Christ Church

From the Leith Hill Ministry Team

 NHS Rainbow IM    By IM, 6 years

From Virginia Smith, Monday 19 April
On Friday 23rd April we celebrate both St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birth and if you happen to count yourself as pure- bred English you may well have stirrings of patriotic pride and might even sport a red rose. Patriotism is regarded at its best as a noble quality and at it struck me that Prince Philip, who was certainly not pure-bred English, was very much a true patriot revealed in his extraordinary sense of dedicated duty and steadfast service to the Queen, her Kingdom and her Commonwealth. 

And never forget, St George is traditionally held to have had Greek parents and been a Roman soldier and never came anywhere near these shores. And whereas Shakespeare was at least English one of his immortal lines was ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ And thinking about this I am reminded that whoever we are, whatever nationality we may claim, we are all, each and every one of us, part of the family of God. The family which began with Abraham who was told ‘I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.’  

We can be proud of our individual heritage but how much more pride can we take in being a member of the family of God and of serving him with steadfastness and humility, playing our infinitesimally small part in helping bring about the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

Bless our beautiful land, O Lord, with its wonderful variety of people, of races, cultures and languages. May we be a nation of laughter and joy, of justice and reconciliation, of peace and unity, of compassion, caring and sharing. We pray this prayer for a true patriotism, in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord.   Archbishop Desmond Tutu

From Martha Golden, Monday 12 April
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish”?  They answered him, “No”.  He said to them, “Cast the net on the other side of the boat, and you will find some”.         John 21 verses 5-6

Life on the other side of Easter is a strange thing.  It is tempting to go back to where we were, and what we were, and what we were doing before Easter came along and interrupted us with all its glory and power and transformation.  Who can sustain that level of joy and energy?

The first disciples faced a similar question.  In the immediate aftermath of the first Easter their impulse was to get back to normal, back to what they had been before.  So Peter and his companions go fishing, but after a long night they have nothing to show for their labours – that is, until Jesus shows up and tells them to “cast the net on the other side”.  This encounter leads to a net full to overflowing, and the transformation of these fishermen into joyful witnesses of Christ in the world – the community of the faithful of which we are the heirs.

If you want to experience life on the other side, try responding to the invitation of Jesus Christ:  “Cast your nets on the other side”, and let him fill them with new possibilities, freedom from the old routines of what you have always done and such an abundance of joy that your lives can hardly contain it.

Lord God, we pray that you may open our hearts, guide our minds and fill the nets of our imaginations, that we may dedicate our lives to your service and gladly work to bring your message of joy, peace and love to all whom we encounter.  Amen

From David Grundy, Monday 5 April
Thomas said to him “My Lord and my God !”  John 20 verse 28

Just before the Good Friday service, I got chatting with a couple from the Ukraine. They said that the situation in the Ukraine is still one of conflict and violence, even though the media attention it was receiving years ago has all but vanished. The message isn’t reaching us now, but the reality is the same as it was. 

In this country, those under 50 are far less likely to be professed,  regularly worshipping Christians than those of us the other side of 50. Many reasons are given, and many ways forward for the church are proposed. But maybe the main reason is simply that the burning conviction of Thomas is not always apparent in the church today. He was understandably sceptical when he heard people say that Jesus was alive again. But that scepticism turned to wonder - “My Lord and my God !”  - as he came face to face with Jesus. It’s quite possible that, as tradition has it, he went to India to share what he had become so passionately convinced of. 

The truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection remains the same as it was. The surrounding culture of Jesus’ time was less than conducive to receiving the Christian message. But many did receive it. The existence of the worldwide church today is the result. 

By both word and deed, let us sensitively, thoughtfully, creatively and passionately, hand the baton on in our own culture. 

Our Lord and our God, deepen and strengthen our faith in you, that we may be instruments of helping others to discover your loving, transforming, living presence. Amen. 

From Mad Berry, Monday 29 March
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord ! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Luke 19  verses 28-40

This is the cry that the crowds raised as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

What are we to make of this familiar but strange story?

Perhaps our first thought is that  it was strange that Jesus chose a colt or donkey, hardly a very majestic mode of transport !  He didn’t enter Jerusalem as a military conqueror on a war-horse, nor as a political revolutionary; His mission on earth was not to overthrow Rome but to break the power of sin. However, If we just see Jesus coming in humility we risk missing another dimension to His life and mission. This triumphal entry makes a very clear statement about who Jesus is.

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9 verse 9).

Jesus was asserting that he was the promised Messiah, despite knowing that this would incite anger against Him and cause Him to be ultimately rejected and killed. He was being hailed as a King with authority;  claiming that he was the chosen Son of David ( 1 Kings 33 verse 44), the one whom the prophets had spoken of.

In the excitement of the day the disciples and the crowd would not have really grasped the full meaning of these events. John tells us that at first the disciples did not understand and that it was only after Jesus rose from death that they could see the amazing significance of that day. (John 12 verse 16)

In the light of Easter day, we too can look back as the disciples did …  can we grasp the significance of a King coming to die because he loved us so much?

Lord, we ask that as we reflect upon your death and resurrection over this Easter time, we would have a fresh understanding of how amazing it is that as King you loved us enough to die for us.  Amen

From Tony Berry, Monday 22 March
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you restMatthew 11 verse 28

No doubt this is a familiar verse to many. It is one of the Comfortable Words of the Communion service and is said as a reassurance of forgiveness and the comfort of knowing that we have a Saviour who knows what life can do to us.

Many people have said to me that they have found this lockdown much harder. Perhaps it is because it started at the heart of winter and the weather has been so oppressive at times. I must confess that I have found it so at times.

The question to ask ourselves is whether we really have come to Jesus with that weariness and asked Him to lighten our load and give us rest.

I suspect that we haven’t, we simply have taken it for granted and let it wear us down.

Perhaps we need to read to the subsequent verse and really act upon it and find the rest for our souls that it promises. So why not read verse 29 sometime.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that you know our hearts and the burdens they bear, may we learn from and find rest for our souls.    Amen

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Monday 15 March
Transformation

I don’t know if you have seen David Attenborough’s A Life on the Planet, if you haven’t, I would urge you to watch it. It is a tremendous witness to the glory and beauty of creation which man has damaged and spoilt. There is a stunning scene where Attenborough walks through the rubble and ruin of the Chernobyl power plant, a huge area blackened and infected by a nuclear explosion. Almost unbelievably, there is new life growing in that once hellish place: green is covering black, plants are growing once more, and birds and animals are returning – nature is overpowering the evil and destruction wrought by man.

From the very beginning of the Bible – Genesis - God’s creative power changing darkness to light and creating this beautiful earth, to the very end - Revelation – telling how God will restore his glorious world so that ‘death will be no more,’ there are countless examples of God’s transforming power.

Not least in the life and death of Jesus: his first miracle changing water into wine, his many acts of healing, bringing understanding and wisdom, changing lives wherever he went. And the ultimate transformative power of the resurrection – life from death which he offers to all who believe in him.

As we move through the reflective period of Lent, towards the joy of Easter and, hopefully, begin to recover from the misery of the COVID pandemic, let us remember that transformative power which Jesus offers to us all, through his Holy Spirit. The power to raise us up from loneliness, depression and hopelessness to lives full of positivity, purpose and hope. Jesus came to earth so that we might have life – and have it abundantly! (John 10:10)

Lord, help us to remember your transforming power when we feel that everything is dark and hopeless. Help us to know the power of your Spirit - the same power that raised you from the dead, that is within us. Raise our eyes to see Easter on the horizon and warm our hearts with the knowledge of your love and purpose for our lives. AMEN

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Romans 8 verse 12

From Rev Virginia Smith - Monday 8 March
Alleluia. How good it is to make music for our God; how joyful to honour him with praise.  Psalm 147 verse 1
O sing to the Lord a news song: sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.  Psalm 149 verse 1

It does not take much familiarity with the psalms to recognize that again and again we are called upon to make music for God, be it with songs or on the harp and lyre or even with the blast of the trumpet. Even in the most mournful and angst-ridden psalm, the call to make music is so often made. Now as someone who cannot play a single instrument and whose singing is not perhaps always as tuneful as that of others it might seem hard to practice this exhortation to make music to God. This said I do confess that I find walking and singing hymns can be really uplifting while hoping there’s no one around to hear me! And I am sure I am not alone in finding ways to make music in praise of God and, in return, we discover ourselves to be spiritually blessed.

The psalms teach us that no matter how hard life is we can still discern so many reasons to give God praise if only because we know he is right there beside us in those hard and rocky places. Malcolm Guite in one of his amazingly beautiful poems urges us to sing the ‘song of sudden hope’ which to me is such an inspired idea. It suggests that again and again we will be given cause to sing a new song; a new song which reflects the joy encountered in that suddenness of life affirming presence and hope.

This same poem ends with the words: ‘Then I will sing a new song, and take my part in Love’s true music, as his kingdom comes and heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart.’ Let us pray that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves we will still be able to find the strength and the will to take our allotted part in sounding out  all the joy and delight of Love’s true music.

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - Monday 1 March
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you … Hold fast to that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5 verses 16-21 

As we look back over the past year, it has sometimes been difficult to be cheerful and optimistic.  Instead, it’s tempting to dwell on the many losses we have witnessed and while we should never belittle the pain and suffering of so many, there is also much to be thankful for.  The hard work of our scientists in creating a vaccine have given us hope.  Teachers and pupils look forward to returning to school, and as the weather improves we all look forward to spending more time outside, renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

It’s important to remember that the true source of our fortune and accomplishments comes from God.  While we like to take credit for our successes, the Holy Spirit has probably done more than we might realise to lead and inspire us, and to open doors we never thought of walking through.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to give thanks to God, the source of all good things. 

As we travel through this Lent, while we cannot obscure past losses, let us also rejoice and think upon our many blessings.  While God is often blamed for our misfortunes, we should never forget to remember and give thanks for his never ceasing love and care for all through good times and bad. 

Gracious and generous God, may we always remember that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change".  James 1 verse 17

From David Grundy, Associate Minister,  22 February
Man shall not live by bread alone. Matthew 4 verse 4

It’s fashionable these days to say that Lent isn’t about giving something up, it’s about taking something up. After all, what’s the point (the argument goes) in giving up sugar in coffee for a month ? Who gains by it ?

Whilst I understand exactly where this comes from, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The fact is, when he was in the wilderness and used these words, Jesus was fasting. He was depriving himself of food. More than that, he was depriving himself of human companionship, and of shelter. 

So what on earth is the point of all that ? 

A chaplain at university that I knew, who was rarely seen without a pipe, always gave it up for Lent. When I asked him why, he simply explained ‘because I don’t want my bodily hungers to control me’. This seemed to make sense to me. If our bodies rule us, and reduce us to the level of helpless victims of our appetites, then this can lead to all sorts of problems. An appetite can unwittingly start to look more like an addiction. 

Personally, I am making an effort to do something ‘positive’ and which I don’t find easy during this Lenten period. But if you are depriving yourself of something, even if it’s biscuits, for example, then this is far from meaningless. Keep at it ! It will make you stronger. After all, one of the fruits of the Spirit is ‘self-control’.

Teach us, Lord Jesus, to use this season of Lent that we may be drawn closer to you: that by your grace, we may turn from whatever in our lives is at variance with your will, and thereby strengthened to serve you more fully, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.  

From Mad Berry - Monday 15 February
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Hebrews 13 verses 20-21.

The writer to the Hebrews prays that Titus will be equipped to do God’s will and to please him. Sometimes the struggle to discern God’s will, let alone do it, can be daunting!

Yet in these verses we find the key to unlock our struggles. The resurrection of  Jesus transforms our struggles into possibilities. The Greek verb for “equipping” has the sense of “supplying what is lacking ... and rectifying what is wrong or damaged”. Elsewhere in the New Testament the verb is translated as mending or restoring.

It is through the resurrection of Jesus that we can have access to the Father and experience him working in our lives individually and corporately. Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit would “come and lead them into all truth” ..that the Spirit would take “ from what is his and make it known to them.”

Sometimes it can be struggle to follow Jesus in our 21st C culture and a worldwide pandemic seems to make everything tougher

Yet… we can have hope and we can persist in our Christian walk because of the resurrection of Jesus--the greatest gift that God could ever give.

Heavenly Father, we pray that you will equip us with everything we need to follow your Son Jesus  .. when it seems tough would you remind us that it is because Jesus died and rose for us that we have access to everything we could ever need to do this.  Amen

From Tony Berry - Monday 8 February
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12 verse 1

I know we have had this verse before, but it has been on my mind quite a bit over the last few days.

The pandemic figures seem to be on the way down, in the UK at least, and vaccination numbers continue to rise, and that is cause for some optimism that has been lacking over recent months.

Of course that doesn’t diminish the sorrow and grief for those loved ones in hospital or who have sadly died. For those involved it is much more than an exercise in statistics, and we must continue to hold them in our prayers.

But it does present us with hope as we continue to face the challenge the pandemic sets before us. I am reminded of the words in the service for Candlemas which say “we turn from the Crib to the Cross” as we move from Christmas towards Easter. We need to look forwards and not backwards. It is not easy and it takes effort, but the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encourages us to not give up; he uses the sporting analogy to give us a perspective of the circumstances we face, let us hope we can manage to have that sort of focus.

Dear Lord, please give us grace, not simply to endure, but to encourage others as we move forward towards a more hopeful future. Amen

From Hilary Swift - Wednesday 3 February
They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green. Psalm 92 verse14

This week we heard of the sad death of Captain Tom Moore, the centenarian who raised £33 million for the NHS by walking doggedly around his garden. What a huge achievement at the end of a long life. His positivity and optimism brought a ray of light into our lives. 

In our gospel reading last Sunday we read of Simeon and Anna, two people of advanced years whose long and faithful lives culminated in a wonderful revelation – the recognition that the baby brought to the temple was the promised Messiah. 

In past times, elderly people were treated with so much more respect – they were recognised as full of wisdom and life experience, they were asked for their opinions and fully involved in society. It is so sad that so many people of advanced years are marginalised, suffer with loneliness and feel they have nothing to contribute. Perhaps the tragic deaths from COVID of so many in care homes highlight that they are not honoured as they should be after they have given their lives to families and loved ones.

How should we as Christians speak out for those of older generations who are forgotten and neglected? 

Lord, help us to remember and honour the older members of our society. 

May they know that they always have something to contribute, that their lives and their wisdom are valued and they are loved, especially by you, our heavenly father.

As we approach the end of our lives, may we always find ways to bring light into others lives by all we say and do.

Amen

From Rev Virginia Smith - Monday 25 January
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High,   
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.    Psalm  50 verses 14 and 23

Apparently last Monday is known as Blue Monday and it is supposedly the bleakest and most depressing day of the entire year if only because for many it’s the day when those Christmas credit card bills come rolling in. And thinking about this I wondered just what God’s credit card bill to each one of us would contain? My goodness it simply doesn’t bear thinking about should we stop for even a moment and consider all the services he has rendered us, all that He has given us. The bill would surely include the cost of all the countless times when God has led us through the dark valleys of loss and pain, the times when prayer was answered, the times when he encouraged us and supported us as we wrestled with some seemingly intractable problem and most significantly the times he offered us forgiveness and redemption and all the blessings bestowed on us.   The list would be endless.

And how can we ever begin to pay off such a debt? However hard we tried it could never be paid in full.  But because of the infinite generosity of God’s unlimited mercy and redemptive grace he never exacts payment from us but in its place asks for the smallest of offerings. The offerings that constitute the sacrifice of a grateful heart and the willingness to do our best to reflect in all that we do the love he never stops showering upon us. As it says in Hebrews: ‘Through Jesus, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.’ 

For some Blue Monday may be the gloomiest of days but for us, as with every day, it is just another opportunity to offer to God our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and recognize his love in all he has freely given us and all he has freely done for us.

Lord,  help us to give you our praise and thanksgiving today and always.

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - Monday 18 January,
Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139 verses 11-12

In New England, where I come from, we call this time of year "the long drag".  The trees are bare, the days are cold and bleak, and the nights long and dark.  Spring, with its promise of new life seems a long way away.  It is hard at this time of year to feel energetic or optimistic.

It’s the darkness that we find particularly depressing.  Christians tend to associate darkness with sin, blindness and fear.  We long for Christ, the light of the world to come into our lives and dispel the darkness in our hearts and our lives.  It’s hard to feel close to God when you can’t see where you are going, or what that noise in the distance means, or who might be approaching you.

At first glance, scripture has little good to say about darkness.  But a closer look shows that some of God’s most important work occurs at night.  When Abraham despaired of ever having offspring, God led him outside and told him to count the stars saying, “So shall your descendants be”.  Were it not for the night, we would never see the beauty of the stars.  Joseph dreamt of a ladder from earth to heaven at night.  And the two most important events in the Christian calendar, the birth of our Saviour and his resurrection both happened when it was dark.  

I find that some of my best thoughts come at night or just before dawn, when there is little else to distract me.  If you ever wake up in the middle of the night, try lying in the dark, listening for God.  You may discover states of consciousness you have never experienced before.  As the Psalmist has said, “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge” (19:2).

God our Father, we know you are with us at all times of the day and the night.  Help us to open our hearts and minds to your presence that we may hear and respond to your message of love, healing and hope.  Amen 

From David Grundy, Associate Minister,  11 January
Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you……What Father, if a son asks for….? Matthew 7 verse 7 and following

My great aunt Ursula was a formidable but wonderfully generous lady. She used to spoil us rotten, with very regular presents. When I was about 5 years old, we were staying at her lovely farm and one day, as she was coming down the stairs, I looked up at her in all innocence, and asked “Hello, Aunt Ursula, have you got a present for me?”.  My mother went ballistic, telling me off in no uncertain terms never to ask for or expect a present. 

Our reluctance to ask for something is often based on experiences such as these. And yet, in the above verses, it seems that Jesus is urging us to ask. The verb used is a present imperative, meaning “Go on asking, and you will receive ; go on seeking…..go on knocking”. The context is that of a father, and it is obvious that no good Father gives a child everything they ask for. Like so many of Jesus’ exhortations and promises, this one has been wrenched out of context far too often, but this mustn’t blind us to what it is -  a plea for us to cast away our hesitancy in approaching God in prayer. One other thing to notice about the context: it’s just after those verses about not being judgmental. So maybe it’s main application should be to asking for God to improve and mould our own character. But that is not its only application. God remains Father in all circumstances, and we must cast away any hesitancy we have about asking.  

In the midst of these crisis times, keep praying. Jesus doesn’t just encourage us to, he urges us to.  

God our Father, at this time of crisis, when so many are suffering, we pray for our nation and our world.  Give our leaders wisdom,  our health service strength, our people hope.  Lead us through these parched and difficult days to the fresh springs of joy and comfort that we find in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Monday 4 January - Epiphany
Matthew 2 verse 1-12 – The visit of the Wise Men

There is a wonderful poem about the birth of Jesus, called BC:AD, by UA Fanthorpe, which begins: ‘This was the moment when Before turned in to After.’ 

Jesus’ birth was a momentous turning point in history when God the Creator came to earth.

This week we celebrate Epiphany, (which means a moment of sudden enlightenment or realisation) – the visitation of the Wise Men or Magi to Jesus. They had travelled a long way, presumably a difficult journey and obviously knew of the prophecy that a new king would be born in that region. They must have had great faith in that prophecy and in the guiding star which led them ‘to the place where the young child was.’ Not in Herod’s palace as might have been expected, but in a humble home. Matthew tells us that the Holy Family were in a ‘house’ by this time. The Magi had also come prepared to pay homage to this new king – their gifts were expensive and symbolic: gold for Kingship, Frankincense, incense used in the Jewish Temple, to acknowledge him as a High Priest of God and Myrrh used to embalm bodies after death, foreshadowing his crucifixion.

Fanthorpe’s poem ends, 
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

2020 has been a difficult journey and as 2021 begins, we are not yet at the end of that journey but, there is light ahead. The vaccine offers hope for a healthier future, but more than that we, like the Magi, need to keep faith and follow the light - to find a way to live well in these new circumstances, to stay positive and keep looking outwards and upwards. 

Dear Lord. Thank you for the good news that Jesus, ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’ has come into the world. May we faithfully follow that light as the Magi followed the star and find Jesus and his kingdom for ourselves. Amen.

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 28 December
Do not, Lord, then me forsake, do not take thy dear presence from me: haste O Lord, that I be stayed by thy aid, my salvation is in thee. Psalm 38 verses 21-22, from The Sidney Psalms

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  John 1 verse 5

Christmas for what it was worth given that almost everybody had to change all their plans is over and I suspect there may be some relief that there is no longer a need for a pretence at festive high spirits. The pandemic figures appear almost catastrophic and one way and another it is so hard to keep positive. To keep hoping, to keep believing that there will be an end to this nightmare that has struck us. But I believe that we have no alternative but to carry the Light of Christ out into this suffering world and keep the flame of hope alive. That is surely our Christian duty. Isn’t that exactly what the first disciples did when they showed such utter determination to take that same light to the world despite all the opposition and persecution they faced? Yes, it is undoubtedly the season of post- Christmas blues exacerbated by everything else that is going on in our lives, but our lives are still and always will be precious to God and each and every day is a gift from Him to treasure and to give thanks for. God is our salvation, and nothing can deny us that saving grace.

We may be in Tier 4, life may be horribly restricted but we can still talk to family and friends in so many ways and of course we can always talk to God. He will listen and if we want to rant and rage a bit that’s fine just as long as after the ranting and the raging  we allow for the silence in which we will know that God has listened and may even, once in a while want to respond.

I hope the prayer at the end of this reflection will help remind us that even in the blackest place God remains and His Light continues to shine in the darkness come what may.

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when he is silent          Jewish prisoners Cologne 1944

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - week of Monday 21 December 
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them the light has shined." Isaiah 9 verse 2 

This is a time of joy for many people, but for others, the Christmas season can be anything but bright.  It’s a hard time of year for those who remember people whom they have loved and lost, and particularly this year as people struggle with a virus that may affect their own health or separate them from family and friends.  It’s important to acknowledge this truth while remembering that we are not alone.

The God who comes to us at Christmas was not born into a world where all was joy and celebration.  This is a God who knows first-hand about loss and grief, worry and pain, and what it means to struggle in this life.  He was not immune from the same disappointments and sadness, suffering and grief that we all experience.  Whether that sadness stems from today’s news broadcasts or our personal lives, Jesus understands because he has been there, and is still here.

The joy of Christmas resides in the knowledge that we have a God who travels with us on life’s journey, sharing our triumphs and our tragedies, our joys and our sorrows.  The truth of Christmas is that Christ has come down to earth in order to lift us all up to God and to bring hope to a suffering world.  

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1 verse 5

From David Grundy, Associate Minister,  18 December 
“Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Luke  2 verse 10

This week we have gone into Tier 3, and in a sense there is a real irony about this, although I do not question the decision at all. The irony is that Christmas is a time we always associate with ‘getting together’ with other people. Families meet up, those who work together usually have a Christmas party, and we send cards, possibly with a Christmas newsletter attached, to people we may well not have had any contact with all year. So, the fact that we’ll be mixing far less will feel especially strange. 

Some think that this ‘getting together’ is just the way Christmas has developed culturally, and has nothing to do with the original meaning. But that, I believe, is wrong. Christmas really did bring people together: why would a group of shepherds from (socially, about as low down the scale as it is possible to get) go and visit the same family as the Magi (a respected academic social group) ? The shepherds were from within Israel, the Magi from beyond its borders. And the family they met were supremely ordinary, from the artisan class within Jewish society. It is a supreme coming together of people from different worlds. 

And, as the magnificent carol expresses it:
“Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel”

Christmas is the coming together of God and man. The restrictions we are living under do not diminish that message one little bit

Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem is the moment when heaven touches earth. As we draw near to celebrating this great feast of Christmas, draw us once more to kneel in wonder at your manger. Amen. 

From Mad Berry, Monday 7 December
Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60 verse 1

This verse was used in the chorus of a song that my youth group used to sing with gusto back in the 1970s.

It is very much a  verse for our season. It speaks of God being present in a dark time. As we go through Advent and into Christmas in such a different way, it is good for us to remember that Isaiah was speaking into a time of national disaster and wanted his people to continue to put their trust in God and hold on to a spiritual reality that felt far from where they were.

As we move towards celebrating the coming of a Saviour in Bethlehem, and remember his promise to return; let us  hold on to the light that has come in Jesus and the glory of God revealed in His resurrection.

In spite of such difficult circumstances we have much to celebrate, so let’s shine!

Heavenly Father, may we shine with the light of Christ to bring comfort and joy in these difficult times. Amen.

From Tony Berry, Monday 30 November
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12 verse 12  ESV

I was reminded of this verse as I looked at a Bible Society calendar for next year. And what a timely reminder it was.

Advent, the season we are just beginning, is all about a future hope. Hope gives us a reason to rejoice. We could do with a reason to rejoice at the moment. God’s faithfulness is placed soundly in front of us as we remember the promises Christ made concerning His return, a reminder that we are not left bereft, but we can look forward to fulfilling our eternal destiny.

The pandemic has brought us a great deal of tribulation, and many have suffered much more than us, however the issue this verse addresses is not the degree to which we have faced tribulation, so much as how we have faced and dealt with such tribulation as has come our way. Patience is never easy, it goes against our nature even when it would be to our advantage to wait. But if we are able to cultivate it, it is a virtue that will give perspective in difficult times. This week as we move from national lockdown, to the tiered system and all its local implications may we discover the benefits of patience in times of tribulation.

The thing that will cement our hope and enable patience is prayer, and St Paul advises constancy in that. If we are tempted to wonder about why we might feel without hope, or are frustrated at our circumstances, maybe we need to look at our prayer life. That might give us an indicator, and also point the way forward.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you promise us a future and a hope, give us patience in all circumstances; may we learn to seek you in prayer day by day. Amen

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Monday 23 November
Sunday 22 November was the Feast of Christ the King - our patronal saint's day

CHRIST THE KING by Malcolm Guite
Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

Jesus tells us to remember the poor and the marginalised and it seems particularly important at this time when the temptation is to look inwards and think only of ourselves. There are so many homeless on the streets, refugees driven from their homes, lonely, cold and unloved. In our comfortable loving homes, let us do what we can to look outwards at those less fortunate and help them wherever and whenever we can.

‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”’ Matthew 25:34-36

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 156 November
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.   
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.      Psalm 114 verse 4, 7-8

In my daily progressive reading of the Psalms I always love it when I come to this one as the image of those mountains and hills skipping is such a delightful one and makes me smile. Not only does it make me smile but it also reminds me that everything in heaven and earth is integral to God’s Creative power. Everything has the innate power to reveal the joy and the wonder of that creation

In the past few days we have been given the oh so welcome news that it would seem that, thanks to the brilliant work of dedicated scientists an effective vaccine has been developed against Covid 19. Hearing such news I am sure that like me while you may not have actually skipped around your house  your hearts were lightened and there was a very real sense that the light at the end of the tunnel could be glimpsed.  A sense that the rocky and flinty path we have travelled for most of this past year will, by God’s grace, be smoothed out and we can find ourselves refreshed, reinvigorated and renewed by the springs of living water which are given us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There will I’m sure still be stones and obstacles in our way but the hope must surely remain as God’s loving purposes for us his children are once more revealed in all their redemptive mercy and kindness and we can walk in joy and in thankfulness upon a path of light.

All shall be Amen and Alleluia. We shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall know, we shall know and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. Behold our end which is no end.  Amen          David Adam

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader, Monday 9 November
I will lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? Psalm 121 verse1

Many people would cite Psalm 121 as their favourite, whether they live among the mountain peaks of the Himalayas or on the flat plains of the American Midwest.  It brings to mind the image of mountains climbing up to meet the sky from whence God promises his everlasting care and protection.  In these times of trial this seems to have enhanced meaning, as our very lifestyles seem to be under threat, and the vulnerability of all is brought to the fore.

This Psalm was often sung or recited by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.  At this time we too are pilgrims facing a journey through another period of lock down, with mountains to climb and challenges to meet.  There will be difficulties and frustrations, but also new ways to engage with others and with God.  As we lift our eyes to the hills, let us draw strength from the knowledge that the one who created and sustains us, who neither slumbers nor sleeps is also our fellow traveller, sustainer and comforter.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.

From David Grundy, Associate Minister, Monday 2 November 
Seeing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us     Hebrews 12 verse 1

Think for a moment of five people in your life who have inspired you – for me, that will be Martin Luther King, Maximilian Kolbe (both famous), and three people who I have known myself but who aren’t as famous.  People who inspire us give us a fresh energy and determination. They make us want to do better and they make us believe that we can. 

The writer of this letter to the Hebrews has just gone through a whole list of inspirational figures in the Old Testament, the impact of each of their lives and what some of them had to go through.  It’s a kind of Who’s Who of saintly heroes in the Old Testament. And then, at the end of this long series of tributes, he writes that because of this “great cloud of witnesses”, we ourselves should take heart and develop a fresh determination to “run the race”. Why a “cloud” ? I guess it’s because a cloud is there above us, but we can’t usually touch it. Similarly, these great saints of previous centuries are there - is it too fanciful to say that they’re looking down on us ? -  but not as tangibly as the people we meet day to day. And I should add that in the often parched land of the Middle East, clouds were a more welcome sight than they are in Surrey at the beginning of November.

As we enter another lockdown, and are perhaps tempted to  feel a sense of weariness with it all, let’s take a look at that “great cloud”, thank God for them  and let them give us renewed courage. 

Lord, sometimes the race seems a bit like hard going. Help us, Lord, to know that we are very much not alone, that we belong to people of faith throughout the ages and across the world, that we belong with them and they with us.  May we draw strength from them, and may we in turn give strength to others, through Christ our Lord. Amen

From Mad Berry, Monday 25 October
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Philippians 4 verse  8.

Paul writes this letter  to the Philippians from prison, probably under house arrest in Rome. Yet it has been described as his happiest letter; in the previous chapter his direction to them has been to “rejoice in the Lord”.  His circumstances were far from ideal and yet he seeks to encourage the church at Philippi;  Paul says that he has learnt the secret of being content  in any situation because he knows that he can do everything through Him who gives him strength.

He encourages his readers to think about the positive things listed in the above verse and yet the sense here is not just to “think about them” but more  to let them shape their attitudes and then to translate such thinking into action.

As we look at our world and the things that concern us--whether they be the big things like Covid 19, Brexit, the US election, or things closer to home in our families, our churches, our work...perhaps we can take Paul’s advice and allow the really good things that God has given us to focus our minds and spur us to action.

Lord as we look at our world we are aware of  division and suffering; may we not lose sight of your goodness. May we allow that goodness to shape our attitudes and move us to action to bring relief and peace. Amen.

From Tony Berry, Tuesday 29 October
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” Joshua 24 verse 15

This rather lovely verse comes from the moment in history when the Isrealites had taken the land of Canaan, and came to renew their covenant with God at a place called Schecham.

Joshua gives the people a choice “Choose today whom you will serve”.

It is the single mindedness of Joshua that draws me to this verse. So often we face choices in all sorts of areas of our lives. But what is the overriding principle that governs our decisions? During these difficult times having such a principle that not only governs but guides our decisions and gives shape to our lives. Without it we can be tossed and turned by the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Paul put it slightly differently in his letter to the Phillipian christians “ for me to live is Christ”

May God help us to have a similar determination to that of Paul and Joshua.

Loving Lord, may we be continually committed to serving you and following in the footsteps of your Son.
Amen

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Monday 12 October

'A Mighty Fortress is our God’ is a well-known hymn by Martin Luther based on Psalm 46: ‘God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble…The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.’

Around the tower of Castle Church, Wittenberg is written in large letters, ‘A mighty fortress is our God.’ This was the church on whose door Martin Luther was said to have nailed a copy of his famous 95 Theses, a list of criticisms against some of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the practice of selling ‘indulgences’ – basically a way of ‘buying’ your way in to heaven.

Luther wrote this famous hymn in the late 1520s. He had been excommunicated in 1521 for his writings against the church. Excommunication was a terrifying punishment that at that time meant you were no longer a member of the church and so would be condemned to hell for eternity. But Luther and those who supported the Reformation believed that God offered salvation through faith, not the ‘indulgences’ of the church. He put his trust in God, not the corrupt officials of the church at that time.

Often called the ‘Battle Hymn of the Reformation,’ Martin Luther's ‘A Mighty Fortress’ has been translated into almost every known language, and at least eighty different translations have been made into English!

As a new spike in the virus threatens, do we feel full of dread once again? What does the future hold, will we ever beat this virus? One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is ‘Do not be afraid.’ Why should we not be afraid? Because God is greater than any virus, he knows the outcome and he will be with us no matter what.

Our God is a mighty fortress, he will be with us through the difficult times and we can rest in him. ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.’ Proverbs 18 verse 10.

Lord, help us to trust you and rest in you, even when times are difficult and we don’t know what the future will bring. Amen.

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 5 October
Preserve me, O God, for in you I have taken refuge; I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my lord, all my good depends on you'.    Psalm 16 verse 1

Just recently we have celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the amazing courage of ‘The Few’ whose heroic and self- sacrificing exploits  of airmanship ensured that the skies were freed of  the threat caused by German bombers intent on mass destruction of our towns and cities. But of course, that was not by any means the end of the war and another five weary years of struggle lay ahead involving much hardship, anxiety and fear.

And it seems to me that this pandemic in a way mirrors that time. We ‘fought’ our way through that first lock down cheering on the NHS and key workers every Thursday evening just as people cheered those pilots  as they dived and wheeled in  pursuit of the enemy in the skies above Kent. But now we have become all too aware that lock down was only a preliminary battle and we are in this for the long haul; the war against Covid 19 has not been won and there is a lot more to endure yet before any sort of ‘normal’ can be restored.

I know people are anxious, I know they are fearful, I know there is much hardship just as there was in WW2 but what we must never forget is that God’s promise that we are His people and He is always with us and His love is a gift given to each and every one of us His adopted children. On dark days we need to learn to look for those glimmers of light, those slight rays of hope that reassure us and bring confidence that we are not alone. God is with us and if He is with us we know we can always trust in His loving purposes for us no matter what the temporal world may throw at us.

Your love is love because you know precisely who I am, and what I do, yet love me still.
Your love encompasses the pain and heartbreak of a world in conflict with itself.
Lord of the great, it’s difficult to understand quite how, but all the world’s concerns that scare me so, are somehow in your hand. And taking that to heart, I find my courage a little greater than it was before.        Eddie Askew