Christ Church

From the Leith Hill Ministry Team

 NHS Rainbow IM    By IM, 6 years

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 29 June
Every day, think as you wake up: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive, I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.”               The Dalai Lama
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

Life is truly precious for it is a gift from God our Father and as we recognise this surely our hearts can turn to hallowing God for all that he has given us. The profound realisation of the very wonder that is a human being who lives and breathes and above all else  has been given the unique capacity to love in response to the love shown to us by God is surely the most powerful reason of all to give praise, to give thanks, to hallow all that is life, all that is God given.  

John O’Donohue writes: ‘Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else. Though suffering and chaos befall us, they can never quench that inner light of providence’ What a wonderful thought as we dress each morning that we are also being dressed in the raiment of spirit given us by God who is the provider of all that is good, all that is true, all that is worthy of our praise, all that is hallowed.  Whatever happens to us, whether our days are filled with joy  and laughter or suffering and tears, the inner light of providence that is surely the Holy Spirit is always there for our protection, support, guidance and comfort so that we know ourselves to be held within the divine mystery and awesome wonder that is God. Do we wake every morning to an awareness of the sanctity of life, to the sanctity of each moment and ,in such awareness use our talents, our gifts to the glory of God and in so doing discover how truly precious our God given lives are?

Loving Lord, Creator of all that is  wonderful,  all that is glorious, all that is holy,  may we know ourselves daily to be clothed in the Spirit of your love for us and live each day in praise and thanksgiving for all your blessings which are so liberally poured out upon us. Amen

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader -Thursday  25 June
Jesus said to them, “Come away with me to a quiet place and rest awhile”
Mark 6 v31

In inviting his disciples to “come away” with him, Jesus recognized the need for them, and us, to put our busy lives aside for a while and spend time alone, not only offering our individual prayers to God but also meditating in silence, or waiting on his word, as the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8 v26).  The silence of meditation is not the silence of a graveyard, but rather of a garden growing, where much activity happens in the ground, leading to the formation of buds, blossoms, and fruit.  So, too, with meditation.  There is divine formation and activity going on beneath our consciousness that will produce fruit - particularly in the areas of compassion and creativity.  

This strange period of lock down has affected people in different ways.  There has been worry, frustration, the pain of separation or loss, and for some, an opportunity to relax and appreciate life’s simple pleasures.     Whatever your situation, I hope you can take time to spend a few quiet minutes with God, and come away refreshed.

Lord grant, that as we come to thee, through the crowded ways of life, we may be still, and know that thou art God.

From David Grundy, Associate Minister -  Monday 22 June 
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that those who believe in Him may have eternal life”  John 3, verse 16
“This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus  Christ, whom you have sent” John 17, verse

If I had £5 for every time I’d heard the words “God loves you” or “God loves us”, I would be able to afford a very nice cruise round the Caribbean on the proceeds. 

And it can all sound a bit glib, even desperately insensitive. For someone living with physical pain each day, or for someone whose whole world has just been shattered by the death of a very close relative, what does it mean to say that “God loves us” ?  

I believe that a lot of the answer to that question lies when we put these two verses from the gospel of John together. In the first, the demonstration of God’s love is that he offers eternal life. In the second, we hear Jesus’ clear definition of eternal life: it is how much we can know him and be in relationship with him

So many people instinctively feel that if they are seriously sick or suddenly in difficulty, they may have done something to deserve it. Is how much wealth or comfort or health I have a measure of God’s love for us ? If it were, God must have seriously disliked the apostle Paul and the prophet Jeremiah ! Such tame formulae have no place in our faith in God. 

No, His love is far from tame in this way. His love is in His giving of Himself to us. He gave Himself totally to us on the cross, with nails and pain and gasping for breath.  With one purpose only, that we might ‘know him’ fully.  “God so loved the world…..that we might have eternal life.” “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God.” 

According to Him, that is how we might begin to ‘measure’ His love. 

To God the Creator, who loved us first, and gave this world to be our home;
To God the Redeemer, who loves us and by dying and rising pioneered the way to freedom;
To God the Sanctifier, who spreads the divine love in our hearts,
Be praise and glory, today and always. 

From Mad Berry, Thursday 18 June
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples…..If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.
John  8 v32  and 36.

The idea of freedom seems to be uppermost in our minds at the moment and in the media. Whether it is the idea of racial freedom or in our more domestic setting, the freedom to shop and to meet in bubbles!

For many around the world freedom is an all encompassing longing; Gary Haughan, the CEO of International Justice Mission reported to the Western European Davos meeting in 2018 that there were more than 40 million people  living in slavery around the world.

Jesus was not silent on the issue of freedom; in Luke chapter 4 we read that He quoted the prophet Isaiah when he read from the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth. He said that He had come to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. A pretty all round ministry! In declaring the year of the Lord’s favour He was ushering in the Kingdom of God. When Isaiah was writing, his context was a longing  for Israel to be liberated from Babylonian captivity . Jesus is seeing the possibility of freedom from sin and all its consequences.

In John chapter 8, Jesus tells his Jewish followers that if they held to His teaching by living His way, then they would know the truth and it would set them free. He goes on to explain to them that they cannot free themselves from sin by keeping the “rules”. It is only by faith in Jesus that they and indeed we can experience that freedom from the  consequences of sin.

Later in the same gospel, Jesus makes a bold claim, that might make some feel uneasy!   In John 14 verse 6 He says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”. A bold claim--but how else can we deal with the problem of sin?

Food for thought?!

Lord Jesus, thank you that you have provided the way for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. Help us to follow you day by day, so that we may know the truth and indeed be set free.

From Tony Berry, Monday 15 June
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12  v 6-7

I often tease my son and son in law, who are both follicly challenged, about not causing our Heavenly Father much difficulty in counting the hairs on their particular heads. However there are wonderful truths in these two verses.

Thankfully as we have discovered more about the interdependence of things we recognise our responsibility to creation and can interpret Genesis in a more encompassing, and less human centric way. We might even respectfully re word a phrase in common use today and say that to God even “sparrows’ lives matter”.

The last two truths I managed to glean from these two verses are these. While it is true that “sparrows’ lives matter”, as does the whole of the created order, that does not mean that we are valued in the same way as them. If we can avoid the danger [or maybe even the sin of being human centric] we might be able to gain a right and positive understanding of our place in God’s heart. And lastly perhaps the words we need to hear most, and certainly need to understand correctly, are the three little words “Do not fear” - because we are valuable to Him. A relationship based on trusting in
the character of God will draw comfort from that assurance, even in the darkest of times.

Lord thankyou for our world and all that is good in it. Help me to trust that I am indeed valuable to you.

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Thursday 11 June
The other day, I listened to a response to the murder of George Floyd from TD Jakes, a visionary black church leader and author, who Time magazine called ‘the most influential preacher of the century.’

He was talking about speaking out against injustice and he said it seems most Christians feel that unity can be achieved by silence – not just about the terrible killing of George Floyd, but about the many injustices throughout black history. But he maintains that Churches have a responsibility to speak out.

In Luke 10: 25-37, Jesus tells the well-known story of the Good Samaritan, to answer the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ which was put to him by a lawyer who ‘wanted to justify himself’. Jesus says that it was
the man of another race – a race despised by the Jews – who helped the injured man – not the representatives of religion, the Priest and the Levite. They just walked on by. By staying silent about injustice, are we ‘just walking on by’?

Martin Luther King said this, ‘He who accepts evil without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it.’

We may not be able to get out and physically join the protests, but we can use our voices to fight injustice wherever it occurs. We can speak to our friends and family, use social media and write to our MP. Not just about the evil of racial prejudice, but the many other injustices in our society and across the world. The important thing is to not stay silent. Jesus constantly spoke out against the injustices in his society and, as his followers, the body of Christ, we are called to do the same.
St Teresa of Avila said, ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours.’ It is our responsibility to speak out and not to ‘pass by on the other side

Dear Lord
Forgive our silence. Help us to have the courage to speak out against injustice, to not stay silent while others are suffering. Show us how we can bring your love and justice into this needy world.

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 8 June
Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the varieties and realities of your existence. 
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Quite a few of my e-mail correspondents have referred to having the feeling of reprising Ground Hog Day as each day rolls into another with little or no discernible variation to each one. Reflecting on this it struck me that our lives pre Covid-19 had become ever more frenetic with our diaries crammed to bursting. Holidays, days out be it to the Wisley, Polesden Lacey or further afield; lots of retail therapy seeking the latest ‘must have’ purchase and of course endless ‘tete a tetes’ over a Starbucks or Costa coffee or maybe even a lunch at some pleasant country pub.  And then of course there were activities such as pilates, golf, bridge, book clubs, walking groups and so much more which provided a regular diary slot. of caring for them No wonder we struggled to fit it all in. No wonder we sometimes felt we were on a treadmill of continuous busyness.

Even with the easing of the lock down many of us continue to live a mostly confined life akin in some respects to the lives of millions in third world countries in its almost inevitable monotony. Our homes are where we must discover our pleasures, our sense that life still has so much to offer us and is full of a multitude of blessings which too often we carelessly take for granted. Home is where we can discover within each day the joy and the gladness of sharing both the place and the time with God. How can any other activity match up to such a gift?

David Steindel-Rast wrote: ‘The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful’  May we all discover such joy in our daily recognition of and gratitude for all our blessings that God our Father pours out on us.

Lord our God, as with all creation we offer you the life of this new day, give us grace to love and serve you to the praise of Jesus Christ our Lord.   

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader -Thursday 4 June
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.
John 14 v27

The Rev Anthony Robinson has said that the world offers three kinds of peace. "There is the peace of having all the best stuff. There is the peace of high walls and impregnable defences. And there is the peace of getting away from it all."

Jesus offers something different: the peace of God, which passes all understanding.  The Hebrew word for such peace is Shalom.  Shalom is better translated as “wholeness” or “harmony”, which connects us with all of creation.  With shalom, the lion and the lamb lie down together, as all things come into right relation with each other and with God.

Unable to physically engage with others today, we may find shalom difficult.  Some of the clearest symbols of this are email and twitter.  They are quick but antiseptic, void of handwriting or stationery.  Skype and Zoom give us vision but lack clear connection.  The evening news gives us the illusion of sharing people’s lives, but is little more than abstractions.  Shalom comes when we can break through those abstractions and truly face the reality of the other, by letting our eyes brighten in a smile behind our masks as we thank the cashier, by looking, really looking at injustice and suffering in many parts of the world and remembering that we are all wholly dependent on grace.  Finally, and most important, shalom comes with prayer. In these troubled times, let us pray for all who suffer through hardship, stress and loss.  Let us pray for shalom, in all places that may be troubled, in the streets of the world, in our homes and in our hearts. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep our hearts and minds
in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son, Jesus Christ

From David Grundy, Associate Minister Monday 1 June Prayer and Common Sense
But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat 
Nehemiah 4 v9

A friend of mine was once being driven by an extremely committed and enthusiastic Christian who was a less than careful driver. My friend urged him to drive a bit slower and more carefully, to which the young man responded “Jesus is with us.” My friend couldn’t help but respond “In which case, I hope he’s wearing his seatbelt.” Faith, after all, requires our co-operation, otherwise it is mere presumption.

In the middle of the 5th century BC,  a devout Jew called Nehemiah – and most scholars believe that the account is historically accurate – was called by God to rebuild the shattered walls of Jerusalem after the city had been defeated and ransacked by the Babylonians. There was strong opposition from non-Jews living in the area, who didn’t want the Jewish nation to rebuild. This opposition led to the threat of a major attack to stop the project in its tracks. So, what did Nehemiah get his men to do ? “We prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

I love the balance of this. He saw BOTH prayer AND  practical measures  as working effectively hand in hand. It is not a question of ‘either…or’ but of ‘both…and’. It’s a balance I strive for and often fall short of, but I recognise it as the right approach to any ‘threat’. The relevance to our current situation hardly needs spelling out. 

Lord, in all situations that involve difficulty, help me to act and behave as if the solution depends entirely on what I do and how I act. And help me to pray as if the solution depends entirely on You. Give me and others both good sense and genuine faith at this key moment in our nation’s life. 

From Mad Berry, Thursday 28 May -  Pentecost
I will ask the father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever- the Spirit of truth. John 14 v16

As Jesus prepared to face His death, He promised the disciples that He would send the Spirit to them, to live with and within them. The final sentence of Matthew’s gospel holds the same promise; as Jesus returned to heaven, He says that He will be with them always, to the very end of the age.
When we think of Go
d, we perhaps can grasp the idea of a heavenly father, and Jesus as saviour. However when it comes to thinking about the Spirit we are sometimes less sure how to describe the presence and the experience of this dimension of God. At the very beginning of his gospel Matthew quotes a prophecy from Isaiah “The virgin will  be with child and will give birth  to a son, and they will call him Immanuel-which means God with us”
The story seems to begin and end with the promise that God will be with us. His presence with us comes in the person of  the Holy Spirit. If we feel that is a bit “scary” or out of our “comfort zone”!  we can find reassurance in Jesus’ words that His Father gives good gifts to His children, and “how much more will he give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” Luke 11 v13.
We are celebrating Pentecost in a very different way this year, with only technology to help us connect. Pentecost is a celebration of the coming of the Spirit as we read in Acts Ch 2, and marks the birth of the early church. A church that began in the power of the Spirit, changing and transforming lives in dramatic ways
As we celebrate Pentecost in such a different way this year, let’s rejoice in the Father’s gift of the Spirit, being reassured that this is a good gift from a good Father. Let’s be amazed that the creator of our world has promised to be with us always and let’s resolve to experience more of this “God with us” presence every day.
Lord Jesus….. we are amazed that you have promised to always be with us by your Spirit. May we be aware of your loving presence at this time of Pentecost and beyond

From Tony Berry, Monday 25 May
Why do you stand far off O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 10 v 1

You might think this is a rather negative verse to choose for a thought which is meant to be encouraging. It might indeed be negative, but it is also completely honest. The writer is not writing something that only they have experienced, this has been a universal feeling for individuals for millennia.

But of course it is not the only story. Running alongside that vein of a sense of being abandoned, for others there is also a vein of a sense of the presence of God in those very same times.

How is it that people of faith can come to such very different conclusions about the reality of God’s presence or lack of it? One thing is for sure, if God is who we think He is, the problem does not lie with him. And maybe even  the word “problem” is not the right word to use.

Perhaps it is our sense of injustice and unfairness that leads us to feel He is not around when we need him most. Yet maybe He is present in that very sense of injustice, perhaps He is present in our sense of pain and grief. Maybe He is making His presence felt through those very feelings that lead us to conclude He is far away, or hiding. Where is he in those times of trouble ?- He is in us who have opened up our lives to Him. He is in those acts of kindness and support we seek to offer to others.

The questions the Psalmist is asking are very real and genuine and come from real and genuine feelings; but the answers to them may not be as frightening as those feelings may seem to suggest.

Lord when I don’t sense your presence and feel lost and alone, remind of your promise to never leave me or forsake me.

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Thursday 21 May  -  Ascension Day
“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:31

This is one of my all-time favourite verses and repeating it with every step helped to get me to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro!

It’s interesting that we associate good with ‘up’: we look up at a beautiful sky, to heaven, to God; we climb up to see a beautiful view, even climbing mountains can be good – for the soul if not the aching joints! 

Many bible verses encourage us to look up – perhaps this helps us to get a new view, a new perspective on the world, to lift us from our earth-bound concerns and see the glory that is around us.

Eagles soar high above - seeing the world from their lofty vantage point, carried on thermals and strong wings. In this verse, God promises to support us if we hope in Him, giving us energy and hope to soar for Him, even when we feel at the end of our human strength.

Psalm 121 is called a Song of Ascents. It is a beautiful assertion of God’s care for us. If you are feeling a bit down or worried about the present situation, read this Psalm and ‘lift your eyes’ to the Mighty Creator who cares for each one of us and will ‘renew our strength’ if we focus on Him and all that is good.

Dear Lord, help us to trust in your strength and to see the world from your perspective. Give us the energy we need to live our lives for you and to always see the beauty around us. 

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 18 May
Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys; having such a revered esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels.   Thomas Traherne

I have always loved these words by Traherne and each time I read them they help remind me to take time to truly appreciate and give thanks for all the wonders of God’s created world. And at this time of lock down one blessing we have is that of time; time to stop, time to look, time to listen, time to reflect and in so doing feel and sense the beauty that is around us. Beauty that can be found in a daisy growing in the crack of a pavement, an exquisitely formed dandelion clock, the twittering of sparrows, the hum of a bee, the constantly changing cloud patterns in the skies above and thus  know heaven really is to be found on this divinely blessed earth. And in recognising this blessing we can find ourselves filled with true joy and inspired to respond with heartfelt thanks and praise to God who is both our Creator and Father.

Camille Pissarro wrote: ‘Blessed are those who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.’

Loving God help us to live  one  day at a time and in so doing may we discover some of the infinite variety and riches of your Creation and in so doing be blessed not only with a sense of joy and wonder but also with serenity. 

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - 14 May 
He does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.
Job 5: v

Do you believe in miracles? The Bible is full of miraculous stories of healing and restoration, along with God’s grace and love shining through “ordinary” people like you and me.  The Good News is that miracles continue to happen, and we see them all around the globe today.

We see the miracle of 99 year old Captain Tom Moore raising over £ 12m for the NHS by walking around his garden.  We see the miracle of children writing letters and cards and drawing pictures to send to isolated elderly people.  We see the miracle of front line workers putting themselves in danger every day to help any and all in need.  And yes - occasionally we see miraculous recoveries from the most desperate cases of coronavirus.  What we are seeing is “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things for love.

Mother Teresa has said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Romans 15: v13

From David Grundy, Associate Minister Monday 11 May
“We walk by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5 v7

Somebody once said that leading a Christian life is like driving with fog lights: you get a pretty clear picture of the 10 metres or so directly in front of you, but beyond that, you can’t see a thing. It’s not a perfect picture – after all, fog is essentially unpleasant, especially to drive through – but in terms of seeing just the few metres in front, it's an accurate image of what it means to follow Christ.
Everyone is now asking what the way out of the lockdown will look like, and when they will be able to return to certain places and activities. We understandably want an idea of what the next few weeks might ‘look like’. This of course is right in terms of planning for business, hospital treatment, weddings, holidays etc. 

However, let’s remember that following Jesus is often a case of NOT knowing where He might take us, but trusting that He himself has an overview that far exceeds our own wisdom. For those things that you can’t see or predict over these coming weeks, He calls us to trust. Because He CAN see the road ahead already.

We’ve just celebrated VE day, so maybe it’s appropriate to remember King George 6th’s words to the nation at Christmas in 1939, quoting the poem by Minnie Haskins:
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."

From Mad Berry, Thursday 7 May
Careless in the care of God. 
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 
Matthew  6 v26 (NIV).

These verses come in the middle of the sermon on the mount which stretch across three chapters in Matthews’ gospel. Jesus is giving very practical instructions about living a life of faith, some of which seem to present enormous challenges to us. Yet all these challenges are undergirded by a knowledge that we have  a loving heavenly Father who wants the best for His children.

Being told not to worry is a tall order especially  when we see the effects of covoid 19… and now perhaps the worry has morphed into “how do we go back to a “safe” lifestyle post-lock down?

The Message translation is very helpful here;
“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more than to Him than birds”

I love the idea of living    “careless in the care of God”... but what a challenge!

Maybe as we enjoy the birdsong in these quieter days, we can imagine and maybe move towards living  “carelessly in the care of God”

Father, as we face many challenges may we remember that you are indeed our loving heavenly Father---may we begin to live carelessly in your care.  

From Tony Berry, Monday 4 May
Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139 v23,24

I often read this Psalm at funerals. It is a great anthem about the greatness and cosmic nature of God. But it concludes with these verses which bring it right back to God and us. This great amazing creator God is interested in me. He knows my anxieties, He sees deep into my true self. It takes courage to invite God into the process of self examination, to risk Him revealing stuff about ourselves to ourselves, but the writer of this Psalm is determined to ask God to do it. Many of our thoughts, reaction patterns, words and deeds may be hurtful to ourselves, those whom we love, and those around us. May we have the courage of the Psalmist to ask God to lead us away from those patterns of behaviour into ways that are life enhancing and lifegiving for our sakes and for everyone else’s too.

Creator God. in this time of great anxiety; may I know your merciful search revealing to me my hurtful ways, and your gracious guidance leading me towards change; and in so doing, reveal the nature of your Kingdom.

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Thursday 30 April
Thought for the day 29/04/2020 – Grace and Peace
Romans 1:7

Mad and Tony kindly gave me a book for my birthday: ‘God is for Us’ by Simon Ponsonby – it’s a study on Paul’s letter to the Romans and I’m enjoying it very much.

Simon Ponsonby reminds us that as Christians, we are all called to be saints. In the first chapter of Romans, verse 8, Paul writes, ‘To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

What a beautiful greeting and encouragement! 

The Greek word ‘Charis’ is translated as Grace: Paul and the early church used this word to indicate unearned favour, something completely undeserved, something that we could never have achieved by ourselves. This means that we are saints by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, not by our own works.

‘Eirene’ is a Greek word for Peace which can mean a state of national tranquility; conditions for the restoration of peace - how we long for that!

In Aramaic the word Peace is translated as ‘Shalom’, which is a deeper ancient concept of peace, meaning wholeness, health, safety and prosperity - so needed at the moment.

In the two words ‘Grace’ – charis in Greek – and ‘Peace’ – eirene in Greek or shalom in Aramaic, Paul brings together two traditional greetings from the West and the East, blessings that Jesus has brought into the whole world, bringing us all together.

These are trying times, but God has promised He will help us through whatever trials come along, so as we pray for those who are suffering across the world, let’s ask for God’s Charis and Shalom for them and for ourselves, whatever we are facing

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 27 April
O Lord, how many are my adversaries; many are they who rise up against me.  Many are they who say to my soul ‘There is no help for you in your God.’ But you, Lord are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.  (Ps 3: 1-3).

At this present time of lock down not just here in the UK but throughout the world we are certainly surrounded by one very real adversary, namely the corona virus and a great many metaphorical adversaries. Adversaries such as fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, helplessness and perhaps worst of all hopelessness. Whoever we are and however upbeat and positive we try to be I am sure at one time or another we have been assailed and even temporarily brought down by such adversaries and there is no shame in that.

The only shame would be if we had allowed ourselves to believe for one moment that there is no help for us in God. In all our battles with these adversaries God remains a shield about us and with that ever- present divine protection we can surely learn to lift our heads again and know that we are not defenceless. With God beside us and within us we can lift our hanging heads and look ahead to the future, however different from the past it may prove to be, with complete confidence and hope.
Look back, remember and have confidence; the future like the past has God in it; His cupped hands bear the whole of time and you; the future holds nothing that can escape His covenantal care.  

O Lord, how many are my adversaries; many are they who rise up against me.  But you, Lord are a shield about me, in these difficult times may you indeed be the lifter up of my head.

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - Thursday 23 April 
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love'.  Ephesians 4 v1-2

Reflecting on her time in London during the blitz, a woman recently commented  “We had no control over the bombs and where they fell.  The only thing we could control was our behaviour”
 Sometimes, in the great scheme of things, we may think to ourselves how much we really don’t want our current situation.  But that is not for us to decide.  What we must decide now, is how we will live with the hand we have been dealt.  While much has been lost, many of us have also been given the gift of time—time for contemplation and reflection, time to reconnect with old friends or adversaries, time to make amends, to forgive, or to ask forgiveness, time to give thanks, and if need be to realign.  Wherever we may find ourselves, this moment give us a chance to draw closer to God, and to sense his presence, comforting, encouraging and filling us all with his Spirit of wisdom, courage and love.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore
 Harry Emerson Fosdick

From David Grundy, Associate Minister Monday 20 April
“Stay in the city and wait….”  Luke 24

So, the disciples have moved from alarm, to ‘can we believe it ?’, then to amazement and the realisation that they weren’t dreaming, then to firm conviction. Jesus IS alive again.

One might have thought that at this point, God would want to mobilise the believers as quickly as possible. It’s as though all of history has waited for this world-changing event, and after it, there is surely no point in a moment’s delay. And yet waiting is exactly what Jesus commands them to do. “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In other words, stay right where you are and wait.  Furthermore, we are used to the fact that Pentecost comes about seven weeks after Easter, but they had no idea how long the wait would be.

I’m not scratching around for a link when I say that this surely is very similar to where many of us find ourselves now in terms of this pandemic and lockdown: we’ve on one level got used to a new rhythm, but the statistics are still alarming, there are people we know facing tragedy and loss, and there is no end in sight yet. We just have to wait.

So, why did Jesus instruct them to wait ? For me, part of the answer lies in the extraordinary meeting with Peter by the lakeside.

Even after the resurrection, Peter must have been haunted by the fact that his last role in the life of Jesus had been to deny he knew him. He had completely let Jesus down, denying him three times. Then, some time after the resurrection, Jesus meets Peter on the shores of Galilee and talks with him (John 20, verses 15 to 17). The Lord asks him three times - significantly, the same number of times Peter had denied him-  “Do you love me ?” Peter once again professes his love and loyalty,  but this time more aware of what he was saying. And then it is that Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep”. He is  reinstating Peter. The relationship is whole again, and the memory of denial and failure is healed. Peter is now ready for the remarkable role he will have when the time arrives.

We have no idea how long this lockdown will last. But we can, I think, be confident that just as Jesus knew exactly what he was doing through this relatively fallow period after the resurrection, God is also using this apparently inactive period we are in now.

God our Father, you have created us in your image,
with a mind to understand your works, a heart to love you and a will to serve you. In these coming days, increase in us that knowledge, that love and that obedience, that we may grow daily in your likeness. 

From Mad Berry, Thursday 16  April 
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians ch4 v4-7  (NIV).

These verses present quite a challenge--to always rejoice in God--to not be anxious-about anything and to be thankful.. And yet the promise is a peace that is like no other. God’s peace, that even in our present situation--does two things--it transcends understanding and it guards our hearts and our minds.

I’ve been struck by how often the bible talks about God knowing our hearts and whilst that might make us feel slightly apprehensive--what a comfort that we don’t have to pretend to God!
We are all reacting differently to this lockdown and the stresses that it inevitably brings. Those who love being out and about and gain their energy from interaction with people, are probably feeling a bit stir crazy. Those who long for a bit more solitude in life and a slower pace are revelling in the quietness, and yet may be feeling a bit guilty that they’re not more discomforted.
Whichever category you fit into or are somewhere in between--we can be assured that God knows our hearts and our personalities--he created us--each one of us to be unique.

So if we are someone who is climbing the walls--God understands that need for interaction with people and whilst we may not be able to do that physically at the moment --we have a heavenly Father that understands. Similarly if we are revelling in the solitude--we can honour Him with that too and offer that experience to Him.

God is not a headteacher in the sky who is blaming us for our feelings, but a loving Father who is tender with His children;

Ps 103 tells us that “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust”.

So if you’re feeling a bit dusty --take heart.  There is someone who understands.

Heavenly Father  we thank you for the gift of your peace that transcends our understanding and guards our hearts and minds. Thank you that you understand  our struggles and are tender towards us and filled with compassion.
In Jesus name.

From Tony Berry, Easter Monday 13 April
“But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death……”
1 Corinthians ch15 v20  [From the Good News Bible]

I love this verse. It comes in the middle of St Paul explaining to those early Christians how central to the Christian faith the resurrection is. Yes it is hard to grasp, that is exactly what Paul was having to deal with in the Corinthian church, they found it hard to get their heads around just as many do today.

This generation is facing mortality in a way it has never had to do. Previous generations sadly lost loved ones in this sort of number through untreatable disease and illnesses, and through wars and of course on a bigger scale than this. But for us this is new and intense. It brings great anxiety and fear.

So maybe it is worth pondering on what the Bible has to say about life, and death and what lies beyond it, and maybe discovering what is called the Christian hope.

Heavenly Father we pray for those who are facing death at this time, may your love surround them and may they find hope by putting their trust in you. 

From Hilary Swift, Lay Reader, Thursday 9 April
Maundy Thursday
Yesterday marked the beginning of Passover: a Jewish festival of freedom from slavery. It celebrates the story in Exodus which tells how the Israelites, who were in slavery to the Egyptians, were told by God to mark their houses with the blood of a lamb to show that they belonged to God and so they were saved from death – ‘passed over’. Moses then led the Israelites on a long journey to freedom. Jewish people continue this celebration of their liberation to the present day.

John’s Gospel, chapter 13 tells us that ‘before the festival of the Passover’, Jesus and His disciples were to have a meal together. At this, His Last Supper, the day before His crucifixion, Jesus gave His disciples a new command - "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

He demonstrated this love by washing His disciples’ feet – the lowliest task a servant had to perform. Washing the dusty feet of people in sandals could not have been pleasant, particularly when they had to walk everywhere, through dirt and dust.

John 13:2-9  "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Lovely, impetuous Peter as usual rushes in to ask for more, but Jesus says ‘no’ this is enough.
‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin ‘mandatum’ – meaning ‘command’. The tradition of the sovereign giving ‘Maundy Money’ dates back to the reign of Edward 1st and until the death of King James II, the monarch showed their humility by also washing the feet of selected poor people. Every Holy Thursday, Pope Francis continues the tradition by washing and kissing the feet of prisoners to commemorate and follow Jesus’ actions with His disciples. This year it may not happen because of COVID-19. The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. It means we can’t be physically close to our friends and family in the same way, we can’t hug them – or wash their feet! But we can show our obedience to Jesus’ command in other ways. Some of us are on ‘furlough’ from work, giving us extra time to do other things. Many people are taking the opportunity to do more in their neighbourhood for those who are in lockdown, the vulnerable and the sick. One positive that has come from this situation is that we are seeing ‘love in action’ more often. 

Perhaps we can also remember those outside our community who are suffering at this time: those without beautiful countryside around them, those who are in prison, those in countries with no NHS to tend to them when they are sick.

Even after the pandemic is over and we return to normal life, let us continue to remember Jesus’ mandate, His new commandment, to love one another and to humble ourselves as He did, by putting others’ needs before our own, to follow the example of our Servant King.

Philippians 2:3-5 – ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’

From Rev Virginia Smith, Monday 6 April - The Way to the Cross
(Jesus said) ‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’      
John ch13 v4-6

This week we will all be making our personal journey to the foot of the cross and then beyond to the breaking of the light on Easter morning. A journey of intense pain and sorrow; a journey which will surely make us stop and think of the part we too have played in pinning our Lord to the cross with the nails of our sin, both personal and collective.  But having walked through all the searing, harrowing events leading to Calvary we continue onwards; Calvary is not the end but the means to a new beginning; a new dawn. Come Easter Sunday we will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, be enabled to lift our voices and join with millions in both earth and heaven to make that wonderful shout of acclamation  ‘Alleluia, He is risen, He is risen indeed!’ 

This week also we will continue the global journey dictated by the Corona virus and it, too, is a journey of pain and sorrow casting dark shadows into all our lives. But this is where we are surely called to heed the words of Jesus and know that this way too has the presence of our Lord who is our Saviour, our Redeemer walking with us. We cannot know when it will end but what we do know is that on each and every day we can trust that we  follow in the steps of Christ and He will in His infinite mercy and protection lead us onwards. The world we discover at the end may be quite different to the one we know now, and the hope has already been expressed by many that it will indeed be a better world, a far more compassionate less self-serving world. Whatever the truth the darkness will, in time, give way as it did on that first Easter Sunday to a day when the shadow cast by the Corona virus will be made impotent. But for now let us live each day in the Easter  light of Christ shining into our hearts and our
homes, bringing the blessing of God’s love for all His children.

Follow Me by Ian Adams
You don’t have to forge your own path.
It’s not all down to you
Follow me.
I’ve taken this path - and the paths you may yet take - before you.
I am with you on the road.
I am beside you.
And I am ahead of you.
Follow me.
Not from a distance.
But close.
So close that you can sense my breathing, and I yours.                       
Follow me.

From Martha Golden, Lay Reader - Thursday 2 April
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27 v1

As we settle into what is likely to be a long period of isolation and self quarantining, we find ourselves facing unprecedented uncertainty along with an awareness of our fragility.  Most of us have not yet reached a point of despair.  Not many that we know have fallen sick, or lost a loved one to coronavirus – not yet.  But in the long run we may wonder what lies ahead for us and others, our health, our livelihoods, our future.

Though physically apart, we are not alone, but united by our common humanity and by the Lord who brings freedom from fear, and comfort in distress.  So let us pray to God for strength and courage in the days that lie ahead.

Heavenly Father, whatever the future may bring we pray that you may remove the presence of fear and anxiety from our hearts and grant us strength to face whatever difficulties or pain cannot be avoided.  May we show your love to others and bring them comfort and peace.

From David Grundy, Associate Minister -  Monday 30 March
"Cast all your cares on to Him, because He cares for you” 
1 Peter ch5 v7

There have been no shortage of people finding positive sides to this whole lockdown situation - neighbours becoming more aware of each other, environment having some ‘recovery’ time, and many people saying how grateful they have become for things previously taken for granted. But there’s still no doubt that for many people, there is right now a great sense of anxiety and uncertainty.

So, this verse gives some very practical advice. ‘Cast’ your cares on to Him. The suggestion is not to place our anxieties neatly and in an orderly fashion at God’s feet, but to ‘throw’ them. It makes me think of taking off a heavy rucksack after a day’s walking and dumping it on the ground – a wonderful sense of freedom, not having to carry it a moment longer.  The word for to ‘cast’ comes only twice in the New Testament, the other being on Palm Sunday, when the crowds ‘cast’ their garments on the donkey for Jesus to ride on. The donkey then carried those garments. In other words, let God carry the anxiety for you. This is not a promise that God will fix everything which worries us. Nor is it an excuse for complacent inaction. But it is a promise that He will receive our worries, care about them, and carry them for us.

Heavenly Father, who has taught us to cast all our care on to you: set us free from all anxieties today, that we can truly give ourselves to serving others, unhindered by any fears, and guarded at all times by your peace, which passes all understanding; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

From Tony Berry - Thursday 26 March
'For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps'. 
1 Peter ch2 v21

As I was walking on the beach in those days when we were allowed to, I noticed that ahead of me were a set of beautiful prints in the sand made by a walking seabird. The sand was smooth and I could see where the bird had left each footprint in clear detail. They were so beautiful, that there was a temptation to follow.

I wonder if we leave attractive footprints as we go about our daily lives? Do people see where we have travelled and want to follow? Jesus was always calling people to follow Him; His challenge was to take up a new way of living and to begin the adventure of new life with Him. Paul follows his great description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 with the challenge to “follow the way of love”

The challenge for me is to ask myself what kinds of footprints am I leaving? Am I leaving footprints that speak of a life that follows Jesus and serve as an invitation to follow and find out more? Our 21st Century world does not naturally point towards God, so maybe the challenge is even sharper today than ever before. My hope is that as we go about our daily lives in these difficult times we leave traces of God’s grace in our wake.

Lord Jesus Christ, as we seek to follow you, may the footprints we leave be signposts of your love and grace. May we bring hope and comfort to those around us in these difficult times.

From Tony Berry -  Monday 23 March
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning”
Lamentations ch 3 v22-23

At times like this we may feel that a verse like this is simply not living in the real world. But it was a statement of faith made two and a half thousand years ago when the experience of the writer was nothing but death, destruction, enforced movement of people, and very little hope. In spite of everything, and in the face of people’s despair, he or she chose to look for the good things and in them see the hand of a loving God. I hope you might be able to do the same.

Dear Heavenly Father, give us patience and hope in these difficult times. Help us learn that in spite of what we may see, you really are the Sovereign God. May we look for you mercies each day and reflect your steadfast love to those around us.