Weekly Reflection – 30 June 2021

This is our last reflection. We have decided that these thoughts and prayers have run their course, and that it is time to look beyond this pandemic. This post-covid reality will be, I think, as uncertain as that which we encountered when first entering lock-down. We will need to treat it in the same way, with courage and believing that God with us. Risks remain, and we need to continue to keep safe. 

This is the reflection that I wrote on 23rd March 2020. It touches on the anxiety I think we all felt. No one, of course, could have imagined that 15 months would pass before all restrictions were lifted (I even making an assumption here that the 19th of July will bring it officially to an end). But please read it through and reflect on how you have managed, what you have done to cope and hopefully the things which you have learnt about yourself – good things. And thank God for bringing you to this point.   

Mark

The announcement by our Prime Minister on Monday evening of further restrictions, emphasising to all but a few the requirement to stay home, highlighted the seriousness of this pandemic. For all of us, whether by nature, those who up until now have looked for ‘ways round’, or those who have said we have been slow in reacting, looking for certainty  and clarity, this is a big change to our way of living. Things are no longer the same and we need to protect ourselves and isolate ourselves from each other. 

So we are all involved in things which we have not witnessed before. I attended a Year 11 leavers assembly last Friday. Students who may never be together again, with uncertainty about exams and grades. It was the 20th of March! There are few cars driving past the busy road where we live. There is no longer a ‘rush hour’. I can hear birdsong in GWP for the first time. With everything pretty much shut down we are all having to engage with new technology to ‘get-together’. But we are and we must. 

I have seen the wonderful drawings of children who have stuck pictures of colourful rainbows in their windows. On Sunday many of us lit a candle in solidarity with others praying for our nation and the world. Community support groups are helping practically and are doing a great job encouraging us. Others are putting notes through neighbours doors introducing themselves for the first time. 

It is good to think of others at times like these, even if we think what we offer is limited. 

The story of Moses’ encounter with God was the bible reading set for today. The narrative is expansive, with God revealing himself in fire and in miraculous signs. Moses, who will act as both prophet and military leader to the exiled Jewish nation, says repeatedly, ‘I can’t do this’. But God sees beyond his uncertainty and commissions him anyway. What strikes me is that throughout this narrative God reassures. He said to Moses, “‘I know their [the people of Israel’s] sufferings”. He repeats to Moses “But I will be with you”. If Moses had known what he would have to endure to see God’s promise fulfilled he may have objected more! But he doesn’t, he is faithful and plays his part in God’s promise to free Israel and to prosper.   

It strikes me that sometimes we have to simply accept that we have no idea how things will work out. Handing over our concerns is often a good way to relieve our stress. We admit that we have no answer yet agree to follow, lead and be led. Jesus was committed to his Father’s plan even though, for him, it involved the ultimate sacrifice.

As we worry about these uncertain times, perhaps the best thing we can do is to hand it over to God and be willing to be led. We need to continue to care and to love, as much as to follow advice to protect ourselves. We must also look for signs of God’s presence, who promised ‘to be with us’.    

Prayers

The following prayers are all taken from a website called prayerscapes which offers some modern/contemporary prayers. Below are some prayers that have been slightly amended for each day of the week (however, starting with two classic prayers from St Columba).

St Columba (c.521-97)
Lord Jesus, be a bright flame before us, a guiding star above us 
A smooth path below us, a kindly shepherd behind us
Today, tonight and for ever.
Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear, when thou art near
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
Than if a host did round me stand.

Monday morning prayer

Lord, sometimes, Monday can be a hard day. Dreaded on Sunday and fled from on a Friday. Yet why Lord? Monday could be the beginning of a work adventure, the new challenge of a week filled with potential? So we pray you would help us to embrace this day. Let it be a new day and a wonder day.
Help us to see not the clouds but the sunrise, not the rain but the ripples of falling drops. Show us the joy of the embrace with loved ones, not the tensions and troubles. Monday need not be the grudge day to be endured but the fun day to be embraced. This day, help us to turn our eyes towards Your Kingdom, of love, hope and new beginnings. Amen.

Tuesday morning prayer

Lord, on this day we chose to put You first. Thank You that when You are at the centre of our family,
our lives are rich with love and goodness. Lord, be the running stream, springing up at the very heart of our household. Might we drink daily from the water of life, that our days would be filled with kindness, forgiveness, trust and love. Amen.

Wednesday morning prayer

Lord, on this day of the week we recall the strength of the Trinity in our lives. Thank You for the strands that hold us safe in the Father, that bring redemption and grace in the Son, and freedom and hope through the Holy Spirit. Thank You for this cord of strength. May we celebrate with the Three that encircle our lives! And this day may we give out the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the freedom of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. Amen.

Thursday morning prayer

Lord, on this day we remember that You go before us, so we pause to meditate on Your promises. Thank You Lord that You go with each of us, You lay a pathway, You watch over us like a shepherd. So we give You our fears, worries and anxieties. We lay all tension and stress at the foot of the cross. Thank You that You arose from the death, and that You bring life, freedom, hope and the promise of Heaven! Praise You that we are safe in Your presence. Amen.

Friday morning prayer

Lord, on this day we are aware of the troubles and darkness in our world. Please come and lead us in prayers for our community, our nation and our world. You are the light that shines in the bleakest times, let Your Kingdom be built on earth. May those who suffer be comforted, may those who are at war search for peace, and may those who are in pain find healing. Amen.

Saturday morning prayer

Lord on this preparation day, we jump into all that You have given us. Might we embrace each part of this glorious time, enjoying the service, relishing in the challenges, engaging with the fun and celebrating with laughter. Lord on this day, may we enjoy the beauty of the created world all around us. Might we run, drive, walk and sing in the freedom of this day! Thank You that right now we can feel Your love flowing through each of us. Lord, on this day we want to jump into all that You have given us. Amen.

Sunday morning prayer

Lord, on this special day, we run into Your loving arms. May Sunday be a celebration, filled with thankfulness, where we connect (and reconnect) with the presence of Heaven, seek Your beauty and goodness, and cherish special church family time together. Come fill our heart afresh with Your love. May it overflow with Heaven’s bounty, moving through this rest day and into the week ahead. Amen.

Weekly Reflection – 23 June 2021

The Calling of Samuel (1 Samuel Chapter 3) 

You have to admit that God is clever. You have to admit the Bible is clever. Look at the opening few lines of 1 Samuel Chapter 3: 

1 Samuel 3 v 2-4 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” 

Eli was an old man and so his eyes were growing dim physically and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle, i.e. before dawn, the Lord called to Samuel . . . OR . . . (and here’s the clever part) Eli was losing his Spiritual sight, he had lost his focus, was failing to lead the country as he should (his Spiritual sight began to grow dim) but before the lamp of God went out in the country, as the land of Israel lost their first love, their focus, suggestive of the dark spiritual times that Israel was going through (and even more suggestively that this would get worse, it would get darker!), the Lord called to Samuel . . . both interpretations are true . . . both are clever ! I know which one I prefer. 

1 Samuel 3 v 4 The Lord called Samuel. 

During a recent Life Group session from the Prayer Course (1) the Monday Life group looked at the calling of Samuel (the listening section the course). One thing that was clear both from the talk by Pete Greig and from our discussion in the Life Group was the need to be careful! People say that they have heard from God when they have heard a small voice that, to misquote Scrooge, is more of gravy than of God (an undigested bit of beef or potato) . . . there are those who believe they have heard from God simply because that adds weight to what they already wanted to do or wanted to say . . . but then there are those who have truly heard from God. Usually, this is indeed a still small inner voice, rather than an audible sound however, in Samuel’s case, his response, “Here I am!” suggests that it may very well have been an audible sound. Better yet though, what a fantastic response to the call of God, “Here I am!” (Samuel might have been wrong in the first case, assuming the voice to be Eli, but a fabulous response nevertheless!).  

Three times this happens . . . could it be the Father, Son and Spirit perhaps (is it an appearance of the Trinity or is that too much to read into it? – perhaps too much!) . . . three times he is called and each time Samuel responds (wrongly perhaps thinking it is Eli but still responding obediently) – interestingly, a good way of responding to hearing from God, listen, listen, listen! 

Eli realises the significance of what is happening and helps Samuel, and this time, an even better response is suggested, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel is called and Samuel obeys. That is what is asked of us. We are called and God asks us simply to obey Him. We know this don’t we? That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging and difficult, but we know what we are asked to do – simply obey.  

Here is the final thought . . . I have had the privilege and honour on a number of occasions to be able to stand up and “preach” about the love of God. If you could summarise everything I have ever said in a church talk into 3 words it would be, “God loves you!” That is a lovely and simple message to bring . . . but sometimes God asks us to deliver a more challenging message, one that is more difficult for people to hear. God tells Samuel what will happen to Eli, whose house (his children) are behaving badly, criminally, sinfully – that God is going to judge and punish them. Samuel, this young boy who most bible scholars assume to be about twelve, has to tell Eli, a wise old leader, that judgement is coming. That message is hard to hear . . . it is also hard to tell. A message that simply seduces the hearer at the expense of what needs to be said is not a good message, Ezekiel 13 v 10, “They lead my people astray, saying ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace.” or Jeremiah 6 v 14, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious, ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”  We are called to a message of love, that is true, but love at a cost. We, as proclaimers of the message, should never remember what it cost the author of the message. 

Harry Potter says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”  I am certain there are probably wiser sounding people to quote from that HP but it is one hundred percent correct . . . God is not calling us to something easy; God is calling us to faith, hope and love, but the most challenging of these is love! 

Ryan

Prayers contributed by Phil

At present the weather seems to have shifted again, from the dry sunshine of a week or so ago back to days of rain. For my allotment it is a welcome relief, as the ground had become so hard I couldn’t get a spade in, however it does dampen the prospect of meeting people outdoors somewhat. The changeableness is slightly unsettling – it throws uncertainty into our plans and reminds us again of our lack of control and there is not much point raging at the clouds. In a similar way we can rage at our circumstances shifting – not just the weather but health, restrictions, and accidents can all work to thwart our plans. However we worship a God who is not bound in the same way – he does not change and his plans stay regardless. As James writes:

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

In the light of this we can pray in the confidence that he is not buffeted by circumstances and he doesn’t shift beneath us, but is a constant we can rely on:

Heavenly Father

Thank you that unlike our circumstances you are constant

You see all of our days like an instant

Through our troubles and trials you hold us in your hands

Help us today to trust in you once more

To lean into you as our rock

An place our hope the anchor of your love

Remind us of the certainty of your salvation

Won for all time on the cross

And assured by your resurrection from the dead

Guide us through the troubles of our days

To live as your people

To your praise and glory

Amen

Weekly Reflection 9 June 2021

“You are the salt of the earth…”A person's foot in the sand

Andrii Leonov - Unsplash

These words, spoken by Jesus 2000 years ago have become common in our speech today. When we say someone is ‘the salt of the earth’ we mean they are good, reliable or ‘sound’ as they say in Ireland. It’s a nice compliment but it’s easy to forget what it really means.

Jesus spoke these words, so they must be true. What do they really mean?

Salt is essential to life. It also has multiple uses. So, Jesus is telling us that we are essential to life, that we are useful in many ways. Don’t you find that encouraging? You are essential in God’s plan and you are of great use. Go and sprinkle yourself around!

I’m doing a Transforming Working Life course at the moment with the ICCC (International Christian Chamber of Commerce) and we were discussing this in our breakout rooms last week. Don’t ask me how we got to it as we were discussing foundations! However, I want to share the epiphany I had that evening. As Christians we can sometimes be apologetic or far too discreet about our faith. Perhaps we don’t want to offend, or we want to be careful. We keep the cap on our salt.

But salt is salt and it’s essential. It’s not about who or what we are that affects its effectiveness – it’s what it’s applied to. So, salt applied to delicious golden chips can make them twice as delicious (IMHO) but salt that gets into a papercut as I eat said chips can be absolute agony! It’s not about the salt, it’s about how and where it’s received. Our responsibility is to sprinkle. Ultimately, the same salt that makes something delicious can hurt, but it also sterilizes. The salt applied to meat that is then hung and dried makes delicious biltong or jerky, but some people think that’s a disgusting way to eat meat and some of us are vegetarians.

I guess my point is, it’s not up to you how and where you are received; your responsibility is to go and be who you are.

Which brings me to the second part of the verse ““You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13) How does salt lose its saltiness? I had to turn to my friend Google for this one.

There are two ways – separation and contamination. So, it’s important for us to meet and be part of the body of Christ. And it’s important for us to stay pure, to ‘be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’, as God says in Leviticus 19:2. How might you do that?

We’ve been meeting back in person since May 23rd and it would be lovely to see you there. We have several Life Groups running throughout the week. Both are available on Zoom as well as in person. It’s also exciting that we’re having a service as part of Beyond the Boundary celebrations on the weekend of 27th June. It would be great to see you there.

Mark’s prayer below seems to perfectly dovetail with the sentiments above. Be salt – enjoy and be enjoyed!

Prayer for changing times.

Throughout the year, one of the constants we have all had to manage is change. This is our new reality. It makes planning for everything difficult. So now, our conversation is more likely to be, “will I be able to do this?!”

So how might I live in this new reality? 

This prayer, written by an American pastor, Cindy Hickman, opens us up to this new order where we allow God to work in and through us regardless of the circumstance. We give God permission to ‘drop us into this new reality’. I trust the prayer is helpful.

God of all,

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering,

Let me be put to work for you, or set aside for you,

Praised for you, or criticised for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.

And now, O wonderful and holy God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

you are mine, and I am yours. 

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it also be made in heaven.

Amen

Weekly Reflection 26 May 2021

I can tell when I’m burnt out, because I’m using stuff to get me through the day. No illegal drugs here, but some legal substances: coffee in the morning to incentivise me to get up and moving, maybe a glass of wine that soothes the frazzled feeling in the evening. Headphones on when I’m walking home from the school run, hoping that the music will keep me putting one foot in front of the other. Eating in search of some energy, even when I’m already full. Scrolling through Instagram when I’m bored, in search of a spark. Watching TV because it’s easy and turning the pages of a book is hard. 

I don’t want to stop, because I do not want to feel the discomfort in my body, the uneasiness that the to-do list and thinking of the next day at work generate, or the disquiet of things that have been unresolved for some time and occasionally bubble to the surface of my mind. 

My nine year old was walking back from school with me this afternoon and told me about two of his classmates. One has a brother he has never met, and one lost a parent recently. He said that he didn’t understand why there is illness in the world and that it made him sad, and quite honestly, I didn’t really know what to say in response. I said yes, some very, very sad things do happen, and our world is broken. I have no intention of breaking his spirit, but I won’t sell him a lie about adulthood. 

We’ve been speaking in our life groups about the difficulty of unanswered prayer, and a couple of statements have stuck with me. When we are in the darkness of the tunnel, that is not the moment to get off the train! And Jesus’ disciple Peter replying to him when asks if his nearest followers will leave him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ 

The urge to avoid what is uncomfortable and to seek the things that will soothe us is entirely human and understandable. We all do it, every day. 

I could seek to round this all off in a nice little package, tied up with ribbon, but in this moment, I don’t want the word of God to be a panacea. I don’t want to use the Bible as a way to soothe myself in the same way I use chocolate or coffee. I want to be brought back to myself, I want to wake up and to feel again. But I believe that God is with us whether we are feeling disturbed or at ease, low or exalted, numb or triumphant.

Prayers contributed by Fiona

During Lent, the Life Groups did the Come and See series as we approached Easter. A highlight for me was the wonderful contemplation exercises that were included and I’d like to offer one of these to you, hoping you’ll be as blessed as I was. You might want to record yourself reading out the 7 steps and then play it back, pausing between each one until you’re ready to move on. Love, Fiona

Weekly Reflection – 19th May 2021

Over the last few years, the 4th of May has become known as Star  

Wars Day. At Christmas we say, “Merry Christmas!”, at New Year  

we say, “Happy New Year!”, on a birthday some of us say (and  

some of us even sing!), “Happy Birthday!” and now, on the 4th of  

May we say, “May the Fourth be with you!” – it is from Star Wars  

(a cultural phenomenon, with at least three films out of 10 or  

perhaps 11 or perhaps even more, depending on how you feel  

about Solo and Rogue One). Some people like Star Wars, I guess  

some people don’t (personally I cannot imagine this but I guess it  

might be true). However, everyone has heard of Star Wars! 

THE SPIRIT OF GOD The most obvious place to start in our knowledge of Star Wars is with The Force (“The Force is  what gives the Jedi his powers. It’s an energy field created in all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It  binds the galaxy together” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode IV: A New Hope). It is an easy comparison with the Power  and Spirit of God and “The Force” (“One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”) Ephesians Chapter 4 verse 6). Both are ever present. Both allow for a deeper level of interconnection. Both God and  The Force can be drawn on in times of need. However, The Force, unlike God, is not an entity and the lack of  ‘personality’ limits the Force. 

GOOD VS. EVIL The next most obvious comparison is with the Jedis (the  

good guys!). Jedi Knights are always fighting for good. Jedis lead selfless lives.  

Their purpose is to protect and care for all other life. They dedicate their  

entire lives to fighting evil in order to keep the universe at peace. Whilst Jedi  

fight on a physical plane using physical weapons, Christians are called to fight  

on a spiritual level with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6 verses 11 to 18 . . .  

The Armour of God!). Christians are called, by God, to live a life of  

selflessness, as a living sacrifice! On the other hand, the Sith (the bad guys!)  

lead a selfish life. 

TEMPTATION Anakin (spoiler alert) who becomes Darth Vader and (major spoiler alert) his son, Luke, are both  tempted by The Dark Side of the Force. Anakin gave in to the dark side, Luke, on the other hand (pun intended!),  resists both attempts. Luke eventually brings balance to the force and to the world in which he exists. In overcoming  Satan, Christ qualified to replace him on the throne of the earth. As King of Kings, Christ will bring peace to earth, not  ‘balance to the force’.  

THE BLESSING Throughout the series of movies the phrase “May the Force be with you” cannot be heard by  Christian ears without echoes an old Christian one of “May God be with you.” In addition, the Jedi Master Obi-Wan  proclaims to young Luke Skywalker, “Remember, the Force will be with you always”, reflects Jesus’ comforting of  His disciples: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

(Matthew Chapter 28 verse 20) 

No matter where we go, God goes with us – He telling us, from all corners of the  

earth, “I am your Father”. 

STORIES There is much more that can be discussed when  we start to compare

stories, TV and film. Is it possible to  try to read too much into a film? Of course (I may even be  slightly guilty of it on occasions)! However, it is through the telling of stories that we can  allow our minds to wander, to open and to glimpse truths that exist beyond our simple  understanding (“For now we see through a glass, darkly” 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 12  KJV). Jesus Christ described Heaven and Hell through stories, He explained the majesty,  judgement, wrath and love of God through stories. They are the perfect way to allow us  access into something greater. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, once said, “All I was trying to say in a very  simple and straightforward way, is that there is a God and there is a good side and a bad side.” From C3PO, “Thank the maker”, to Darth Vader and Yoda, “The Force is strong with this one”, Star Wars has unquestionable parallels  with the stories of the Bible and with Christianity. An epic tale of good versus evil; a story of virtue, patience, peace,  self-control and love; a story where individuals are bestowed with supernatural powers; where their faith is put to  the test; where, importantly and vitally, good wins – Star Wars or the story of Christianity!? One is a made- up story  set in space with robots, lightsabers and wookies, the other is a universal truth, in which good triumphs over evil and  we, the loyal Christian soldiers, have the honour, privilege and responsibility to share this truth! 

Prayers contributed  by Rebecca

Last week was Christian Aid week, with a focus on poverty caused by the Global Climate Crisis. Christian Aid have a real emphasis on prayer, and the following prayer is from their website and reflects the need in Israel and Gaza, and surrounding countries, at the present moment. 

God of peace, encourage those who seek to establish a fair and just peace in the Middle East.  Bless their efforts as they work to end conflict. Lead those who engage in violence to put down their weapons and to live in peace with one another.

God of justice, bless those who work for peace through justice.  Strengthen their resolve in the face of seemingly endless violence.  Guide the leaders of the peoples of the Middle East to know your will and to support a just peace for all of your children. God of love, lifting up the holy land for all humankind, breathe love and compassion into our prayers with a desire for nothing other than peace:  peace in our hearts, peace for all creation, and especially peace in the land that is called holy.

God of mercy, even as we long to understand that which is often beyond our comprehension, we lay before you the hearts, minds and bodies of all those suffering from conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, and from the ongoing occupation. Shower upon all the people of this holy land the spirit of justice and reconciliation.

God of the nations, give to all our people the blessings of well-being, freedom, and harmony, and, above all things, give us faith in you that we may be strengthened to care for all those in need until the coming of your son, our Saviour and Lord.

Amen.

We pray for the torn and divided peoples of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq; for refugees and uprooted families; for all living in camps and for those who assist them, and for all who have been bereaved, injured and traumatized.

Especially at this time, we pray for all who suffer in the midst of renewed conflict and attack. 

We pray for Israelis living with the threat of rocket fire, for Palestinians in the West Bank subjected to the violation of their civil liberties and human rights and living under the constraints of military occupation and settler harassment. We pray for the people of Gaza, living under blockade and repeated military bombardment, adding fear to the misery of poverty and want.

In particular we pray for children and young people caught up in terror beyond their understanding or control. 

We pray for those who have been killed, maimed, bereaved; those who have had their future torn away from them; those whose lives are bleak, lacking opportunity, mobility and hope. We repent of our complicity in silence, our closing our eyes to the needs and wellbeing of the children and our failure to reject the ways of violence, threat and injustice.

We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our peace and our hope. Amen

https://www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/worship/ecumenical-prayer-vigil-peace-gaza

I’m sure that many of us are also confronting a lot of feelings this week as restrictions due to Covid-19 are lifted further: excitement, anxiety, hope and more.

God, we acknowledge your sovereignty over our lives and our plans. We know that although our feelings, ideas, and desires seem so large to us, we are so small. Thank you that you care for us, and that you are working in the world for our good. 

As the church, and the country, enters a new phase as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, please give us wisdom, patience, and compassion in our relationships with others and in the decisions that we make. 

Amen

Weekly Reflection – 12 May 2021

There is a well-known story in The Acts of the Apostles (in the new Testament) where Paul and Silas find themselves locked away in prison. It is one of those which we remember as having a happy ending. We celebrate with both men, God answering their prayers, an earthquake releasing them and the conversion of the entire jailer’s family. A mighty story of transformation and change. 

But I sometimes wonder whether we miss some of the teaching in this story in the way it unfolds. Paul and Silas are being faithful and proclaiming God’s mercy and grace, railing against the inequalities taking place in a place of prayer. Their orders to free a slave girl with a spirit of divination went against the interests of her owners, who stood to lose a great deal of money if this girl was healed. So, her owners accuse Paul and Silas and have them beaten and thrown into jail. Even though the story, set out in Acts, is described in a few words, we realise that those who oppose these men are serious and will do whatever it takes to get things back to normal. So, Paul and Silas suffer a mock trial, are stripped, beaten with rods and then receive a severe flogging.

For those of us wanting to imagine the whole story, this prelude, which gets us to the point of release and conversion must have been dramatic and frightening for the two accused. Of course, this makes the miracle of the earthquake and being set free, whilst they languish in jail, even more dramatic. But what would have it been like for Paul and Silas as they waited for their fate to be determined?

We have not been in anything like similar circumstances as we have worked our way through this pandemic. But to simply jump to a ‘normal’ situation, the good ending, would be to ignore what we have all gone through getting to this point. It has been difficult. Most of us have suffered loss. To put it another way, we lose so much if we simply focus on the good bits, of reunion and the joy of having a hug.  

Think for a moment of what this period of confinement has meant to you. For those of us with a faith, I think there has been the added disappointment of people loosely connected with the church disengaging. We want all these people to return, but are not sure that they will or how to go about reengaging with them again. 

And what of our own beliefs and faith? This prolonged period of absence has meant for many of us a loss of contact with those we feel most comfortable with – those in our church family. So, what will it be like to meet up again? Will they remember me and to what extent should I hope that our relationships can go back to something like there were?

We have been looking at unanswered prayer in our GWP services over the past few weeks, attempting to answer some of those difficult questions about God seemingly being absent and not answering our prayers. Ryan’s prayers in this week’s Reflection touch on responding to this in silence. It is about using our time not to ask and plead with the Father to act but, rather, to be still and to listen. I know the account in Acts talks of these two prisoners praying and singing to God. We know that these prayers were heard by the other prisoners. But did they also stop and spend time in silence, waiting for God to respond to their cry’s? 

In our often busy and stressful lives there seems merit in offering to God our biggest fears, knowing that we do not have the answers, that it is only in the silence where we are really able to hear God speaking to us.

Amen.     

Mark

Prayers provided by Ryan

Following on from the service on Sunday, where Mark talked about using quietness when we pray and how there are many times when it is good to be quiet before God, the prayers follow that theme. There are times when it is appropriate to be quiet (and just listen!) whether that is as part of a time of meditation, in a formal or informal setting, in a church building or sat in the quietness of our own homes. It may be a quiet time by ourselves, thinking about our relationship with God, the blessings and struggles along our journeys of faith – knowing that the “unanswered prayers” are answered and we are always heard. In our often busy days we need to take time out to be quiet, to hear that gentle whisper of God’s Spirit, to be both blessed and strengthened.

“it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:26 NIV)

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

be still and remember

all the Lord has done;

in our darkness when

His word was our light,

in our gladness when

His joy was our song,

in our weakness when

His touch was our strength,

in our coldness when

His love was our warmth.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

be still, be still and remember.”

Father God,

You are the whisper in the breeze,

the calm voice within each storm,

the lamp inside the darkness

and the guidance along this road.

You are the hidden treasure;

You are the pearl of great price;

You are the one who occupies

the God-shaped hole within our lives,

that no other can ever fill.

However busy we might be,

may there be moments

when we are alone, to think,

to pray, to hear Your voice

and know Your presence

within and beside us,

through this and every day.

Be the light we walk by

Be the peace we know

Be the truth we hold to and

Be the love we show.

Amen

Weekly Reflection – 5 May 2021

When I was preparing my sermon for last Sunday, I was going to include a piece about this picture by Albrecht Durer – then the trend of my thinking when in another direction and I didn’t use it.

However the story and the picture stayed with me.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was the son of a goldsmith and came from a family of 18 children. His father had to work hard to support such a large family and he wanted Albrecht to follow in his footsteps as a goldsmith. But Albrecht wanted to be an artist and an engraver. He had a highly successful career and was asked to do many religious paintings for churches and religious establishments. 

This engraving was never meant to be a piece in its own right but was simply a sketch of hands for a much larger painting. In fact Albrecht did a lot of sketches of hands – he seemed to be fascinated by them. There are several similar sketches. However at some point he developed this drawing and made it into an engraving which he simply entitled ‘Hands’. ‘Hands’ became ‘The Praying Hands’ and is familiar to many people. 

There is nothing special about the hands as such, but this picture of  praying hands has inspired and encouraged so many people. God can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Josie Midwinter

Prayers contributed by Mark

There always seem so many different options for us to choose, different paths to take, decisions needed to keep us safe and secure. Sometimes these decisions are not obvious and we are left alone to make our choice. This can make us anxious and lead to self-doubt and fear. But God does not abandon us.  

Prayer for strength and guidance

Lord, I reach out to you for your guidance.
Please show me which way to turn.
Calm my anxious thoughts, come speak into my mind.
Strengthen me as I falter and feel weary.
May I feel strength rising up within my heart.
Bring clarity into my visions and dreams.
I trust that you are with me, no matter where I go,
Or what I decide to do.
You journey with me always.

Amen.


Prayer for strength and peace

O Lord,

You are the light that guides my feet.
You are the map that gives me direction.
You are the peace that makes me strong.
You are the leader whom I faithfully follow.

May your light illuminate my life
And your guidance bring direction.
May I find inspiration in your word
And peace in my heart as I follow you.

Amen.

Weekly Reflection – 30th April 2021

Phil K

This weekend we finally came up with a plan for overhauling our garden. Currently we are allowed to have up to 6 people, or two families in our garden – soon increasing further. However I’m not sure 6 people would really like to be in our garden at the moment: the previous occupants had a great liking for ugly concrete paving slabs, poorly laid and the “lawn” is infested with nettles and dandelions (to be honest, the yellow flowers do bring some much needed colour). While we have set about making changes to the house since we moved in a year ago we haven’t paid any attention to the garden, so it’s left as a bit of an eyesore.

This week we are looking at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Life Groups and on Sunday. Sometimes I get a bit distracted in these passages as I try to picture them – I’d like to think of Gethsemane as a ornate garden in a cottage style – full of deep beds with flowers and shady benches, but I suspect the reality was rather more prosaic. We read it was an olive grove and what it did offer was a sense of seclusion and retreat. This was where Jesus had chosen as his place to meet with God on what he knew to be his last night. Here he could be with his closest companions and pray. 

As we reflected on the passage this evening, this sense of place remained with me as something I think we may neglect and gloss over in our setting. When we don’t have a physical home to meet in, and can’t meet together anyway because of Covid, it is natural to focus on more intangible points of connection – community, understanding what God is doing and has done in his word, compassion for those around us. Even in our homes we can struggle to make special and sacred places to retreat to, not helped when we are spending more time than usual in one place.

However this sense of place and space is potentially something we need to allow us to meet with God. It isn’t that God is absent, or we cannot connect with him outside of some sacred building, but that in order for us to enter the mindset that engages with his voice we need to be in the right space, physically for that to happen. This has been my particular struggle with meeting virtually – I feel the need to go, out of my normal pattern and routine, to somewhere to worship to really be available. In a sense I need to meet with God physically as well as spiritually. 

Yet I think it is still possible to create those spaces. Just like the garden we have planned will take a lot of work, so we need to be prepared to put in the work to make the spaces we use to meet with God conducive to hearing his voice. Although he will always be with us, we can’t expect to enter his presence as simply as walking into a room. Soon we will be able to meet together in the new District Centre and I’m really looking forward to it. However there will also be a lot of work needed to make sure we are ready for it. Not only will we need to complete paperwork, risk assessments and plan out how things will work practically, but we will need to work together to make it a sacred space for us to meet God in. We will need to listen to him and each other as we prepare the ground for worship – establishing how we meet again and ensuring the space draws us closer to him. This doesn’t come without challenges, it isn’t our building after all, but it does provide us with a real opportunity to create somewhere that brings people closer to God.

Prayers contributed by Josie

ST GEORGE: PATRON SAINT OF ENGLAND

Last Friday was St George’s day. The English are not so good at remembering their day as other countries but in West Hagbourne they always have a display of dragons with or without St George! George is also patron saint of Ethiopia and Greece

Prayer for St George and for England

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the life and witness of George as he stood firm for the faith in his day and generation. We pray for England. Bless our nation help us to follow his good example and make us faithful to the message of the gospel.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

AMEN

Pray for St George and Ethiopia & Greece

Heavenly Father, We also pray for Ethiopia in a time of civil war and Greece in a time of economic difficulties. Help them to look to the example of George and face up to difficult times with faith and courage. We pray for the churches in both these counties as their leaders give support and encouragement where needed.

Weekly Reflection – 21st April 2021

You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Winnie the Pooh

What is your definition of bravery? 

In 1995, Braveheart won 5 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson). Ignoring how questionably historically accurate it is (or indeed isn’t!) there are probably two most famous parts and quotes. The first is the speech Mel Gibson, as William Wallace, makes from horseback, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” and the second, the final cry of William Wallace, “Freedom!”. Many people, perhaps even including ourselves, consider the ease from lockdown our way back to the freedom we are used to. It is very exciting and some would argue long overdue however, if we are returning to and now have this freedom what are we now free to do? 

From a church perspective, perhaps our most important is outreach which includes the outreach we do every day with everyone we meet, family, friends, work colleagues, strangers, shop assistants, etc. So, how brave are you? In Acts, Chapter 13 to 18, and actually for the majority of Acts, Paul demonstrates what a brave Christian is. No matter what he faces, no matter who speaks to him, his answer is always Jesus Christ. 

In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 

1 Peter Chapter 3 Verse 15

Paul’s answer is Christ…

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 

1 Corinthians Chapter 2 Verse 2

Paul travels throughout Acts. He starts at Gaza, and then travels to Jerusalem, Joppa, Samaria, Caesarea, Damascus, Antioch, Tarsus, Cyprus, Paphos, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Laodicea, Antioch, Miletus, Patmos, Ephesus, Smyrna, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Macedonia, Melita and finishes in Rome – that is a lot of places! He was shipwrecked, put in prison, whipped, beaten, stoned and left for dead. He faced robbers, thieves, ridicule, hunger, thirst – that is a lot of suffering! 

Paul is a missionary. Picture a missionary; we imagine Paul. We imagine the hardship, the constant moving, the fear and danger. However, perhaps we should look in the mirror? We are missionaries, in our own towns, villages, homes, work places, schools. We face the challenges and hardships and fears (and frustrations) – different challenges to Paul certainly but these are challenges.

What will you do with your new found “freedom”? What will you do when faced with the question, why do you believe what you believe? Why do you do what you do? If you are brave enough to answer “Jesus” then you are a missionary after Paul’s heart but, what is even better, you are fulfilling Christ’s commandment, the great and final commission: 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Matthew Chapter 28 Verse 19 & 20

However, and this is where it all gets very interesting, God isn’t asking you to be like Paul, you have to be you! 

Where does our great commission begin? It begins as we get up each morning. It begins where you are, right here and right now. At some churches there is a sign as you walk out of the door that proudly proclaims, “You are now entering the Mission Field”. It is absolutely true. What you say, what you do, who you are, proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ until He comes again. Paul did it and faced suffering and hardship – but he followed the instruction that was given to him by his Lord, by his God, by his commander and chief, “Go!”, go and tell people. Enjoy the Great Commission – it is a privilege and an honour to be part of God’s plan!

Prayers

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending us your son Jesus, that in him we have freedom, forgiveness and eternal life. 

May Jesus be our model. Help us to love, without considering what we might gain in return. Help us to ‘go’ and to ‘make disciples’ of others. Give us the necessary courage to be bold, holding on to your promise to journey alongside us. 

Help us, with simple words, to explain the warmth within our hearts that we experienced in that first encounter with your love and grace – the Spirit’s flame, still burning bright within – that others, in their own journeys of discovery might reach out and touch the hand that’s always there, and be embraced by love. 

May we be ready to abandon our own ways and to walk that narrow path that is your way for us. Give us courage and reassure us that there is true freedom here. And be our guide Lord, we pray, for the sake of you Son, who gave up everything for us. 

Amen