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
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