As our churches are closed for communal worship, you can find here some prayers and sermons for each Sunday as well as the readings and hymns that would have been used.
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. Ps 50: 14 & 23
Apparently last Monday is known as Blue Monday and it is supposedly the bleakest and most depressing day of the entire , 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.
Virginia Smith 25th January 2021>
Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:11-12
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
Martha Golden 18th January 2021
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: 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.
David Grundy 11th January 2021
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.
Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60 v 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
Tony Berry, Rector, 8th December 2020
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12 v 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
Tony Berry 2nd December 2020"
CHRIST THE KING by Malcolm Guite
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
Hilary Swift 23rd November 2020
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. Ps 114: 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
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.
Martha Golden, 9th November 2020
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 chapter 12
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.
David Grundy, 2nd November 2020
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 ch 4 v 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.
Mad Berry October 2020.
"But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord".Joshua 24 v15
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
Tony Berry 19th October 2020
'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 18:10
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.
Hilary Swift 12th October 2020
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: 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
Virginia Smith 5th October 2020
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. Matthew 6:22
Our eyes serve as windows into the world, enabling us to see and interpret sights. But eyes are also windows into our souls, communicating something of who we are and what we are feeling. When Jesus said, "the eye is the lamp of the body", he was indicating that eyes have the capacity to illuminate their surroundings. The healthier our eyes are, the more light may emanate from us.
Eyes convey a series of emotions: anger, fear, awe and sheer joy. Think how a person's eyes open wide at the sight of one of nature's wonders, or how the eyes of a child shine when she makes a new friend or gains a new understanding. But perhaps most of all, eyes can convey true compassion.
Helmut Thielicke has said that compassion begins with the eyes. Speaking of a recent meeting with a grieving family, a doctor commented, "I was exhausted and desperately sad. My words were inadequate but I looked them in the eye and let that know what we had done and how we had tried". The doctor's behaviour with the family signalled involvement and compassion, which always shines forth the from the eyes.
Our present situation, with masks and social distancing often make deep and serious conversation with others difficult. But even with masks on, we can see each others eyes. And those eyes tell us much of another's thoughts, from the brightness of a smile, to tears of sadness, to expressions of true compassion.
Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Martha Golden, 28th September 2020
I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1, verse 3
I gather that the first words each morning of a Jew, as he or she wakes up, are "Thanks be to you, living and eternal King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. You are faithful beyond measure" - an ancient custom of thanking God for the new day.
This morning, reading Paul's opening words of Philippians - "I thank God every time I remember you" - instead of calling to mind all the people I try to remember to pray for regularly, I simply thought of people I was thankful to have in my life and thanked God as I remembered them (you never know, you may have got a mention !) This is not just a question of 'trying to look on the bright side'. It is something far deeper than that. Paul was in prison in what is now Turkey as he wrote this, dependent on food brought to him by friends. And the church in Philippi, which is in Greece, sent someone all that way with a financial gift to help pay for Paul's food. In the midst of Paul's grim situation, there was cause for thanksgiving.
David Grundy, 21st September 2020
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians ch 9 v 8
This is one of those verses that can so easily trip off the tongue, and it sounds great and yet for many of us it does not always seem to be our experience at times of great stress. Equally I have seen some people claim and quote this, or verses like it, when they are going through tough times and yet it just doesn't ring true, although they clearly want it to be so.
And yet I am sure that this verse is full of truth, our problem is in our perception of what that truth looks like in our daily life. So often people assume that being a follower of Jesus equals a trouble free life. It is not. Jesus tells us that the road to the Kingdom of Heaven is narrow and steep. What this verse is telling us is that as we walk this road, God can help us as we experience problems, He is with us in every situation, 24/7; and if we can put our trust in Him we can still do the work of the Kingdom,and then not only are we blessed, but others will receive blessings, not only because of what we do, but because of what we are becoming.
Lord, help me to put my trust in You, so I can see Your hand in all that life brings to me, and so that I can be a blessing to those around me. Amen
Tony Berry, Rector 7th September 2020
I have been struggling with Prayer for a long time. It should be easy to sit and speak to our Father in heaven, but somehow, I always get distracted and start thinking about supper or what needs doing in the house or garden.
I was talking to a wise friend about this and she said why not just stop trying so hard and just enjoy God's presence? Hm, this is not easy either, for the same distracting reasons as above, but she suggested I create a special place, light a candle and make myself comfortable. So, I try: I take a few deep breaths to relax and begin to think of things that 'make my heart sing' and thank God for them. I think of sunshine in the woods, birdsong, singing in a choir (much missed) and being with lovely people and thank God for them. I read some words from George Herbert's poem 'Prayer': 'God's breath in man, returning to his birth.' And feel calmer and more peaceful.
Eugene Peterson writes that, 'All prayer, pursued far enough becomes praise.' We can see this in the Psalms: David's cries of pain and struggle inevitably end with him praising God, for example, when he was hiding from his enemies in a cave: Psalm 142 verse 1-2: 'With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.'
He ends with, 'Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.' David didn't always get things right, but he kept coming back to God for forgiveness and encouragement and God used him in wonderful ways. Tim Keller in his book on Prayer says, 'Pray no matter what. Praying is rowing, and sometimes it is like rowing in the dark - you won't feel that you are making any progress at all. Yet you are, and when the winds rise again, and they surely will, you will sail before them again.'
Dear Lord, help us to pray. Help us to sit in your presence and enjoy the beauty that you have given us and to praise you for it. Amen.
Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord! Praise the Lord' Psalm 150:6
Hilary Swift 1st September 2020
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the broken- hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34: 17-18
We cannot pretend that we are living in easy times and with a most uncertain future to contemplate. Just what the situation will be in even a few months' time I doubt if even the most informed pundit would like to predict. Questions abound! Will there be another spike in Corona virus cases? Will all our children be able to return to full time school or college? What will the unemployment figures be and just how bad an effect will the economic downturn have on our prosperity and well-being? I certainly cannot begin to answer a single such question but what I am certain of is that whatever the future holds God will never abandon us; never fail to hear our pleas for help and to come to our rescue. No, He does not have a magic wand to wave and put everything back to where it was pre-Covid but His loving presence will be there whatever befalls and His covenantal care of us His adopted children will never cease. I know when I look back at my journey through life I can see without a doubt how God was there when I was broken-hearted and crushed in spirit and I am reminded of that wonderful phrase 'God writes straight on crooked lines.' I believe we can implicitly trust in His loving purposes for us and in so doing we are called to live our lives, not in fear, but with confident hope and always aware, even in the darkest of times, of being continually blessed by the presence of God's love and grace.
You shall fear disaster no more Zephaniah 3
Yet you do fear disaster. In your own life. In your family in the world. Everything, it seems, is going to hell. Humanity emptying itself of goodness. So how shall you fear disaster no more?
This is not about never experiencing disaster. Experiences of descent, loss and darkness are part of what it means to be human. They come your way and will continue to do so.
It's about choosing not to allow fear to shape you.
Resolve today to choose fear's opposite. To choose love. This choice will change you. And it will change the world around you.
Virginia Smith, 24th August 2020
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5
It's been a long difficult road. Over the last months there has been pain, sadness, anger and grief. But there have also been moments of joy. Joy is a mystery, because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of great suffering.
Joy is not the same as happiness, which turns up more or less when you expect it - from a cherished friendship, or a good holiday. Joy on the other hand is notoriously unpredictable - you can find it in the laughter of a child, a letter from an old friend, an amusing memory, the knowledge of God's presence walking beside you, bringing the message that while grief and pain are real, it is not the final word.
Having shared his last meal with his friends, and the last meal he would have in his life, Jesus summed up his final message with the words: "I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11).
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:29
Martha Golden 17th August 2020
I cannot go in these, because I am not used to them. 1 Samuel 17, verses 38 to 42
This verse and passage from the Old Testament may seem a bit strange at first sight and appear to have little to do with us now. But, as we all know, first impressions are not always correct.
David, a tough, confident teenager with a very strong faith, declares that he is happy to take on this extremely tall and muscular champion of the Philistine army, Goliath. Amazingly, he manages to persuade King Saul that he is able to challenge him, and so Saul fits him out with some armour. David walks around in the armour for a moment or two, but it just cramps his style and he takes it off, choosing to go as he is. We all know what happens - Goliath is struck by a stone and collapses to the ground (incidentally, in the British Museum, there was once an exhibition of Middle Eastern archaeology, including sling stones, some as large as cricket balls).
Other people often want us to wear the armour that they think is best for us. They want us to conform to how they think we should go about things. Whilst we must always try to work with people and listen to their needs and hopes, and be open to their advice, we must never forget that God has made us individuals. The character and experiences that each of us has are completely unique. Sometimes, like David, we need courage to take off the armour of other people's expectations, and go into battle apparently a little more vulnerable. David was true to himself, and using the skills God had given him, he triumphed.
Heavenly Father, in the rush and busyness of life, help us to remember with gratitude in our hearts, that each of us is an individual, made in your image and of inestimable value to you. Amen.
David Grundy 10th August 2020
In quietness and trust is your strength Isaiah 30 v 15
We often have a mental picture of what strength is. We know it not just a physical thing it relates to character as well. As I lay on my bed I feel particularly weak and feeble this morning. But I can rationalise that. When I'm in the midst of a busy week physical and mental strength just fade as time goes by. That is because over the years I have taught myself to rely on me, my strength and any abilities I may have. Here the Bible reminds us that rushing around and relying on oneself is not the best way forward for the people of God. A quiet approach and trust in God's providence is where we will find strength. As someone else said in these reflections quoting also from Isaiah "those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength". May that be true for us today.
Dear Loving God, by your grace may we learn the ways of quietness and trust in order that we may be strong in You. Amen
Rev Tony Berry, 27th July 2020
Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.
Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts.Psalm 36: 5-10
This is the Psalm set for today 23rd July - I love the poetry in the Psalms, they really do cover all our emotions and states of mind - positive and negative!
Sometimes the Psalmist is crying out to God, raging against injustice, but in these verses he is celebrating the goodness of God. The descriptive words he uses really conjure up a beautiful picture of the might and magnificence of God, but also of His fatherly care and concern for His creation. I particularly love the metaphor of finding 'shelter in the shadow of his wings'.
Psalm 91 says, 'He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings.' And Jesus says in Matthew 23:37, 'How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!'
God offers us His love and protection - we just have to accept it. So often we think we can find our own way, but isn't it wonderful to know that the God whose love is 'as vast as the heavens' wants us to turn to Him and rest in Him?
Read through those verses slowly and savour the beautiful gift that He offers us.
Dear Lord, Help us to know the vastness of your love for us, to trust in your justice and to rest in the shadow of your wings. Amen.
Hilary Swift 23rd July 2020
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Ps 143: 8
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path Ps 119: 105
The pandemic of 2020 has created so much uncertainty and it doesn't matter who you are there is in all of us an element of doubt about where the future is leading us and exactly what lies ahead not just for us in the UK but worldwide.
The verses I've chosen for this reflection have a wonderful certainty about them and the words can surely give us reassurance that, no matter what, the way ahead will have God in it. God who will provide that lamp, that light in the darkness of fear and anxiety, of doubt and apprehension. For me these verses are such a comfort and a source of hope that whatever happens we can never be separated from God. We may well be separated from many of the more familiar ways of life as we adapt to a Covid 19 form of living but God in His infinite goodness and eternal changelessness will always be there for us. As we learn to recognize His steadfast love may it create in us that implicit trust that will lead us safely into the future even when the path is unknown and uncharted. 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.
Loving Lord when we feel hesitant and uncertain as to the future turn our thoughts back to you and help us recognize the light of your love for us illuminating the way ahead and providing us with the reassurance of your protective care. Amen
Rev Virginia Smith, 20th July 2020
I am about to do a new thing. Isaiah 43:19
If you have ever seen a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis, you will know what an amazing thing it is. First, the chrysalis becomes transparent, revealing the butterfly inside. Then it cracks open, and a wet, mass of colour pushes its way out, with crumpled wings and long spindly legs. For a few moments the newly emerged creature clings to the empty shell as it's wings dry to a smooth velvety array of blue, red, or yellow. Finally it lets go and flies - A new body, ready for a new way of life.
Over the past weeks and months, we may sometimes have had the feeling of being wrapped in a chrysalis, or cocoon, unable to go out and engage with friends and loved ones. As the country slowly begins to reopen, let us take time to consider what we have gained during this strange time: Cleaner air and skies, a sense of community, and the opportunity to spend some quiet time with God. And as we take our first tentative steps outside, with fresh opportunities, let us give thanks for God's presence through all our ups and downs, pray for those whose have or continue to endure pain or loss, and ask for strength to embrace what promises to be a new way of life.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
Martha Golden 16th July 2020
There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ." 1 Corinthians 1, v 12
It's going to be both lovely and strange at the same time when we come back to worship in church. Strange, partly because we can't sing (but can listen to music, hum or have a socially distanced 'cantor' !), partly because we can't chat or have coffee, but largely because some people - for good reason - won't be there because they are too frail or vulnerable.
So, in a sense, they may be tempted to feel they aren't part of it any more, certainly that they can't contribute. And for some, that is extremely hard, maybe even giving them a sense that they are less valuable than they once were. But that is to misunderstand the nature of Christ's church. We are a body. In a body, the welfare of one part often has an impact on the welfare of another part. I had a friend who was waiting for a replacement hip, and during that time, the extra pressure on his other leg and hip caused a different set of problems. Similarly, when one part gets stronger, other parts often benefit too. As the body of Christ, the same applies.
If you feel unable to come back and worship with the visible body of Christ at the moment, or cannot contribute as you used to, you are still just as much a part of the body as before. Just as our online worship has in some respects forged a deeper closeness between people, so you remain a vital, living part of the body. And we want to do all that we can to help you feel that reality of belonging.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of belonging to your 'body'. In all that we do, may we show appreciation for each other's gifts and insights, treasure each other's uniqueness, and show equal concern for all, for we are part of one another. Amen.
Revd. David Grundy, Associate Minister 13th July 2020
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (NIV). James 1:5-6
How often do we face decisions, either big or little, and long for wisdom? Some of us relish change and perhaps find decision making easy, whilst others of us find the process daunting and stressful. So, to where do we turn?
James give us clear advice; the Message version has these verses as; "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help…. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open!"
How often do we worry first and pray later, and then carry on worrying at our prayers. Wisdom seems to be a highly prized characteristic in the Old Testament too, indeed much of the book of Proverbs is dedicated to seeking it. Proverbs chapter 2 encourages the reader to "turn your ear to wisdom, apply your heart to understanding, call out for insight...look for it as silver and search for it as hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God". For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding". V2-5 (NIV).
How often do we look in the wrong places for wisdom, and settle for "second best" ? There are so many things that call out for our attention and offer "life solutions", on social media the phrase seems to be "life hacks!!"
These verses encourage us to go to our loving Heavenly Father, who surely has our best interests at heart and if we can believe these verses, loves to give us wisdom.
Father, when we need wisdom, may we come to you in complete trust, secure in your love for us, believing that you long to help and guide us. Amen.
Mad Berry July 2020.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Philippians ch 4 v 14
St Paul wrote this to the church he founded in Philippi. As you read his letter to them, you get the feeling of the close relationship he had with them. After he had moved on they continued to support him in his work in other places. Yet clearly this was more than just support, he uses the word "share".
During recent months we have become more aware of people's needs and what they may be going through. There are the obvious situations where people have been ill and needed care, but we have also seen other needs where people may not have family around to help. We have seen the loneliness of people who have been home alone, In these and other circumstances we have also seen how people have responded to these troubles. Just as the Philippians showed their care and concern for Paul, our communities have shown a willingness to share in the troubles of friends and neighbours around them.
Real community is not based on a geographical dwelling place, it is based on such a willingness to share. It is not a given, and should never be taken for granted.
On behalf of all us may I say " it was good of you to share in those troubles"
Loving Heavenly Father, may we never take others for granted, but always be willing to share and support those in need. Amen
Rev Tony Berry, Rector, 6th July 2020
Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.Psalm 81: 1-3
I was so happy to hear that services were to begin again in our churches! It's been so hard not meeting together, sharing worship, prayers and socialising over coffee afterwards. The Zoom services have been great, and as my husband says, it's lovely to see people's faces and to share the experience albeit on a screen, but it's not quite the same.
The thing I have missed most is singing together. Worshipping God through music and the sheer joy of being part of a community offering praise in hymns and songs is something that I have loved since childhood and it's hard being without it.
I once had to stop singing for a year because of strained vocal cords - it was a really difficult time, I almost felt that I had lost a limb, the loss was so hard to bear. At least now I can sing at home. Colin and I join in with the hymns in the Zoom services with great gusto, but it's not the same as singing in a group - a choir or a congregation raising their voices together is something very integral to worship and, for me, our worship will not be fully restored until we can once again sing our hearts out together in our lovely ancient churches which have resounded to the glorious melodies and harmonies of beautiful music for so many hundreds of years.
Until that time comes, I will continue to sing my own private praises to God - I have a tambourine and a ukulele (in lieu of a harp), maybe I'll even try out blowing a 'trumpet to the moon'! Look out neighbours!
Dear Lord, Thank you that we can begin to plan meeting together in our churches once again. Thank you for the gift of music and that we can praise you wherever we are. Help us to know the joy and strength that comes from you and to be able to express it in our words and actions as well as in music. Amen.
Hilary Swift (Lay Minister)
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
Rev Virginia Smith, 29th June 2020
Jesus said to them, "Come away with me to a quiet place and rest awhile" Mark 6:31
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" (Rom. 8:26). 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.
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 3
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.
Revd. David Grundy, Associate Minister 22nd May 2020
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples … If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. John ch 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 ch 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 ch 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 Jn 14.6 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.
Mad Berry June 2020.
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 v6,7
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 thank you for our world and all that is good in it. Help me to trust that I am indeed valuable to you. Amen
Tony Berry, Rector, 15th June 2020
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. Amen.
Hilary Swift June 2020
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 14:27
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.
Martha Golden, Licensed Lay Reader, Holmbury St Mary 4th June 2020
But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat Nehemiah 4:9
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 B.C., 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. Amen.
Revd. David Grundy, Associate Minister 1st June 2020
I will ask the father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever- the Spirit of truth.John 14.16
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 God, 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 11.13.
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.
Mad Berry, 28th May 2020
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. Amen.
Tony Berry, Rector, 26th May 2020
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. Amen.
Hilary Swift LLM, May 2020
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. Amen.
Rev Virginia Smith, May 2020
He does great and unsearchable things, Wonders without number. Job 5:9
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 15:13)
Martha Golden, Licensed Lay Reader, Holmbury St Mary 14th May 2020
"We walk by faith, not by sight" 2 Corinthians 5:7
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."
Revd. David Grundy, Associate Minister 10th May 2020
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 6.26 (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. Amen
Tony Berry, Rector, 7th May 2020
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. Amen.
Tony Berry, Rector, 4th May 2020
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.
Hilary Swift LLM (Local Lay Minister)
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.
Rev Virginia Smith, April 2020
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
Martha Golden, Licensed Lay Reader, Holmbury St Mary 23rd April 2020
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 realization 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 7 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 3 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 3 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 was 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.
Prayer: "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. Amen."
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 4. 4-7 (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. Amen."
Mad Berry April 2020.
But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death. 1 Corinthians 15 v 20 [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. Amen"
Tony Berry, Rector, 13th April 2020
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.
Hilary Swift, Licensed Lay Minister April 2020
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 13: 4-6
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.
You don't have to forge your own path.
It's not all down to you.
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.
Not from a distance.
So close that you can sense my breathing, and I yours.
Rev Virginia Smith, 6th April 2020
Some prayers and thoughts for Passion Sunday by Tony Berry on YouTube.
Holmbury St Mary virtual service for Palm Sunday
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 27:1
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."
Martha Golden Licensed Lay Reader, Holmbury St Mary 2nd April 2020
Cast all your cares on to Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter chapter 5, verse 7
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. Amen."
Revd. David Grundy, Associate Minister 30th March 2020
Heavenly Father, your Son, Jesus Christ has challenged death and the powers of darkness, and brings new life to all who turn to him. Open our eyes and enter our hearts that we may know and receive your healing presence in these dark and difficult times. Show us your light, shelter us with your comfort and surround us with your love, that our despair will turn to hope, our weakness to strength and our doubts to faith.
We pray for the church, our bishops priests and other leaders, as they continue their work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ to the world. May they and all who serve you provide a beacon of hope to a suffering world.
We pray for the leaders of nations. that they may work together for the common good as the outbreak spreads. Grant those in government the strength and the will to act with wisdom, compassion and service to all.
Be with all who are affected by the coronavirus around the world. We particularly remember Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his Royal Highness Prince Charles and those close to them. Bring comfort and healing to those who are sick with the virus. Grant courage and strength to first responders, health care workers and all who stand on the front line in providing care.
We pray for those whose hope is lost, remembering the homeless, those in prison, and those who face financial hardship. Sustain and support the anxious. Be with the bereaved and those who care for sick loved ones. Lift up all who are brought low, that we might find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are certainly living in extraordinary days. We are all in lockdown as we seek to work together to stem the tide of the Coronavirus that is spreading around the world. What we are allowed to do and where we are allowed to go have been changing daily, leading to uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. Churches are closed everywhere and today is the second Sunday when we are worshipping at home rather than together in our church buildings. Of course our concern and prayers are especially focussed on those who are particularly vulnerable in these days; the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. I have heard some speak of these times being like a war where we are all fighting an unseen enemy.
It is understandable that in this climate many are frightened, anxious and scared. The reality of illness and death are on the horizon like never before. How appropriate it is then that we should spend some time considering John's account of Jesus raising his dear friend Lazarus from the dead, which is our Gospel reading for today. The human reality is that none of us can escape death. All of us are born and all of us will die. I am sure that many of us know the pain and grief associated with death.
Death surrounds Jesus at every turn at this point in John's gospel. He reveals himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep; we are told about the thief seeking to destroy the sheep; the Jews trying to stone Jesus because he claims to be God; now his dear friend Lazarus is dead; immediately after raising Lazarus from the dead we read that the religious leaders are hatching a plot to kill Jesus; next Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a donkey - riding to his death. Death was all around Jesus, so much so that that is probably all he thought of, all he smelt. Don't let anyone tell you that Jesus does not understand what it is to be human - what it is to face death and to know its reality.
It is into this context that Jesus speaks words of life and resurrection. He reveals himself as the Life and the Resurrection. The Resurrection is no longer simply a doctrine it has a living face and a name. Jesus speaks to the very core of every human being, to the one thing that frightens us most. All those who believe in him will die physically but not spiritually, those who believe in him will live with Jesus for ever, a relationship which begins now and goes on beyond the grave and death will not bring this relationship with Jesus to an end because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Words of enormous comfort surely to the grieving sisters and to all believers today as they realise that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Two things to note about this famous 'I am' saying of Jesus:
In 1944 the Jews in Nazi Germany were being exterminated and in the rest of occupied Europe they were being hunted down, rounded up, herded onto trains and shipped off to concentration camps. But in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, one man, a 32-year old Swedish businessman named Raoul Wallenberg decided that something must be done to stop this. He realised that he was one of the few people who could do this. That October, as 100's of Jews were being forced onto a train bound for the death camp at Auschwitz, Wallenberg stood on the platform handing out documents which said that these people were Swedish citizens and therefore could not be deported. In the course of the next 3 months, Wallenberg gave these special passes to 1000's of men, women and children - all of them Jews. Without these documents they were as good as dead, however with them they could live. In the New Year even though the fighting was drawing closer Wallenberg chose to stay in Hungary to carry on his life saving work. When the Red Army reached Budapest in January 1945 he went to see the Russian commander but he was never seen again. The Soviet authorities later admitted that he had died in a prison camp. He gave his life so that 10's of 1000's of others might live.
In a much greater and more profound way, Jesus gives us eternal life because he gave up his life and in so doing defeated, sin, evil and death itself. So as we prepare to enter Passiontide in a week's time and travel alongside Jesus once again in the extraordinary final hours of his life, let us remember his sacrifice for us; that through his death we might have life in all its fullness.
"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 2 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. Amen."