece “Listen to the Parrot” started with the traditional joke. A man is faced with a parrot in a cage that won’t stop talking. So he says to the parrot “I was out shopping and brought eight venison legs for £150. Do you think that was too dear? (two deer = boom boom!). The parrot nearly falls off his perch laughing.
Having got his attention, he asks the parrot “how are you coping in the pandemic?”. The parrot grabs hold of the bars of the cage and roars “Cor, are you having a laugh?”
How many people are feeling like the parrot, trapped in their homes, with life a challenge. Tony listed mental health, cuts in benefits payments, child poverty, single parents struggling to cope and immigrants coming across from France in icy cold water. As chair of a care home, he’s fully aware of the difficulty to get nurses or care staff – it’s almost impossible – and yet we expect our loved ones to be looked after. So many people being challenged.
Jesus was born in very impoverished circumstances. Perhaps the message is that we should in his name be doing so much more?
And then there was “Rapper Tony” – the Tony’s Chocolate wrapper telling us that it was against slavery in the chocolate industry. The bars were not divided into even chunks to remind us that there was so much inequality in that industry. Lessons for all of us?
In his third piece “Pondering Celebration”, Tony told us about a letter recently received from a good friend whose retirement move to Manchester had been delayed by His wife successfully undergoing treatment for cancer. So, knowing that Tony was undergoing chemotherapy he’d sent a greeting. “Sometimes, even in the bleakest of times, something wonderful breaks through our feelings of sorrow and loss. If only for a moment, we feel a sense of delight” and he’d quoted from an Advent meditation.
In mid-December, Kathy Bostrom, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, was in hospital recovering from a second bout of major surgery. Hitched up to so much equipment she was almost unable to move and surrounded by noise, difficult roommates who swore all the time, people crying out in pain, she was also in great pain. And then she heard a faint sound, so different, sweet and gentle against all the blaring noise. Was she imagining things? And when a few hours later she heard the beautiful sound again, she asked a nurse about the singing breaking through all the harshness of that place. The nurse told her it was a tradition to play Brahms’s Lullaby every time a baby was born in the hospital.
And for the first time since her operation she smiled and felt hopeful, felt peace. A lullaby on the loudspeaker – a baby is born – and she thought of another lullaby that had broken into the sounds of the night 2000 years ago, and in her heart heard in the whisper of angel wings “Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing the good news of great joy to all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David the Saviour that is the Messiah”.
We may be in different difficult places, asking ourselves how long will this go on? But if we listen carefully, we may hear a baby cry and angels singing, and thank God for Christmas.
And when we celebrate, let’s celebrate with the news we have of the hope we all share, and use that hope to help others – and if nothing more tell them of Jesus’s birth and living a life for each one of us, because at a tender age he dies for each one of us.
Sunday 19th December – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
At just about one “minute to midnight” – i.e. the calm after the panic of getting Zoom up and running – we learned that David Aplin had been “pinged”. A granddaughter had tested positive, and he’d been in contact, so although fully fit he was obliged to self-isolate.
Luckily with Zoom we can cope with elements of the Service streamed from elsewhere, so once we’d adjusted the kit so we could hear David at home and see him on screen, we were ready to go.
David’s Sermon was set around Luke 1 and the baby within Elizabeth leaping for joy when it heard Mary’s greeting. As he told us, there is very little recorded about Jesus’s early life. We may say that Jesus came down at Christmas (as in Carol) but actually he’d been in Mary’s womb for nine months and we know that learning and awareness starts in those months in the womb.
Outside the Catholic Church there is a tendency to downplay Mary’s role after the Nativity, but we can be sure that she played a big part in his spiritual development and his humanity. He was a simple carpenter until he was 30, but she will have always known he was special.
St John records his first miracle shortly after his baptism by his cousin, accompanied by his first disciples – the Wedding at Cana. When the host runs out of wine, his mother tells Jesus to “sort it!”. Pretty reluctantly – “my time has not yet come” – he fills the ritual washing jars with water and turns it into excellent wine. Mary trusted him to do the right thing.
David’s mother (Mam) was very important to him, and he felt his caring side came from her.
We all appreciate the importance of our own mothers: it’s not just a biological relationship, a mother is there to bring us up ready for the world with self-sacrifice and love.
So as we thank God for all that Mary did for Jesus, her son who she loved and shared with God, we thank God for our own mothers and their love – and hope that we have shown the same love for our children and for others in the world.
Sunday 12th December – Family Service led by Geoff Peterson
After a rousing Happy Birthday for Barbara Corfe (there was some discrepancy within the Corfe household about her actual age, cue laughter) the candles were lit and we were into a Hymn of Praise & Anticipation.
The readings from Isaiah had God complaining about his children rebelling against him, followed 12 chapters later, when the exiled people were to have returned from exile, by a Hymn of Thanksgiving about the great things God had done.
A Hymn of Praise and Greeting was about the King who is coming to reign.
The long and fierce reading from Luke Chapter 3 has John in the wilderness, talking to those who gathered about what was wrong with their way of life and calling them to a fierce repentance. He was frightening them by telling them what was going to happen to them if they didn’t change their way of living – all in all the rousing stuff of a good Old Testament prophet.
Geoff told us that the Jews thought they were a chosen race, believed they had special rules to themselves and that the rest of the world didn’t matter. They thought they had a special privilege as a nation and so that simply by saying they were sorry they could wipe the slate clean and then go back and do the same things again – and this is what John was talking against.
John was a kinsman of Jesus and of similar age. They had grown up together and Geoff surmised that they would know each other well – but it appears not that well, because we get two very different stories from them about what the Messiah would do when he came.
There were plenty of prophets around at the time and John tells the people not to listen to them. He alone was the forerunner of the Messiah who they were all waiting for, a King and ruler who would rule a world in which they were privileged – and he was coming soon, so they must repent!
And here Geoff and I part company a little, because Jesus’s message of a “God who loves us very much in spite of everything” is the fundamental break between the Old and New Testaments. Yes, Jesus would also stress the need to share God’s gifts, look after each other, work honestly and behave decently as was set out in the scriptures, but his Good News of the great love that God has for all of us and his very different understanding of the purpose of his life as Messiah was to lead his disciples – and his followers to this day – to a radically different perception of God, and understanding of the lives that God wants us to lead (and here we come together again!).
After a Hymn of Assurance, Heather read from Philippians 4, closing with verse 7 – God’s peace.
Sunday 5th December – Toy & Gift Communion Service led by David Ramsay
This week Geoff took over as “Secretary” to do the welcome and light the candles.
Last week David had asked us to think about our favourite toy.
For Stephen it was a wind-up aeroplane which he flew in the deep snow at Christmas.
For Chris it was a dolly called Diana with soft rubbery limbs, that she played with with her sister.
For Janet it was a china doll, with a beautiful face but no hair. Her mother made a red velvet cape and hood which Janet had treasured and kept well into her marriage.
For David himself it was a “crow shoot” game, which started him down the road to becoming a real marksman.
A favourite toy plays a part in our development and growing up, teaching us new skills and helping our social and emotional development. David hoped that our gifts would do just this and that each would become the favourite toy for someone at Hepburn House in South Mymms.
The readings were from Malachi 3 and Luke 3.
David’s theme was Looking Forward. Malachi – the word means my messenger – was the last book of the Old Testament. It covered a time around 500 BC when the priestly establishment was in a very bad place, corrupt and neglectful of their duties. Radical change was coming and a messenger would come to clean God’s house.
Jesus’s followers saw this prophesy fulfilled.
Luke, as a man of learning, places the story in history (around 29 AD) and historical accuracy and prophesy was important for Luke, who we understood never met Jesus, though he was a good friend of Paul.
God spoke to John the Baptist and sent him out to fulfil the great prophesy that was also foretold in Isaiah. John’s preaching was preparing the way for Jesus – and he like Jesus suffered a terrible death.
Advent is looking forward to Jesus’s birth – a momentous day – so it’s right that we celebrate, give and receive presents and also give to charities at this time.
But the real message is of God coming down to earth to live with us and for us, and later in his adult life to teach us, heal us, feed us, and eventually to die for us on the cross.
David saw the four Advent candles as symbolising he great journey Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary, possibly on a donkey: the latter also the choice of Jesus himself as he made his way into Jerusalem, knowing what he would have to sacrifice. And in that room where he celebrated the Feast of the Passover, Jesus had created our own celebration of Holy Communion.
And David is now fully certificated!
Before he gave the closing Blessing David told us of the words that had come to him in a poem he called “Faith”:
Some say God is non-existent, just a figment of our mind,
and some say God is a just lie, and we of faith are blind.
But I say God is our Father, loving each and every one
and his love is everlasting, for all of humankind.
Some say Jesus was just a carpenter, just a hewer of wood,
and some say he was just a talker, spinning tales that no one understood.
But I say Jesus was God’s son, and a brother to us all,
who brought words of loving kindness, and showed us how to live as one.
Some say the Spirit is just fantasy, and nowhere can be found,
And some say the Spirit is just nothing in reality – has no ground.
But I say the Spirit is the truth, that binds the Father and the Son,
And comes to us in times of troubles when our faith is a doubting one.
So just remember in times of trouble, when your faith is weak or strong,
That the triumvirate is there to guide you, and help you know where you belong.
Sunday 28th November – First Sunday in Advent Service led by Mike Findley
It was good to have Mike back with us again and when we learned that we were the second of the three Sunday Services he was leading this day, our respect for his commitment and staying power was increased commensurately.
Mike had two themes: The first was for St Andrew’s Day and based on John 1 where Jesus calls his first two disciples (one of which was Andrew). “Come and see” as Jesus responded to Andrew’s questions was uncomplicated and something for us as well. Mike noted that some of us feel we need to try to convert people and start theological conversations when a simple “Come and See” would suffice. We don’t convert people; the Holy Spirit does that, but we have to bring people to make them more receptive to that conversion.
The challenge is whether our faith has such relevance that we want to say to others “Come and see”. If people see from our lives what it means to be Christians, then when we say “Come and see” there’s a bigger chance of them coming. People responding by coming to church would see us as we are as practising Christians. And as Andrew then brought Peter so we should see whether each one of us over the Christmas period can say “Come and see”.
The second theme, Advent, drew on Psalm 25, the lectionary reading for the first Advent Sunday.
So what does Advent mean apart from the excessive consumption of food and a large amount of money spent on shopping? Mike had been watching Brian Cox’s mind blowing The Universe series, but the last episode had taken us forward to a time when all the stars have used up their energy, the light goes out and the universe becomes a dark and lifeless place. Nowhere was there a discussion of the cause or reason why all this was here or how big bang came about. No discussion of parallel universes or the hidden dimensions in this universe that scientists can’t yet perceive. In respect of such philosophical questions, we see through a glass darkly.
The question for any religious person is that everything we see, we believe in, we hope for implies a “something else”, something extra that science cannot perceive or mathematically deal with – and that thing is God.
Advent and Christmas is about that something else, something extra, something coming to find us, coming to make sure we are not alone in this absolutely immense universe. Advent is about waiting, being expectant.
Psalm 25 says “I lift up my soul” – we wait in hope, excited, things get better.
We have confidence “in you I trust”. In Spanish the word for to wait esperar, also means to hope.
“Make me know your ways, O Lord” implies we should spend Advent wanting to follow more closely the path of the Lord – preparing whilst we wait. In earlier times Advent was a period of abstinence, a solemn time of sorting out your soul before Christmas and we should be preparing our lives, our souls for that arrival.
We hope, we are expectant, we are looking forward to it but also tidying up the house of our lives and our souls for that coming, to be ready to receive the Lord when he comes.
Sunday 21st November – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
We were so pleased and relieved to have David back with us leading our worship after his recent illness.
We had not understood just how close David had come to not coming through it, but he described to us the suddenness, the loss of blood and the ambulance taking him to hospital. He’d known he was in deep trouble and had prayed. He’d seen in front of him that tunnel of light – something so often recorded by those who have had a near-death experience – and it was enticing because he knew that his Lord would be waiting for him at the end of the tunnel.
He’d prayed that God would spare him for the sake of those who he loved because he cared passionately for all those who loved him – and he’d recovered quickly, and now here he was to tell the tale. The Lord had answered his prayers: he’d known he didn’t want to go yet, and God had answered him, cementing his faith.
The Gospel Reading, John 18, had Jesus saying “My kingdom is not of this world”. We have an imperfect world with far too many evil people and actions. Why does God allow all this? Jesus had left us the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, not to control us. We have the freedom to choose, and some choose badly. We hear the same question asked in cases of illness and disability and these are also part of the price of our freedom and the basis of our redemption, because we can choose.
So where is Christ’s Kingdom? David had no idea of the place that was at the end of that shaft of light, so to go down it would have been an act of total faith and confidence in God. We call it heaven but there are many misconceptions of what it is. For David it is where his Lord and King is – where Jesus is. And for him, hell would just be to be kept from Jesus, the most awful of treatments and punishments.
Our confidence needs to be strong because of our faith. We are saved though grace and our faith in Jesus. Luther had raged against the church’s false offering of indulgences, a way to buy yourself or your loved ones into heaven. He declared that we are saved by faith alone and will meet Jesus in life eternal.
Sunday 14th November – Remembrance Service led by Martyn Macphee
For his Remembrance Day Service, Martyn offered us two vignettes from his childhood on the island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland.
The first was of Remembrance Day Services as a youth, standing with huge men with huge hands who were totally silent, men who would have served on the Northern Convoys and lost many of their friends – so full of emotion they were totally unable to speak.
The second was a story about Pete, a very fussy eater with a fast-moving Christmas Day strategy to get his favourite foods on his plate and avoid those he disliked. His strategy – at first successful – was serially aborted by his grandma, standing in, we may surmise for Martyn’s sister, older by 12 years and also a force to reckoned with! With almost herculean strength and speed she would top up his plate with a generous helping of peas, “little green blessings” she called them, but one of his “cannot eats”. As you had to eat whatever was on your plate, long after everyone else was finished he was still there with a plate empty except for the peas he’d not managed to drop on the floor. Alone with those little green blessings he realised that there was a lot of love and good humour around the family Christmas Lunch table. His gran would rally the family to return and cheer him on as he ate, so before you knew it the last of those peas were gone but the blessings of family remained
Martyn felt that this was true of a lot of our blessings. We probably all have our share of unwanted peas piled on our plates, but it takes time to recognise the blessings that come in the midst of our difficulties.
What Jesus was saying in Mark 13 was that perseverance in the midst of disaster and crises is a blessing, because it is a truth that God can create blessings within chaos and disaster (think of storm damage, with neighbours helping neighbours, sharing food, opening their houses to those whose houses had been damaged).
Jesus tells us not to be frightened by wars or rumours of wars, nations rising against nations, earthquakes and famines. These catastrophes are a part of the world that we live in; not signs of the end, but the birth pains of a new beginning – especially where our response is the faithful help of one neighbour to another.
Jesus wants us to focus on the present and the promise of a new creation and be mindful of the blessings that God works even in the midst of the chaos of life. It’s about the promise of a new beginning, and there is joy ahead. Whether we recognise it or not we are part of God’s new creation. So we should be wary of those who want us to be scared or frightened of the future. The good news is that there is a plan for the salvation for the world.
The question for us is how we are to be vessels of this new creation, ambassadors of the good news How can we be blest so that we can be a blessing for others? There will be distasteful parts of life that we have to endure and persevere through but there will be blessings within, good and nourishing. We don’t face hardship alone. God and God’s people are with us and we all know that there is joy ahead.
As we gathered to remember the fallen and those who bear the pain of war, we could know that joy lies ahead for all of us.
Sunday 7th November – Church and Zoom Communion Service led by Lilian Evans
Lilian’s theme was that God has plans for us. If we look and listen, we will find God. As we come to the end of Pentecost and look forward to Advent, our thoughts move to the coming of the Messiah. God had been planning this for a very long time.
Just as in “Who do you think you are?” we are often surprised at how far back our ancestors can go, we find that Jesus was related by direct line right back to Abraham – and there were many amazing people in his family tree.
We are given a small vignette in Ruth 3. Ruth was a Moabite woman who had married one of the sons of Elimelech, who died leaving her a widow. God had set up rules that allowed kinsmen to marry a widow in order that they could be cared for and looked after, and the family name be remembered. Her Mother-in-law, Naomi, tells Ruth to go Boaz, a relative, and after his day’s work has ended and he’s eaten and drunk to his fill, to go to where he lies down – in her best clothes and with perfume – to lift the covers and lie down at his feet. As Lilian noted, going to a threshing stall was not the place for a respectable young woman – so she was taking a big risk. But it all works out well and Boaz takes her home as his wife. Ruth commits to her husband’s people and his God and God honours her not only with a happy marriage, a place to stay and a loving husband but also with a son. And her son, grandson and great grandson become the most important people in the land. Without Ruth there would have been no David, or David’s line.
God had worked all this out in the order it had to happen.
The story of the “widow’s mite” in Mark 12 is well known. Lilian told us that when she was young, she sometimes felt that ladies only came to church to show off their hats. Certainly, the scribes at the time were important and influential people who expected the best seats in the house but they were not beyond taking over the property of a widow if she had no kinsmen to look after her.
After a day of teaching and answering questions in the temple, Jesus was sitting with his friends watching people come and go. They were by the offering plate at the door, and could see how much people put in. He sees the poor widow put her two copper coins in the plate and tells his disciples that she has put in more than all the others because she has put in 100% of what she had to live on.
Today we can make offerings of money, but also of time and energy. We bring our offerings to God to the table, be they gifts of money, of love and care, or of bread and wine – and of ourselves.
“All that I am, all that I do, all that I dream of, I give to you”
Sunday 31st October – Church & Zoom Service led by Tony Alderman
It was great to have Tony back with us again – bright eyed and bushy tailed despite all the health issues life is throwing at him. We had a notable turnout for a very treasured friend.
The day’s theme was “Love is”.
As is usual, Tony first graced us with the fortunes of Brentford Football Club but with a thoughtful twist. Yes, they had lost at Wembley to their traditional rival Fulham 2-1, but as Anne Walton had pointed out to him, any disappointment paled into insignificance when compared to the people of Beirut who had just experienced that huge dockside explosion. From being a prosperous and great place to live before 1975 it had morphed into a place of poverty, corruption and faction fighting. Truly a place and a people who needed love and compassion, to be prayed for.
The Bible Reading Mark 12, dealt with the Great Commandment – “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus gives the right answer – actually two answers, which stack together and take precedence over sacrifice and religious practices. Perhaps better said is that the right practice is a life well lived, marked and identified by love. How can one love God and not his creation? And “as oneself” because we are all God’s creatures, and we are all loved by God.
Jesus told the scribe that he was near to the Kingdom of God – not a thing of the past or a future promise, but close at hand, being about the visible presence of God and God’s rule through the lives of his people.
Tony noted that so much of the digital world today amplifies our prejudices, bringing hate, not love.
Love begins and ends with God and his creation – all of it, including but not limited to humanity. Because God loves us, we have to respond, and that response demands our whole person – all that we are and do. Tony gave us the image of a stick of rock – wherever you break into it you see the name of the place where you have been. Jesus’s rock might say “Love God, love others”. It was at the heart of his work and his ambition, and wherever you break into it the story will be the same. Our task is to take some of this for ourselves.
Tony quoted to us from a brochure entitled “Nurturing Social Cohesion – why it matters and what your church can do about it”. The principles were:
- Do what you community needs,
- Communicate what you are doing,
- Work with what you have already – use the talents you have within the congregation,
- Try not to do everything for everybody – that’s impossible – do what you are good at,
- If you have a great building (as we do) consider how it can be used by the wider community,
- Leadership matters – but engage the whole congregation,
- Look beyond your church,
- Dialog is the foundation of strong community relationships, but doing something together involves more people,
- In nurturing social cohesion, what you do together
He told us that the community of Hertsmere needs us now more than ever. We live in a world where even our own country is threatened with parts moving off. Our love can ensure that the people of Potters Bar can move forward knowing the love of God in the way that we do by expressing it in our own workings – just being ourselves.
And all who know Tony will know that he is a true “Ronseal Man” – doing just what it says on the tin!
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.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8