From the Vicar's Jottings
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Day 108
Then Samuel said “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
Today I’m paying tribute to some very special people here in Englefield Green. Around this time primary school education is coming to an end for many children. Year sixes will leave schools where they have spent much of their lives and move on in the autumn to secondary schools. It’s a pattern that repeats itself each year, but this year it has a very different feel.
In a recent You Tube Service we were privileged to hear Mrs Vicki Chiverton, Head Teacher at St Jude’s school, tell us what life has been like there during this unusual summer term. She reminded us that many of our children are now about to take the next step on their school journey. In September every child in our village will find themselves, if not in a new school, at least in a new class with a different teacher. These are big changes, and all against the background of uncertainty and challenge that is COVID 19.
Head teachers, teachers and staff have been working incredibly hard to make these most significant of transitions as smooth as possible. We are so hugely indebted to them for all they have done over these last months to give our children stability in a very unstable world. And we are hugely indebted to those many parents who added “Educator at Home School” to their CVs.
At one of the St Jude’s School assemblies before lockdown, I shared the story of the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1). We learned how Hannah, childless and bereft, was gifted by God with a son. When Samuel although still a young child, was old enough to leave home, his mother took him back to live in the “house of the Lord at Shiloh” (1 Samuel 1:24).
There, as he slept one night in the tabernacle, Samuel heard God speaking to him. That is perhaps the very earliest reminder in scripture of the unique place that children have in the kingdom of God. Samuel was entrusted with the secret things of God’s heart and “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up” (1 Samuel 3:19).
As our children grow up today, and especially as they leave behind the schools that have been their second homes for many years, perhaps that might be our prayer for them. As they make that journey to a different school, or take their place in a new class, we pray that God will be with them and that they will discover their own unique place in His heart of love.
And the New Testament has a special promise for all who nurture and care for our children:
Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5)
Rock on, year 6!! God bless you all. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Day 107
“On whom are you depending...?” (2 Kings 18:21)
Three years into the reign of Hoshea, king of the northern tribes of Israel, Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah. Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord...” (2 Kings 18:3). One of the first achievements of his reign was the reopening of the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
But Hezekiah’s faithfulness to God, and his strategic determination to lead the people of Judah away from the pagan worship which had been allowed to infiltrate and flourish in their land, did not guarantee him an easy reign. He, like Hoshea, was confronted with the mighty army of Assyria. The fortified cities of Judah were captured and the Assyrian army made its way to Jerusalem, the very heart of Hezekiah’s kingdom.
Officials from the court of King Sennacherib and from the court of Hezekiah confronted each other outside the city. The Assyrian field commander read aloud Sennacherib’s message to Hezekiah: “On whom are you depending that you rebel against me?” (2 kings 18:21)
Hezekiah took the message to the Temple and “spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). The rest is history. Jerusalem remained safe. Eighty-five thousand men in the vast Assyrian army died and Sennacherib fled in defeat. Shortly afterwards Sennacherib himself was assassinated by his own sons.
Hezekiah’s troubles, however, continued. He became very seriously ill and pleaded with God for his life. The prophet Isaiah, whose words had enabled Hezekiah to find strength in God when Judah was under siege, promised: “This is what the Lord says...’I have heard your prayer and seen your tears...” (2 Kings 20:5) Hezekiah reigned for another fifteen years and Jerusalem enjoyed a brief time of peace.
For many of us the historical records of the Old Testament are a closed book. Perhaps you, like me, struggle to see what the battles of the ancient past have to do with our walk with God today.
Yet we have battles of our own. We are confronted now by a tiny unseen virus that has laid siege to us all and shows little sign of departing any time soon. The devastation it has wrought across the world becomes ever more apparent. So too, maybe, do its effects upon our individual lives and the lives of those closest to us. In many ways, the easing of lockdown has generated fresh uncertainty and fear.
On whom are we depending now? God, who hears our prayers and sees our tears, invites us still to depend on Him. The future is unknown, but we know our God. The words of Isaiah, which so fortified Hezekiah, can fortify us still today:
‘This is what the Lord says...“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine”’. (Isaiah 43:1)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Day 106
“But my people would not listen to me...” (Psalm 81:11)
Hoshea was the last king of the northern kingdom of ancient Israel. He reigned for nine years and the assessment of his reign is marginally kinder than those of his predecessors: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings who preceded him” (2 Kings 17:2)
But, nonetheless, during his reign Hoshea was taken captive by the King of Assyria and imprisoned. The Assyrian armies laid siege to the city of Samaria for the next three years. Finally Samaria was captured and its people taken into exile in Assyria.
The King deposed; the people deported. The division of the kingdoms took place around 930BC. The fall of Samaria came in 722-721. The unknown historian behind the book of Kings says with confidence: “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh, King of Egypt ...” (2 Kings 17:7) For 210 years successive rulers had failed to return their peoples to the will and ways of God.
The people of God, whose history was defined by the majesty and mercy of God in freeing them from slavery in Egypt, had now found themselves enslaved again to a foreign power. They had ignored God’s prophets who had warned them consistently: “Turn from your evil ways...” (2 Kings 17:13).
These are sombre reflections for a wet Wednesday! But yesterday I was asked, not for the first time, whether the global pandemic might be an expression of the punishment of God. That’s a very big question and one we probably cannot answer now. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight and understanding that the writer of 2 Kings was able to employ. But God surely still has something to say: “If my people would but listen....” (Psalm 81:13)
In the early days of lockdown we were blessed with a greater quiet. It was a joy to hear the birdsong, loud and clear. It was a joy to listen to the silence beneath blue skies. The world is becoming noisier now but God still invites us to listen to Him.
God has addressed the world’s sin and disobedience through the death of His only Son. Jesus is the living expression of God’s mercy. Through the storm of this pandemic He speaks to us still. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to hear what He is saying to us today. The pause button has been pressed and we need to hear the whisper of God’s voice. .
Jesus said “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24)
God bless you, dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Day 105
“He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam...which he had caused Israel to commit”. (2 Kings 15:9)
In my daily Bible readings I have reached the second book of Kings, annals of Old Testament history recording the reigns of the ancient kings of Israel. The length of each king’s reign is recorded. Then there is a brief assessment of his achievements.
In the short biographies of four different kings (2 Kings 14:23-15:38), a single phrase occurs four times: “He did not turn away...” Jeroboam had been a powerful official in the court of King Solomon. He became the first of the northern tribes of Israel after the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom into two parts. But, from the first, the heart of King Jeroboam was also divided. He was remembered for adopting and adapting pagan religious practices from neighbouring nations. Over and over again, successive kings failed to turn away from those practices and to lead the people back to God in single-hearted devotion to Him.
The leaders of the southern kingdom of Judah fared only slightly better. Two kings, we read, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3). But...“The high places...were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifice and burn incense there” (2 Kings 15:4)
The people of God had largely lost their exclusive allegiance to Him. The longing in the heart of God that they should return to Him in repentance for their past sins echoes again and again through those poignant words: “He did not turn away...” Each time history pressed a pause button; each time a new king stepped up to the throne there was an opportunity for change. Each time they did not turn away.
COVID 19 has pressed a pause button across today’s world. We have a greater incentive for change than many of us have ever known. Our misuse of the world’s resources; our failure to address discrimination and injustice; our neglect of the impoverished and forgotten – all these things, and many more, have been thrown into sharp relief against the background of the pandemic. Our prayer must surely be for national and world leaders to turn the incentive for change into the opportunity to turn away from some of the many failures and injustices of our past. .
But COVID 19 has pressed a pause button in our lives too. We have never known times like these. We look towards a future that will be remarkably different from anything we may have envisaged even four months ago. Some things may be better; some will be harder. Perhaps God is challenging us also to turn away from some of those things which have previously hindered us in our whole-hearted commitment to Him.
Jesus said: “Come to me...” (Matthew 11:28)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
JUDITH’S JOTTINGS Day 104
“Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:19)
Yesterday was the 72nd birthday of the NHS. For 25 years I was proud to be an NHS worker, a colleague within its army of skilled and dedicated clinicians, plus many others, who faithfully and sacrificially serve our needs day by day. Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, said yesterday:
“This year has been the most challenging in NHS history, with staff displaying extraordinary dedication, skill and compassion to care for the 100,000 patients with COVID-19 who needed specialist hospital treatment and many others besides.
During this testing countless NHS colleagues were sustained by the support of the public. From bus drivers and teachers to care staff and food retailers and the public who stayed at home to stop infection spreading, everyone played their part. Today is an opportunity to pause and say a heartfelt thank you”.
We owe so many thanks. We are indebted to those whose needed treatment was delayed so that the focus of care and prevention might be on COVID 19. I was moved by the words of someone who had temporarily to forego immediate cancer treatment. She said: “I am willing to go without my treatment for now if that means that the lives of others can be saved”.
There are patients and nursing home residents who have foregone visits from those closest to them. Many have died in the competent and compassionate care of healthcare professionals but without a loved one at their side. Outpatients have attended difficult appointments without the support of a friend or family member. Mothers have given birth with greatly reduced support from their partners because of the very necessary measures put in place to halt the spread of the virus. So many people have faced loss with even greater and particular pain because of its isolation. All of these and many more deserve our gratitude and our greatest respect.
COVID 19 will not disappear anytime soon. Nor will the heartbreak and fear it has brought in its wake. There is much restoration needed; within the NHS and beyond.
In Psalm 80, the prayer quoted above is repeated three times. The psalmist is praying for his nation in the aftermath of destruction and disaster and in the face of an uncertain future. We are in such a very similar place today. As we pause to say “thank you” we must also pause to pray.
“In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
PS The eagle-eyed will have noticed I have changed my heading. Lockdown is easing and we must move on. There will no longer be a Saturday jotting, but I’ll still be penning my way among you from Monday to Friday!
LOCKDOWN Day 102
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1)
On 4th July 1776 delegates from the thirteen colonies on America’s Atlantic coast signed a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. The United States of America was born.
Thomas Jefferson’s draft was based on the principle that everyone is created equal, and everyone has claim to “the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Sadly in America today, as in every nation including our own, the struggle continues to enable each and every human being to enjoy those rights.
The Bible has much to say about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-3:24) records how human beings disobeyed God and so forfeited their right to the life He had planned for them.
Adam and Eve were ejected from the garden and God “placed...cherubim and a flaming sword...to guard the way to the tree of life”. (Genesis 3:24). Gone was the untarnished enjoyment of the beauty of creation. Gone was the joy of human relationships unmarred by discord and division; gone was the delight in the unfettered presence of God in our midst. But the Good News is that in the Lord Jesus Christ the way to life is restored. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life; and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Liberty has never served us very well. That first rebellion against God left its indelible mark. The Old Testament details again and again what happened when the people of God used their freedom to go their own way. So often the pursuit of liberty led to captivity of one kind or another. Jesus perceived that human beings had become captives to sin. He offered a different way: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The Apostle Paul reminded us the new freedom we find in Jesus is to be used to “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Gavin Reid’s “A New Happiness” is an exposition of the Beatitudes of Jesus. (Matthew 5). If it is still in print, it is worth a read. In God’s economy, the elusive quality of happiness is stored up firstly for those who are hurt and trampled upon in this life. Then it is gifted to the peacemakers who pursue the needs and rights of those otherwise denied them. Rather than being a declaration of independence, the Beatitudes are a declaration of the human need to be dependent on God Himself if we are to enjoy the life and freedom He offers us in Jesus.
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ “(Galatians 5:14)
May God bless you all and our many dear American friends on July 4th 2020. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 101
Recently I was reminiscing about some of my experiences as a Hospital Chaplain. I wasn’t talking about frontline patient care, but about the regular team briefings Heads of Department were expected to attend. At these meetings the ongoing strategy for frontline patient care would be outlined and explained. The briefing would always be followed a question and answer session.
On one memorable occasion, our Chief Executive had clearly had enough probing from the Chaplaincy! The room dissolved into laughter when he said, with some understandable exasperation: “Does anyone but Judith have a question?”!
Today we celebrate the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle, whom the contemporary poet, Malcolm Guite, has described as the “Courageous master of the awkward question”.
In John 11 we read the account of the sickness and death of Lazarus. Lazarus’ sisters had sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness. Two days after receiving the news Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us go back to Judaea” (John 11:7). The disciples responded immediately. The last time they were in Jerusalem the Jewish religious leaders had tried to attack and seize Jesus. “But Rabbi” they said “a short while ago, the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” (John 11:8). Twice, they tried in to dissuade Him. It was left to Thomas to say to them: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16)
The raising of Lazarus is an amazingly powerful story, a curtain raiser for the resurrection of Jesus Himself. It is easy to forget the part played by Thomas. But Thomas’ insight and courage are remarkable. This was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps it was also a turning point in Thomas faith.
But, committed and faithful as Thomas may have been, there were still things he did not know or understand. Jesus began to speak to His disciples more and more about His approaching suffering and departure. “In my father’s house are many rooms...I am going there to prepare a place for you. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4)
Only Thomas, it seems, was prepared to ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Would I have dared to ask? Somehow I doubt it. But Thomas’ question elicited the answer that has brought many generations of people to faith: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), replied Jesus.
Thomas challenges the strength of our commitment to Jesus. He also reminds us that it is all right to ask of God the questions we hardly dare to frame. That may be especially relevant in these dark times.
“Thomas said to Jesus ‘My Lord and my God’” (John 20:28)
God Bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 100
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them...” (Luke 15:4)
We have reached a significant milestone in the progress of lockdown! We find there is still a long way to go in the global battle with the coronavirus pandemic. I turned to the gospels to see what place the number “one hundred” has in them.
In Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, the number one hundred is the full number of the flock. When only one is missing, the flock is no longer whole. As Jenny reminded us yesterday, a conscientious shepherd would leave the ninety-nine in order to search for the one that was lost. The parable is a picture of the love of God in Jesus for you and for me. God is so utterly committed to us that He spared no effort to bring us back to Himself. Without our return to Him God’s plan of salvation is incomplete.
In Matthew 18 “one hundred denarii” (just a few pounds) was the amount owed by a servant to one of his peers. His creditor had just been freed by his master from a debt running into millions of pounds. Falling on his knees he had begged his master “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything” (18:26) His master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.
Leaving his master, the servant ran into the man who owed him such a tiny amount of money. His debtor begged “Be patient with me and I will pay you back”. (18:29). But, instead, the creditor threw him into jail. When news reached the master he was furious “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33)
It is a parable about forgiveness. God in His grace and mercy has cancelled every debt we owe to Him. In turn, God asks us that we forgive others the infinitely smaller wrongs they may do to us.
In John 19 we read how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared the broken body of the crucified Jesus for burial. The lavish weight of the spices brought by Nicodemus to anoint Jesus’ body was about “a hundred litrai” (John 19:39) or around seventy-five pounds. Such was the love Jesus had inspired in those who chose to follow Him.
It is love that unites these instances of the one hundred. It is the love that brought Jesus into this world for me; the love that on the cross forgave my every sin; the love that God longs to see in my heart for Him.
It is God’s unconditional love that will sustain us now. The words of John Newton are very apt for this one hundredth day:
“Tis grace that brought me us safe thus far and grace will lead us home”
LOCKDOWN Day 99
Jesus said “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. (John 3:17)
In the last week or so we have begun to receive information about how and when churches can reopen. I’m grateful that other people at St Jude’s are reading this guidance too because it’s both complicated and detailed – as indeed it has to be.
The Church of England and the Methodist Church have issued guidance to support and explain the advice from the Government. There is one key principle behind the guidance. That principle is reflected in a quote from the Government’s own strategic planning document for life beyond lockdown: “The over-riding priority remains to save lives”.
That is our key priority – to keep all of you as safe as we can. So if we seem to be moving very slowly at the moment that is the reason. We shall reopen St Jude’s, but only when we are as sure as we can be that it is safe to do so.
Imagine that quotation, slightly amended, as a poster outside our churches. “God’s over-riding priority remains to save lives”. Thousands have already died because of the coronavirus, many have died without their families at their side. Frontline healthcare workers describe holding the hand of someone else’s loved one as they slipped away into eternity. Many of those who have died have been prayed for over and over again. Yet death has still come. COVID 19 has brought renewed questions as to why a loving, compassionate God should seemingly allow such pain and loss.
We shall never truly know the answer to those questions until we come face to face with God in eternity. But we do know that God’s over-riding priority has always been to save lives. The heart of God broke in the Garden of Eden when humankind first chose their way rather than His. The Bible is the story of how our sovereign God became our Saviour God, tirelessly seeking to bring His people back to Him.
Today, thank God, scientists and healthcare professionals remain focussed on saving lives. We continue to pray alongside them; to pray for a vaccine; to pray for a cure. And God hears our prayer.
But God has a wider plan. No-one could have shown more compassion than Jesus did to the sick, the sorrowful, the bereaved, the lonely, the marginalised, and the poor. When God sent His Son into the world it was to remind us that, whatever life may fling at us, with Jesus we are never alone.
Yet God’s focus was always on the bigger picture. In sacrificing His own life, Jesus came to save our lives for eternity.
“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 98
Jesus said: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40)
One of the greatest privileges of hospital ministry for me was ministering alongside our large team of Chaplaincy volunteers. The volunteers came from churches of all denominations, united by their shared desire to reflect the love of Jesus to patients and staff alike.
Part of the inspiration behind the team was a piece of toast and marmalade. Early on in my ministry I was called to A&E to meet Jemima. Jemima was an elderly lady who was used to being in and out of hospital. She was a Christian and wanted to be sure she would see a Chaplain during her hospital stay.
She was also hungry. I found the toaster in the staff room and got her a slice of toast. After that, whenever she came back into St Peter’s she would introduce me to anyone who cared to listen as “the lady priest who made me toast”. It helped me to see that there would always be patients who needed not only spiritual care but also the occasional touch of practical help that the nurses and other clinicians might be too hard pressed to offer. The vision of a Chaplaincy Volunteer Team was born although Health and Safety stopped us making toast!
Jemima was a woman of great faith. I was humbled to realise that she had accepted a simple piece of toast as coming to her from God’s own hand. Her faith set the pattern for our team. Whatever we were asked to do we must remember we were doing it in Jesus’ name, representing Him and reflecting His love. That was both our inspiration and our challenge.
COVID 19 may have closed our church doors, although not perhaps for much longer. But we are seen many volunteers at work among us over these past months. Many of them have been working through our Village Centre and through Mutual Aid, giving time, care and practical support to the people of Englefield Green. In so many ways they have reflected among us God’s own compassion and love.
Perhaps we have seen, in these difficult days, that God’s love cannot stay locked down in a building, even one as beautiful as St Jude’s. There is an open door in the heart of God for each one of us. The arms of Jesus that opened wide for us all on the cross are open still. And the world around us needs to recognize, even in the simplest expression of our care, the loving hand of Jesus Himself. What a privilege! And what a responsibility!
“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple...will certainly not lose their reward." (Matt 10:42)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 97
“Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat”. (Luke 5:3)
Today the church celebrates the feast day of St Peter. I’ve always had a soft spot for Peter. I began my first post in full-time Church ministry on St Peter’s Day 1980. Then in 1995 I began almost 20 years of ministry in St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey. Every year in the Hospital Chapel we celebrated the feast day of St Peter. It was an opportunity to invite staff, and others who may not otherwise have come into the Chapel, to hear the Word of God.
Perhaps St Peter is someone with whom many of us can identify. His passionate longing to follow Jesus, and the mistakes he made along the way, are things that we can well understand.
Luke 5 describes Jesus’ encounter with Simon Peter after he and his colleagues had experienced a fruitless night of fishing. Jesus borrowed Peter’s boat and used it as a floating pulpit. When the sermon was over He told the men to go out again into the deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Although they had already worked all night and caught nothing, the fishermen did as Jesus said. The result was such a vast catch of fish that both their boats began to sink.
On that day, Simon Peter allowed Jesus to enter his workplace. Work would have been the key part of Peter’s life; his security and the security of his family, as it is for many of us. For some, no longer working, other things take that place. Does Jesus find His place there too?
On that day Simon Peter allowed Jesus to touch his heart. Convinced there were no fish to be had that day, something within him nonetheless responded to Jesus’ challenge to try once more. His reaction to the vast haul of fish was one of overwhelming emotion; the recognition of his own sin and need in the light of the power and holiness of Jesus.
And Peter began to allow Jesus to transform his life. Jesus had met with him, as He meets with us, in life’s ordinary circumstances. Just as He challenged Peter to leave that life behind, He continues to call some of us today from where we are to where He wants us to be. But He calls some of us to stay where we are, to journey with Him in the familiar, things of life, and in the hard places of sorrow, illness and loss. Today He calls us to journey with Him through the uncertain days of COVID 19 and to trust Him for the unknown future.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the Lord Jesus Christ...we were eye-witnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 95
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." ..(1 Peter 2:9)
Today is an “Ember Day”, one of three Ember Days this week. According to folklore, the weather of the Ember Days sets the pattern for the weather for the rest of the season. If this proves to be the case we are in for a pleasant July, a baking hot August and a wet September! Please remember that you read it here first!
The observance Ember Days has its origin many years ago, possibly as far back as the agricultural feasts of ancient Rome. Later, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday four times each year, became days of prayer and fasting for the church in blessing of the seasons. Christians gave thanks to God for His creation, reaffirmed their stewardship of creation and their responsibility to provide for those in need.
Today Ember Days are especially associated with ordinations to the ministry. We are called to pray for those who are preparing to enter a lifetime of Christian service. But COVID 19 means that, like so many life celebrations and commemorations, ordinations have had to be postponed until the autumn. Please pray especially for those who were preparing for ordination this weekend. Postponement will be especially hard for those who are at the very beginning of their ministry.
Forty years ago that was me! I was preparing to be licensed in the Anglican Church as a Parish Worker. Over the years two of the many life lessons I have learnt through the privilege of ministry seem especially relevant today.
Firstly, ministry is something all of us share. Some may have been collared and given particular responsibilities but all of us have been called by God to proclaim the good news of His love in Jesus. We belong to what Peter so wonderfully describes as a “royal priesthood”! It is an untold honour for me to serve God alongside loving and committed Christians from whom I have learned far more than I taught.
And secondly, I have learned that God never fails us. Ministry to me at this present time doesn’t seem quite what it said on the tin, but then life for all of us is not quite what it said on the tin! But we belong to a God on whom we can depend in every circumstance of our lives. In the time of Elijah, many were struggling for survival amid famine and drought. Elijah’s ministry was to proclaim the faithfulness of God.
And so is ours.
‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” (I Kings 17:14)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 94
God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people”.
(2 Corinthians 6:16)
Today football has knocked COVID 19 off the top spot of the news. Behind closed gates, with the charismatic Jurgen Klopp undoubtedly loudly endorsing every skilful dribble, Liverpool FC has eventually won the League title, for the first time in 30 years. And, please note, all you Reds fans, that it was Chelsea FC who finally got you there – by defeating your fiercest rival!
The anthem of the Kop is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel”, famously recorded in 1963 by Gerry and the Pacemakers. In April 2020, in tribute to 99-year old Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising walk during lockdown, singer Michael Ball performed "You'll Never Walk Alone" for him live on the BBC. The performance became a digital single, featuring the NHS Voices of Care Choir, and Moore's spoken words. It went straight to the top of the charts. Proceeds from its sale went to NHS charities. Moore became the oldest person to achieve the distinction of being at number one on his 100th birthday.
In the musical the song is sung by Nettie, cousin of Julie, to comfort her following the death of her husband, Billy. Tuesday this week was “International Widows Day”, so designated by the UN to draw attention to the poverty, injustice and isolation still suffered by many widows in all parts of our world. I am grateful to the friend who directed me to Tuesday’s “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio Four. The speaker was the Revd Dr Michael Banner, Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Dr Banner highlighted the account in Luke 7 of Jesus’ restoring to life the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus met the funeral party at the town gates, as the dead man was being carried to the graveyard outside the town. Luke tells us that when the Lord saw the woman, “his heart went out to her...” (Luke 7:13). Significantly, at the very moment Jesus met her, the woman, so tragically bereaved, was about to leave the safety, security and society of the town for the perilous terrain beyond. Jesus stopped her, and, in raising her son, literally turned her life around.
Isolation, one of the most devastating effects of human loss, has become one of the most damning effects of lockdown. Perhaps, as Dr Banner said, lockdown has made us more aware of those are constantly isolated.
The Bible highlights the compassion in the heart of God for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 10:18) It is a compassion He calls us to share.
“What does the Lord your God ask of you but...to walk in all his ways?” (Deut. 10:12)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 93
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
A day or so ago I quoted the poem of Francis Thompson: “In No Strange Land”. As a child I knew the poem as a hymn which we would often sing in a school assembly. I understood its meaning very little but I was inspired by the beauty of its language.
Francis Thompson was a Lancastrian, born in Preston in 1859. His father was a doctor with ambitions for Francis to follow him into medicine. At the age of eleven Francis was sent away from home to a Catholic Seminary near Durham. He was a delicate and shy boy who spent most of his free time in the school library. He went on to study medicine but never practised as a Doctor. In 1885 he moved down to London, where, homeless and penniless, he tried to make a living as a writer, whilst taking on a variety of odd jobs. Sadly he developed an addiction to opium, which had initially been prescribed for a medical condition.
In 1888, after Francis had lived rough for three years, the editors of a poetry magazine recognised the quality of his writing. They gave him a home and paid for treatment to overcome his addiction. He wrote most of his poetry over the next ten years. He published his first collection, to great acclaim, in 1893.
Francis’ last years were marred by illness. He died at the age of only 47. His tomb, in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kensal Green, bears an inscription from one of his poems: “Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven”.
“In No Strange Land” celebrates the closeness of God. Francis was no stranger to suffering. His work reveals a deep sense of the presence of God, even in the midst of pain. Our Creator God, awesome in His power, draws nearer to us than we might ever imagine: O world invisible, we view thee, O world intangible, we touch thee, O world unknowable, we know thee, Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Thompson’s best known poem is probably “The Hound of Heaven”. This poem reflects not on our seeking God but on his seeking of us: I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; ...and in the mist of tears I hid from him.
In these uncertain and difficult times, both poems hold a promise for us all. Whether we are seeking God, or seeking to hide from Him, His presence is ever near.
In the Lord Jesus Christ God has come closer than ever before: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death alight has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 92
“The Kingdom of God belongs to little ones like these” (Mark 10:16)
During lockdown some of us have welcomed new members into our families. Out in Tanzania my nephew Stephen and his wife Afua have rejoiced in the arrival of baby Ailsa, a beloved sister for Twaha and Alfan.
Congratulations to all the new parents and grandparents of the lockdown!
Today marks the feast day of the birth of John the Baptist. The focus of Luke’s account (Luke 1) is on his proud parents. Zechariah, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth were advanced in years and childless. Elizabeth was assumed to be unable to conceive. But God intervened. One day as Zechariah served in the temple, he was confronted by a vision of an angel who promised Elizabeth would bear him a son.
Zechariah was overcome by the vision. He was stunned into silence by the angel’s words. For the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy he was unable to speak. When the child was born he could only communicate his name by writing it down: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). Luke continues: “Immediately his mouth was open and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God” (Luke 1:64)
I want to raise a shout to all the new lockdown dads! Equally stunned and equally thrilled by the most precious gift of a new baby son or daughter.
Like many parents, Zechariah had ambitions for his little one: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (Luke 1:76. So it proved. Luke tells us “the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly in Israel”. (Luke 1:80). This little man was the man chosen by God to proclaim the coming of His Son.
The whole of John’s life was directed towards the moment, when, as an adult, preaching and baptising beside the Jordan River, he saw Jesus coming towards him, John’s life work was almost complete: “Look” he announced to the gathered crowd: “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
We can have no greater ambition and no greater joy than that our own beloved little ones grow up to know and share the love of Jesus. Hidden amongst this morning’s pretty pessimistic news is the story of Lindsay (14) from Illinois USA. At her recent Confirmation, held outside in the parking lot of the “Light of Christ” church, Lindsay said: While things are dark and I can't see what will happen, God has a plan for me. Lindsay’s testimony has gone global.
“A voice of one calling ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord’ ” (Isaiah 40:3)
LOCKDOWN Day 91
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 77:11)
Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones in the recent terrible murders in Reading. In the aftermath of those killings a witness said: "We become so used to seeing incidents like this on the television. This time, we cannot change the channel. This time, it's on our doorstep."
We cannot change the channel...there is an immensity of sorrow conveyed by those words that many who have lost a loved one recognise only too well. Some who have been bereaved as a result of the coronavirus have described the additional pain of being unable to be present with their loved one as they died. There was a sense of unreality about that dreadful separation which was in fact, only too real.
For a few short weeks before lockdown, it seemed almost that COVID 19 belonged somewhere else. I was especially saddened by the suffering of Italy. Italy has given me treasured sunshine happy days. It was heartbreaking to hear the gathering loss experienced by its people. But it was easy to conjure up explanations why Italy should have been so affected. After all, I reasoned, it is a country hugely dependent on tourism; it has an aging population; communities are tightly bound together. There seemed every justification why Italy should have fallen prey to this strange virus and few to suggest it would trouble us. We were safe in our island home.
But then we were no longer safe. Then, the virus was on our doorstep.
As a Hospital Chaplain, meeting many on whose doorstep suffering had suddenly pitched its tent; I was amazed and moved to hear an oft repeated question. No, it was not the heartbreaking “Why me?” but rather, “Why not me?” There was a genuine, courageous acceptance of being in community with the suffering of others.
In Psalm 77, quoted above, the Psalmist reflects on the lost joys of his carefree past: “I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:5, 6) Things were so different now. But the psalmist found consolation as he recalled the goodness of God to His people: “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:12)
The psalmist concludes: “Your path led...through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (Psalm 77:19) Here is the realisation that no moment of time is without its pain. There are always going to be times when we can no longer change the channel. But God is present still, unseen, but close by; close by to Reading too.
“And lo, Christ walking on the water! Not of Genesareth but Thames!” (Francis Thompson, No Strange Land)
God bless you dear friends. Judith