Update on the opening of our Churches for worship

Our clergy and churchwardens are currently working hard to open the churches of the parish for worship as soon as we are happy that we can keep those who attend safe and well.

We are aiming to resume services next Sunday 12th June, but due to the procedures we have to put in place we will initially not be able to offer the usual number of services that took place prior to lockdown. More information about this will follow in the upcoming days.

There will be no Sunday service posted this Sunday as Revd Mark is on leave for a couple of days, so please log on to one of the alternative online services that are available (See post below this one for further information).

Glorious Gardens

I’m an incompetent gardener, but I’ve been learning a few things these past few months during the lock down we are all experiencing. A friend gave me some seedlings and I ordered some packets of herb seeds, but even these have caused me challenges. Using the plastic drawer out of a filing cabinet, I placed several pots of compost in it, hopefully planting a few seeds.

The pepper plant became overrun with ants even though it was not outside and I needed to find out what to do to save the plant. Amazingly it now has three peppers growing that look actually quite healthy. Some carefully nurtured cress seeds and chive seeds died within a morning when I put them outside for some sun, and it was too hot for them.

The courgettes wilted through insufficient water, though now they are recovering. It’s a constant job, looking after plants I now realise, and they need care and the right treatment, from someone who knows what they are doing.

This got me thinking about gardens in the Bible and there are several where important events took place. There is the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve ate the fruit forbidden by God, and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and we read of Mary supposing the risen Jesus to be the gardener on the day of His resurrection until she realised otherwise.

In fact, it’s true, that God is the gardener. In John 15 we read Jesus’ words: “ I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” and as his disciples, we are likened to branches of the vine, which need pruning and tending.

 During the winter months, vines are dormant, and in some climates, need to be buried when it is very cold, for their own protection. Then they need regular pruning to keep them healthy, productive, attractive, and under control. Many vines just don’t know in which direction to grow and they must be taken in hand early on or they will be collapsing trellises, pulling down fences, causing all sorts of damage.

 And that can be a bit like us as God’s children as we don’t always go the right way either. In His loving caring way, God will prune us and enable us to become what He wants us to be, even if it is not always comfortable – but it is always for our good.

As we go Forward….

Lives have been changed in so many ways during this period of corona virus.  Dealing with isolation, loneliness, fear and bereavement have been the hardest part of all and to those who have experienced all or some of these situations it will take time to recover and heal. But there have also been wonderful acts of kindness, sharing, courage and bravery and these are the things we can celebrate and give thanks for. Apart from the knowledge that these acts are helping someone, there is a sense of deep satisfaction which many have voiced and a real hope that this will not be lost. We stand on the brink of change once more, can we go forward bringing with us all the good, the love the revaluing what is important that we have learnt, or will life return to the old values of wealth, achievement and power being the measuring stick of success?

There is a lovely story which I think illustrates my above thoughts, it could even be a parable that Jesus might have used.

A story is told of an old man who was resting by a tree having walked a long way on a hot day on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A man came along and saw the old man resting and stopped  to speak to him. As he did so he noticed the holy man had a pouch by his side and thinking it might be food asked if he could have some.  The old man opened the pouch and to the man’s astonishment he took out the most beautiful emerald the man had ever seen.  It was huge as emeralds go and shone brilliantly in the sunlight.  The man was amazed that this old man should have such a precious possession and as the old man watched it was clear to him how much the man wanted it. “ If you really want this” he said “you can have it”.  The man could hardly believe his ears but without hesitation or any sign of regret the old man gave his precious stone to the delighted man.

The man went on his way, hardly believing his luck and began making plans of how he would use this new found wealth that he now had.  He returned home and after a few days he still had the emerald and kept thinking about the old man and what had happened.  Suddenly he set off and retraced his journey to where he had come across the old man.  He continued on the same road for some time and then at last he saw the old man walking very slowly in the heat of the day.  He caught up with him and said “please stop a moment I want to ask you something”.  “What is it my son?” said the old man.  The man handed back the emerald to the old man and said “what I really want is something else you have. I want to be able to give away something so precious and have that peace and happiness to do so”.

Go Peaceful

It’s the start of another week, and I pray that God will go ahead of you, beside you and around you.

Recently we celebrated Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit came on the apostles, the same Holy Spirit will come to all of us who ask even now.

One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace, something that is very elusive in our troubled world.

The peace of being made right with God comes through Jesus dying and his resurrection, paying the penalty for our sin.

Peace in our daily lives comes to us through the Holy Spirit, and brings well-being and contentment and inner wholeness – whatever is going on around us. He can exchange the fear and anxiety we often face for the fruit of peace in our hearts.

Why not ask for God’s peace today?

And as you reflect, this song by Paul Field can help us refocus on the God of peace who is with us always when we turn to Him.

Go peaceful
In gentleness
Through the violence of these days
Give freely
Show tenderness
In all your ways

Through darkness
In troubled times
Let holiness be your aim
Seek wisdom
Let faithfulness
Burn like a flame

God speed you
God lead you
And keep you wrapped around his heart
May you be known by love

Be righteous
Speak truthfully
In a world of greed and lies
Show kindness
See everyone
Through heaven’s eyes

God hold you
Enfold you
And keep you wrapped around his heart
May you be known by love

God speed you
God lead you
And keep you wrapped around his heart

May you be known by love
May you be known by love

Either of these two links will take you the music and lyrics of this song.

https://paulfield.bandcamp.com/track/go-peaceful-live-studio-version

Sustenance for the journey

As the weeks continue it seems to be getting clearer that it will be a long time before we can all be together, see and embrace our families and friends without fear of contamination of Covid-19.  Even though the restrictions are beginning to lift, we are still a long way off relaxing back into the time when we can move around freely, going where we please and with whom.  We have come so far and it is often the very “last mile” which is the hardest and longest to cope with.

I am put in mind of Elijah, who had proved to be resilient and endured many challenges.  He had successfully triumphed on God’s behalf over the false prophets of Baal, but in the end was exhausted and in the words of 1 Kings 19 v3 “fled for his life” having heard of the wrath of queen Jezebel who was threatening to kill him.  He leaves his servant in Beer-sheba and goes on alone into the wilderness walking for a day until he can go no further.  He sits down under a tree and says “It is enough, now O Lord take away my life for I am no better than my ancestors” (v4).

Spiritual and physical strain leave Elijah in the grip of fear, depression and disappointment.  Exhausted, he sleeps under the tree and is awakened by an angel who offers him a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water.  He takes this refreshment but then falls asleep once more.

 The angel wakes him again, this time urging him to get up, eat and drink otherwise he will not have strength for the journey ahead. 

When we feel we cannot go on any longer for whatever reason, we need to allow ourselves to be ministered to. We need to take nourishment, food and water for our physical needs and spiritual nourishment too and that may seem much harder.  It might be a prayer, the words of a hymn or the words from a bible passage that come into our mind. A tiny bit of nourishment which may come from someone showing they love and care for us or just being still and handing it all over to God.

Elijah journeyed on and came to a cave in a mountain. God came to him and asked what he was doing there.  He told God how he had done everything asked of him and still he was alone and feared for his life. Then as he stood outside the cave there was a mighty wind followed by an earthquake and then a fire and then a complete silence. It was in the silence the whisper of God spoke to him. God had allowed Elijah to let go of all the worries and fears that had led him to such desolation and now gave him a new strength for the tasks ahead.

We may look for big bold gestures and results for our troubles but it is so often in the small things, gradually taking shape so that when we are ready, they start to reframe and refresh our spirits as we look to the future.  We do not know what sort of future we will eventually find or how different it will be.

 What we can be sure of though is that God will be with us. Whatever comes, his love and care will nourish and uphold us as we once again journey on.

A Compassionate Compass

Written by Toby Long

The compassing of God be upon you,

The compassing of God, of the God of life.

The compassing of Christ be upon you,

The compassing of the Christ of love.

The compassing of the Spirit be upon you,

The compassing of the Spirit of grace.

The compassing of the Sacred Three be upon you,

The compassing of the Sacred Three protect you,

The compassing of the Sacred Three preserve you.

Amen.

Caim Prayer from the Northumbria Community Trust

Celtic Daily Prayer; Harper Collins, 2005

What is a compass? A compass is an instrument used for navigation and orientation that shows direction relative to points. Usually, a diagram called a compass rose shows the directions north, south, east, and west. The prayer above shows God as our compass, pointing us in the right direction.

Throughout this testing time, through online means and phone contact, we have kept in touch with each other and with God. It may be in different ways, for example, by attending a virtual church service. A compass does not work unless you stand still. Now we are facing and overcoming challenges which we have never faced before. We are encouraged to stand still and take time to orientate ourselves and those we love and care for, knowing that we are all upheld within God’s love. We must each take time to stand still. Allow God to speak to you and think about the compass that God uses to direct you. What is God’s plan for you moving forward?

The compass is a symbol of navigating new waters, of moving towards new places and new ways of living. Bishop Steven’s Diocesan Vision is calling us to be Christ-like: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. The word ‘compassionate’, begins with a compass. Throughout this testing time, each of us can identify many examples of compassion. Taking time to thank key workers we might have previously taken for granted, a neighbour collecting groceries for us or being thankful to the delivery drivers bring parcels. By being compassionate, by feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others, we are being like Jesus, we are more Christ-like.

In supporting the 283 Church of England Schools within our Diocese, a document called ‘The Way Forward’ has been produced to support the pastoral and spiritual needs of headteachers, staff and pupils as schools return slowly to some normality. The image of the compass is central to these supporting materials.

I pray for each of us to welcome our guiding compass. Help us to be compassionate and see things differently. Keep us from making judgements about people and guidance to show genuine compassion to everyone we encounter.  I pray that the government will follow the compass for all and that God may guide the decisions that affect each of us. Amen.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,

Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41: 13

Thank you again to Toby for his contribution to the blog, if you would like to write something then please send it via email to the parish office parishoffice.sctc@gmail.com

Bird power

So many birds!

One of the things I have loved about the quietness of the lockdown has been hearing birds singing at all times of the day. My surname is Lark, so I am always mindful of that bird, and recall that it’s known for its singing, even while in flight and it also conveys to me having fun or larking around!

As I look out of my sitting room window, I see various birds – pigeons, a robin, a thrush, blackbirds, occasionally a woodpecker and it got me to thinking about birds in the Bible when I looked at the recommended Old Testament reading for yesterday’s main service – and eagles were mentioned.

What does Scripture say about birds?

Birds are mentioned in the Bible for various reasons, referencing them both in a literal and symbolic way.

In praise of God: the Psalmist encourages singing :

Sing to the LORD with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp. He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens (Psalm 147) …He makes springs…the birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. (Psalm 104)  

For provision of food: Quails were provided by God for the Israelites in their journey in the wilderness, small brown birds like partridges, known for their delicious meat. (Ex 16:13).

God provided Elijah the prophet with food via ravens, twice a day, morning and evening in a time when he was far from home.

The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (I Kings 17:6).

A symbol of strength and freedom from weariness:

The Bible also relates those who believe in God to eagles, as in Isaiah 40:31, we may grow tired and weary, “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. (Isa 40:31)

Eagles were known for their vigour and speed, and we are encouraged that if we hope [trust in God and look expectantly to Him], our weakness will give way to God’s strength. 

A symbol of the Holy Spirit – the dove was a symbol of hope and new life when Noah sent out a dove from the Ark to see if the flood waters had abated yet, and when the dove returned with an olive leaf in its mouth. (Genesis 8:8)

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus Christ at his baptism in the form of a dove, a public display of his divinity, a visible sign for everyone present.

For encouragement to turn to God:

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7)

Although migratory birds obey their God-given instincts, sometimes God’s people are rebellious and do not obey his laws.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus laments the fact that those who God has sent with his message over the years have been killed, rather than being recognised as God’s messengers. And yet, Jesus longs to be our protector and our guide in life.

‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matt 23v37)

Reminder of God’s loving care:

I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. (Ps 50:11).

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 

 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? 

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life (Matthew 6 :25-27)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matt 10:29)

We get an inkling of how much God cares for the birds and how much more he cares for us as humans, made in his likeness.

Reflection:

As you look over these verses, perhaps you can take time to praise God, thank Him for His provision, or turn to Him for His strength, protection or forgiveness.

Or perhaps realise afresh that He cares very deeply for you, and therefore you can trust him today and in the days ahead.

The Trinity – Sunday 7th June

To understand the nature of God and what the Trinity really means is in one sense always beyond our scope as humans.  God is never going to be quantifiable in human terms because he far surpasses what it means to be human.  But in another sense, we are able to understand his nature as we experience relationship with him and feel his love nurturing and caring for us. The great commission which Matthew records, sends the disciples out into the whole world to baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is the relationship with this God that transforms his people rather than an impossible definitive explanation of it. 

It is interesting and in some cases quite daunting to search for interpretations/explanations of the Trinity. What I have found is that without exception, all those who attempt to define the Trinity agree that it is almost impossible to explain or understand.

 I’d like to share with you one item I found in a book written for children (don’t they often have the best stories?)!

The word Trinity doesn’t occur anywhere in the Bible so the word itself is broken down, “Tri” and “unity”.  Tri quite clearly means three, the Father who is Creator, the Son who is Jesus the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who is the living Breath of God. “Unity” means a group being of one mind, of intertwining and co-operation of ideas and gifts. For children and maybe for us too, it is one way to think about it.

For me, the Celtic expression of the Trinity in the symbol above is one that I relate to.  The three shapes are all equal and all three are intertwined. There is no beginning and no end, they are everlasting.

Finally, I’d like to quote from this same children’s book, Living Stones by Susan Sayer.

 ‘Our God is wonderful and all knowing. He is the maker of our universe and of us all, he is the one who came as Jesus to die for love of us and save us, and he is present with his people living in us as the Holy Spirit.  How could we possibly ever expect to completely understand a God as amazing as that!’

Beyond the wind and fire

Pentecost through the eyes of a disciple.

Yesterday was Pentecost! We, and many others were celebrating the Feast of Weeks, and this was 50 days after the day Jesus rose to life after being crucified.

Before Jesus left us, He told us to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We did not know how long we would have to wait or how this would be, but we spent the time in prayer, we eleven disciples, and Jesus’ mother Mary and Jesus’ brothers. Day after day.

During this time, Peter stood up among the believers, about 120 of us, and suggested we needed another apostle to replace Judas. As we prayed, God showed us clearly which person He had in mind, and we added Matthias to our number.

We were all together in the one place, and suddenly we heard a sound like a violent wind that came from the heavens! It filled the place we were sitting in! We don’t normally get wind inside the building and this was really strong. Would the house survive?  I later remembered that in the Old Testament ‘wind’ was a symbol of the Spirit of God. (Ezekiel 32 v 9.)

As if the wind was not unsettling enough, what seemed to be a flame of fire then rested on each of us! As we looked around in bewilderment, everyone could see a tongue of flame on each other person, but no one was burnt. When we talked about it afterwards, one of us remembered that ‘fire’ was a symbol of divine presence way back in the book of Exodus when God was leading the Israelites, and when Moses heard God in a burning bush.

This was amazing! God visiting us in such a visible way that everyone there could see and hear, and we would be left in no doubt about what happened!

And then we were astounded when all of us were filled with the promised Holy Spirit – we knew for sure it was Him – and we were inspired by Him to speak in languages that we had not previously known!

It so happened that there were a large number of God-fearing Jews staying in Jerusalem at that time, gathered from every nation under heaven. I know that God planned it that way.  And every one of them heard at least one of us speaking in their own language!

 It was a miracle, because we are only simple Galileans who have never travelled far in our lives – and yet everyone there heard about the wonders of God from our own lips in their own language!

Some people were amazed, some were perplexed, others made fun of us and thought we were drunk, but it was only 9 o clock in the morning and we’d not touched a drop of wine, not one of us.

We all stood up and Peter, who had been so fearful and denied that he knew Jesus in the past, became our spokesman. He explained all about Jesus dying for us and rising to life again. He told everyone there quite boldly that if they repented, they would be forgiven their sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

He explained that this gift would be for them and for their descendants too. So that meant people yet to be born would also be able to receive the Holy Spirit.

God chose to speak in all the languages represented there, languages everyone could easily understand, wherever they had come from, places like Egypt and Libya, Italy, and Elam (Iran). So, no one needed to be confused about what they had heard, and clearly every language was valued by God.

The Holy Spirit inspired Peter and even though he spoke for quite a long time, people listened intently, fascinated. Many people were very moved, cut to the heart, and believed Peter’s message of salvation.

We could hardly believe our eyes! Three thousand people believed in Jesus through Peter’s address that very day, and we were kept very busy baptising them all for the rest of the day. We grew from 120 to well over 3000 in number in one day!

Wow! Three thousand new believers- and they will all be going back all over the world to share the good news of Jesus.

I can see that the Holy Spirit makes a difference already – we have a boldness to speak about God that was lacking before, and our faith is stronger. And He will be going with all those God-fearing Jews and others as they go back to their home countries. And I remember that Jesus said he would be with us always, so we’ll never be alone as we have his Holy Spirit in us.

And from what we heard, that goes for all those who will come after us as well! It’s an event of both now and the future!

A Prayer

We ask for your forgiveness, Lord,
when we forget
the power that lies within,
and trust instead
upon our human strength.
Remind us of that glorious day
when your Spirit
transformed the lives of those
who hid in fear,
into men of power.
Renew these hearts which have grown cold
with flames of fire,
as on that Pentecost,
that this might be
the church that you desire. 

(faithandworship.com)

I Was Glad

Vector Stainedglass Window Ancient Cathedral Temple Stock Vector ...

Recently my daughter Carol, who lives on her own, said, “one of the things I really miss and long for is someone to make me a cup of tea”.  I began to think about how we just put the kettle on as soon as someone visits whether for a short time or for a longer period; offering a cup of tea or coffee is for most of us automatic.  What does this say and how many ways do we say it? It can say welcome. When someone is distressed it can say this may help, it can break the ice when someone is finding conversation difficult, it can help restore us after a shock or injury and it can be a lovely experience just being with another person enjoying a garden on a lovely day such as today and drinking a cup of tea.  I’m sure you can think of many other “cup of tea” occasions.  This simple act which most of the time we hardly think about nevertheless can say so much and is how we relate to and care about each other. The story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman asking her to give him a drink was used so cleverly by him to offer back to her the cup of living water. He knew her history, her chaotic life and this drink she gave him was rewarded by the promise of new life, new hope, a thirst which would always be quenched by the water of life. There is a drink to savour!

Since having that conversation with Carol, I began to think of the things I was missing and I’m sure many of us have these thoughts now and again.

 I realized how much I was missing singing with the choir which Rev Mark, his daughter Catharine and I belong to.

 We had been rehearsing for nearly three months in readiness for our spring concert which would have been in April. One of the pieces in our concert was Parry’s “I was Glad” it is such joyful and triumphant music and has been sung at coronations and royal weddings.  The words, from psalm 122,  “I was glad, when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord” suddenly struck me, how glad I will be when at last I can with others go back into the house of the Lord, to worship, to give thanks and be in communion once again with our church family. When we do one day get to sing this glorious anthem, it will be in the house of the Lord; All Saints church in High Wycombe and I believe it will be a very emotional occasion. 

Let us pray that we soon can enjoy a cup of tea with others and the icing on the cake will be when we can, at last share that drink with all who will be so glad to be back once again in the House of the Lord.

If you would like to hear a recording of I was Glad just use the link below