Called or Collared?
This is the title of a book about calling, or if you prefer, vocation. In the Christian or church context, talk of calling is too often taken to mean exploring steps to becoming a priest, and thus wearing a collar, so we can downplay the fact that God is constantly reaching out, calling out to everyone, whether “religious” or not. If people do choose to hear that call, it will eventually result in undertaking certain (very possibly not “churchy”) things, and very possibly changing direction, but God’s prime wish is for everyone to experience “life, and life in all its fullness.” (John 10.10). It’s a shame that “calling” can sometimes feel like a weary and rather cheerless sense of “bounden duty and service” in our thinking and experience, a sense of being collared.
So it is good that all the Scripture readings set for this Sunday give a far bigger, more glorious and appealing vision and context of God at work. In our dark and locked-down situation, a bigger view and wider vistas are essential to our mental and spiritual health. For example, if you have been thinking recently of and yearning for sunnier weather, better news and the next holiday, you will know the value of wider perspectives. Perhaps in spiritual matters, we tend to become a bit like Eli in today’s Old Testament reading. The first thing we discover about Eli is that “his eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see.” Before this, we read that in the nation generally “there were not many visions.” Things have become dull and visionless: Eli is just mechanically maintaining the status quo.
So how to maintain and nurture our personal and collective inner spiritual vision in closed-down times? Curiously, I would say, by letting go and letting God. Ask him, seek. Do look at the other readings for today: particularly in the case of David (Psalm 139) and Nathaniel (John 1.43ff) you will see true joy and inspiration as they experience an insight into God’s love and power (David) or answer God’s calling (Nathaniel). This reality can be ours too, and as we explore it begin to see what is uniquely ours to do.
David Frith, Reader.
Making a Show for Epiphany
At Epiphany, we remember when the Magi (which means "sages") visited Jesus. Epiphany means "showing" and the importance of this is that Jesus was first shown to the Gentiles (which is what the Magi were of course) right at the start of his life. This was symbolic that Jesus’s importance was to the wider world, rather than to the Jewish people alone.
There are two related things that flow from this. The first is what it means for our personal role and the second is how it should affect our personal ministry. We may not all be priests, called to model the holiness of Christ in our lives, we may not be ministers, licensed to perform certain functions of the church, such as preaching. But, whether we like it or not, we are all called to a ministry. Today, there is a recognition that ministry is too important to be left to professional clergymen and women. There has been a proper shift from an understanding of ministry as being the work of the clergy, helped by the laity, to one that sees ministry as the work of the laity helped by the clergy.
Secondly, we all have a personal Epiphany ministry; to show Jesus to those who do not know of him, the Gentiles of today. I think this may be an area where you are better qualified than the clergy. People expect clergy to be devoted to Jesus and his work, that is their profession after all, and perhaps tend to discount their example. But when today’s Gentiles see ordinary people, like us, following a Christian way of life, it can have more influence. Particularly when we are prepared to talk about the effect of Christ in our life, at appropriate opportunities. Then people can see that you don’t have to be incredibly holy to be a Christian, just ordinary, like us!
That can be one of our New Year resolutions, to show Christ to others through our good but ordinary lives. To tell them why we have faith in a God of love, who came into our world to suffer with and for us.
Steve Chandler – Reader
A farther view
“I lift up my eyes” the psalmist says. “Look up” or “look out” we say when something unusual is about to happen. We need to be alert and focused, aware of the bigger picture if, say, a noise or a shout alerts us to a speeding car or a cyclist flying down a country lane where we are walking.
How much has our sight been restricted inwards and downwards this year? Our vision is rightly at times concentrated on the immediate way ahead, but we can lose direction and purpose if we don’t think regularly to lift up our eyes to orientate ourselves in a bigger landscape with broader perspectives.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday (Luke 1), the annunciation to Mary, is about hope and the bigger picture.
Mary, a simple and good-hearted young girl is probably hoping for a happy wedding and subsequent marriage with decent and reliable Joseph, a new life together, setting up home and starting a family. But unknown to her, God (as always) is part of the picture: he has seen her with approval and has bigger plans involving her beyond her – and our– imaginings which are going to expand and change radically the future she hopes for.
What are our hopes and vision for our times - beyond our smaller personal hopes and the larger ones such as an end to the appalling anguish and uncertainty of these times for many of us? “I lift up my eyes to the hills: where will my help come from? (Ps 121, NRSV) From God himself, of course. Mary plays her part in accepting the divine proposition. Can we too have such trust?
A little practical suggestion to help kindle hope and keep it burning: every time in the coming days we turn on the lights, light a fire or a candle, let us remember that hope burns in every act of kindness. Mary responded with “yes” to God’s amazing, but kind approach. Can we do the same in our lives and work together? The consequences could be unimaginably hope-filled and glorious.
David Frith, Reader
All’s well that ends well
This week, 90 year old Margaret Keenan became the first person to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. The news cameras recorded the spontaneous outbreak of cheers and clapping as the onlookers celebrated this historic moment. The psalm for this Sunday, Psalm 126, captures a similar mood of jubilation in 538 BC as the first wave of exiled Jews, led by Zerubbabel were, allowed by King Cyrus of Persia to return to their homeland (as described in the first chapter of the book of Ezra). The psalmist records that their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with songs of joy. Their 70 years of captivity as slaves in Babylon may make our barely 7 months of lockdown and restrictions on movement pale into insignificance, but the same sentiment of relief and rejoicing after a period of uncertainty and suffering is being expressed. A day of hope; a new beginning.
It’s a prayer of encouragement which seems particularly apt at this time. In the depths of winter when the days are dark, the Psalm is a tonic for the soul. The 2020 Covid pandemic aside, we all go through hard times and when we’re in the thick of it, we may feel it will never end, but here is a powerful message of hope as we are reminded that times of trouble and sorrow do not last. We may be discouraged by events in life but we must never give up hope in God’s promises for us. Spiritually, the psalmist encourages us to be persistent and know that our labours in prayer now will be rewarded with a rich harvest.
This Advent season is a further reminder to us of God’s fulfilment of his promises. At this time of year, Christmas carols fill us with good cheer and lift our spirits. The message behind their words is one of God’s gift to mankind of a saviour, through whose power we are released from sin’s captive hold and through whose sacrifice we can be reconciled to God. And we can know that for us too the day will come when our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy once more.
Debbie Page – Berkeley informal worship team
If you would like to attend any of these services, please e-mail the relevant address for the service(s) you wish to attend:
Places at some services will need to be limited to meet with social distancing requirements and the total number of people who can be seated in the church will be restricted.
Rise to Life Immortal
Last week Sherri introduced Advent by talking about how we must keep awake for the second coming of Jesus Christ. An associated Advent theme is judgement. Unpopular, but something we must wrestle with. For Advent is not just a time of preparation for Christmas, but also preparation for the End. In the words of the Advent Collect: …give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal…
The coming of Jesus has given us the means of liberation from the pain and limitation of our earthly life. For whatever reason, human life has fallen short of what was intended for us, but following the teaching and example of Christ gives us the opportunity to become something better, to rise to the life immortal, in the words of the Collect.
We are now being challenged to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light and we will soon have the personal opportunity to account for ourselves to God. We can use this Advent to take action to prepare ourselves for judgement, which may be sooner than we think. If that seems hard, we can always take heart from the grace of God, well expressed by the poet and hymn writer William Cowper, over two hundred years ago:
‘Tis judgement shakes him, there’s the fear that prompts the wish to stay: He incurred a long arrear and must despair to pay.
Pay? – follow Christ and all is paid: his death your peace ensures; Think on the grave where He was laid, and calm descend to yours.
Steve Chandler - Reader
Wait for it....(Mark 13:24-end)
What alerts you to the arrival of Advent?
Is it the purchasing of an Advent calendar? Or perhaps the multitude of adverts between popular TV shows nudging us and showing us how we can get ‘ready for Christmas?’ But what does that mean?
Amongst the hustle and bustle to purchase the ‘perfect gift’ and decorate the ‘perfect tree’ and prepare the ‘perfect lunch’ we can easily ‘blink and miss’ the whole of Advent altogether, sleepwalking our way through it as we dive headfirst straight into the festivities of Christmas.
Our Gospel reading this Sunday warns us not to be found sleeping when ‘the Son of Man’ comes but instead to ‘Watch’ or ‘keep awake’ because only God knows the day or hour. It can seem a rather strange passage and was at one time referred to as ‘the Little Apocalypse’ because it was in the style of ‘Apocalyptic writing’ which was a recognised genre. Experts in studying Bible text have often discussed whether Jesus is warning of a specific event, and point to the destruction of the temple which came about in AD70, or whether he warns of something way into the future. Whichever it is, one of the purposes of ‘Apocalyptic writing’ was to give hope. It sounds odd to us as due to high budget films we think of ‘Apocalypse’ as doom and gloom, but the meaning of the word is from the Greek (apokalypto) meaning ‘to reveal’ or ‘to make clear’ and so perhaps this odd passage with its genre of revealing something to us fits in with Advent after all. As we ‘watch’ and ‘keep awake’ through Advent we are waiting in the dark for the light and hope of Christ, the revelation of God’s love through Jesus.
Never has that message of love and hope been needed more than in 2020, at a time when things are not the same. If we ‘stay awake’ we will not miss the arrival of the ‘perfect guest’ who is coming for each of us. Jesus is the ‘perfect guest’ who doesn’t need to leave when the lockdown rules kick in again. Jesus is for life and not just for Christmas, invite him to stay and see what he reveals to you. Sherri- Reader
The power and the glory
How are things looking for you at the moment? Well done indeed if you can find energy, cheerfulness and lots of positivity in the face of lockdown, health concerns, dark, dank weather, dreary news and very likely a more restricted festive period ahead than we’d like or expect. We may also be facing disappointment or sadness in our lives. You need a lot of inner resources to cope and feel good about yourself, and much of current reality is depressing and de-energising. Probably more than ever, we could all do with more than a bit of a boost. The Collect prayer for this Sunday (“Stir Up Sunday”) might do it for you. “Stir up the wills of your faithful people...” we hear. Indeed we may gain some respite as we literally stir up the ingredients for our Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. But the darkness around and in us may be greater than the power of a happy baking session. We need, as the advert used to say, a tiger in our tank, an experience of power in us from beyond us, of which Paul says in the Ephesians reading set for Sunday: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you know the hope to which he has called you.” He is praying for his readers to experience something of the greatest power on earth, to help them see beyond the tough, dark present reality. He talks later in this letter of the need for armour, since when they, we, become dejected or downcast at circumstances, they and we become vulnerable and unprotected against things which diminish our access to, experience of and trust in God’s power to protect and save us.
A route to this power is created every time we cry out to God: we can’t do it unaided. We ask, God intervenes. We acknowledge that God has the power to lift us up. We are living what we say in the Lord’s Prayer that God is King, he has ultimate true power and glory forever and ever. As Paul says, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength when he raised Christ from the dead.” We too can be stirred up by that power in our lives if we wish, choose and ask.
David Frith, Reader
November can be a harsh month to get through. The clocks have gone back, the days are short, the nights are long, and the weather can be wet and windy. And this year we have the added complication of a second lockdown. The first lockdown was a surprise and it was all hands-on deck. We are wiser this time and know what we must contend with. We are weary and November’s conditions are not helping.
For the organised amongst us, November is when we start to prepare for Christmas, but this year’s uncertainties mean we do not know who we will be sharing the festivities with. 2020 has demonstrated to us again and again that we are social beings and we thrive on human contact. Not having the opportunity to meet with others at church, at social events and even at the office has been a difficult burden.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians of Thessalonica he encourages the new church and wishes he could be with them once more. He then talks about the coming of the Lord again. Written in A.D. 51, looking forward to the return of Christ might seem optimistic so soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection from our perspective in time. However the message Paul gives to the Thessalonians is still relevant to us today. We still await Christ’s return and we must be ready for it. Paul says, “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (v 5) We must be alert and live each day prepared to welcome Christ. Paul implores the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. (v 11)
Many of us have reached out and have been in contact with friends and family at this time. News of my ill health this year has encouraged old friends and distant relatives to get in touch with me which has been such a blessing. We must continue with our outreach though we may feel as if our enthusiasm is low in these dark days. It will help us all get through this time and be ready for a brighter future.
Pam Curtis – Informal Worship Group
This is an extraordinary time for Remembrance. For the first time in living memory there will be no Remembrance services in our churches. This is all due, or course, to our second Covid-19 “lockdown”. In some ways this will make our Remembrance more difficult, although in one way it may be easier. For we will be under some of the restrictions that those who lived through the two world wars experienced, although our attacker is a virus pandemic rather than a hostile nation. Our soldiers on the front line are now the doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and care homes.
We might now want to ask the same question as we do about war; why does God allow it to happen? Sadly, we are responsible for what has gone wrong with human relationships and health protection, not God. When we ask where God was or is in war, he is there suffering as a combatant, as a civilian, as a wounded child. We might wish he could just click his fingers to stop all the killing that we have started. However, he gave up the power to do that so that we could be free people, as he showed when he lived in Palestine 2000 years ago and chose not to defend himself from the forces that conspired to kill him.
God has shown us that the way to peace and eternal life is through self-giving and, sadly, often through suffering. That is just the way the world is. Peace and comfort is not the natural state of this world, however much we may wish it was. Evil is always waiting to take it over and to take us over. Peace will only come through our intense desire for it and our vigorous actions to promote it. Remembrance is an essential part of that, acknowledging what has gone wrong, what we have done wrong in the past and pledging ourselves to do better in future. Without this remembrance there is no future worth having.
Steve Chandler Reader
For All the Saints
There is a long running television series where celebrities find out ‘who they are’ in terms of their family history and it is often quite emotional as they feel that sense of connection to people they never knew, but are somehow so intrinsically linked with.
This Sunday we celebrate the festival of ‘All Saints Day’ and I wonder if it is hard for us to feel connected to those ‘saintly superheroes’ who have gone before. I have often been reminded that the New Testament teaches us that ‘saints’ are to be thought of as ‘all of us Christians’ rather than just those ‘saintly superheroes’ of the past. Well I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to think of myself as a ‘saint’ (my halo is certainly in need of a polish and has definitely slipped well below where it should sit.)
In one of our readings this week (1 John 3:1-3) we read ‘how great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called ‘children of God!’
To be given a name throughout the Bible is an important and significant thing. To be called the name of a ‘child of God’ means that we are in fact ‘adopted’ into his family, a theme which Paul in his letters to the early Churches often picked up. If we are all adopted into God’s family, then we are part of the family of those ‘saintly superheroes’ whom have gone before. It is about us being willing to accept the love that has been ‘lavished on us’ by responding to God and entering in to relationship with him. In this way we can boldly add our names to the family tree and connect ourselves to those who have gone before us.
Perhaps once we have accepted this overwhelming grace, the hardest part is living up to that ‘family name’ to being able to carry on the work of the saints. The work of professing their faith, whatever the personal cost, not pointing to themselves and their achievements, but always to point to Jesus, through whose Holy Spirit their greatness was achieved. I am off to polish my halo....it sounds like there is work to be done....
Sherri - Reader
Change of clothing
You know the scene. You’re going somewhere special and standing looking at your wardrobe. What shall I wear? Does this combination work? Oh, no! It seems to have shrunk in the wash! You will perhaps know such moments and sometimes even the desperation which leads you to say: “I’ve got nothing to wear!” Well, once the crisis subsides and the choice is made, it’s time to prettify yourself. So you reach for the make-up, lotions, and other applications; and undertake any actions required to create the image you are happy to present to the world.
One of the readings set for this Sunday, also called Bible Sunday, is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in which Paul draws on the imagery of taking off and putting on clothes as a picture of how we regularly need to think how we should live if belief means anything to us. A wilfulness, deliberateness and honesty are needed. You don’t have to think long to discover clothing related words that reveal the often dishonest and deceitful nature of our attitudes and behaviour. Things that are wrong or shameful are often the subject of a cover-up; and a lie, fiction or untruth is something we make up to conceal the unadorned reality.
If you have made a serious faith commitment, you have experienced a makeover, Paul is saying. And a renewing and transforming one at that. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” So off with the old and failing inappropriate set of clothing. As this is Bible Sunday, I will point you by way of an exercise and example to what the new set of clothing looks like, to do a rummage in the wardrobe, if you like, to Colossians 3 v.12. This is the proper stuff for your spiritual wardrobe: “Clothe yourselves with.....”(over to you!) This might just help us all become better dressed in our inner selves and encourage us a bit more, as Paul says, to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
David Frith, Reader
Power, responsibility and abuse
This has been a difficult week for the Church of England. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has, rightly, been very critical of the Church’s failure to protect children from sexual abuse and concluded it had created a culture where abusers could hide. These are very serious findings and must lead us to critically examine ourselves and our culture that could have allowed such abuse to happen. We must also ensure it can never happen again. The Church does now take safeguarding very seriously and this is vital to prevent all types of abuse. The cultural issues are far more difficult to deal with and are certainly too complex to consider here. Nevertheless, the dangers posed to vulnerable individuals by organizations and people with a sense of entitlement and mission are clear.
One of the stories told by Jesus in the Gospel of St Matthew is very relevant to this. At a wedding feast to which all are invited one of the guests is improperly dressed and so is thrown out with the comment: For many are called, but few are chosen. This a difficult saying, but I think it is a warning for all of us against any sense of entitlement or self-importance. We may have been called to faith, perhaps to ministry or, outside the church, to being a councillor or even a Member of Parliament. But the point of all these roles is that we have been called to service, not chosen for special privileges. It is so easy for most of us, even perhaps as parents or teachers, to cross the line from exercising power as a form of service to abusing it for our own satisfaction, enrichment or ego. That way lies abuse and sin. We can all fall into that, none of us has immunity. Perhaps another clear and appropriate warning from scripture for those of us in positions of power, responsibility or influence is this: Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required.
Steve Chandler - Reader
Cornerstone: Matthew 21:33-46
Have you ever played the game of Jenga? The idea is to remove a block from the stack, without touching the other blocks, and to place it on the top, without it toppling over....easy? It is a simple enough idea, but I am absolutely rubbish at it! Mainly because I tend to ignore the messages I am given by my opponents, as they frantically try to tell me which blocks to ‘go for’ and which to ‘reject’.
It reminded me of the Vineyard Parable in the Matthew reading when the ‘tenants’ also reject the advice given by messengers (prophets) who came before Jesus and instead carried on in their own way. The prophets were in the main rejected and ignored.
Even when the Son himself is sent by God, illustrated as the Vineyard owner in the parable, (a regular illustration used - see another of today’s readings Isaiah 5:1-7) he is also rejected, and Jesus paints a picture of what is to come as he tells the listeners ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ (Matthew 21: verse 42)
For those listening to Jesus they would recognise this phrase from scripture (see Psalm 118 v 22) and may also have made connections to the book of Daniel chapter 2 which tells of Kingdoms rising but collapsing when struck by a rock or stone not made of human hands, the rock becomes a ‘huge mountain to fill the earth.’ Jesus is using that existing known story and says that this time it is he that is the Cornerstone who will be rejected, but we know that he was subsequently elevated, first on a cross, and then to Glory.
In our very secular world today, do we continue to reject the Cornerstone by choosing the seemingly ‘easier’ blocks of society on which to build our foundations, instead of relying on Christ alone as our Cornerstone?
Sherri - Reader
At this harvest season we look back on and celebrate with happiness and gratitude the fruitfulness of the land over the past year. This is always a joyous time, but perhaps feels tinged with concern this year as we are aware that the future seems dark and troubling at the moment. How do we remember well, how do we face the future well? The way we recall and hold the past directly influences our future path. This is what Moses might have said in summary of the lesson set for this Sunday (Deuteronomy 8.7-18), and indeed of the whole book. History, as Moses knew, on both the personal and national level is as much about choice, editing and interpreting as it is about facts. Our tendency to look back at the past as a golden era is a good example of this: we select what we think are the best bits, building them into something glorious, and editing or deliberately forgetting or downplaying those things that damage our chosen image including our own past weakness or failures.
The book of Deuteronomy is a kind of history, a memoir, written at the very end of Moses’ life recording the history of the people of Israel under his leadership from the miraculous delivery from slavery in Egypt to now as the people are about to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. A key theme of the whole book is right remembering. In particular, remembering the hand of God visibly at work in their past to save and rescue. He will be there in the future too, but the trappings of wealth and prosperity and the pursuit of gain will obscure him and become just that, a trap. If you are not vigilant in your remembering, you will start to edit God, the source and reason behind all blessings, from the picture.
Deuteronomy is a powerful warning to the Israelites, to us. What are we building on, who and what are we building for in our green and pleasant land? Get it right, and blessings will follow. Forget....and you’d better read chapters 29 and 30 of Deuteronomy to discover.
David Frith, Reader.
Close to the centre of our Bibles is the book of Psalms – a collection of 150 prayers and songs which covers the whole gamut of human emotions which are still relevant to us today. Still central to our worship – a psalm is included in a service of the word usually in the form of a hymn. Today’s Psalm 145 has 5 hymns connected to it in our hymn book including “Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven” and “Let Everything that has Breath”*. Singing these hymns as a part of communal worship is incredibly uplifting. In these Covid times congregational singing is curtailed, but I think we shall see the Psalms being used in creative ways in our worship to continue the unbroken bond: “One generation will commend your works to another and they will tell of your mighty acts” (verse 4).
As you may have read previously, I have had health issues this summer. I had surgery to remove a benign brain tumour at the end of August and I am recovering well. Again, I have been overwhelmed by the thoughts and prayers from friends and family from near and far. I particularly want to thank Jean & Alice for their counsel and support which comes from personal and family experience. Alice has described the experience as “aweful” – deliberate spelling. Surgery, with all its risks is awful. I have been battered and bruised, and Covid shielding has added to the burden for the family. Modern medicine is miraculous though. I was up on my feet withing 24 hours and home in four days. Truly awesome.
David’s psalm of praise encourages us to exalt God the King and to praise his name for ever and ever. “I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works” (v 5&6).
I will continue to give thanks for the skill of the surgeon and the care of the medical teams, and look forward to the time when we can sing our hearts out to praise all God’s awesome works. “If we could see how much you’re worth, your power, your might, your endless love, then surely we would never cease to praise”*.
Pam Curtis – Informal Worship Team
Who will judge?
It may be a cliché to say it, but we are living through strange and difficult times. The Covid pandemic is a threat to the whole world and will probably change many familiar parts of life for ever. Then, whatever you think of Brexit, it is likely to make life considerably more uncertain for a period after the end of this year. One aspect of both Covid and Brexit that has been to the fore is the law; how important it is to comply and what we should do when we see people breaking it. I think we will all agree that law is important for an ordered society but, unfortunately it also brings out some of the worst aspects of human nature; an intolerance of people who are not like us. We often see the law as necessary to make everyone like us. The Covid restrictions have sometimes encouraged people to report others who they don’t feel are keeping to them closely enough. We have an unfortunate tendency to use the faults of others to highlight our own goodness. Nowhere is this more so than in matters of religion.
We can be intolerant of people who worship in different ways to us; those who are more or less traditional, for example. Maybe it is the Roman Church or the Baptist Church that gets our back up? Or are we impatient with those who don’t believe in God at all? Well done if you have avoided all these, because I can recognize them in myself.
I think that St Paul’s letter to the Romans is the best general guide we have to the Christian faith. Paul has thought carefully about the teaching of Jesus and worked out its consequences for behaviour. He has a clear message in this Sunday’s reading: Let him who eats not despise him who abstains and let not him who abstains pass judgement on him who eats; for God has welcomed all. Who are you to pass judgement on another? A timely warning against legalism within the Church and support for toleration and love. Should that come as a surprise?
Steve Chandler - Reader
Following the Fashion
I have discovered many advantages to our household all working from home, the latest realisation is that I have only ironed one shirt in the last 6 months, which I think you will all agree is an excellent result!
Not having to worry too much about dressing smartly or having to find matching socks was a relief for me initially, until I realised that ‘getting ready’ for work, for me, involved something of what is said in the letter to the Romans by Paul about ‘putting on’ or being ‘clothed in’ Jesus Christ and this is something I have missed about not seeing my colleagues in person. Because for me being ‘dressed ready for work’ in the Christian context and to follow the fashion sense of Jesus means trying to live out my faith in the Monday to Friday scenario of the work place, finding that when I am open to the Holy Spirit then ‘coincidentally’ opportunities come my way to wear the ‘armour of light’ (as Paul puts it in verse 12). I find these opportunities in very small ways; perhaps with making a cup of tea or washing a mug up when a colleague is busy, a passing smile here and there, listening to people who are ‘having a bad day’ or finding an alternative narrative in a ‘not so nice conversation.’ I can think of many times when I don’t succeed but as I said I am trying.
Following the example of Jesus in his servant attitude towards others, to love others deeply and selflessly is a very hard act to follow, just think of a world where we could all do that, a world which modelled the clothes of the Jesus brand; Love.
To love as Jesus loves would mean we would all have no trouble in keeping those commandments laid out at the beginning of the Romans passage, because there would be no desire to hurt each other either physically, mentally or financially. There would be no desire to be jealous or want what we cannot have, it would be a world where we are pleased for others when they do well and thank God for the many blessings he sends our way.
That is a ‘new normal’ to hold in prayer as I keep trying..... Sherri – Reader.
The year is getting older, the summer seems past and the first named autumn storm arrived early. All periods of transition and change bring a sometimes sharp and painful insight and awareness of things diminishing, of the brevity and changeability of life. The many issues surrounding Coronavirus and other personal worries and concerns might also be depressing us, dragging our spirits down and making familiar and well-loved landmarks seem less solid and reliable. “I have become an alien in a foreign land” says Moses a few verse before the reading set for this Sunday (Exodus 3. 1-15) He has fled from a secure and prosperous life as a prince in Egypt after committing murder in a fit of righteous rage, and now he has no option but to become a lowly shepherd in the remotest part of a remote country. What happened to all those dreams and hopes? Is this all there is? But for him, for each one of us, behind the dreary weight of his reality is an unknown and undreamt-of reality of an utterly different dimension. And the key to Moses discovering it is his attention and curiosity when he becomes aware of a bush on fire – no rarity in a hot, dry desert, but this one is not turning to ashes. He stops, looks and his life changes forever because it is God in the blaze. Moses hears God’s voice calling him to a whole new unimagined life, purpose and work. Not many of us may have experiences of God as direct as this, but all of us will have a call: what is the quiet voice deep in our being that keeps coming back when we aren’t making too much noise to drown it out: what is ours to do, and ours alone?
So the year, we and the world may be getting older, sadder and worn down, and all we hold dear beginning to slip and change like the world outside our window, but these bleak and remote desert places of our lives might just become the place for God to speak to us. Can we pray for attentiveness and curiosity for God moments to become audible for us in the desert, and when they do, respond?
David Frith, Reader, Berkeley Benefice
The bells, the bells…
We have a day of firsts this Sunday. The most obvious is that this is the first Eucharistic service (holy communion) in our Benefice for five months. Five months! I have highlighted in an earlier Reflection how this is an almost unprecedented break in the rhythm of regular church worship. What is the other first? Well, it is also an important return closer to normality. Again for five months, the bells were quiet in the churches of our Benefice. The bells at Stone have been rung on the last two Sundays. This Sunday at Berkeley we will have four ringers, ringing just four of our 10 bells, due to social distancing requirements and in accordance with the risk assessment.
To many inside and outside the church, the contribution of the bells and ringers may seem a small matter. But the sound of the bells tells us something important. It is about the witness of the Church to the world. What us Christians do in our worship within the church building is one thing, and is very important for our spiritual health. But equally important is the witness of the Church to the rest of society. We are not just called to be a secret, self-serving society dedicated to improving our own standing with God. We know this of course, but this is how we are often seen by those outside.
The bells are one unmistakable sign of what is going on here in the church building. What we are taking part in is world changing work and, although not all may feel the need to take part, they all need to know it is happening. The bells are one form of witness to this, but we are all individual witnesses in how we live our own lives in the world.
We are charged with raising people’s eyes from the everyday to the eternal. As Isaiah prophesied: Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment and they who dwell in it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever and my deliverance will never be ended.
Steve Chandler - Reader
The heart of the matter
“Now wash your hands.” How many times have you said or heard this over the years, or in recent times? Cleanliness is next to godliness, as the old saying goes. But to the Pharisees in the text just before today’s Gospel (Matthew 15. 10-20) cleanliness wasn’t just next to godliness, but a vital constituent part of it. They are shocked and offended at the disciples’ casualness to the traditional ways of doing proper religion: they are not washing their hands before eating!
If we are offended at or by someone or something, we are not in a place to see, let alone understand or appreciate alternative perspectives, nuances or viewpoints. So if you are offended by boatloads of migrants washing up on our shores or crowds of people engulfing tourist spots or beaches, you similarly might not be able or willing to understand all the complex drivers behind such issues. It’s so much easier to place the blame outside us ourselves and so feel good about our own superiority.
Jesus, in response to the Pharisees’ outrage, indicates a far bigger picture and perspective than the Pharisees are able or perhaps wish to see. It’s not about food hygiene: it’s about what pollutes and cuts us off from God. To put certain items with unwashed hands into your mouth is not the problem. The cause of that state of uncleanness, that distance from God is already there deep within our own nature, our heart, as Jesus says. The potential root of all evil and wickedness is in us, not out there like some virus seeking a chance to infect us and to be kept at bay by masks and hand washing.
At heart the passage is asking us how deeply open and responsive to God we are, and thus sympathetic and open to others; and what prevents this from happening and creates barriers. So perhaps when we wash our hands from now on we might reflect what in us needs the cleansing power of God’s spirit to help us see his grace and his bigger picture.
David Frith, Reader, Berkeley Benefice
Walking by Faith
One morning last week, I was awake ridiculously early, as seems to happen often lately, and I took myself for a walk up to the deer park. The morning sun was bright, with a thin haze of mist hanging in the sky, and I was rewarded with a clear view of the deer. In the early morning quiet there is time to reflect without the distraction of life’s busy schedule. Moments like this, when we are surrounded by the wonder of nature, immersed in God’s creation, remind us of the eternal nature of God. A God who is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, regardless of where we are in our lives, and how close to or far away from Him we may feel.
As a church we face many challenges at the moment, both nationally and locally here in our Benefice, but it is helpful to remember that this is just a moment in time and all in God’s grand scheme.
We are not the only ones to have faced challenges. In today’s OT reading from 1 Kings 19, Elijah has had enough of working for God and wants to run and hide. Yet God meets him at his point of need, restores him, reassures him he is not alone, then sends him back to continue His work. In our Gospel reading, Jesus asks Peter to trust Him to step off the boat and walk on water. As soon as the waves become a little choppy Peter loses heart and begins to sink. Both characters have to trust in God to move on.
We are neither on the run for our lives, nor being asked to do the impossible. But we do need to place our faith in God as we walk forward on this journey. Times of doubt, discouragement and despondency are not a lack of spiritual commitment. They’re just a human response to our situation. But we are making progress: Our churches are now open for private prayer and worship; we are coming back together as the Body of Christ, and in each other, and through God’s Spirit, we will continue to find encouragement. God works through ordinary people, people like you and me. In faith we need to continue to do the things we are called to do – to pray, to serve, to trust in Him.
Debbie Page – Berkeley informal worship team
5000 Fish Suppers – What a picnic!
With the official end of the school term many families will be looking forward to a break from the ‘home-schooling’ and perhaps instead of heading for the airport they might be joining the Saturday queues for the M5 South, perhaps to Devon or Cornwall (of course other destinations are available!)
This week the Gospel reading comes from Matthew 14:13-21; the feeding of the 5000 and I can’t help wonder if we swapped the fishing villages of Galilee for the fishing villages of Cornwall for a moment what a picnic for 5000 hungry folk might look like in 2020? Might the offering be 5 lots of fish and chips or 5 Pasties and 2 small battered cod? Perhaps a burger in a bun.... you get the idea.
Whatever the equivalent might be, I think this miracle (and yes I do think it was a miracle which Jesus performed, rather than the crowds suddenly deciding to share their picnic with others) could be repeated today. Perhaps we won’t see pasties multiplied, but miracles occur every day in all sorts of ways.
Jesus was offered a ‘little’ and he transformed it into a lot. These are the sorts of miracles Jesus still performs today through the Holy Spirit. We might for example offer him ‘our little’ whether that be our time, our talent, musical skills, flower arranging, hospitality, meeting and greeting folk or just our willingness to have a go at things, and in return he transforms our meagre offering into something which can be shared and used and distributed to others.
At the end of that ‘first’ picnic the disciples gathered up the crumbs, as bread was considered a gift from God, not to be wasted, and filled 12 baskets. Even the tiniest crumb was not wasted and the same goes for the tiniest ‘crumbs’ we leave behind today in offering ‘our little’ in the service of God.
Tiny crumbs can be sustaining and satisfying and whet the appetite of those who hunger for the ‘Living Bread’ of Jesus in their lives.
Sherri - Reader
Worship at Berkeley
Berkeley Benefice St Mary's - Berkeley
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