Category Archives: Faith Matters

Sunday 9th August

‘Stepping Forward in Faith’

Dear Friends,

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

It feels strange, this ‘undiscovered country’ – or the ‘new normal’, which some have termed it. I watched the BBC news the other evening with much concern and exasperation, and I see a world different to the one that we have been used to; a world of face coverings, victims of coronavirus and a complete uncertainty in the future. And I wonder, how does the church begin to respond?

One thing is certain, and that is for those of us who have accepted a life in Christ Jesus, there is a complete certainty – a hope and a salvation. What joy that brings!

Jesus’ narrative in Matthew 6:25-34 brings a hope of the coming Kingdom, and the instruction to “… seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” gives us a starting point in the affairs concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.

As the body of Christ, we have excelled in shrouding faith with religion and creating ceremony to govern our worship and traditions that have been passed from one generation to the next. So much so, that both our traditions and ceremonies (or ways of doing things in church) have guided our faith – and for many, both ceremony and tradition have become the kingdom in which our church communities sit. In order to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, perhaps the time is ripe to look beyond our traditions and familiar ways of doing things to see where God is calling us to respond next in a divided world full of people desperate for a peace that only the God of miracles can truly bring?

I was very excited this week after discovering a link on social media to the ‘New reality, same Mission: A stimulus to renewed community engagement as we emerge from the pandemic’ booklet produced by the URC. The booklet frames well the current situation and impact left by the Coronavirus and gives an excellent guide to how the church can respond. Through our charity work at ‘YES! Brixham’ and Youth Genesis, Katherine and I know all too well of the impact that the Coronavirus has had on people of all ages: the loss of jobs, isolation, loneliness, bereavement, hopelessness, poor mental health, increased domestic abuse, food poverty… And the list goes on. If the church is to respond, now is the time.

The new booklet offers many suggestions on how the church can respond; giving a clear hope and certainty! But, it may involve doing things differently to how we’ve done them before, or putting some of our traditions to one side in favour of working out God’s plan in reconnecting our churches with those who have lost hope. For some, reshaping our mission may involve putting ‘new wine into new wine skins’, but Jesus offers us a solution…

In Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5 we see a comparative of Jesus’ illustration of putting new wine into new wine skins; putting new wine into old wine skins will cause the old skins to burst! Only in the Luke synopsis does Jesus point out (in verse 39): “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

You see, this is where we are with our churches: no one after experiencing the old wants the new, for they tell us ‘the old is better’!! And I’ve personally heard it many times on my travels!

Firstly, we have been instructed by Jesus to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Secondly, we need to keep the old wine in the old wine skins – our traditions are vitally important and provide a much needed vehicle to worship for many. Finally, we have an opportunity to do something new – to create ‘movement’ in the way that Jesus did followed by the Apostles and Saints – who, filled with the Holy Spirit, were called to do something new at the time!

Now is the time for us to do something new, but what is it that we are being called to do?

Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commissions the disciples to “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The commission is clear, but what does that look like in 2020?

We have an opportunity, through the Gospel, to bring certainty in an uncertain world, hope where there is despair and a peace where communities are divided. We have an opportunity to bring God’s kingdom to those struggling with unemployment, domestic abuse, poverty, hurt, grief, loneliness and physical and mental struggles.

Perhaps now is the time to consider the following:

1) Prayer – seek first God and His righteousness through prayer. In Luke 11 Jesus tells his disciples how to pray, saying: “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Jesus continues in verses 9-10: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

So the advice is: seek, ask and receive.

2) Explore how the church can support those in need, being realistic about the resources (building, people, finances, equipment etc.) at hand. Often, the resources we need are beyond the walls of the church, and working in partnership with others is often the way forward. The booklet gives some great ideas for how this can happen.

3) Being prepared to do something new. The booklet says (page 20):

A YouGov survey in April 2020 found that ‘only 9% of people in Britain want life to return to normal after the coronavirus outbreak is over’. Most people in the UK do not want to simply go back to life as it was before.

How can we work together collaboratively to create a fair and just society where every one of us can thrive? In this, it is especially important that we listen to the ideas of children and young people, who will probably be affected the most by the choices we as a society make today.

Society is wanting something new; as the church, are we ready to provide it in Jesus’ name?

A prayer for this tenth Sunday after Pentecost:

Father God, in a time of conundrum for many, we come before you now to seek your wisdom, grace and guidance;
We pray for a world surrounded in despair and uncertainty;
We pray for those who have lost hope or struggle on a daily basis facing challenges beyond comprehension;
We bring before you those whom we love; those whom we know are finding these unprecedented times difficult.

Lord God, you are the architect of all creation; you created the heavens and the earth; you put the stars in their positions; you designed every living creature.
We seek you to give us strength, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to bring peace and restoration to the order that you created;
For the lives that struggle, we ask that you pour out your miracles to bring a new hope and peace to many.

As Your Church, we pray that you inspire us to look beyond our comforts and see a new way of reaching out to so many souls who do not know Your Son Jesus Christ.
These prayers we offer in the name of Jesus, AMEN.

Bless you all – and keep the faith.

Jonathan Oliverio

Sunday 2nd August

Worship reflections for Sunday 2nd August – Rev’d Barbara Bennett

Read:
Isaiah 55: 1-5; Matthew 14:13 – 21

Prayer:

Gracious God, you give us so much.
All your creation overflows with goodness.
We have more than we need,
And your bounty feeds our bodies, minds and spirits.
Thank you for your gracious gifts.
Forgive us when we take them for granted.
Forgive us when we do what we should not do.
Forgive us when we say what should remain unsaid.
Help us to be the people you created us to be,
Standing up for truth, justice and freedom.
We ask this in Jesus’ name
Amen

Reflection:

She’s always the same, my mother, when she’s having a clear out.
“Get out from under my feet now, Mark. Go for a walk for a while”

I had heard that the Teacher was on the road,
So I went to the cupboard and took what I needed.
There were five little barley loaves which mother had baked that morning;
Two little fish left over from supper last night.
I added a flask of cool water from our well,
Tied everything up into a cloth and ran out of the door
Before she could change her mind and find me a task to complete.
I hate housework!

Jonah was sitting outside his house on the wall.
He called as I went past but I didn’t stop.
There were lots of people on the road, all going the same way,
All climbing the hill. So I joined them, and Jonah joined me.
He had to run to catch up and was out of breath,
Jumping and leaping and hollering as usual.
His hands were empty though – that’s half my food gone!
He always eats what I have!

At last we found the Teacher and his friends at the top of the hill.
I got to a good place where I could see and hear
Because he tells good stories I know.
Jonah kept poking me and prodding and grinning
So I wished he had stayed on his wall!
I couldn’t concentrate!
The sun was really hot, and I was glad of the water!

People who were sick came up for healing
And stayed to hear Jesus talk.
At last, as the sun began to sink towards the top of the hill
I heard his friends talking to one side of me.
“They should go home now” they were saying.
“He should send them away, it’s late and there is nothing to eat up here.
Where will we find food for all these people?
There must be five thousand or more of them.”

Then Jesus came; so close I could almost touch him!
“What food have we got?” he said.
Suddenly I found myself tugging the sleeve of the friend nearest to me.
“Please Sir, take my picnic if you want. But there is not much!”
They showed Jesus my five loaves and two little fishes.
He nodded and smiled and told everyone to sit down again.
He held on of my mother’s loaves up towards heaven and said a prayer.
He broke it, and his friends brought the food round to everyone.
We all had enough to eat and more (but I saw some grown ups
getting food out of their pockets then –
I can’t be sure but I think they might have been ashamed
Of withholding what they had to keep for themselves.)
When everyone had eaten enough there was still lots left
Of my mother’s barley loaves and two little fish in the baskets.
I took some home with me, and my mother made the evening meal
With what Jesus had blessed.
She could not believe that her barley loaves had fed so many.
But she wasn’t there was she? Too busy sweeping!

Next time Jesus comes here I’m going to go and see what else he can do.
Maybe he can fly, or find coins behind my ears.
I’d like that!
But for now, I am just trying to think how he fed so many people
With so little!

————-

We have seen so much evidence of human generosity in the last few months. Strangers have delivered essentials; neighbours have talked over fences and walls; nurses and carers have held the hands of the dying when their relatives could not. This is a story about generosity – about God providing all that is needed to feed the people. But I also think whenever I read this story in any of its versions that it shows human beings selfishly keeping to themselves what is theirs until Jesus shows them how to share. Generosity breeds generosity.

Let’s hope that when all this is history we keep the generous love and compassion we had for each other in the middle months of 2020 and build our communities upon it. Our humanity has been strengthened and fed at a time when sometimes hope and a future seemed rather bleak.

God bless you all.

Pray for those in the news, for our world, its people and the Church.

Sunday 26th July

There’s some wise advice to preachers: ‘running late? Romans 8!’.
It never fails because this chapter from Paul contains so many core insights into Christian faith and there’s always something fresh to be discovered and preached. On this Sunday we are invited to re-visit the closing paragraph of that chapter, summed up in Paul’s great phrase ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8, v31)

This chapter only works if you have a truly ‘big’ view of God. It’s all here: God as creator and interpreter of time and history, God as loving and forgiving Father (Abba), God as enabling and empowering Spirit, God as historical Jesus dying and rising, God as ultimately ‘for us’.

Of course there have been lots of believers (including Christians) who have made the claim that God was on their side as if it justified all manner of most ungodlike things, spoken and done. Did Jesus not say “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven”? (Matthew 7, v23)

But set that aside for a moment. The point made in Matthew and Romans is that those who believe and who seek to build God’s kingdom (to follow Jesus) can believe that God – yes, God – is on their side. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of the Creator in Christ Jesus our Lord.(v39) Amazing grace indeed.

This is the foundation of Christianity, not the other (however important) things, not our love for God, not our good life, not our active church membership, not the words we use to express our faith, but the core truth of God’s love for us. Unlike many other religions (especially those which speak about searching for God) Christians believe that God has sought us out and inspired our faith and hope and love.

If this gospel affirmation was not at the heart of Christianity, we would struggle with at least one of the other things which Paul says in this chapter: ‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ (v28) This is far from evident, if we are honest, and a statement which might raise at least an eyebrow if not a fierce expostulation! ‘All things’, says Paul, who, as we should remember, suffered more than most in his personal missionary journeys, ending up as almost certainly one victim of the persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero in the 60’s. I think that he means us to look not at the things that can and do go wrong, but at the bigger picture, the longer-term view: despite setbacks and worse, God’s love will prevail and we shall be saved. Christian witnesses (martyrs) ever since Stephen have cried out ‘Jesus is Lord’. The context of such testimony is not just looking beyond the grave, but in the here and now when faith is stronger after a challenge.

So as all the outward aspects of the Christian life are inevitably evolving with the years – and right now in a more radical way – let’s hang onto the central truth which Paul articulates so well in this chapter. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? God who did not withhold His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not with Him freely give us all things?’. (v32)

I’ll reprint the whole paragraph below, then you can see how the climax builds; you would be well advised to go and read the whole chapter again.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And two powerful verses from a hymn (586 in Rejoice & Sing)
which you can read through as a prayer (or sing!)  [ROBERT BRIDGES (1844-1930)]

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown,
he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call
one and all;
ye who follow shall not fall.

Revd Peter Brain

Sunday 19th July

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants & becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”   (Mt 13:31-2)

Greetings to friends at Glenorchy.    Though we cannot meet in our Church building, we can continue to share our faith, as followers of Christ have done throughout the ages.

Imagine you are sitting listening to the teacher Jesus talking with his followers on a hillside outside Capernaum or wherever.    You are intrigued by his words – but this man claims so much – he talks about the fulfilment of his teaching in the coming rule of God.     And you say to yourself – maybe you even say to him –

  • Have you not seen the Roman army on the march?
  • Have you not seen the libraries and debating chambers of the Greek philosophers?
  • Have you not seen the vested interests of the Temple & of Herod?

And here you are with a few dozen North country fishermen and hangers on talking about the rule of God.
Come on Jesus, you have some good ideas – but bring in a Kingdom?   You and whose army?

Then again, go on a few years, and imagine yourself in Rome.    The date is around AD70, and you are part of the small Christian community in hiding.     In hiding because for four years the young Church has endured brutal persecution under Nero – the Christians playing the role so often played by foreigners and outsiders throughout history – a convenient group to blame when things go wrong and the Government needs a scapegoat.
You are listening as someone reads from the brand new Gospel of Mark – You could be forgiven for thinking that the great words about the coming Kingdom of Christ seemed a bit at odds with the hole in the corner existence of his beleaguered followers in the city.

But then (as we do today) you hear the words of today’s Gospel –  The Kingdom of Heaven, says Jesus, “is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.      Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”      In other words – Look at a mustard seed: – you need 750 to weigh one gram – next to nothing – but look what it grows to – in one season it is ten foot tall!      So Jesus says: Trust in the Lord.   God will accomplish great results from small, and (looking at the membership of the early Church) frankly unpromising beginnings.    A message perhaps for our times as our Church and our world face such testing times for our health and our well being.

But have you ever wondered why Jesus chose a mustard bush?     Why did he not speak about a great tree?     Ezekiel talks about the victory of God’s rule in terms of a great cedar of Lebanon, 100 feet tall, a majestic symbol of God’s coming Kingdom.      Yet Jesus replaces this traditional OT image of a great towering tree with the image of a mustard bush – yes, a fast growing and large shrub, which grows to 10 feet tall in a season – but an annual plant, which needs to be reseeded each year.    Maybe we need to hold both images in our mind together – the fast growing mustard bush of Mark’s Gospel – and the mighty cedar of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

In the garden at Killerton there is a fine Californian redwood brought as a sapling in the 19th century and now – if my memory serves me correctly – a 100’ or so tall.     I guess everyone could have stood around for a hundred years waiting for it to grow.    Thankfully they got on with cultivating the rest of garden – planning the perennial shrubs, and each year planting out the annual bedding plants.    At the end of time the great redwoods, the sequoia, the cedars of Lebanon, all will be as nothing compared with the ultimate majesty of God’s rule – and we need to live our lives today knowing that that day will come.     But it is not here yet.    We live in the in between times – we see still in a mirror dimly – we see but the first fruits of the Kingdom of Heaven dimly reflected in the Church and the world.   And we are called to be gardeners sowing, planting, watering the seed which God has given us.     We may be growing mustard bushes not cedars – but don’t underestimate how they too can grow!!

So in these difficult times let’s sow the seeds of God’s love peace and justice, and trust him to bring the increase.     There will be times when the way of discipleship seems to be about vulnerability and disappointment.    We grow mustard bushes not cedars right now, and there will be reverses – as winter follows summer.     What matters is not that our every endeavour is an unqualified success in worldly terms, but that we keep sowing God’s seed.

When things turn against us, when the Gospel seems a very frail defence against death and sin and doubt and the powers that be in the world – trust in God and his power.   The Church is an anvil which has worn out many hammers.    And where are the Armies of Rome now?     In the words of FD Bruner, “Sects and ideologies almost always seem stronger than the Church.    Sects and ideologies fly; the church limps.    Sects and ideologies die; the Church limps on.   Stick with the Church”.     So let’s give our lives, our faith, our seedtime offerings – and pray that our harvest on earth may yet be the firstfruits of the assured great Harvest home of heaven to come.    Amen.

Andrew Sails

Sunday 12th July

Many people responding to the devastating pandemic caused by Coronavirus have described the times we live in as ‘unprecedented’. There can be little doubt that these are difficult times, and for some very tragic times. For many they may well be the ‘worst of times’.

In the 14th. Century a quite devastating pandemic raged through Asia and Europe known as the Black Death or plague killing over 20 million in Europe, a quarter of the population. At the same time mercenary armies roamed the countryside wreaking death and destruction in their path. The Pope, Gregory X1, was cowering in Avignon, France, leaving the Church in the hands of a corrupt clergy in Rome. In many ways it was “the worst of times.”

Catherine of Siena, was an Italian saint, a sister of the Dominican Order, who lived during these dark times. Remarkably she did not give way to despair or look to escape from the harsh realities. She did not say, “If only the Black Death would go away… If only the world were at peace… If only there was less greed, less exploitation and more generosity and justice….If only we had exceptional leaders, then I could really live my Christian faith.” No, Catherine became a saint by accepting her times as the context in which she was called to live her faith. She did not run away from the critical issues of her day; she engaged with them. She became a reformer and political activist and was influential in the religious and political affairs of the church. Even more remarkably, with no thought for herself, she cared for and nursed the victims of the plague. Surely a forerunner of those who today care for those suffering Coronavirus!

Sometimes we are quick to complain and regret the times in which we live. We assume that the world used to be a kinder and gentler place, and our ancestors had it easier than we do. But a quick perusal of history shows that every age, for one reason or another, could be called “the worst of times.” But, as Christians, we believe our age is precisely the context in which we are being called to live out our faith. Like Catherine, we are being called to respond to the critical issues of our times with attentiveness, courage, love, persistence, and faith.

The tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA has highlighted the shocking injustice of racism which is deeply embedded in the life of nations and communities. The fact that we permit Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) people to work in the frontline caring for those suffering from Corvid 19, often without extra protection to ensure their safety, knowing as we do that they are more vulnerable is indicative of our carelessness for a large section of our community.

During these times of isolation and separation we have been expected to ‘lock down’ and avoid contact with others. Thankfully the ‘lock down’ and the isolation that many have felt is being eased. It is not just during the current ‘lock down ’that people feel isolated or cut-off. In our world there are so many who are isolated and lonely – outcasts, refugees, marginalised, neglected – and now with the economic knock-on, there are an increasing number facing the devastation of unemployment and uncertainty. If this pandemic teaches us anything it’s surely that humanity needs to reach out to those who are cut-off and make them feel part of the human family.

We would do well to recall the compassion of Jesus who touched the leper. The point is, not that he risked becoming infected; the term leprosy covered a wide range of skin diseases. It was as much about inclusion; his action symbolised God’s intention that all humanity is part of, and included within, God’s kingdom. The question for us is how to welcome those who are isolated and excluded and make them feel at home?

Revd Michael Diffey

image: Catherine of Siena  by Sr. Plautilla Nelli (1560)

 

 Prayer

All embracing God,
we encounter you everywhere – in the highs and lows
as Creator, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit,
in the special and extraordinary acts of worship,
and in the ordinary events of everyday life,
in daily joys and laughter, and in sadness and pain.
May we be aware of your presence at this time.

Although many of us feel the loss of being cut off from those we love,
from our friends and neighbours,
we thank you that we can never be separated from you.
In your presence the ordinary becomes special, the secular is sacred.

We pray especially for all who find this time difficult and painful –
for the vulnerable, the bereaved, the elderly, the young
those facing the prospect of redundancy,
and those suffering from the coronavirus.
May they feel the comfort of your presence.

Pray for all those who are committed to care and bring relief and consultation.

We pray too for those who are alienated,
and those who suffer from discrimination.

Ever present God, may the reality of your all embracing presence
bring healing, hope, unity and peace to all.
Keep us constantly aware of the ongoing fellowship we have with you
and with each other,
not least with those who who have died.

May our lives be a joyful celebration of our faith and confidence
in your indestructible love.
May we know your peace especially in our loneliness, pain and loss
enabling us to reach out and share together in the all-embracing unity of your kingdom.

Amen.

Sunday 7th July

Matthew 11: 28
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

I wonder how many preachers’ hearts sink as they look at the lectionary readings and wonder what on earth to make them! Not too many, I hope. Today is definitely not one of those occasions. If ever there was a time when so many are weary and carrying heavy burdens, the time we are living through just now is surely one of them. All those who have been working on the ‘front line’ throughout the pandemic are surely weary; all those who have lost loved ones or are recovering from the virus or are simply fearful of catching it are surely carrying heavy burdens.

And, at a time when all this weighs heavily on people and communities around the world, the places where people often seek solace – the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the temple – have been shut. There was no choice, of course, about this. Not only was it a government instruction, it was also a moral imperative. For Christians who proclaim a message of abundant life, to engage in activity which risks bringing about painful death would be unthinkable. Not that all churches seem to be aware of that… This very Sunday was the day many had hoped that church services would resume just like the old days (all of three months ago) although the pressure seems to have come more from politicians than from church folk ourselves. Many of us are exercising real caution when it comes to gathering in large groups.

“But the church is not a building,” I hear you cry. And, of course, that is true (although to many who do not belong, it is actually the bricks and mortar – and the locked doors – that make the greatest impression). We know, though, that while the buildings may be inaccessible, the life of the church continues in myriad ways. It is through this life (which extends way beyond people of any one faith) that comfort and real compassion have been experienced by those whose burdens have been heavy indeed; the ones whose food supplies and vital medication have been delivered by volunteers; the ones who have received a comforting ‘phone call or a socially-distanced visit.

The practice of the people who aspire to walk the Way of Jesus does not depend on buildings (indeed many are finding that not being consumed by property concerns is itself a liberation). It is a good time, therefore, to be asking ourselves how closely our practice of religion offers something resembling Jesus’s promise: ““Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me and recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

This is a key passage in the gospels. Perhaps more than any other verse, it reminds us that Christianity is not so much a religion as a relationship. Certainly there is mystery. Turning to Christ with our greatest burdens is often seen as more than just applied psychology because some who have been driven to despair by tragedy and overwhelming grief later attest to their feeling that in the midst of their despair they did indeed find their load to be lifted.

The present difficulties have dominated our lives for months now but modern burdens are diverse indeed and are persistent. Some are burdened by poverty – and depression is a condition which is surprisingly common across all socioeconomic groups. The burden of domestic abuse has been magnified by the need to stay at home but, sadly, it is always there. The burden of alienation takes many forms and the nature of the help we offer reflects the nature of our community.

Of course, there are some who follow Christ whose identification is such that they feel they can, as it were, approach Jesus without an intermediary. But for many, maybe most of us, I suspect, we turn first to people whose manner suggests they will be open and sympathetic. This is surely what Theresa of Avila had in mind when she wrote: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

If the Christ whose name we claim could claim that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, then presumably it follows that, as his representatives in his church, we are called to offer the same to those who turn to us with their problems and burdens. True to that calling, for the last few months, many church folk have been stepping up to the mark despite the doors of our buildings being locked.

If we have found relationship in faith, we can only hope that others will encounter this same relationship in us.

And if they do, thanks be to God.

Rev’d Iain McDonald

Sunday 28th June

Readings: Jeremiah 28: 1 – 9; Romans 6: 12 – 23 & Matthew 10: 40 – 42

CHOICES

We have all had to make certain choices during this strange time of lockdown and they have been more limited than previously when we could come and go as we wished. Most people have chosen to follow the advice of the authorities to stay at home and only go out for essential shopping and exercise. At long last we are beginning to see the Covid-19 infection rate and daily death numbers fall. The choice most people made to follow government and medical advice proved to be the right one but there is a consequent economic cost to lockdown which is yet to be fully understood.

The people of Judah in 594 BC were also faced with a difficult choice which was not without future consequences. The question was: should they believe the prophet Hananiah or the prophet Jeremiah? Hananiah told the people what they wanted to hear – that King Nebuchadnezzar would be defeated within two years and the looted temple treasures and exiles would return. Whereas Jeremiah advised that the people must accept the domination of the foreign power of Babylon for a while longer. Refusal to accede to the rule of Babylon would result in sword, famine and plague (27:8). Jeremiah’s politically unpopular message was rejected by Hananiah who broke Jeremiah’s symbolic wooden yoke of oppression in two! The message for us seems to be that we are unwise to trust the word of a honey-tongued leader or prophet. Unwise to trust the word of one who ONLY brings us a comforting and reassuring message devoid of realism and challenge. So, we must beware and be alert at all times.

Today’s passage from Romans reminds us of the choice we make every day with respect to our personal conduct. Are we going to be slaves to sin or slaves to God? Romans chapters 6 & 7 present us with the uncomfortable reality of the human condition. With forensic skill Paul dissects the human heart: “What I do is NOT the good I want to do; no, the evil I do NOT want to do – this I keep on doing.” (7:19).  its a sorry state of affairs for human nature, and ultimately a hopeless state of affairs without the help of Christ. The good news is that there is an abundance of God’s grace which, if called upon, can counteract the human tendency to sin. Our problem is often our failure to call upon God to help us resist temptation and reject the way of sin. We forget that as followers of Jesus God is now our new master. We need not let sin reign over us any longer! (6:12) Of course, it’s easier said than done. Following Jesus is a daily battle and we suffer defeats as well as victories.

Thirdly, the gospel reading reminds us that all people have the choice of welcoming God’s messengers or not. Even giving a cup of cold water to the disciples on their mission was not without its significance or reward. We take water for granted – it’s literally ‘on tap’ whenever we need it. However, for the weary traveller in the hot climate of the Holy Land a drink of fresh water meant everything. We who have so much have a choice and quite a challenge: do we use our resources to support those seeking to provide fresh drinking water to those who have none? Yes, there are many good and worthy causes; but few so basic as supporting those who seek to provide clean water to those who have none. In the parable of the sheep of the goats (Matthew 25) those who saw Christ in the face of the thirsty were welcomed into the kingdom: “for I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

Revd Terry Spencer

Sunday 21st June

Lyn reminded me that today is Father’s Day which I think is an American import, no such day having previously existed.   It’s a bit like Mothering Sunday which has now been changed into Mother’s Day.   I’m not reflecting on Father’s Day save to say that as Christians we think of God as our father. How we then think of God depends to some extent on our own relationship with our fathers.   For some this will be a wonderful memory, others will have hardly known their father if he was killed in the last War or subsequent conflicts, whilst for yet others (including me) the memories are not so good though I’m not saying my father was unkind – he just wasn’t a child friendly man.

The Reflection is based on some of the verses from my favourite Psalm – No. 139

“Lord you have examined me and you know me, you know everything I do.”   This is really quite scary as I’m sure there are some things that we do that we might not want to be made public, but here is God knowing all about everything.   The other side to this is that we know through Jesus that He is a loving heavenly father “full of compassion and tender mercy” and will be able to sympathise with our frailties and forgive them.

“Even before I speak you already know what I will say”   This reminds me of the letter of James in the New Testament and what he says about the tongue – read it for yourself in Chapter 3 starting at the first verse.

Next in the Psalm are verses 7 to 12 which I always think are extremely poetical “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy right hand cover me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (A,V.)   Well you can’t get much closer to God than that!   We just can’t get away from his loving presence.

“How precious are your thoughts to me”   You may well ask “How do I know what God’s thoughts are?”   I think many Christian people would answer by saying we largely discover God’s thoughts by reading his word in the Bible (and I don’t mean by that only hearing it read in church or once in a blue moon reading it for yourself) but reading it frequently.

Then come four verses, parts of which I’m a bit uncomfortable with, starting off with “O God” how I wish you would kill the wicked” but this is amplified a bit because the Psalmist is talking about those who hate God, but even so it’s not a part which we can fully agree with.   There’s enough killing in this world without us joining in!

The last two verses of the Psalm return again to the theme of God knowing our mind, testing us and discerning our thoughts.   The bit about testing should definitely not lead us to think of God as some heavenly headmaster waiting to test us and with the cane stood in the corner to be applied if our answers are far from satisfactory.

Further back in the Psalm is the phrase”when I awake I am still with you” which brings to mind a verse of a hymn which I may well have imperfectly recollected – “With thee my Lord my God I would desire to be, by day, by night, at home, abroad,I would be still with thee”.

The final verse of the Psalm is really a prayer “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts.   Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the way everlasting” to which you may like to add “Amen” (so be it).

To finish a quote from a paraphrase of part of the Psalm –

“Search me, O God, search me and know my heart;
try me, O God, my mind and spirit try;
keep me from any path that gives you pain,
and lead me in the everlasting way.”

(No. 731 in Rejoice & Sing)

David Lee

(P S   Can anyone tell me what is the first line of the hymn “With thee my Lord my God”.   I’ve been racking what is left of my brain and can’t remember – I’ve even been right through the hymnbook)

Sunday 14th June

Today we would have been remembering in our public worship the people and projects which we support through Commitment for Life.

A couple of Sundays ago we marked Pentecost, the emergence of a transformed band of Jesus’ followers into public view as the Christian Church, thanks to the enlivening of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus himself (John 3, v8) compares the Holy Spirit to the wind – you can’t see it as such but you certainly know when it blows! There is evidence for this Holy Spirit at work today in so many places and situations. Rather like the dreadful coronavirus, it cannot be seen but has a significant impact. John might have gone on to write: God so loved the world that he sent the Holy Spirit to sustain and develop what Jesus the Son had started. And, as with Jesus, you know it by its effect. What Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ shows up in personal and social ways, in the lives of Christians and in the presence of the Church within society. Of the many ways the Holy Spirit is evident, Paul lists nine: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5 v22) Each one is worth a personal check-list and probably a prayer of confession.

All of this constitutes the ‘life in all its fulness’ which Jesus came to bring (John 10, v10) and they are the distinguishing features of our faith. Of course Christians have no monopoly of these gifts, but they should be evident if we are seeking to follow Jesus. It’s a personal commitment to life. So it is with what is called ‘development aid’. What we support through Commitment for Life is one element of being faithful to our calling. The word ‘development’ points to an improvement in the basic things of life. The UK is ‘developed’ because we have security, water, food, education, health-care, industry, employment, housing, etc., etc. Sadly these are in short supply in so many countries, especially among the poorer families or villages. Of course ‘development’ is very far from being the same as happiness but the things on that list are stepping-stones to a genuinely better life, with opportunities instead of obstacles and hope instead of frustration and despair. So even giving money to enable such practical things to happen can be a spiritual action (something stimulated by the Holy Spirit) when it a sacrament of love and involvement. You can see the wind blowing by its effect.

But – and there is a ‘but’ – a commitment to life is more than the nine gifts listed by Paul. After all, Jesus would not have been crucified for encouraging people to be kind and nice to each other! There is a challenge as well as a consolation in his call. In their different ways Caiaphas and Pilate felt somehow threatened by talk of the Kingdom of God. So it is important that the sinfulness which we should confess and which Jesus can forgive is not just the personal failings of you and me, but the collective failure by all of us to realign human society in keeping with the declared intentions of God the Creator. Again, Christians have no monopoly of response but we must play our part, not only helping victims but in tackling some of the causes and underlying issues.

As for the situation in the ‘holy land’, which is the current focus of Glenorchy’s involvement in Commitment for Life, here’s a small example. I wrote to our new MP, Simon Jupp, protesting at the proposed formal annexation of some occupied Palestinian territories and was pleased that he replied (as Hugo Swire would have done): ‘I believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations and contrary to international law.’ Is that ‘bringing politics into religion’? No more than making a claim for the Kingdom of God among the earthly principalities and powers. And so necessary if justice and peace are to be brought even a little bit closer.

When the opening of Genesis describes the creating Spirit moving on the face of the waters and ‘God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good’, the writer means the big picture as well as the specifics. A commitment for life is not subversive of the Creator’s purpose but rather aligned with it. As individuals we are meant to be children of a loving Father – who has provided as we know a way of forgiveness when we inevitably fail. And our shared public life as nations, locally and globally, is intended by the Creator to run fairly and peacefully. Why should the latter not be as ‘spiritual’ as the former. It is God’s enlivening Spirit which can transform individuals and public life too. Let’s renew our commitment for life in every way, as followers of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.

Please use this prayer, written by Janet Morley of Christian Aid for us at  Commitment for Life at the URC:

O God, who gave us life to cherish and enjoy,
and made us capable, in its service,
of costly love and powerful commitment:

help us to choose life in all its abundance,
not only for ourselves and for our children,
but for all our struggling world,
for whom you were content to lay down your life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

(The Glenorchy 2019 Commitment for Life report can be found here.)

Sunday 7th June – Trinity Sunday

A Reflection for Trinity Sunday  – Rev’d Barbara Bennett

Readings: Genesis 1: 1- 2:4a; Matthew 28:16 – 20

Hymn: Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory (R&S 33)

  1. Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory
    cascades through life in overflowing grace,
    to tell creation’s meaning in the story
    of love evolving love from time and space.
  1. Eternal Son of God, uniquely precious,
    in you, deserted, scorned and crucified,
    God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness,
    and flawed humanity is glorified.
  1. Eternal Spirit, with us like a mother,
    embracing us in love serene and pure:
    you nurture strength to follow Christ our brother,
    as fully-grown children, confident and sure.
  1. Love’s trinity, self-perfect, self-sustaining;
    love which commands, enables and obeys:
    you give yourself, in boundless joy,
    creating one vast increasing harmony of praise.
  1. We ask you now, complete your image in us;
    this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.
    May love in us seek love and serve love’s purpose,
    till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.

Reflection: God the creator spoke

Into the chaos and darkness of the beginning
And ordered the world
And everything in it.
Plants, trees and flowers,
Woodland and meadows,
Oceans and rivers
Springing into life abundant.
Then God’s love created creatures of every kind,
To swim and crawl and walk and run,
To play and work and enjoy life.

Our creating God,
Made small things and large,
From viruses to elephants
And everything in between.

God the creator speaks
In the chaos and darkness of this time,
Speaks with love and care,
Giving creation meaning and purpose.
The joy of blue skies,
The promise of the rainbow after rain,
The love to share with those who need it,
Knowledge to find a way through
And recreate order.
The ever-creating God
Involves us in re-creation,
So that the world may be whole again.

God the Redeemer spoke
Through the words and teachings of Jesus
God with a human face,
A human voice and human heart.
The God who suffered and died but rose again.
This Jesus spoke of how to live,
Of faith and hope and love for ever.
Through Jesus God has promised life beyond life,
Offering eternity to all who believe and love.

God the Redeemer speaks still,
Into the fear of our locked down lives,
Into the anxiety of not sending children to school,
Of no work and closed shops,
The muddles of crossed wires and mixed messages.
In our grief and our pain,
Jesus shares our sorrows,
For in him God is part of what we experience.
God knows what we fear,
Sees beyond our anxiety,
Will unravel the muddle
And the world will be whole again.

God the Spirit moved
Across the deep waters before time,
Forming the universe,
Energising prophets and shepherds alike.
God rested like the softness of the dove,
Blew like the wild wind through the minds of humanity,
Lit the fires of faith and passion,
Inspiring words that tumbled from new-opened lips,
Proclaiming all that God is, and was, and will be for ever.

God the Spirit moves today
Comforting the sick and dying,
Holding the bereaved,
Blowing away the cobwebs of past mistakes,
Forgiving errors,
Firing up the Church to newness,
Disciples to new vigour,
The questioning to seek,
The lost to be found,
The love that God gives inspires us
To serve, to help, to be Christ to strangers,
To turn the world upside down
As we have looked for new ways to live,
To recreate the world as God dreamed it
And make it whole again.

God who is creator, redeemer and life blood,
Is still speaking and cannot be muted
As we mute the voices on media screens.
God who made all that we treasure,
All that is dear to us,
Our homes, our families,
Our work, our leisure
All that has been lost and found in recent days,
This God, our God has walked this path
Beside us, before us, behind us,
We will never walk alone.
When we walk through the darkness, God is light;
When we walk through storms, God is shelter;
When we walk through fear, God holds us close.
God has walked with us since time began
And will go on until time ends,
The stars tumble,
The seas are no more.

God is one.
God is three.
Three beings, one heart.
One voice, three identities;
One God in Trinity
Speaking, making, guiding, inspiring
For yesterday, today and for ever.

One God. Our God. Thank God. Amen.

Prayer: Read through Hymn 339 (R&S) reproduced below:

  1. Great God, your love has called us
    here as we, by love, for love were made.
    Your living likeness still we bear,
    though marred, dishonoured, disobeyed.
    We come, with all our heart and mind
    your call to hear, your love to find.

At the end of the first verse, recall something to thank God for

  1. We come with self-inflicted pains
    of broken trust and chosen wrong,
    half-free, half-bound by inner chains,
    by social forces swept along,
    by powers and systems close confined
    yet seeking hope for humankind.

At the end of the second verse, ask God’s forgiveness

  1. Great God, in Christ you call our name
    and then receive us as your own
    not through some merit, right or claim
    but by your gracious love alone.
    We strain to glimpse your mercy-seat
    and find you kneeling at our feet.

At the end of the third verse, pray for the Church and God’s grace

  1. Then take the towel, and break the bread,
    and humble us, and call us friends.
    Suffer and serve till all are fed,
    and show how grandly love intends
    to work till all creation sings,
    to fill all worlds, to crown all things.

At the end of the fourth verse pray for the world

  1. Great God, in Christ you set us free
    your life to live, your joy to share.
    Give us your Spirit’s liberty
    to turn from guilt and dull despair
    and offer all that faith can do
    while love is making all things new.

At the end of the hymn, praise God – and promise to do all you can.

Conclude by saying the Lord’s Prayer.

Then:
May God the creator, redeemer and inspiration
Fill our lives with love, and give us the strength to serve
Today, tomorrow and always.  Amen.

 

(Hymns reproduced under CCLI 186837)