Picture the scene; a King strolling about on the roof, possibly to cool down....? but gets ‘hot under the collar’ instead, as he sees a ‘beautiful’ woman bathing. She is married to someone who works for him and he knows the law says the price for adultery is the death penalty – for both of them (Deuteronomy 22:22). He still ‘sends for her’ and sleeps with her anyway (did she have a choice?) It ultimately ends in the King arranging for the husband to be murdered...and who is this King? Well it is hard to believe, but this is King David, who we normally see as setting the ‘Gold Medal standard’ when it comes to Kingship. This passage sees the start of him wobbling from his podium position through his own ego as he abuses his position of power in an appalling manner. Such are the characters in the Bible, where last week’s Old Testament reading (2 Samuel:7) saw God giving an unconditional promise to build David a Royal dynasty to last. Yet today’s reading sees the start of a domino effect of consequences resulting in chapter 12 with God’s message that ‘the sword shall never depart from your house....’ Indeed David’s family was blighted with deceit and violence from here on, he wasn’t let off the hook for the wrong choices he made, even though God still delivered on his promise of an everlasting dynasty through Jesus. If you need a recap, a good place to start is the beginning of the book of Matthew for the genealogy of Jesus..... God delivered on his promise and he keeps on delivering even when we fail to do so. God sometimes says ‘yes’ to us and sometimes he says ‘no’ and in both cases things are to be done in his own way, but the biggest ‘Yes’ he gives us, is the ‘yes of Jesus.’ Can we perhaps see in the complex characters of the Bible something which is still true in the complex and flawed human nature of us all? God works with the good, the bad and the ugly characteristics which we have, whilst trying to transform us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Sherri - Reader
The long walk
Triumph and disaster: what a thin line separates them. One minute you are the hero of the moment as glory beckons, the next you become the butt of contempt and abuse. Elation, then deflation. Hosanna one moment, crucify the next. How true it is, and how bitterly experienced recently, as Alan Shearer comments, that the longest walk you’ll ever do as a footballer is the walk to the penalty spot. We too will all know such times in our lives when so much turns on an action or decision of a moment. In the Gospel reading from Mark, the disciples have just returned from a highly successful mini-mission: in Luke’s account of the same incident they “returned with joy”. In Mark’s version the emphasis is on the rush and busyness of the moment of return as the crowds press in set against the need for the disciples to take time to assimilate and learn and reflect. “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” We may know and crave the rush of euphoria that comes from success, but setbacks and failures de-energise us badly. Jesus knows this: come away with me, said to us as well as the first disciples. There will be troubles ahead. Do we have strategies and habits in place to cope with those lows and black times which are very deep the more we are invested in a success culture, where crash and burn in the form of the failure of our deepest wishes and dreams is just unthinkable and the most fearful disaster? Come away with me. In our disjointed times and a year of disrupted holidays, our need for rest and distance from present reality is great. Jesus offers the disciples, us too if we choose, his very presence as an antidote to a lifestyle addicted to success and bigger, better, faster, newer. “I have come that they may have life, and life to the full.” So perhaps some reflection on this might be life-enhancing. It might feel like a long walk to do so, but it is a choice worth embracing. Remember Jesus’ words: Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. David Frith, Reader
John the Baptist’s Death
The reading today is about John the Baptist’s death. It’s a gruesome and awful end to a truly remarkable person. A relative of Jesus, many thought he was the one spoken of by the prophets, the one who would be the saviour, but he was preparing the way for Jesus. He travelled widely, challenging people to turn away from their sins and baptising them as a sign of their repentance. He even baptised Jesus although John recognised that Jesus was sinless. He dressed in an unconventional manner and ate strange food, but his message came from an obedience to God that spoke to the Judeans and he gained many followers. His steadfast obedience made him uncompromising in his beliefs, regardless of what this meant to him personally. John spoke plainly to King Herod Antipas and told him that his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, was illegal and a sin. Herod did not like to hear this, but he respected him and he imprisoned John rather than execute him for dissent. Herodias, on the other hand, was very resentful towards John and plotted her revenge. Following a beautiful dance Herod promised to grant her anything she wished, and she asked for John’s head on a platter. Herod did not want to grant this, but the loss of face in front of his guests was too much and he ordered John’s execution. This story so horrifying, not just because of its violence, but the pointlessness of it. If Herod had been a braver man, he would have spared John. The paintings of Herodias with the platter show her to be unmoved, looking the other way, appearing to be indifferent to what she is holding. She achieved her revenge, but she does not seem to be gratified by it. Revenge and the loss of standing in one’s social group are strong drivers for action, but they rarely result in the right outcome. A short-term win does not lead to long-term satisfaction. Pam Curtis – Informal Worship Group
A big week for ministry
I love the story of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. It is so authentic, how the regular congregation take offence at this Johnny-come-lately preacher who is just the young son of a poor local family. We might say they were unfair to do that, but how would we feel if a young unqualified son of a local family turned up in church and started preaching to us that we had got it all wrong about God? This week’s message from our scripture readings is all about ministry and how difficult it can be when what you say is unwelcome. It is very demoralising, and we can feel hurt. We hear how God encourages Ezekiel: be not afraid of their words, nor dismayed at their looks… St Paul, who has a physical affliction that stops him fully enjoying his spiritual work is told: my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. This all reflects the reality that, important though the work of ministry and evangelism is, it will often be unappreciated and unrewarding. We are all, in our own ways, ministers of the Word and must serve without expecting praise or reward. The theme is particularly relevant this week, when interviews are taking place for our new incumbent (priest in charge). Of course, we must pray for those with the responsibility of making this choice for us. I think we must also consider how we will receive and encourage our new priest. It is a big responsibility to take on the spiritual leadership of our benefice at this time. There will be plenty of challenges for our new minister and none of us will want to be like St Paul’s thorn in the flesh or collectively to be thought of as that “rebellious house” to which Ezekiel was called to preach. All of us, perhaps me especially as a traditionalist, will need to change our ways. We are all on a journey and don’t know all the turnings we will need to make to reach home. In words from last week’s Collect, we pray: we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal… Steve Chandler - Reader
Wild Flowers at St Mary's
Jesus won’t keep you on the subs-bench Mark 5:21-end
After a year long wait for ‘kick-off’ in the delayed Euro 2020 football championship due to the pandemic; some players have had to go into isolation part way through the first stage due to Covid. Can you imagine the pain of missing the last game your country gets to play before they are knocked out of the tournament? Being left with an agonising 2 year wait to possibly get to play in the World cup and to feel part of things again? No, me neither. But I find it harder still to imagine the pain and agony of the woman in the Gospel reading today when I hear that she has been waiting for not 1 year or even 2 years, but 12 long years to be part of things again. Because by the very nature of her illness (losing blood) she would not have been allowed to join in with ‘normal society’ as she and anyone she was in contact with would be classed as ‘ceremonially unclean.’ This rather too efficient ‘contact tracing regime’ is not something we understand in our culture, but it would mean not joining in at the temple, and remember that the culture of the day literally revolved around the temple and temple community. Is it this fear of not being in contact with others (because of the rules) the reason she ‘creeps up’ behind Jesus? Jesus says ‘your faith has healed you’ and I have read that the same word in the Greek is used for ‘healed’ as ‘saved.’ If the woman had not been able to attend the temple which was seen as ‘the place God dwells’ then she will have felt spiritually disenfranchised as well as physically. I wonder whether in this encounter we see something of the message Jesus gives of being ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6) Jesus is the bridge back to a relationship with God? Jesus ‘heals’ her, he ‘saves’ her and commends her for her faith. Jesus changed things on the cross so that God was no longer inaccessible in one place (the temple). He says to his disciples ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John14:9) Isn’t the saving grace of Jesus a much more exciting thing to shout from the terraces than the prospect of winning the football on penalty shoot-outs? Sherri – Reader.
You will know the expression “Achilles heel.” It takes its name from the hero of Greek legend who, as a baby, was protected from all future harm by being dipped into the river Styx, the river of the underworld. That is, apart from his heel which didn’t get wet because that was where his mother was holding him. That eventually was the cause of his downfall. So our Achilles heel is not just a medical term but has come to mean a weakness or vulnerability in an otherwise strong and powerful person or organisation which eventually leads to downfall and failure. Two very familiar and well-loved readings set for this Sunday illustrate something of this vulnerability which we all experience. But (unlike in the Greek legend) paradoxically it is only by that vulnerability that we are pointed to a higher dimension of greater power whose purpose is love and flourishing and hope. The reading from 1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath, is almost too well known, because we generally overlook the paralysing fear and lack of inner resources of the Israelites, their inability to cope confronted by this huge man Goliath and his state-of-the-art weaponry. Certain death awaits if you take him on on his own terms. Certain death by shipwreck and drowning seems also to await the disciples caught on open waters in small boats in a big storm in the second reading from Mark 4. All of us have faced -and will face- situations in our lives when, confronted by weakness and fear, the usual resources we tend to rely on to get by become exhausted. How to move forward? David knew he was called by God, and had faith in God’s power to overcome by the small resources God had given him. Perhaps we need to trust in and interrogate our own call, our own knowledge of God’s presence with us to teach us to keep turning to God with what little faith we have and pray: Lord, save us! Like the Israelite army when mighty Goliath is overcome, or the disciples when the storm is calmed, we will receive joy and power and hope for an unimagined future. David Frith, Reader
Look not on the west?
Comrade, look not on the west; ‘twill have the heart out of your breast; ‘twill take your thoughts and sink them far, leagues beyond the sunset bar. Lines from AE Houseman’s poem “The West”. He is equating sunset in the west with death, counselling a silent comrade not to be drawn that way. His doubts about the afterlife are even clearer in the final verse: When you and I are spilt on air, long we shall be strangers there; friends of flesh and bone are best: Comrade, look not on the west. A view of death for our time, perhaps? Not to think about it until it is inevitable and to doubt any life or meeting beyond death: long shall we be strangers there… St Paul in 2 Corinthians has a much more optimistic, but realistic, outlook: So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. That is a great reassurance to those of us of a certain age, feeling more and more worn away. St Paul holds out a much more appealing prospect than Houseman: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… for the things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal. Whether you accept Houseman or St Paul’s version of death is a personal choice. If you think the world and consciousness are just some accidental occurrence and the material world is all there is, then you may agree with Houseman that friends of flesh and bone are best. For me, although I love Houseman’s poetry, St Paul makes much more sense of life and death. Belief in immortality is based on belief that the ultimate nature of reality is mind, not matter. That is a wholly rational belief. St Paul was convinced by his glimpse of that supreme mind in his Damascus Road experience and his testimony is convincing. So, although our outer nature may be wearing away quite obviously, we may look with confidence on the west. Steve Chandler - Reader
Silver....or silver-plated? Romans 8:12-17
I admit it! I love watching those programmes where items are bought and then sold at auction. It fascinates me when a silver item is looked at under the magnifying glass and a little tiny symbol; the hallmark, will identify the item, giving ‘proof’ of its legitimacy and where it was made. In a similar way in our passage today, Paul is writing to the Romans about their identity as true children of God and the ‘hallmark’ which he says to look for?........ A life led by the Holy Spirit. For many years growing up in the church I don’t think I really gave much thought to the poor old Holy Spirit I knew I believed in God, and I certainly thought of Jesus as my best friend (Mrs G at Sunday school taught me that one-Thanks). But it can feel in a way like ‘two is company, three is a crowd’ when it comes to the head space you have for thinking about the ‘Trinity.’ So I am wondering how others might see that ‘hallmark’ of a life led by the Holy Spirit? Is it, just like the silver items that go for auction, something which is hidden away in an obscure place in our lives? Do we need to be scrutinised long and hard and turned this way and that from all angles to be seen as children of God? Might the ‘hallmark’ easily be missed and ......could we look like the ‘real thing’ but really be a fake? When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, you may recall that to the people it looked like the disciples had ‘had too much wine’ (Acts 2:13) and I have heard similar stories today. Reserved folk who have literally danced with joy when praying for the Holy Spirit to come into their lives. You may have your own stories of an experience, if so, why not talk about it in a future church service? Wouldn’t it be great if people thought we were drunk, because we were so full of the Holy Spirit?......well ok maybe it wouldn’t be great if people thought we were drunk....but do we display that ‘hallmark’ of a life led by the Holy Spirit? I need to think and pray about this some more..... Sherri - Reader
Are we nearly there yet?
Unless you are reading this from a Portuguese beach or will be on one shortly, you may well share and echo the frustration and impatience of this question when viewing our current situation. As we wait for and imagine better and less complicated, more enjoyable and summery times ahead, the quality of our waiting, if we’re not too impatient or irritated to examine it, becomes quite instructive and revealing. And referring such reflection to Scripture can add helpful dimensions and perspective to our thinking. King David, for example, in a time of national calamity asks (Psalm 13) “How long, O Lord?” a sentiment we may echo in our own hearts and minds when looking at shut-down situations not just of pandemic, but also of endemic conflict in parts of the world, not least in Israel/Palestine at present. The background to the principal reading for this Sunday, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2, is also one of waiting. But the quality of this waiting might give a better model for us to wait well in those situations where we are locked down by circumstances, whatever they are. Those who are waiting in Acts 2, shut inside an upper room, have a quality of hope and expectation to lift them above despair. Importantly, they are all together. These are the people who have had a personal experience of the power of God to overcome the worst of situations: the killing of Jesus whom they saw die a brutal public death but who has subsequently appeared to them, been seen and touched by them. He has now gone, but has promised that God’s very self, his Holy Spirit, will come shortly. But first wait. And watch and pray (Matthew 26.41) That seems hard in the frustration and what looks like the overwhelming evidence of circumstance. If like them however we can learn to trust our experience of God’s faithfulness and keep watching and praying together like those in the upper room, he does and will give us the light and joy of his presence. David Frith, Reader
The Example of Prayer
This is the first Sunday following Ascension. The whole period of time from Holy Week through to Easter, and the forty days following, have been a very intense time for the disciples. Jesus has been telling them what was going to happen to Him, but they could not have understood until they experienced it. The final part of this stage was to witness Jesus going up to heaven. Jesus’ final instruction to them was to wait in Jerusalem together for the Holy Spirit to come upon them before they head out across the world to spread his message. They did as they were directed, and the disciples met with 120 other followers in Jerusalem. Peter organised for a replacement disciple for Judas, and Matthias was chosen. The disciples “all joined together constantly in prayer” and Matthias was chosen after a time of prayer. In the reading from John, Jesus is praying for his disciples. He prays to God that He knows He will soon join Him in heaven, and asks for protection for the disciples: “Father protect them by the power of your name”. Jesus prays for his disciples and He has taught them to pray, and this is what they do together in response to the situation in which they find themselves. In what could have been a very confusing time the disciples could have fallen apart, but the events of Easter demonstrated that Jesus had prepared the disciples to know the way forward. And that way forward was rooted in prayer. Jesus and the disciples clearly show us that our way forward is through prayer. In the decisions for our church and benefice, for our PCC and for those chosen to be our parish representatives, we must all pray the right incumbent is chosen for us and our community. We must have confidence that God is at the heart of what we do and He will lead the way.
Pam Curtis – Informal Worship Group
My thoughts and your thoughts
We are starting the recruitment process for our new incumbent and held the first formal “Section 11” meeting this week, to agree the Benefice representatives and the “profile”. Bishop Robert is with us this Sunday and may say something about the process. This is an exciting but challenging time for all of us and we all have different ideas about what we want to see in our new minister and what is important about our church life. Considering the future has led to some tensions, which may have led to John McHale leaving us earlier than any of us expected. Fortunately, the Diocese has provided training for the churchwardens and ministry team on how to handle the inevitable tensions and conflicts that arise in all organizations during change, including the church. In my last reflection I spoke about our tendency to walk away from what we can’t control. It is often like that with disagreement and conflict. But the Bridge Builders training taught us that we need to embrace disagreement and deal with conflict. For in many ways, disagreement, conflict and anger is at the heart of what it means to be human. Jesus himself cried out to God words of challenge and despair: My God, why have you forsaken me? It is tempting to think we understand what religion and faith means and what God wants, so much so that we can be angry with those who disagree. If we hate conflict we may just walk away, rather than trying to understand an alternative view. But none of us understand God’s intentions, as Isaiah was well aware, as he writes in Chapter 55: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Essentially, we need humility before God, and with each other, as we make this journey together. Steve Chandler - Reader
Do we need pruning?
Acts 8:26-40 John 15:1-8 In our reading from Acts we have an ‘outsider’ who had been to a major festival to worship God, even though he wouldn’t have been able to actually ‘get in’ or ‘join in,’ but would have remained on the fringes. (A bit like when music events were held in the Castle Meadows in Berkeley... if you didn’t have a ticket you might stand along Jumpers Lane to listen from a distance....or was that just me?)
Phillip, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, takes the opportunity presented to him and gets alongside the man (literally and metaphorically) and is able to introduce him to Jesus. I think Phillip is; ‘bearing much fruit’ as described in our other reading (John 15:1-8). In this passage, we hear Jesus talking about ‘vines’; a familiar and well used analogy to describe the people of God. (Look through your Bible, you will find heaps of stuff about vineyards and vines.) However, Jesus is saying that he is the true vine and the only way for the vine branch to ‘bear much fruit’ is to remain connected to him.
This fits with Phillip; he is ‘living in’ Jesus and been able to ‘bear much fruit’ in his encounter on the road with the ‘outsider’. It also fits in my own life, because the times I have been able to ‘hop up alongside somebody’ (not in a chariot but perhaps in a work place or in a pastoral situation) have been those times when I feel most connected to Jesus. Of course there are long periods of time when the branches of my vine feel ‘withered’ rather than ‘fruitful’ and those are the times I am ignoring the nudges of the Holy Spirit or not connecting to Jesus as I ought to be. A bit like reading your friends texts but not responding I guess? So I wonder, to the ‘outsiders’ travelling on our metaphorical roads and looking in; what sort of branches of the vine are we? Either individually, collectively as a benefice, or the wider church? Are we branches ‘bearing much fruit’ or branches that ‘wither’? Only by remaining connected to the true vine; Jesus, can we be the ‘fruit bearing variety’ something to reflect on and pray about I think. Sherri - Reader
For we like sheep........?
I have spent quite a lot of time recently tidying up after a big tree blew down in the March gales and landed on a fence. This is important, because The Sheep Are Coming Soon: the grass is getting long and needs the woolly lawnmowers. Useful and appealing though content and well-kept sheep mostly are, they can be very aggravating and silly creatures as well. Repairing my fence is important, because after a day or two the grass elsewhere is always greener and better ... and off they trot. They can be quite expert escapees, and where one goes, others invariably follow. In their urge to explore beyond current confines, they easily get into trouble: getting stuck in the fence or in brambles or undergrowth. Unless checked and attended to regularly, there they can stay forever. I have always liked the description of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, because you have to be incredibly patient, persistent, kindly and gentle as well as courageous and decisive to be a good shepherd. And in Jesus’ day, and some places even now, armed (perhaps with rod and staff) to keep off attacking, dangerous predators. The amount of time a shepherd in Jesus’ time would have spent with the sheep, watching and guarding them meant the flock got to know the voice of the shepherd and to trust him for safety and guidance to good pasturage. So he would walk on ahead, the sheep would follow. This physical model also became the pattern for disciples, followers of a rabbi, as they moved about: the master would lead, the disciples followed. So if Jesus is the Good Shepherd, do we view ourselves as following on in trust if we wish to be disciples, learners, discoverers of new and good things? Are we able to own up to our sheep-like weaknesses mentioned above? Or to use the language of today’s Gospel reading (John 10.16) resolving to listen out for and follow the voice of Jesus above all the many other voices that call us to what seem like brighter, better, more interesting and greener places? David Frith, Reader
“We are witnesses of this”
This week the nation has been mourning the death of HRH Prince Philip, with people from all walks of life paying tribute to him and sharing their personal experiences of him. Such stories are uplifting and the insights they reveal help us feel closer to someone we only know of or see at a distance in the media, someone we don’t personally know. We all love to share good news stories and our personal experiences. But how often do we take the opportunity to share our personal experience of our faith and the impact this has had in shaping us? In our reading today from Acts 3. 12-19 we encounter Peter and John in the Temple doing just this. They have just performed a miracle at the Beautiful Gate at the entrance to the Temple, healing a man who had been lame since birth. Peter dismisses the crowd’s astonishment and deflects praise from himself to God as the source of the miracle. While he has their attention he takes the opportunity to share his experience of Jesus Christ. He talks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who restored His people to wholeness, and who raised Jesus from the dead. Rather than take credit for the lifechanging influence their miracle has had on the lame man, the Apostles signpost God working through them. In this way they bear witness to the power of the risen Christ. Like the early Christians who picked up the mantle of sharing the gospel following Jesus’ death and resurrection, like Peter in today’s story, we too can testify to the power of the Spirit. We too are witnesses of this. As Christians it is our job to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world today. It’s our duty to share who God is and what He has done, and the transformation and renewal we have experienced in our lives through knowing Him. We can make a big impact on those around us when we share our personal experiences of this and enable those who don’t know Him an insight of someone they may want to know better. Debbie Page – Berkeley informal worship team
Ctrl + Esc Zoom?
This has been a particularly poignant Easter for us all. We have been through a Lent of enforced fasting from much that we treasure in our Christian life: sharing the Eucharist, regular collective worship, sharing in fellowship and service. Easter Day was a real resurrection experience for many of us, with our first Benefice communion since Christmas in St Mary’s (although there was a lovely Palm Sunday Eucharist at St Michael’s, Hill). We have learnt much from this experience about what is really important to us. I think for many, being deprived of gathered worship in a sacred space has been hard. We have learned the value of the physical presence of others in a collective act of worship. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This may not be true for everyone. Some people will have found worship easier in silence and solitude, perhaps. They may find the lack of distraction from others helpful or soothing. Even those of us who are basically sociable in worship may wonder, sometimes, if all the effort involved in being gathered is worthwhile. But it is! My Lent reading this year has been a book by Rowan Williams: “Being Human”. Williams makes a point that resonated with me; that, as humans, we either want to control or to escape from what we can’t control. However, intelligence and humanity can only be properly exercised in relation to others. We might understand this intellectually, but we want to control people, or situations we are in with people, so that we are not frightened, embarrassed or humiliated. If that is not possible then we want to escape. Zoom is great for this; we are always in control, the “Leave meeting” button is always there! This is not the way of the Cross, though. Jesus was often tempted to escape from people, but he did not. Even when he was clearly losing any control over his life, he chose to stay. I hope you will also choose to stay. Steve Chandler - Reader
It’s beginning to look a lot like....Easter
Apparently one of the most ‘searched for’ items online for shoppers at the moment is ‘Easter decorations.’ Instead of baubles on a green bushy Christmas tree, the Easter variation involves hanging decorative Easter eggs (not the sort you eat) on white plain branches. At first when I read this, I muttered ‘whatever next.’ However on reflection I think it may be no bad thing for ‘more’ to be made of our Easter celebrations, because Easter has become a bit of the ‘poor relation’ to Christmas in many ways. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves and the world around us that Easter is in fact the primary celebration in the Christian calendar and the events described in John 20.1-18 of an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus are at the very heart of our Christian faith and beliefs. In some parts of the world in the days following Easter people greet one another by saying ‘Christ is risen’ and the reply will come ‘He is risen indeed, or he truly is.’ Imagine those phrases echoing around our streets and supermarkets, or even in our Churches as we walk in, rather than just being repeated as part of a formal greeting in the Church service itself. I wonder if we (I include myself here) are sometimes looking in the wrong place for Jesus, a bit like Mary as she looks in the empty tomb. Can we do the same as Mary and ‘turn towards him.’ Easter can be a bit of a turning point in the year, with lighter nights and warmer days (sometimes!) and all the metaphors that are used for hope; new growth in the garden and spring bursting forth. But the real turning point to remember is that before the disciples ran towards the tomb on that Easter morning, they first stood at the foot of the cross on that Friday and hid in despair through a bleak Saturday. What happened on that first Easter was a turning point in their lives and for the world. They encountered Jesus, stopped hiding and with the help of the Holy Spirit started spreading the Good News; ‘Christ is risen, he is risen indeed... Alleluia to that I say! Sherri - Reader
Prayer for the appointment of a new incumbent for our Benefice
Dear Lord Thank you for being with us during this last year, even in the times when we have forgotten to look for you. We ask for your guidance as we begin the process of advertising for and appointing a new incumbent for our parishes of Hill, Stone and Berkeley. Help us to remember that you have a plan for us and may your spirit guide us in how we can join in with that plan, for the good of the wider community and those yet to know of your love for the world. Please send the person you know we need to live and work amongst us to further your kingdom, in Jesus name. Amen.
We will be celebrating Maundy Thursday on the 1st April with a Zoom meeting. For details of how to join please get in touch with Naomi Sargent or email@example.com
Where is the good news?
How do you deal with the threat of a riot, or a riot actually in progress? How do you best fight a crisis when in the midst of one? Easy after the event with the wisdom of hindsight! So it was interesting to hear the Prime Minister and health advisers on Tuesday looking back on a year of Covid 19 restrictions and wondering what could and should have been done differently. No doubt the authorities in Bristol will be doing the same now after the heat and passion of unfolding events at the weekend become history to be analysed and for lessons to be learned. The atmosphere in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday was fraught with danger. The Roman occupying authorities dreaded the Passover feast which could easily become the blue touch paper for violent riot or insurrection. So the procurator Pontius Pilate and a full cohort of soldiers have come down from their base at Caesaria just in case... Reports of a new king of the Jews riding triumphantly into Jerusalem with huge numbers of supporters will have added to the high tension. So the Jewish authorities, recognising this, are doing their level best quietly to neutralise this terrifying threat to their and the nation’s present and future security. In the heat and fear of danger, good decisions are not always the first ones to appeal. How do we cope with immediate stress, danger and fear? With hostility, aggression, exclusion and self protection? Or with wise reflection? Can we draw on deep inner resources, built on much thinking, wisdom, prayer perhaps, and a deep willingness to be open to and listen to other voices? Perhaps we need something of the ancient wisdom we find in the Isaiah reading set for Palm Sunday. The person being described (Is.50 v.9) has suffered violence and degradation. What is the basis for his confidence and calm perseverance with what is right and true? “It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?” Can we cultivate and rest on that confidence ourselves in turbulent and anxious times? David Frith, Reader
Good Friday activity - Easter Garden
At Berkeley the younger members of the church make an Easter Garden. Sadly we won't be able to organise usual Good Friday activities. If as a family you would like to help create an Easter Garden for your church porch we can make that happen at Berkeley, Stone and Hill. Please get in touch with Debbie Page, Naomi Sargent or Mark Baimbridge. Alternatively why don't you have a go at making your own Easter Garden at home? Do send any photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be delighted to include them in the Easter newsletter.
Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense
This is a rich time of year to think about the importance of women. As well as being Mothering Sunday, last Monday was also International Women’s Day. However, there was also a celebration of patriarchy, in the Pope’s visit to Iraq and the site of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, the first of the Patriarchs of the church. The role of Pope is currently only open to men of course, but the church has not always been as misogynistic as we might have thought. There were the Old Testament heroines like Deborah, Esther and, my personal favourite, Ruth. Even St Paul, generally assumed to be no fan of women, did pragmatically recognize the leadership roles they played in some of the early churches. But, as someone once said, history was written by men. When we read about Jesus, we see that he was very affirming of women, often surprisingly so to his followers. You may recall their shock at finding him talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. And in the end, he was sensitive to the cost to his mother of his earthly ministry and final sacrifice. We read from John’s Gospel how, when hanging on the cross, he commends his mother, Mary, to his beloved disciple with the words: woman, behold your son! and behold your mother! He recognized the cost of her love for him and in Jesus’ death we can see the cost of God’s love for us and for the whole universe. Just like our mothers, God emptied himself for the sake of his creation. This is well expressed in the title of a book by the theologian WH Vanstone: Love’s endeavour, love’s expense. For the being of the universe God is totally expended in the precarious endeavour of bringing it to fruition, to realizing its full potential. For the richness of creation God is made poor and for its fullness God is made empty. To anyone who cannot understand or accept this we might say: you have not yet weighed the cost of love, the cost of creation. Our mother’s would agree. Steve Chandler - Reader
Celebrating Mothering Sunday 14th March
Follow Jesus, be a rebel: John 2:13-22
‘I didn’t know Jesus was a rebel’ is something that a child once said to me after a small group of us acted out the scene described in the reading from John 2 some years ago for the local school in Stone. What was it that annoyed Jesus so much that he trashed the place? The system of money changing was necessary to the ‘temple tax’ process, as it had to be paid in local currency and visitors to Jerusalem came from all over and would have used a variety of different currencies. So was it that they were charging too much in the way of commission to change the money? Animals had to be inspected to ensure they were perfect, therefore you could buy something cheaper outside the temple, but it might be rejected once inside. If you bought it inside it cost much more but you were guaranteed that it would not be rejected. So was there a money-making scam going on? Was a visit to the temple, the place where God ‘could be met,’ turning into a place where money, not God was king? Was it this which made Jesus so cross or a feeling of general annoyance that the temple system was not working in the way God intended? Remember the temple was the hub of life, of society, culture and politics, it was not simply a building tucked away to be used now and again. Were those in charge trying to gain power for themselves rather than allowing God to have the power and the glory? So was Jesus the rebel? Or was it the ‘upstanding’ leaders of the temple system who were rebelling against what God had intended? Jesus says ‘I am the temple’ and points them towards his death and resurrection in which he makes the ultimate trade; our sins for his life. I wonder in what ways we are rebelling against what God would want from us in our Church communities today? Do we make more of an effort to share the ‘good news’ of our latest fundraising event, than we do the ‘good news’ that is the love of Jesus Christ and his saving grace for us? Who is going to be king in your life? Go on be a rebel. Sherri - Reader
On the dotted line?
“I have read the terms and conditions and by signing below I agree to be bound by them.” That, or something very similar, was the wording on an agreement I signed recently. A service was to be provided, and for that to happen both parties bound themselves to their responsibilities to abide by the terms of the contract created. You will have done this countless times in big matters like buying property or a car, signing a job contract entering financial arrangements or in hundreds of smaller arrangements, as in my case above, buying car insurance. Contracts are binding documents to ensure that both parties have clear responsibilities to fulfil as well as rights to enjoy. In the Old Testament lesson set for Sunday (Genesis 17) we are reminded that this is the basis of the relationship between God and Abraham, where the solemn understanding between them is termed a covenant. The relationship Abraham and God are formally entering into is so serious and binding that it has been sealed in sacrificial blood (see Gen 15 for details) But God’s purposes are not tyrannical and bloodthirsty, but born of a love so deep and serious that only blood (in this case, of animals) is solemn and serious enough to prove it. Because in chapter 17 God has come back to Abraham to show how serious he is in his already stated intent to bless Abraham. And through his obedience and trust also subsequently to bless the whole world by a natural born son for him (aged 100) and Sarah (aged 90). Abraham has already tried surrogacy (which produced a son) but it is a natural born son who is God’s intended channel of blessing. Can Abraham, can we believe that despite all outward appearances, God has the power to do what he promised and promises? In later years, God establishes a new covenant with humankind, recorded in the New Testament, also sealed in blood. It’s such a serious matter that it’s his own. Perhaps something to reflect on now and when we are permitted to take Communion wine again. David Frith, Reader.
It’s hard to know how to enter Lent this year, when it feels as if we have never really left Lent. No one has been unaffected by the effects of the virus, and some have been very deeply affected. Today’s gospel reading is immensely helpful to us as it speaks of both reality and hope. First, reality. In the wilderness Jesus experiences trials and temptations. Surrounded by wild beasts, he feels fear and anxiety. For forty days he is separated from family and friends, hungry and weary. As we reflect on what has happened in the world, and to us this past year, we remember that Jesus knows the reality of what we are living through. Lent is also a time to reflect on the reality of what happens within us, as well as to us. If the heart of the human problem is the human heart, then Lent is when we examine our hearts. Where have we been selfish or ungenerous? The word ‘lent’ also means healing. Where does God want to heal us, and how can we bring healing to others? Which brings us to hope. Jesus carries precious gifts with him into the wilderness: the gift of baptism; the knowledge of God’s love and delight; the presence of the spirit. We carry those same gifts with us, together with angels to minister to us in sorrow and in joy. As we attend to the realities of Lent, my prayer is that we will be hope-filled in the days to come. That we will be drawn towards the light of the Easter candle, notice the activity of the Holy Spirit, and recall the countless acts of kindness and courage that we have witnessed, shared and experienced over this past year. Jesus’s first words on emerging from the wilderness are these: The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. As we emerge from Lent, and very gradually from pandemic, our reality will be different. But as we shout alleluia and celebrate the miracle of resurrection it will be time. Time to live lovingly and courageously, to kindle new light in the world, to share good news, to bring healing. Time above all, to be people of hope, as God’s kingdom comes on earth, as in heaven. Hilary Dawson Archdeacon of Gloucester
Transfiguration – Mark 9:2-9
Understanding the Transfiguration is a daunting prospect, let alone trying to provide its meaning in a few paragraphs. I am reassured that the apostle Peter struggled to comprehend what was going on when he witnessed Jesus transforming “his clothes became dazzling white” on the top of the mountain. Peter offered to build three shelters: one for Jesus and one each for Elijah and Moses who had appeared beside Jesus. Peter thought they would be there for some time and would need shelter. However, it was a short, but spectacular, encounter through which God revealed to Peter and his fellow disciples, James and John, that Jesus was not just the perfect human but divine – God’s Son. Jesus told them not to talk about what they had seen to anyone. The understanding of what had just occurred would not be clear until Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection had been fully revealed to them. What they witnessed was awesome, but they had to descend the mountain and resume their everyday lives. Times were going to be difficult for them and the witnessing of the Transfiguration would have helped to sustain them. We too, if we are lucky, will have had our own special spiritual moments. It might be an answer to prayer, a service that has struck a chord or sermon that has created a spark within us. Several years ago, the diocese organised a training day for Sunday School teachers and youth leaders. The event was concluded by a service led by Bishop Michael – then Bishop of Gloucester. We were packed into a school hall, emboldened by our day’s learning and fellowship, we responded joyously to the congregational responses and sung our hearts out to the hymns. It was a truly uplifting experience. At this time where we cannot worship and be together, I would encourage you to reflect on what are the special spiritual moments you have had and let them bring light into your life today. Pam Curtis – Informal Worship Team
Mystery and imagination
Last week I looked at the live stream of the 2021 Boyle Lecture on Science and Religion, given by Professor Tom McLeish FRS, of York University. These lectures were founded by the famous chemist Robert Boyle in 1692 (remember Boyle’s gas law from school?). Anyway, this was even more interesting than that! McLeish’s lecture was very relevant to our theme for this Sunday. Each scripture reading is about wisdom, or should I say Wisdom? Explicitly, from Proverbs 8: Does not wisdom call, does not understanding raise her voice? The Lord created me at the beginning of his work… Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. This is nothing less than the start of a creation story. So, this is science, or is it? Perhaps it is only poetry and imagination? This brings us back nicely to the Boyle lecture. McLeish proposed that science, imagination and poetry are far more closely related and interdependent than we believe today. Science is not the pure, dry, mechanical discipline that many of its practitioners would have us believe. Imagination is essential, to generate theories that science can try to falsify. Poetry is a way to help us look beyond the surface of “reality” to see what is really there. Scientifically, a painting is just a blend of chemical pigments deposited on a piece of cellulose. But that tells you almost nothing about the reality, meaning and beauty of the painting. Of course, the Proverbs account of creation is poetry and so it shows us more about reality than the big-bang theory can. St Paul, in Colossians, identifies this Wisdom created at the beginning of the universe with Jesus Christ, a real person: He is before all things and in him all things hold together. Finally, magnificently, summed up in the prologue to John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This deep, poetic and imaginative insight into the mystery of creation is every bit as real as the mathematics of the big-bang theory. Steve Chandler - Reader
If God spoke would you notice?
I wonder what you listen to: the news, music, podcasts or do you like silence? Perhaps you have natural sounds around you: people’s voices, birds’ chirruping, water flowing, the wind in the rafters? There is rarely a time when we will find true silence and yet often we block out most of the sounds around us, allowing the buzz of life to become hidden by the powerful voice of our thoughts. In the midst of all that surrounds us God seeks to communicate. Yet this too can go unnoticed. Imagine a busy temple- it would have been like a livestock market with the added noise of people praying loudly! No room to hear yourself think. Yet in this place, in the cacophony that surrounded them, two elderly people recognised the signs of God communicating with them. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple – there would have been nothing remarkable about them: a young poor couple offering the most affordable sacrifice for their first born. But the seemingly most insignificant event if we are listening carefully can be the moment God chooses to open our eyes. Simeon and Anna had been listening, watching and waiting for years. They had made it their daily habit. They had committed themselves to prayer – not eyes shut but eyes open. And so, when it mattered, they were ready – they recognised Jesus for who he was and told everyone. Mary and Joseph were listeners too – we know that Mary listened and held the things she heard close to her heart – the good and the disturbing. Are you a listener? Before Jesus people thought that God spoke only to ‘special’ people- to prophets and priests. But Jesus, in sending us the Holy Spirit, assured us that we too can hear God speaking. Do we notice? Are we aware that God reaches out to us in the bustle and business of our lives – or is God’s voice lost in the buzz of other noises that surround us? I ask myself if Mary, Joseph and Jesus arrived in front of me- would I realise? Would you? Jesus’ presentation at the temple reminds us to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open and expect God to speak. Will you notice when it happens? The Revd. Canon Pauline Godfrey
‘Water into Wine’ is truly divine
There have been plenty of things to worry about for couples planning to get married during this pandemic, but running out of wine was probably not one of them. However 2000 years ago in Cana in Galilee, where hospitality was not just ‘a big deal’ but a sacred duty, it was top of the ‘worry list’ for Mary and would have been humiliating for the wedding couple. Trusting in her son, Mary takes the dilemma to him; ‘Hey Jesus, they are nearly out of wine.’ I think the story is so familiar to me that for many years I completely overlooked the information given in verse 6: ‘Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.’ The water in those jars was for washing hands and cleaning drinking utensils, part of the ceremonial system for transforming something that was ‘unclean’ into something that was ‘clean.’ By using a symbol of the old system, is Jesus giving a sign, pointing to the new thing which he is doing to transform God’s people? I also noticed only recently the sheer quantity of wine on offer here. 6 jars with 20 to 30 gallons each ....is that approximately 720 to 1080 bottles of good quality extra wine?...on top of the wine that has already run out.....nobody needs that much wine at a wedding surely? This smacks of an ‘abundance’ and brings to mind the glorious phrase from a little further on in the book of John; ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ John 10:10. It is not just a great story, of something Jesus did for one lucky couple back in the day, but something he continues to do every day for us now ‘to give us life abundantly’ to transform our lives from water to wine. Do we trust him as Mary and the servants did? If our role is to ‘go and do likewise’ as the Bible says, what does ‘abundance’ and ‘transformational life’ look like in our lives? In the lives of our churches? In our communities?...and beyond...? Something to think about this week, along with whether my sums add up from earlier in this piece! Sherri - Reader
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: Christingle@stmarys-berkeley.co.uk CarolService@stmarys-berkeley.co.uk ChristmasDay@stmarys-berkeley.co.uk 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
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