Reflections were initiated early in the Pandemic as a weekly series; a Leith Hill Benefice initiative, written by Tony and Mad Berry, Martha Golden, David Grundy, Virginial Smith and Hilary Swift published on the websites of Christ Church, St James Abinger, St Johns Wotton and St Marys Holmbury. Following Tony's retirement they are a fortnightly series written by David, Hilary, Martha and Virginia.
However, with legal restrictions relating to Covid lifted, the time has come to bring the series to a close, so Virginia's contribution for 28 March is the last we will be publishing. However, those for 2022 to date will be kept on our website for the time being.
From Virginia Smith for the two weeks commencing 28 March
I will lift up my eyes. Psalm 121
Driving the other day I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the news coming from Ukraine and very close to tears which I am sure is an emotion common to most people at this time. Such appalling, such terrible news of unmerited suffering is almost beyond comprehension, and it is quite natural that it makes us look down and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair in the face of such almost unimaginable inhumanity to man. But then I remembered that we are called always, always, to have trust in the Lord and if we have such trust then, surely, we must be prepared to lift our eyes from that slough of desponse as Bunyan described it and look up. Look up to discover where the light of Christ and the love of Christ continues to break through to confirm that trust and give us a sure and certain hope.
And it was then I thought of the PCC members who had waived the funeral fees and the trustees of a local charity who had donated so generously to that same funeral because the deeply grieving son had had to borrow money to pay for it. And I recalled being told that at the teas being held to raise money to help the victims of the war in Ukraine someone had offered to buy a perfectly ordinary cake for the astonishingly generous sum of £50 and asking if this was enough!
And, finally, I thought of hearing, just this week, of how the parents of five children had also fostered no less than sixty- two other children and joked that they had never known a time without nappies and bottles in their home.
Reflecting on these examples made me realise that when we learn to look up, however awful the news, and take note of the needs of others and respond to them that, once more, we are made aware that the light of Christ and the love of Christ can be seen and our trust in his infinite love for us renewed. Is it any wonder that we like to refer to Christ as both the Light and the Hope of the World and surely, we need that Light, that Hope more than ever right now?
Lord, help us not to be dragged down by the sorrows and sin of the world but learn instead to put our trust in you; to look up and be comforted and strengthened by your love so that in that love we may respond to those of your children in need and help bring your light into dark places and make your Kingdom known. Amen
From Hilary Swift for the two weeks commencing 14 March
PRAY FOR UKRAINE
We may feel that our prayers for the situation in Ukraine and many other places in the world where there is war, sickness and poverty, make very little difference. Please be encouraged by this message I was sent from someone working for an organisation called Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in Ukraine: “For the last three days there has been a storm raging on the Black Sea. It has been so ferocious that Russia’s naval ships have not been able to dock at port. Also just yesterday, my husband Ruslan got a phone call from a maternity ward in a small town just outside of Kyiv that had been destroyed from the bombing. The maternity ward was in desperate need of all supplies and gave him a list. He took the list, walked out the door of our building, and all of a sudden a truck pulled up outside. Out jumped a group of Norwegians who had come over from a YWAM base in Romania. The van was full of humanitarian aid, including every item that was on the list from the maternity ward. Ruslan was able direct the supplies to exactly where they were needed".
I was just talking to a colleague at YWAM Kyiv, and they are feeding 150 people a day right now at their base. They are talking about how eight kilos of macaroni is feeding 150 people – food is being multiplied.
These stories are what has been lifting our spirits. It is the support and prayers of the body of Christ around the world that are making the difference. This is a “such a time as this” (Esther 4 verse 14) moment for the Russian and Ukrainian people, but really for the world.
Loving Lord, Please keep us faithful in prayer for our brothers and sisters in areas of conflict throughout the world. Encourage us that your word tells us that prayer really does change things. AMEN
From Martha Golden for the two weeks commencing 28 February
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.
As we watch the unfolding events in Ukraine, we join with people of goodwill throughout the world and hold in our hearts the people of that country as they face the reality of overwhelming military aggression; and we pray for the all vulnerable and endangered lives in this and other conflicts.
Warfare and the quest for power dishounours God’s love. Unjust military aggression and silencing the voices of free people plays no part in the building of His Kingdom.
In the beginning, God gave the humans the freedom to eat the forbidden fruit. Jerusalem did not heed the warning of Jeremiah, the city was destroyed and the people went into exile. God gives us the freedom to wage war against our brothers and sisters. He will not stay the hand of the aggressors, but he is present and active in the resulting smoke and rubble, bringing comfort to the wounded and despairing, and strength and hope to those who work to bring peace in the face of conflict.
The night before he died, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to save us from our sin. We put our trust in God whose life giving spirit moved across the waters and calmed the stormy seas, as we pray for peace in Ukraine and in every place where God’s beloved children are hurting or in peril.
God of love, we hold before you the people of Ukraine and all places that face the tragedy of war in their land. Strengthen and comfort them in their fear and protect them from danger. Heal the broken hearted and grant grace and wisdom to all leaders that war may cease and peace be restored. We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
From David Grundy for the two weeks commencing 14 February
And the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians verse 13
Well, first of all, happy Valentine’s Day. A great day for celebrating love or for being grateful for marriages we have or for love that has enriched us in the past. And there are few adults in the country who haven’t at some point encountered the great hymn to ‘love’ that is 1 Corinthians 13.
But there are some sections of it that we easily miss. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV). The verb was one that was used in bookkeeping, so to translate it as to ‘keep no record’ of wrongs is accurate. There are degrees of keeping a record. There’s dwelling on an injury received and being determined to make one’s presence felt in response. Or there’s just quietly, almost imperceptibly, caring less for that person, and making less effort in that relationship. Both are ways of “keeping a record”. It’s incredibly hard not to. But one can get better at it by being aware of one’s own thoughts and motives. It is part of loving. “Love keeps no record of wrongs”
And then there’s “love always hopes” (NIV), or in the King James version “hopeth all things”. The archetypal pessimist will usually defend their pessimistic outlook by saying “I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic”. A grounded faith also needs to be realistic, and accept things we don’t like. But it does not just look at the human factors, and refer to that as ‘realism’. It believes that God Himself is part of ‘reality’. As somebody once said, there is a “godly optimism” about love. Hoping is part of loving.
So, how good a lover am I?
And incidentally, keeping no record of wrongs and being optimistic about the future of a relationship are vital ingredients to a healthy romance!
A prayer from former Archbishop William Temple
O Jesus, Master and Lord, pour into our hearts thine own heroic love; that being filled with love, we may know the power of love which passeth knowledge, and live in the unknown power of love, to win others to trust in love, to the glory of God, who is love. Amen.
From Virginia Smith for the two weeks commencing 31 January
The Lord said to David: it is you who shall be shepherd over my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel. …David was thirty years old when he began to reign and he reigned for forty years. 2 Samuel 5 verses 2b and 4.
On the 2nd February of this year, 2022, we will celebrate the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second an amazing seventy years ago. Never before has a British monarch reached a Platinum Jubilee. Who can forget that poignant photo of the twenty-five year old woman dressed all in black stepping from the plane which had brought her back from Africa? A twenty-five year old who had at one moment been enjoying a carefree holiday with her handsome young husband and the next was taking on all the immense responsibilities and the unending and onerous duties of being a monarch. No longer just ‘your royal highness’ but now ‘your majesty’ whose responsibility was not just to rule over Great Britain but over a commonwealth of nations.
Just thinking about it one surely feels daunted at such a task; a task which she has vowed never to relinquish seeing it as her God given role from which only death can separate her. A role which, at times, must have seemed incredibly lonely and difficult and yet one from which she has never shirked. Like any of us, mistakes have been made as the press has always been quick to point out, but her resolution to be ‘shepherd’ over her people and giving them an example of unwavering devotion to duty and service has never faltered. An example which, I am sure, we would acknowledge we would really struggle to emulate; struggle always to be ‘regal’ no matter how incredibly dull the company, how boring the speeches or how much we might long to take off our regal hat, kick off our shoes and just stop being queen for a week or so.
And what must surely impress us most is her Christian faith which has carried her through all the challenges, the pain, and all the hurts which have been inflicted over the years. Again, who will ever forget the photos of her sitting completely alone as she mourned the death of her beloved helpmeet Philip. And yet it was surely at that time her faith helped her to know the consolation of God’s love; the love which is revealed to all of us, monarch and subjects alike through the life, death and glorious resurrection of Christ our King.
Lord may we be inspired by the example of our Queen to devote our lives to your service never counting the cost, nor seeking reward save that of knowing your love in our lives. Amen
From Hilary Swift for the two weeks commencing 16 January
At our All-Age service at Abinger this Sunday, Lucy reminded us of 3 stories of Epiphany – the Wise Men searching for a new king, the baptism of Jesus and the miracle of changing of water into wine.
Matthew 2 verses 1-12. In Matthew’s gospel, we read of the Magi who were searching for the King of the Jews who had been prophesied. But the child they were guided to was not in a sumptuous palace but in a very humble home, his mother a young girl from an insignificant village called Nazareth, his father a carpenter. These travelling seers’ idea of a royal child must have been turned upside down by the discovery of King Jesus – I wonder how their lives were changed after this revelation of who the promised Messiah-King was? How would he save his people as the prophets had foretold?
Matthew 3 verses 13-17. Baptism was originally a Jewish ritual of purification, a ‘change of status’, symbolised by immersion in water. Jesus’ cousin, John, used baptism to call people to repentance in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah. At his baptism by John, Jesus was named by a voice from heaven as ‘My own dear son’ – that very Messiah who had been promised by God.
John 2 verses 1-11. The story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee is another story of transformation. Jesus’ first recorded miracle shows us that he cares about the situations of everyday life, that he can change the ordinary into something extraordinary
These three episodes illustrate unexpected transformations: the expectation of who the King of the Jews would be; the coming of the Saviour – God taking on human flesh; the transforming power that Jesus has over his creation – and that includes us!
The collect for Sunday 16th January
Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
From Martha Golden for the two weeks commencing 3 January
Do not dwell on former things, or consider things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43 verse 19
These past two years have been both challenging and disruptive. Our usual patterns of life have been overturned and isolation has changed many ways of relating to one another. In the process, our eyes have been opened to events and people in our own communities and in other parts of the world, as a tiny virus has shown us how vulnerable and fragile humanity is, and how dependent we are on each other.
Of course, we long to “get back to normal”, and we wonder when this will all be over. We may regard Covid and other disturbing issues in the past year as temporary setbacks in the overall course of events. Eventually we say, masks will come off and we can all get back to work. But will things ever get back to “normal” or are we moving into new and changed ways of living?
The beginning of a New Year brings a sense of fresh starts, new beginnings and open horizons. God’s words in Isaiah call us to not to mourn the past, but to work towards building a new and better future in our lives, in our societies and in the world. While much has been lost, there is much to give thanks for. We possess everything and more than any former age possessed: the word of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the risen Christ. The world of the future will not be the same as the world we remember, but it’s a world well worth building.
We thank you God, for your everlasting presence with us, through good times and bad. As we enter a New Year, help us to respond to that newness, and grant us the wisdom to respond to your call and follow your guidance. Make us mindful of your faithfulness to us as we seek to be faithful to your call.