From the Vicar's Jottings
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 19
“You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40).
The philosophy currently underpinning the latest restrictions designed to combat COVID 19 is an English proverb: “A stitch in time saves nine”. I probably heard those words first from my mother as she carefully darned one of my father’s socks, repairing a small hole in the fabric in an attempt to save the need for more stitching at a later date when the tear would have become larger.
Google informs me that the 'stitch in time' is first recorded by Thomas Fuller in1732. Fuller introduced the proverb thus: "Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine...."
I was taken to discover that 'a stitch in time saves nine' is an anagram for 'this is meant as incentive'!
One of our Bible Study groups is exploring the Gospel of Luke. This week we reached Chapter 3 which records the powerful ministry of John the Baptist. John’s role was to make ready the people of God for the coming of the promised Messiah. His message was hard hitting. At its heart was John’s exhortation to his hearers to amend their lives before it was too late. It was a message full of echoes from the Old Testament prophets.
It is a message for today. John the Baptist presented Jesus as a figure of judgment “His winnowing fork is in his hand...he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). But as he introduced Jesus to the watching crowds John declared “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29. The first coming of Jesus spoke not of judgment, but of salvation: “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
Today we are being urged, wisely, to protect ourselves and others in every way we can from COVID 19. Our incentive is the avoidance of greater disaster.
God’s plan of salvation will be complete when Jesus comes again. Jesus challenged his hearers to stay alert to the signs of His approaching return: “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28)
The wise and loving words of the apostle John provide us with a powerful incentive to be ready for that day:
Little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)
God bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 18
“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
In the last two days we have been told officially what we suspected anyway: that COVID 19, and the threat it poses to us all, is not going to go away any time soon. We’ve been advised that restrictions currently in place in the UK could be with us until the spring. In our heart of hearts many of us perhaps fear it could be longer still.
In the midst of the gloom, a friend sent me a cartoon which raised a smile: it depicts a masked Father Christmas with three masked reindeer and the caption: “Christmas is now mid-January, due to Santa having to quarantine for 14 days when he arrives in the country”.
What upside-down days. I find myself occasionally watching a TV drama probably made many months ago and looking anxiously for signs of social distancing. Life before March has taken on the haze of unreality.
I found myself turning once again to the Old Testament and to the prophet Habakkuk. We know that Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah but we know little else about him. Scholars have dated his prophecy somewhere around 600BC. It is believed that, like Jeremiah, Habakkuk probably lived to see his prophecy come to its first fulfilment in 597BC when Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonians.
Habakkuk’s prophecy speaks to a specific situation. God was preparing to bring judgment upon those who had turned away from Him and the instrument of His judgment was to be the Babylonian army.
The four chapters of Habakkuk are a conversation between the prophet and God. It was written for a people struggling to understand the ways of God. The questions and doubts that Habakkuk brought to God gave voice to the questions and doubts of the godly among God’s people. The answers of God to Habakkuk were the Voice of God to the people of God.
The circumstances of today may be very different but some of our questions are much the same. Habakkuk struggled to find answers for the people to whom he was ministering. He set himself to wait upon God: “I will stand at my watch...I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint”. (Habakkuk 2:2)
One answer comes with a glorious vision of a future when: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
And where there are apparently no instant answers Habakkuk provides a pattern of prayer just as relevant today:
“Lord I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds....renew them in our day, in our time make them known;” (3:2)
God bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 17
“Who touched my clothes?” Jesus asked (Mark 5:30)
The woman who turned to Jesus for help (Mark 5:24-34) had been sick for twelve years. She was probably extremely frail – and extremely frightened. Her illness would have made her an outcast among her own people. Today we see sickness differently but it can still set us apart from others. Often perhaps we feel reluctant to trouble even those who love us best with the details of our need.
Mark tells us that this woman had “suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors...” (Mark 5:26). It can feel like that sometimes. In 1st century Judaea there was no NHS – she had had to pay for every treatment she had tried. In absolute desperation she pushed herself through the crowds of people surrounding Jesus.
She had no words to say. She may have assumed that Jesus wouldn’t hear her anyway because of the crowds. Perhaps, as some of us often feel, she was also too weak and afraid to even try to put her needs into words. But when she was near enough to Jesus, she reached out a trembling hand and touched His cloak.
The word used for "touched" (Mark 5:27) might be better translated “clung to”. The woman held onto Jesus like a limpet until she got what she came for. She was healed. And instead of slipping away into the crowd she came and fell at Jesus’ feet and told Him her story.
With infinite tenderness, Jesus said to her: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). Jesus’ words indicate both physical healing and spiritual salvation. The woman had been set free from her suffering and she had also found eternal peace with God.
In the desperate times we are facing today this beautiful story is a reminder that we have a God who hears the faintest cry of our hearts when we cannot even find words to frame our need. Perhaps it is time we clung more tightly to the garments of God.
Despite her frailty, it is the persistence of this woman, whose name we do not even know, which lies at the heart of this narrative. There is so much that could have deterred her from reaching Jesus: the crowds swirling around him; the fear that He may have been too busy to pay attention to her; the weakness and despair which long illness may have generated in her over the years. But nothing stopped her.
The circumstances of today call for the same persevering faith. We may have run out of words; we may be exhausted and afraid. We still need to reach out to Jesus.
“Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found”. (Psalm 32:6)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 16
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1)
The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) is definitely not a mandate for Company Directors in 2020. Imagine the petitions and demonstrations if the guy who worked eight hours got the same wage as the one who worked four – or one. No loophole in employment law could accommodate that.
This parable is not 21st century pay and conditions; it is divine economics. It is a mirror up to the abundant generosity of God. It tells us that, in the economy of God’s eternal Kingdom, those who have been long in the faith have no advantage over those who come to know Jesus much later in life. It is a message about God’s all-embracing love that would probably not have gone down well with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. It is a Kingdom invitation to all who come to Him.
Among those who stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus was Mary, His mother. We know quite a bit about her faith and obedience to God. Somewhere close by was John, the beloved disciple. John had followed Jesus from the very first. Jesus clearly loved and looked out for them both, even as He hung there dying. Beside Jesus was a common thief. His death was a punishment for the life he had lived. But as he looked to Jesus and recognised Him for Who He was, Jesus promised him a place in Paradise. No distinction between those who had long known Jesus and the one who met Him at the very last moment.
At the final stretch of the 2020 Santander Triathlon in Barcelona last weekend the Spanish triathlete Diego Mentrida was trailing British athlete James Teagle. Minutes from the finish line Teagle took a wrong turn and Mentrida overtook him. But at the line Mentrida stopped to let Teagle take the bronze. Did Teagle deserve the medal? An amazing act of generous sportsmanship handed it to him!
If God paid us according to what we deserve we would be lost for all eternity. “The wages of sin is death” wrote the apostle Paul (Romans 6:23). The workers in the vineyard who put in a brief effort at the end of the afternoon probably didn’t deserve the same wage as those “who had borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12) but the owner of the vineyard reserved the right to do what he liked with his own money.
When it comes to salvation, God gloriously reserves the right to apportion it as He will, and He does:
“the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. (Romans 6:23)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 15
“Follow me” Jesus told him and Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 10:9)
Since Trinity Sunday the church lectionary has centred on an exploration of Jesus’ teaching as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Claudia’s insightful talks have delved into the richness of many of the parables of Jesus and reminded us of some of the great themes of our salvation.
Today the church celebrates the feast of St Matthew; a further opportunity to reflect on Matthew’s unique contribution to our faith. Many scholars believe the writer of the Gospel that bears his name was none other than one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.
Matthew the apostle was a tax man. Tax Collectors were despised because they were employed by the Roman occupying power. They also had a reputation for being dishonest and unscrupulous. Yet Jesus recognised something else in Matthew. He invited Matthew to become one of His first disciples. Matthew travelled with Jesus, witnessed His miracles and listened as He taught. Matthew came to believe Jesus was the Messiah whom God had long ago promised His people. He also came to see that Jesus had come not for the Jewish people alone.
The genealogy with which Matthew opened his Gospel traced Jesus’ Jewish heritage back to Abraham. At every stage of his narrative Matthew is careful to emphasise that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s Messianic promise to his people. But of the four gospel writers Matthew alone recorded the visit of wise men from the East to the infant Jesus. From the very beginning he presented Jesus as God’s gift to the whole world.
Matthew humbly understood himself to be one of the “sinners” whom Jesus came to call. He recorded Jesus’ words spoken in his own home: While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners ate with him. The Pharisees asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Matt.9:10-13)
We know little about Matthew’s later life. It is possible that he preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Some church traditions hold that Matthew died a martyr’s death. There is no evidence to support this. However, it is probable that, like some of the other disciples, he did die because of his faith.
Matthew is the only Gospel writer who includes the words with which I close. As a witness to the ascension of Jesus, Matthew was also a witness to His promise. It is a promise which stands as sure for us today.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 14
“I will exalt you O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths” (Psalm 30:1)
Many years ago a lovely lady shared with me the story of how she had come by her name, which was “Joy”. Her mother had been a long time in giving birth, struggling all night long with the pain of labour. In the morning her beautiful baby girl was born. Her mother remembered the words of scripture: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”! (Psalm 30:2)
I was never quite sure whether the story was true but it was a good one! In its proper context, Psalm 30 is David’s testimony to the enduring mercy and goodness of God in the face of the suffering of His often wayward people. The ascription above the psalm: “For the dedication of the Temple” suggests that David, who “made extensive preparations before his death” (1 Chronicles 22:5) for the eventual building of the Temple, intended that his composition should be used when it was finally dedicated.
This morning brings with it another plethora of sobering headlines about COVID 19. Whilst the UK considers a further raft of restrictions with the aim of combating the virus, the World Health Organisation reports that the “alarming rate” of transmission of the corona virus in Europe is a “wake-up” call for us all.
At the same time the many battles on other front lines continue. They include the record-breaking wildfires burning on the US West Coast. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes. Over thirty people have died. Plumes of smoke from the fires, carried by the jet stream have even reached the skies of Europe.
Where do we turn when we are afraid? Many of the people I met during my hospital ministry had grown accustomed to hiding their fear. Whether they were experiencing the pain of a broken body, a broken spirit, or a broken heart, they would courageously hide the fear that came with the pain lest they should become a burden to those who loved them.
Many of us are learning to hide our fear today. The pandemic has generated some memorable comedy which can rather wonderfully take our minds away for just a moment from its serious impact. We cannot perhaps always afford to dwell on the multiple suffering of our broken world, or even perhaps to contemplate the potential the virus may have to disturb and disrupt our lives and those of our loved ones.
But neither can we afford to ignore it. In contemplating his own suffering and that of his people, David was mindful of his fear, but mindful far more of his one sure ground for hope.
“O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks for ever”. (Psalm 30:12)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 13
I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written from prison. Chained up like a criminal, because he had been preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul refused to be downhearted. His eyes were fixed not on the bars which imprisoned him, but on Jesus.
Maybe few, if any, of us have ever been in prison. But as the pandemic rolls on, gathering apace here and there and still constraining the lives of so many, it is perhaps increasingly easy to become so hemmed in by the circumstances of our lives that we cannot see beyond them. Can we still trust God in the corona virus world of 2020? Can we trust a God whom we do not see?
One of the privileges of the past for me was the enjoyment of several holidays on cruise ships. In the sobering days of COVID 19 I cherish that privilege even more. I was constantly amazed and overwhelmed by the size of the ships. On one such holiday there was a total of 5000 passengers and crew on board. Each morning I made the long journey from one end of the ship to the other to attend a Bible Study.
From our cabin at the stern of the ship we could hardly see the bridge. We certainly couldn’t see the Captain. Some friends were nearer the bows of the ship. If they leaned over their balcony and twisted their heads round they thought they could see the stripes on the Captain’s epaulettes, but then it might have been one of the other officers...they really couldn’t be sure.
In other words, none of us could see him. Yet we trusted him to take us thousands of miles and through some very rough seas. Sometimes we heard him. He would come over the ship’s tannoy and reassure us that he was taking care of us – and we had to believe him. The further we travelled, the more sure we became that he deserved our trust.
Finally the Captain hosted an on board party and we got to see him face to face. There was much excitement and applause because we were able at last to see the person who had taken us to so many extraordinarily beautiful places and, at times through very rough conditions, had kept us safe from harm.
Paul had complete conviction and confidence that one day he would see the Lord in whom he had placed his trust. He was unswervingly certain that God would take care of him until then.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. (Hebrews 11:1)
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS SERIES 2 Number 12
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)
The account in Mark 2:1-12 of a paralysed man brought to Jesus for healing is one of my favourite gospel narratives. It is no ordinary story. The friends who carried him created a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching and manoeuvred his mat to Jesus’ feet.
The story is a celebration of friendship. There was no way the man could have reached Jesus by his own efforts. His friends undertook to take him. It wasn’t easy.
“I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul remembering my good Friends”. (William Shakespeare) Life gives us the unique joy of dear friends who leave footprints on our hearts. For some of us it is the friends who first brought us to Jesus, or who have never failed to pray for us, who mean most in our lives. I thank God for friendship.
Mark’s account is also a celebration of faith. During my Chaplaincy ministry we experienced the sudden death of one of the hospital’s best loved consultants. A family, who had long benefited from her care, said “We had such faith in her and that helped us so much”. Faith in the care, kindness and skill of others can often be an enormous source of strength.
This story is about faith in the power of God; not the faith of the paralysed man but the faith of his friends. We too sometimes need to depend on the faith of others to encourage us, perhaps not least in the circumstances we find ourselves now. Sometimes, by the grace of God, our faith can bring support and strength to others.
Friendship and faith – both are central to what happened in Capernaum that day. But in a sense the point of Mark’s record lies elsewhere.
The man’s friends clearly cared for him deeply. They would have gone to any lengths to secure his well-being. They also had great faith in Jesus to meet their friend’s needs.
But it was Jesus alone who saw the real need of that man’s heart. Yes, the man needed physical healing, but that would only come after Jesus had looked at him lying at His feet, frail and helpless, and said to him “Your sins are forgiven”. (Mark 2:5)
Undoubtedly the man’s friends were taken aback, disappointed, maybe even angry. They could well have been facing a fine for criminal damage! But they were not short-changed. Their friend was wonderfully healed, both in body and in soul.
The real lesson is that God knew best. The promise in the turmoil of today’s world is that He still does.
“When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way” (Psalm 142:3)
God bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Day 11
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them”. (Hebrews 6:10)
Yesterday I caught sight of a magazine article which celebrated some personal and domestic achievements of Lockdown. It seems, for example, that many people used Lockdown as an opportunity to “de-clutter” and to get on with a variety of other household jobs which had previously been left un-tackled. Looking around at my increasingly cluttered study and contemplating the long list of tasks that I would like to get done, I wondered if I am really as truly out of step with the majority of the population as that article would have me believe?!
One of the things that Lockdown did enable us to do was to focus on those who work to care for us. The regular ritual of applauding the staff of the NHS at least guaranteed that we would take a few moments each week to remember that we owe our safety and well-being largely to the sacrificial care of others. At the same time, many of us have cause for great gratitude to teachers and school staff who stayed in constant contact with students and their families and devised many creative ways to ensure education continued throughout that long challenging time. I don’t suppose many of them got much de-cluttering done either!
I find it hugely disturbing then, to read this morning’s news headlines which continue to report that a lack of corona virus tests for NHS staff is leading to staff absences and services being put at risk. Some have to self-isolate rather than work because they cannot get tests for themselves or family members.
Alongside that headline is a similarly sobering report relating to teachers which says that schools in England are being "severely hampered" by delays in corona virus tests for teachers and their families. As a result some teachers too have to self-isolate, with some returning to providing online lessons from home to support their already over-stretched colleagues.
How quickly we forget. Perhaps we could take a few moments today to pray especially, as many of us probably already do, for our teachers, healthcare workers and indeed many other key-workers who are struggling now to find support themselves despite the fact that they have so tirelessly supported us. Let us pray that justice will be done for those who have done, and continue to do, so much for us all.
Hebrews 6:10 (quoted above) reminds us that God does not forget those who lovingly care for others. The closing chapter of Hebrews reminds us that we are all called to imitate their behaviour:
“Do not forget to do good and to share with others” (Hebrews 13:16)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 10
God shows his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8)
Yesterday, as we gathered in St Jude’s Church for the second time since restrictions were lifted, we reflected that it had been half a year since we had last been able physically to worship together. Many still cannot join us because they remain especially vulnerable to the threat of the corona virus. But, thanks to the great blessings of technology, many will be able to worship with us on line for a while yet.
The theme of our worship was “forgiveness”, a theme that I have often touched upon in these jottings. We heard once again the parable of “The Unforgiving Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35) and considered the challenge it presents to us all in our walk with Jesus today. If prayer is the glue that unites us in fellowship, then surely forgiving love towards one another is the cement.
Today the church marks “Holy Cross Day”, a moment to reflect on the cross of Christ and the significance it bears for us all. Crucifixion was not only an agonising death. It was a shameful one – reserved for the worst of criminals. And yet, as one of the prayers set for today reminds us so vividly: Merciful God, through the death of your beloved Son you transformed an instrument of shame into a sign of hope and glory.
The Cross of Jesus is the greatest symbol of forgiving love that the world will ever see. I shall never forget the privilege of a brief visit to Croatia, a country of intense beauty, still then emerging from the desperate ravages of a bitter war. At one point on the coast line, as we looked up at a land now at peace, bathed in the beauty of the summer sunshine, our eyes were drawn to a huge wooden cross on the hillside, towering over the town below. There was the hope for the future; there was the reminder of the loving arms of our eternal God still stretched out in mercy to all who come to Him.
In today’s painfully uncertain world, the Cross of Jesus is an ever-present reminder that God in Christ has shared all the pain and tears of this earthly life, as well as its joys. There is nothing about our human condition: our fears, our doubts, our hopes that God does not understand. In Jesus God has faced even death for us. And on the cross, and sealed by Jesus’ resurrection, death has been transformed into the glory of eternal life for all who place their faith in Him.
Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God, the just, is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me. (Charitie de Chenez 1841-1923)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 9
“Seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6)
Today marks the 19th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and on the Pentagon. Almost 3000 people were killed, including 343 fire fighters and 71 law enforcement officers. More than 90 countries, including the UK, lost citizens in the attacks.
An annual commemoration is held at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, on the site of the New York attacks. It will be a different ceremony this year. I quote from the Museum’s website:
“Out of an abundance of caution and in line with the guidance regarding social distancing, we will not ask family members to read the names of victims in person on a stage this year. Recorded readings of the names made by 9/11 family members will instead be used. We are closely monitoring the evolving status of the COVID-19 health crisis and are planning accordingly to ensure safety while maintaining our mission to honor the victims and those who risked their lives to save others”.
What a powerful reminder of the far reach of COVID 19. Those who gather to honour their loved ones and to acknowledge the ever-present pain of loss now face the ever-present threat of an invisible enemy unknown in 2001.
On the Greek island of Lesbos, fires have destroyed Europe's largest migrant camp, designed to hold 3,000 people. The fires have left the nearly 13,000 people living there without shelter. Over the chaos of the fire and the sheer numbers of those who have been so cruelly dispossessed, yet once again, hangs the threat of COVID 19.
As an A level student many years ago I was captivated by Hamlet. Faced with the task of avenging his father’s life Hamlet bewails: "The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite that ever I was born to set it right!"
We are in danger of making Hamlet’s mistake today. The corona virus is surely reminding us that we cannot put it right. In Mark’s Gospel we read the account of Jesus’ healing of a boy with an evil spirit. His father had asked Jesus’ disciples for help “but they could not” (Mark 9:18.) The boy was brought to Jesus, who commanded the spirit to leave him. Afterwards, Jesus’ disciples asked Him “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (9:28). Jesus replied “This kind can come out only by prayer” (9:29).
Yesterday I reflected on the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). The people of God had forgotten their need of God. Complacent in their affluence, their attitude had become “I do not need a thing” (3:17). God had waited patiently for them to turn back to Him. In His grace and love He still waits for us today.
“The Lord, the Lord is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4)
God Bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 8
“Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me”. (Revelation 3:20).
As a child of twelve, taking first tentative steps to invite the Lord Jesus Christ into my life, I was given a tiny reproduction of “The Light of the World”, the famous artistic interpretation by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) of the verse quoted above.
In this painting, which in the art world is considered to be “one of the most significant allegorical works of the Pre-Raphaelite movement”, the door at which Jesus stands is ancient and overgrown. There is no handle on the outside. I have always been profoundly moved by Hunt’s evocation of the beauty of the light of Christ. Some sources apparently claim that Hunt may have created this glorious pre-dawn setting by painting after dark in a hut on a Surrey farm! The life-sized version of the painting, which Hunt completed, with assistance, in the closing years of his life, has hung in St. Paul’s Cathedral since 1908.
Revelation 3:20 is often explained, as it was to me, as a depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ standing at the door of our individual lives. Jesus waits, with absolute patience and immeasurable love, for you and me to open our hearts to Him. Many lives have been transformed because of that verse.
In its context this verse forms part of a letter “To the angel of the church in Laodicea” (Revelation 3:14). There are seven such letters recorded by John in the opening chapters of Revelation. The letter to Laodicea (modern day Pamukkale in western Turkey) is the last. Each church has a defining characteristic. The church in Laodicea is identified as “lukewarm – neither hot or cold” (Rev. 3:16). The hot springs which fed the city’s water supply were outside the city, and by the time the supply arrived it was, indeed, lukewarm.
In AD60 Laodicea suffered a terrible earthquake. The Roman historian, Tacitus, records that the emperor Nero offered aid to the city, which its people refused to accept. At the same time its church no longer recognised its need of God’s aid. God called the church, as surely he calls the church today, to repentance and to the reopening of its doors to Him. It was an opportunity not to be missed.
The complex COVID 19 guidelines issued by the government yesterday appear still to allow churches to meet for worship. We have been handed an opportunity to listen afresh together to what God is saying to us in these challenging times. As we reopen our doors to one another, let’s not forget to reopen them to Him.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22)
God bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 7
“Be very careful how you live...making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16)
Recently I have been catching up with some online training to support my role as ex-officio governor at St Jude’s School. This has included one or two sessions around the effect on education of Lockdown and the pandemic.
One slide in particular grabbed my attention. Formatted like a road sign on an A Road, the top line read “Opportunities”. Beneath it were two arrows pointing in opposite directions. One was captioned “Missed” and the other “Taken”. My thoughts strayed a little to what had been the opportunities presented by the early days of Lockdown. Perhaps those included the chance to pause and reassess priorities; to rediscover a sense of what is truly important. Maybe that moment passed all too quickly but maybe it has left a blessing behind.
Mark 10:17-31 records a missed opportunity. A rich young man came to Jesus and asked him “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17). Jesus recognised in him all the signs of his outward obedience to God’s law. Mark tells us “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (10:17). But Jesus also recognised that, for that particular man, it was his love of money which stood between him and God. So Jesus challenged him “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor” (10:21). The challenge came with a promise “...and you will have treasure in heaven” (10:21). It also came with an invitation “Then come, follow me” (10:21).
Perhaps one day we shall discover whether he came back to Jesus. I like to think he did. I like to think that he reflected on Jesus’ promise and took up His invitation. But on that day at least the opportunity to join the company of the Son of God and to enjoy one day all the riches of heaven was missed...”he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (10:17).
In an arresting contrast, Mark 12:41-44 records Jesus in the Temple, watching a widow placing in the treasury an offering of two small coins which amounted to “a fraction of a penny” (12:42). Jesus saw beyond the poverty of her offering: “she put in everything...all that she had to live on” (12:44). However hard, she took the opportunity to give out of the wealth of her love.
The opportunities presented to us in our walk with Jesus day by day are, for now, largely known only to Him. History may record whether we made the most of the opportunities and the challenges presented to us by lockdown or whether we missed them. But one day eternity will record what we did with the opportunities offered to us by Jesus
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 23:15)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 6
“His banner over me is love”. (Song of Songs 2:4)
One of my favourite books of the last year has been “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by the Christian artist and journalist Charlie Mackesy. This assorted company of characters enjoy a series of adventures, with plenty of opportunities to stop and reflect in between.
On one occasion the boy becomes very anxious about the journey that still lies ahead for them all. He remarks, perhaps rather wearily, that there is still a very long way to go. The horse, with the gentle wisdom of size and years, reassures him simply by pointing out how far they have already come together.
What a word that is for us today! In so many ways the journey ahead of us all, in unwilling company with COVID 19, stretches ahead seemingly endlessly. Day by day we become almost more aware of the ongoing limitations that this pandemic could still impose upon us. Even as progress is being made and the immediate threat to life is perhaps reduced by greater awareness and understanding of the virus, the threat to many livelihoods remains. There is a long way to go before we can relax our vigilance – and perhaps we never shall be able to relax as we could just a few brief months ago.
But perhaps we also need to reflect on how far we have come. We have travelled through the extraordinary circumstances of Lockdown, now greatly eased in many areas, although still present in others. We have learned to endure separations which we would have once thought intolerable. We are learning to bear with the accumulated minutiae of the demands of the virus which can too quickly morph into a mountain. And we are gradually finding ways of coming back together.
Maybe we have also become more aware of others on their own particular COVID 19 journey. I am especially mindful just now of a dear friend undergoing intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy, who has each day to walk into the hospital on her own, and who has many more sessions of treatment before the cycle is complete. She is very aware that there is a long way to go – but she is also aware of how far she has come.
And isn’t life like that anyway? Some of us have already travelled a very long way!
We travel together under the banner of God’s love. Who knows how far we have to go? But God knows, and that is everything that matters.
In the words of what has become one of the best loved of all hymns: “Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. ‘Twas grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home” (Amazing Grace, John Newton 1725 -1807)
God Bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 5
Jesus said: "For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20)
Yesterday we took our tentative first steps towards returning to a more familiar pattern of worship at St Jude’s. We did so with an enormous sense of gratitude to all those who have enabled and supported our online worship Sunday by Sunday and who will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. I am especially grateful to Guy Bunce, to whose dedication and skill we owe those services.
I am also grateful for the many blessings of online worship, including the way in which it has reunited us with dear friends of St Jude’s who are now scattered across the world. They and new friends too, have been watching and worshipping with us each week. .
Coming together again is a matter for celebration. It also presents its own challenges. What we can do together remains limited by COVID 19. Some of us are very weary with COVID 19 and its restrictions. I admit to some of the frustrations which can accompany that weariness and which can too easily spill out on to others around me.
In Matthew 18: 15-20, yesterday’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses the division which can arise, even between Christian people. He challenges those who follow Him to deal with divisions privately, only bringing a dispute between two people out into the open when it cannot be put right any other way. He goes on to remind us that the cement in Christian relationships is prayer. Our gatherings may still be small, we may still be separated from each other, perhaps by many miles, but we can still unite together in prayer in the assurance that God will hear us. When the family of God prays together, then we stay together.
Back at the beginning of Lockdown I sneaked into St Jude’s to buy a pot of chilli jelly! I don’t know who makes it but it was delicious!! There was no-one to take my money so I left an IOU and paid back the money later. In Romans 13:8 we find these words from the pen of the apostle Paul: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another”; words which could almost be a banner above this passage from Matthew.
In these difficult times God surely calls us to care for each other with a love that in some small way reflects His love for us. As we embark on this stage of our COVID 19 journey, let it be with an appreciation of each other; our concerns, our frailties and our needs, so that we journey on together with compassion, understanding and hope.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11)
God bless you. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 4
“Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away” (Song of Songs 8:7)
A few days ago I conducted the first wedding in St. Jude’s since Lockdown began. Interestingly it was also the first wedding in St. Jude’s since I had been formally collated as Vicar.
It was a wedding unlike any in which I have participated before. In order to preserve the social distancing required by the COVID 19 guidelines, every other pew had been made unavailable for use. The 30 guests (the maximum number allowed at present) were scattered throughout the church. Some were sitting in their family bubbles. One or two were on their own. Everyone, with the exception of the Bride and Groom, was wearing a mask. And I had the strange experience of conducting the service shielded by a visor.
Looking out at the congregation, protected as I was by a thin layer of plastic, two things in particular came to my mind. The first was the sacrifice that the pandemic has already demanded of so many. The marking of the most significant life events has become either impossible, or has been altered and reduced, almost beyond recognition. The celebration of life, whether in circumstances of the greatest joy, or of immeasurable grief, has been reduced to that which can be most safely managed. Bursting hearts and broken hearts have had to give way to the reign of COVID 19.
Then my thoughts turned to the verse of scripture I have quoted above. The love abounding on that rather grey August afternoon was tangible. It was there on the faces of the Bride and Groom, for whom nothing could mar their joy in each other. It was there in the eyes of their loved ones and friends. It was there in the words of their own Pastor as he encouraged them both to nurture the love which had taken such deep root within their lives and which was already proving such a blessing to those around them.
Love was there, as love is always there, in every promise of the service. “God is love”, the service begins “and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them”. (1 John 4: 16). It was there in those solemn vows made by that couple to each other “to love and to cherish, till death us do part”.
Love is the greatest shield we have in the midst of this pandemic. It is the raft in the river that supports us every new and difficult day. The love of God in Christ meets us in every circumstance of our lives and will never, ever let us go.
“These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series 2 Number 3
“People were bringing little children to Jesus” (Mark 10:13)
Please pray with me today for our children. Many are now returning to school, some of them after many months away. The pandemic has profoundly altered the course of education and teachers and children will be embarking on the challenge to catch up and to mitigate the damage that may have been done. Starting back to school in September has always been a big deal. There are always new challenges to face; new teachers to meet; new relationships to be established. This year there are also new bubbles to be made and new habits of health and safety to be negotiated.
Please pray for our parents. The “letting go” of a child into the care of others, which education necessarily requires, is made far harder by the uncertainties of the present time. Thank God for our teachers, for whom the safety, security and well-being of our children are always paramount.
Some time ago I quoted the words of a car sticker which was once very popular: “If you can read this, thank a teacher”. It was a reminder of the uniqueness and quality of the impact made by teachers on our society. In today’s circumstances that impact is writ large. In these uncertain times teachers are proving to be the glue helping to hold together the most precious human beings in our society: our children.
Please pray for our teachers and school staff. Many, especially perhaps our school leaders, have had little rest and relaxation during the weeks of the summer. Instead they have been working enormously hard to ensure that this week’s return to school provides a safe welcome for every individual child. They have wrestled with instructions and guidelines which have inevitably undergone frequent changes in order to reflect some fresh understanding of the progress of the virus. They have had to adapt teaching programmes to meet the limitations which may lie ahead, as well as those which are already in place.
One of my favourite apostles is Peter. He wasn’t always Peter. His given name was “Simon”. Simon was a fisherman who left his nets to follow an itinerant rabbi named Jesus. There probably wasn’t too much health and safety on the journeys they made together. Simon proved to be an impulsive personality, given to spontaneous gestures, someone who demonstrated both strength and frailty. But Jesus recognised his potential and renamed him Peter, the “rock”; recognising that one day Peter would become a leader in the early church.
Our teachers will do for our children what Jesus did for Peter. They will recognise their potential and will nurture them to take their place in this ever-changing world. Please pray for them.
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series Two Number 2
Two years ago I reached a junction in the road. After over twenty years I felt it was time to leave Englefield Green. Thoughtfully and prayerfully I began flat hunting on the Wirral peninsula. God seemed to be leading me in a new direction.
Claudia recently reminded us that Matthew 16 presents Jesus at a junction in the road. The road ahead was the road of suffering and death. Small wonder that Peter, who had so recently confessed his personal faith in Jesus, tried to deflect Him.
He was looking to see Jesus take the road to glory. What Jesus described could not have seemed further from that. But Jesus stood at that junction in the road knowing that through the offering up of His life, the gift of eternal life would be offered to the whole world.
Jesus turned to His disciples and said: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me". (Matthew 16:24) In some parts of our world today the persecution and pain endured by those who walk the road that Jesus walked is greater by far than anything we experience in the western world. They know what it means to shoulder the cross of suffering and to cling to the promise of Jesus: "those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. (Matthew 16:24)
There is a very real sense in which we stand today at a junction. COVID 19 has brought suffering of many kinds, sometimes to those we know and love. As God’s people we have experienced absence from one another and we have missed the fellowship we have come to treasure. There will undoubtedly be changes and challenges ahead. Sacrifices have already had to be made and there may be more to come.
But Jesus stands with us at this junction. He still calls us to follow Him; to look beyond the circumstances of this present time to the future God has prepared for those who love Him: "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”.(Matthew 16:27) In the economy of God no sacrifice however small, made for his sake, will go unnoticed; no commitment, however hesitatingly offered to Him, will go unrewarded.
I never made it to the Wirral. God had chosen a different road. I am humbled instead to have been given the continuing privilege of serving Him here, alongside you on the road that is ours in Englefield Green. The advice that the apostle Paul offered the early Christian church for the journey that lay ahead seems very apt for today:
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Series Two Number 1
“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
Beside my bed I have a stone inscribed "He is my anchor". It comes from the beautiful beach of St Martin’s Bay, New Brunswick, Canada.
Jesus asked his disciples a question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) The disciples were probably glad to run past Jesus some of the regular gossip surrounding Him: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. (16:14).
It seemed the best people could suggest was that Jesus was a reincarnation of some celebrated religious hero. All those prophets were dead, even John the Baptist. No-one could come up with an opinion as to who the living Jesus of Nazareth could actually be.
“But what about you...?” Jesus asked them. “Who do you say that I am?” Wouldn't it sometimes be good to step into the Gospel narrative and see what happened next? Be a fly on the wall, as they say?! There was perhaps a brief silence; a moment of embarrassed shuffling of the feet. And then Simon, as he still was, ever spontaneous, always the first to leap out of the boat, said, or maybe even shouted “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (Matthew 16:16)
What an incredible moment of transformation for Peter. And an insight that could have come to him from God alone. But the question Jesus had asked of all the disciples was still hanging in the air “Who do you say that I am?” It's a question that still hangs in the air today.
Through the centuries many have acknowledged Jesus as a good man who profoundly influenced the course of history. But Jesus also died. He died an agonising death on a wooden cross outside Jerusalem.
Yet, as a hymn says: “We serve a risen Saviour; He’s in the world today!" Jesus burst the bars of the tomb. If we don’t know Jesus as a living companion on our own life journey, do we know Him at all.
The apostle Paul, reflecting on the wilderness journey of God's people of old wrote: “...they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
When the ground today is shifting beneath our feet most of us need a rock on which we can stand firm. That rock is Jesus. Most of us need an anchor to secure us to the hope of salvation when everything else seems uncertain and insecure. That anchor is Jesus. And all of us need a Saviour who will give us peace with God today and who will one day take us home to be with Him. That Saviour is Jesus.
“But you...?” Jesus said “Who do you say that I am?”
God bless you dear friends Judith