The 4th Sunday after Trinity 10th July

Please join us:-

8am ~ BCP Communion at St. Peter & St. Paul, Stokenchurch ~ Revd Philip Smith

9.30am ~ Morning Praise at St Peter & St Paul, Stokenchurch ~ Mrs Heather Ford Lark

9.30am ~ Holy Communion at St. Nicholas, Ibstone ~ Revd Philip Smith

10.00am ~ Jump for Joy at Holy Trinity, Lane End ~ All Age family Fun

11am ~ Morning Prayer at St Mary le Moor, Cadmore End ~ Mrs Tanya Sims


Listen, and you will hear

A very dear friend gave me a book for my birthday this year and I have just started to read it. It is called “How to hear God” and in smaller print on the cover it says ‘a simple guide for normal people’ and I really liked that bit!  It is written by Pete Greig who founded a global movement of prayer, mission and justice and I had the great good fortune to hear him give an address a couple of years ago; he has that rare gift which is when he speaks he holds his audience totally, his stories are amazing, funny and exciting and all relevant to his biblical subject. This story from the book, he says illustrates how we listen is more important than what is said.

Pete had managed to persuade his friend Rob to attend church, Rob suffered from a dependency on various drugs which resulted in enormous mood swings along with anxious behaviour. Pete was already regretting asking Rob as the church service seemed to be led by people who had their own agenda but he was banking all on ‘the talk’ which he hoped would really speak to Rob. Pete says he had been praying all week that this would be the moment Rob would hear God.  The chosen story on this day was that of Cain and Abel and how God had chosen the offering of food from Abel over Cain’s offering, which threw Cain into a rage and he killed his younger brother. Pete couldn’t believe it, he had been hoping for something so much different and relevant to Rob and was completely resigned to the fact that at the end of the service they would have an awkward conversation and there would be zero chance that Rob, an unbeliever, would ever attend church again. The conversation went like this-

Pete “So um what did you think?” Rob “It was incredible man!”

“It was?” Pete trying to conceal his surprise “which part?”

“The speech, it was incredible, it was like the dude was speaking just to me he kept saying over and over Caned and Able and that’s me, I get caned so I am the bad guy and Able is the good guy. I need to be Able instead, I need to stop getting caned ” Rob was shaking his head in amazement “it all pans out just like the preacher said”

Pete concludes that Rob might not have been listening carefully with his head that morning but he was certainly listening with a wide-open and beautiful heart and Pete suspected that Rob had heard from God more powerfully than anyone else in the room. Gradually, Rob stopped getting caned and got more able and eventually he became a follower of Jesus.

How do we listen to God? – I think Pete Grieg says it so well; that it’s more important on how we listen  than what is said. If we have an open heart inviting and expecting that God will speak to us through the scriptures, whether it is a sermon as it was for Rob, or of reading the bible, and it can be unexpected too, a line from a familiar hymn which we have sung many times can suddenly speak to us in a new way and that is God’s way of speaking also. Just pick up a leaf, a daisy even a blade of grass and look at it closely, and you will see the intricate beauty of its form. Allow yourself time to hold and marvel at this creative gift and see in its very existence how God is speaking to you and know that all the beauty in creation is His way of saying how much he loves each one of us.

Of course it doesn’t always happen, there will be times when nothing in the scriptures or a sermon has any real effect upon us and we should not get anxious about this. The most devout and beloved Christians throughout history have had times of ‘wilderness’. But God is still there; the lovely poem ‘Footprints’ reminds us that during those wilderness times God is in fact carrying us through until we can once again rest with him and his love once more.

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”  

(1 Samuel 3 v10)

Bridging the Gap

Dunster, Somerset

I love bridges, especially those that are over streams in picturesque places. The one pictured here was one I saw last week while I was away for a few days.

Last week we spent a few days in North Somerset, and when I looked back at the pictures I took, there were several different bridges – one over a brook for pedestrians, several  over a stream at Dunster Castle near Minehead, the  enormous Avonmouth bridge, that took us on the M5  from Bristol into Somerset. I find bridges inviting and particularly photogenic.

It got me thinking about the function of bridges, both in physical terms, and the bridges we seek to build in our relationships with others.

Bridges are often used to overcome or cross over some obstacle that is in the way. They are often the fastest way to get from one place to another, often avoiding a long detour.

But crossing a bridge can be daunting, if it’s over deep water, or at a great height, if there are high winds, or the bridge is unstable and obviously swaying – like a rope bridge.

Crossing over a bridge involves a confidence in the structure, its foundation and in the ability of the engineer and builder, whether it be on foot, by train, or by car.

Bridges require maintenance, whether they are made of stone or wood, cement or metal, ropes or asphalt.

Bridges also provide a different perspective, a different view halfway across and at the further end from our starting point.

What does it mean for us to build bridges?

A bridge can help improve relationships between people who we find to be very different or who we don’t, dare we admit it? – really like. When we find ways to communicate with the people we know in ways that are comfortable for them, they will feel more understood, and may understand us better too. When we feel understood, we are more likely to be open, willing to listen to that other person, and more willing to forgive when forgiveness is needed.

A bridge is a much-used symbol of communication and unity, and so we talk about the importance building bridges which link us with others, rather than walls that keep other people out of our lives.

The greatest bridge of all is the one that bridges heaven and earth, the connection between God and all of us. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of a mediator, the bridge between God and people on earth.

Jesus Christ was God in human form. He became a man, yet fully God at the same time, and He showed us what God was like. If we follow His example of love, and sacrifice and forgiveness, these are key ways we can copy Him in bridging the gap between us and our fellow human beings.

1 Tim 2 v 5 – 6  There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. (New Living Translation. )

Let us have faith

Sometimes as we move through life our faith will be tested, tested by events that happen in our daily life and in the life of our nation and the world, events that make the newspaper headlines and lead item in the news on our TV stations.

I recently took a funeral of a retired naval officer and the reading that the family chose was Jesus asleep in a boat in the midst of a storm. In the reading the faith of the disciples is being tested, they were being tossed and turned in a small boat the waves crashing in over its sides and they turn to their teacher, their rabbi only to find him asleep, and when they wake him up for help, Jesus rebukes them with the words: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” and calmed the storm. The disciples needed to have faith and to believe and trust in Jesus, he would never let them come to any harm.

We too are the same, we have to have faith and trust and believe that the promises God has made for us through Jesus Christ are true. It is God who is steering the ship of life, it is God who is in control of our salvation.

It is like a ship which was returning from an oversee voyage entering the St. Lawrence River. A heavy fog enveloped the ship on all side, completely concealing the shores and all objects from the view of the passengers. Much to their amazement, the ship continued at full speed. They became frighten considering such speed as extremely reckless on the part of the captain.

Finally, one of the passengers expressed concerns to the mate, demanding that the ship be slowed down. The mate listened, then replied with a smile: ’’O don’t be afraid, the passengers need not be uneasy in the least. The fog extends up only a short way above the water and the captain is at the masthead and is up above the fog and it is he who is directing the vessel.”

In the same kind of way, Jesus is asking us to believe and trust in God as the captain of our ship directing us above all the foggy situations of life when we may be troubled or distressed. God is directing our ship of life because as captain God loves us and wants us to have a life that is abundant with all of his blessings.

When was it we saw you hungry?

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

“Well” said God “The people in the second room were not trying to feed themselves with the long-handled spoons. They were using the spoons to feed each other. “Ah, heaven” said the man.

The source of this story is unknown but it is a lovely illustration of putting others first and caring and sharing for each other. 

In Matthew’s gospel chapter 23 v 31 Jesus is talking to his disciples about when he returns one day in glory how people will be separated one from another some on his right hand and some on his left. These decisions will be made according to how they (we) have lived our lives. To illustrate this Jesus speaks of all the things we have or have not done, he relates this to himself and when questioned by the righteous “ Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that We saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” Jesus answers “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least who are members of my family, you did it to me”. (Matt 25 vs 37-40)

“ When was it I saw you hungry?” We know only too well about hunger throughout the world and we know also about hunger on our own doorstep. As we talk to families we support through Community Matters we hear of mothers skipping meals so that their children have food to eat and recently, a family who went without electricity for two days because there was no money .

 I like to think of all of those kind and generous people in our community, our benefice and in the Hambleden Valley who give to Community Matters as those with the long spoons feeding each other.

They are caring for and feeding others who are unable to adequately feed themselves. I pray  that they will feel fed spiritually by knowing what a difference they make, whether it is a tin of beans or a financial donation and that they experience, a great feeling of satisfaction and pleasure knowing that they have helped to provide a meal for a family that they can all share together and know too that they have done it to and for Him.

We may not be many

I served my curacy in a large Town Centre Church where on most Sunday mornings there were over 200 people gathering together, but I might not see too many in the week. I served my first incumbency at an Urban Estate Church where on a good Sunday there were around 40 people but I would see far more in the week with our various activities that usually involved much hospitality.

Church attendances have understandably dwindled in the past few years and it may be easy to become despondent if we count such things as indicative of anything.

The reasons anyone comes to church are as many as the people who come to church. A church service takes up less than 1% of our weekly activity and that’s if we come to church every week. Someone has noted that a quarter of a church family come every week, a quarter come very fortnight, some come every month and some come occasionally. They just do and when each person’s pattern of attendance overlaps there’s often more than usual. I remember in my curacy at one of the churches that I served in once a month it took 9 months to meet a person who was a lifelong member, we just never coincided.

Some of the best church services I recall had very few people at them. One when I was exploring Anglican Ministry had 24 present and it blew my mind. Another in 2012 during the Olympics in Hackney had 17 and it was absolutely joyful. Another on a holiday at an evening in a beautiful old building that had been reordered to offer the most beautiful exhibition space had 7, two of whom were us. It was so special. I could share many more.

God is never interested how many there are, but he’s pleased that we are there. I come to church for an obvious reason that on a Sunday morning I wake saying ‘I don’t want to go to church’ with Lucy saying, ‘You’ve got to go, you’re the vicar’. There are now loads of reasons why some are unable to attend. The service may not be at a convenient time, illness, still feeling vulnerable with Covid not going away. Our children may be involved in other activities that matter to them, some share their time with other churches, some are doing grand parenting duties. The reasons for coming are as valid for the reasons some may not. Some may not come because it’s always communion and some may not come because it’s rarely communion, now’s there a conundrum haha!

Actually, I come to church because despite all the things we do in church that I could do on my own, I want to come and do them with a diverse group of people of all ages and theologies, traditions and personalities etc, who together make up the Body of Christ in any Community.

Hopefully there’s a church near you where you can find a place to belong, be loved and perhaps come to serve for a season. But I never worry about how many there are, because God is there and so am I. Oh and Jesus had something to say about, where two or three are gathered.

Here’s a song what I wrote.

We may not be many, there’s only me & you.
We may not be many, but neither are we few.

Sunday by Sunday the faithful come.
To start the week with God
And though there’s not room for everyone,
It needn’t feel so odd.

Some come to pray, others tag along.
It’s doesn’t matter who.
As long as they know that they belong,
no need to have a clue.

Sometimes we wish there were more of us.
But God knows why we’ve come.
Though we might fit in an omnibus
Yet God loves everyone.

Sometimes I wonder if I should come
I could have stayed in bed.
But when I do something happens here
because Christ is our head.

Church: it’s who we are not when or where we go, or log on!

Keep the faith. but never ever to ourselves.

Love Philip x