ST ANDREWS WALTHAMSTOW

One Lord, One Faith, One God

AN OPEN MIND

inside church

This page is intended to provide some resources for you to use however and whenever you feel appropriate. Whilst we may not be able to meet together in one place, the church lives on! We worship, we encourage, we praise, we serve as the scattered church.


Trinity Sunday Communion

Download the Order of Service by clicking here.


A short Baptist Communion for Trinity Service for anyone who wishes to partake. Please make sure you have a small piece of bread and a cup of either grape juice, wine or other suitable drink to take part.




Hymns and Songs

In this section you will find some of the songs we often sing together, as well as some new ones which are fitting for this time. 


Colours of Day


This song goes with the Road to Emmaus talk found further down the page. This reminds us that Jesus' presence and our faith is ever present and this is of great comfort to us at this time.


I Watch the Sunrise


 This song was suggested by Sam. It is a very calming and peaceful song which reminds us of God's presence throughout our lives and at all times. It has that rare quality of being both a song inspiring reflection and at the same time a song of inspiration and encouragement. 


There is a Hope


This is a song we have learnt more recently at St Andrew's. It conveys a strong message of hope to a lovely tune. I think this song really speaks to us in the current global situation, particularly with the words: 'Through present sufferings, future's fear, He whispers 'courage' in my ear. For I am safe in everlasting arms, and they will lead me home'. What a wonderful message of love, hope and encouragement at a time when it is most needed. 

I have specifically added a version of the song with the lyrics above so that you can sing along if you feel encouraged to do so, and make this a prayer of hope.   

Now the Green Blade Rises


This song was suggested by Hilary. It is a very apt song for the time of year. Also, as Hilary noted it talks of new life, which is currently evident in gardens and in all natural life around. The promise of new life brought about by Spring and Easter is something we can take positive hope from at present.


The Church's One Foundation


This song reminds us of the core reasons for our faithfulness. 

It reminds us that in the love of Jesus Christ that we share together, we are all held together in one body and one family. 

Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean


This song was introduced to me by Hilda. I love the way it reminds us of God's love for us expressed in Jesus Christ. The tune is also really lovely.

I am the Church


This song reminds us that we do not necessarily have to be gathered in a physical space together. The church is a living body all around the world. This is particularly relevant at this time.

Lord of the Church


At a time where we could perhaps feel a bit disorientated and distanced from each other and the message of the church, this song reminds us and refocuses us towards the message and meaning of the church.

Come People of the Risen King


As we approach Easter and think of Jesus' resurrection and presence amongst us, this upbeat and catchy worship song helps us praise in unity.

Be Still


This song, a St Andrew's favourite, can be used at this time to centre us and help us find God's presence. It may be difficult to be at one with God outside of the church environment sometimes. This song reminds us God is everywhere.

Forty Days and Forty Nights


This hymn goes with the talk posted on 29.03.2020 regarding Jesus' time in solitude. It is also appropriate for this time of Lent in the Church calendar.


Prayers and Reflections

Use the following prayers and reflections as you see helpful. They may provide a starting point for a deeper individual reflection that you wish to undertake.  

Lord Jesus Christ,

You are the name above every other name. Your name is like a fortified tower in which I can find safety and security. When I am troubled, I can find peace in your name. When I feel weak, I can find strength in your name. When I feel overwhelmed, I can find rest in your name. When I feel surrounded by pressures on every side, I can find stability in your name. Your name is beautiful, Lord, help me to rely on you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

Eternal Father,

You know my past, present and future, nothing is unknown to you. When I worry about what is ahead of me, please calm my fears with the knowledge that you go before me. I will never be alone because you will always be with me. You have promised that you will not fail me or forsake me and you are faithful to keep all your promises. Take away my fear and replace it with faith in your unending love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

Faithful Father,

You have never left my side. Although I have often wandered from you, you have always remained beside me. With you at my side, I will not be shaken, whatever life throws at me. Help me to always place you at the centre, guiding my path and protecting me from my fears. As I experience the brokenness of this world would you refresh my soul to continue praising you. There is no God like you, you are worthy of all my praise. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


Almighty and Eternal God,
Please grant us your peace, so that nothing may disturb us or frighten us. Help us to know that all things are passing and that you remain the same forever. Please grant us patience, humility and honesty in our inner most selves. Please grant us resilience, no matter what we may be asked to face. Knowing that you are within us and around us, we shall lack nothing. You bring contentment and are sufficient for all our needs. We place our trust in you and we ask for your strength and your guidance. We offer all our prayers, spoken and unspoken, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Redeemer. Amen. 



Bible Verses and Readings

This section contains a small selection of Bible verses / readings that you may wish to read, reflect and think upon. 


PSALM 36

5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.



PSALM 19

God's Glory in Creation

19 How clearly the sky reveals God's glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done!
2 Each day announces it to the following day;
    each night repeats it to the next.
3 No speech or words are used,
    no sound is heard;
4 yet their message
 goes out to all the world
    and is heard to the ends of the earth.
God made a home in the sky for the sun;
5     it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom,
    like an athlete eager to run a race.
6 It starts at one end of the sky
    and goes across to the other.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.

 


Psalm 145:7-9 
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. 8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 9 The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.


Psalm 145:17-19 
17 The Lord is righteous in all his way and faithful in all he does. 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him he hears their cry and saves them.




Talks

Just a few collections of ideas that may provide you with some ideas, pose some questions and help you in your journey of faith.  

Pentecost (31.05.2020)

This talk is based upon the story of the first Pentecost, which can be found in the beginning of Acts 2.

 

We sing together number 382 in Baptist Praise and Worship to set the context for this talk (you may wish to watch in full screen to see the words on the 'screen'):


Pentecost, as told in Acts, is considered the birth of the church. I would like to propose that the church is currently, unknown to us, going through a rebirth. Whilst traditionally, and hopefully in the not too distant future we have always met in person, current times have caused this to be substituted and rearranged. Prior to now, church has always been a part of our routine. It has always been our Sunday morning activity. However, now we - along with fellow Christians of all denominations and followers of all faiths have had to find new, creative and previously unexplored ways to share our faith and worship. 

 

Pentecost came as a surprise - we hear how those who were blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit were accused of being drunk. Others were afraid. Similarly to when this period in which we find ourselves began, many were scared. Since then, churches everywhere have bravely ventured into new technologies, new methods and new means to share worship. Some churches use Zoom, some use Facebook, some use telephone conferences. It’s amazing just how many resources are available to us when we look around in this world, God’s world. Pentecost shows how language barriers were broken down and the Love and promise of God was shared amongst all regardless of tongue. The current global situation has shown is that God’s love and message can be shared amongst all regardless of location and situation. This is something in which we can rejoice and take comfort.

 

Whilst it is still very far from ideal, being scattered and distanced physically, we can still look forward to the day - hopefully in the not too distant future - where we can again share together physically in worship. In the same way, Pentecost wasn’t ‘designed’ to be a one off “podcast”. Pentecost was the planting of a seed amongst the varied nationalities - all were able to take from it an inspiration, fresh hope. I would love to think that some people have ‘attended’ online (or similar) worship at this time and taken something from it towards developing and nurturing their own faith. Some people may physically struggle to attend church on a weekly basis. Others may find social difficulties in coming to church weekly. There are some who may fear entering a church building. Those are the people I hope that online worship has provided some for of accessibility and welcome. It’s quite a privilege to be able to put out content for people to use however they feel suits them. Away from the ‘routine’ of coming to church, the varied and rich resources available to people at their fingertips today is a revolution which I hope benefits many.

 

The story of Pentecost in Acts 2: 14 comes to a head when Peter stands and addresses the crowd - he turns the ‘amazement’, the ‘bewilderment’, the confusion and chaos into a meaningful Experience. He puts it into context for those who have been overwhelmed by the sudden transformation of those around them. In this time now, as part of our evangelism, we are given an opportunity to follow in Peter’s example. We can direct those around us and help them to make use and make sense of the messages and faith that is being shared. We can be the individuals who help others come to a faith and enter into a life of service to God through conversations and sharing our own experience. As I’ve said before, it is very easy to tell a friend to come along to church - it may be very hard for that friend to actually put that into action and come to church. The current wealth of online faith resources: services, hymns, prayers and acts of worship may be a far more comfortable space for them to begin their journey of faith. Let’s not ignore the possibilities or devalue the usefulness of the situation in which we find ourselves.

 

Hopefully in the next couple of months we will begin to look at returning to something more familiar - being able to meet together as we have always done. But I certainly hope that despite this ‘return’, the online rebirth of the church doesn’t get eradicated. Because when we go back to our usual ways, there will still be those on the outside, peering in, perhaps just waiting and longing for something to draw them in and share in that special faith we all share together. 

 

One of the lovely elements of the Pentecost story I’d like to explore is how everyone got the important message of the love of God in their own language. Bringing this comparison to our current living experience - everyone will have their own way of accessing worship content. There’s no limit to the number of YouTube services you can watch. There’s no finite number of church websites you can visit to get inspiration and nourish your faith. There’s no shame in exploring. It’s healthy to see how others are sharing and experiencing their church life at this time. Enriching our individual experience of faith provides us as one family with a richer, more diverse, more open minded bank of resources to help each other in our faith. To put it into an analogy: we don’t limit the number or genre of songs we listen to. We don’t put a cap on the number of things we see, we don’t place an end on the number of different foods we will taste. We try to gain as many of these experiences as possible. I would advocate that we have the same outlook with our faith. In the same way as it’s ok to dislike certain songs or certain foods, it’s ok to not agree with / not adopt certain worship practices. But how will we ever know if we don’t try? Use this time to widen your gaze with regards to your faith. Challenge your understandings. As an Ecumenical church I think we are already in a strong position to take on this challenge. 

 

I leave you setting you the informal challenge of introducing yourself and others to new experiences of faith during what remains of our life in faith outside of the church building. I think and hope you may be nicely surprised by what you find and can then bring and share in our community, enriching it  



The Road to Emmaus (26.04.2020)

This is based on the New Testament Reading: Luke 24: 13 – 35

Strangers are commonly held with great suspicion and are to be avoided in modern society. One of the first messages we ensure young people are familiar with is that they are to stay away from strangers. Even more so in this time – where if we are walking down the street or in the shops and someone approaches someone has to either turn the other way or cross to the other side of the road.

When Jesus joins the travellers on the road to Emmaus we see the stranger who is in fact no stranger. But to Cleopas and his companion on the road, Jesus is a stranger. The real stranger is the second companion, but we needn’t worry about who that is – we’re not here to dissect the story in a literary or historical sense.

What we gain from this story is a message of opening ourselves up to Jesus. We are an Easter people who should, as Jesus taught on the road, in the unfamiliar and unexpected, learn to see the face of God. If through what we have lived already and the remainder of our lives we know no other time of individual unfamiliarity and strangeness, now is one which we can all share. We are living in unfamiliar circumstances. Like so many readings and verses in the Bible, we are encouraged to look for God in the unfamiliar, in the unexpected and are reminded that he doesn’t leave us.

We may feel lost, whether it be spiritually, mentally or any other way at this present time. But our faith and our God is not one which should be lost. The beauty is that it should not take us to come back together as a family in church and celebrate communion to remind us that God is with us. We have our faith as strong now as it is when we are able to meet together.

Sometimes it is important to take stock of what we have got. We are able to stay connected – many businesses are using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Social Media is being utilised truly for its main purpose – to keep people connected. We live in a connected world. We have technology, even if it’s only in the form of a telephone, or even just Royal Mail. We use these technologies, these means to keep us going in our current social situation. In the same way we have our faith and the resources we use to help inspire us at this time, and all the time.

In the same way, we read that Jesus spent a great deal of his teaching warning about the time when he is no longer around, preparing those around him for a time when he is not there in person. He knew his presence on earth was time limited. He therefore equipped the early church with the tools for spreading the word of God, encouraging each other and living the values he demonstrated.

In their insular solitude and individual sorrow we see the travellers on the road to Emmaus blinded to the extent where they do not recognise Jesus – the very person whose life they are mourning.

Sorrow and mourning are often very private and secluded experiences. Even in this story it is the celebration of Jesus having disappeared from the tomb and being celebrated as alive that has been shared and passed around. Even the travellers on the road are aware of this shock discovery. But of course, seeing is believing. They are unable to believe that there is hope amongst the despair which fills their existence.

The two companions on the road to Emmaus have first-hand witnessed the horrific events of Good Friday. Therefore it is unsurprising they are not hopeful. However, they have not looked beyond this. I’d dare to say they feel betrayed – their Lord and saviour, the one who was held in such high regard and had promised so much was now, as far as they were concerned, dead. A very final fate.

They were in the same sort of spirits, albeit at a deeper level, as those who are returning home after a bad result at a football game. Although this is a somewhat facetious comparison it’s the high expectations and great anticipation that have reached a very sudden and very real anti-climax.

In our lives, we have to wonder whether sometimes our expectations are aligned with reality. It doesn’t make it any easier, or any less hard when things don’t go well. But we have to live in the real human world in which we belong. This is why I take great issue with the mantra ‘Pray until Something Happens’ (often shortened to ‘PUSH’). Praying cannot equate to wishing. This is not at all to devalue or dismiss the value of prayer when used constructively and helpfully. What we must do in situations that present themselves to us is: instead of simply praying for our desired outcome, we should seek to see and witness the face of God. Don’t look for an easy answer, instead we should open ourselves up. We should assess the situation within our faith and seek to understand it better in the values and understandings that our faith instils in us.

God is not always easy to identify – particularly sometimes when we are actively looking. Our God can be subtle, discreet, understated and not always what we expect. But amongst it all there is that ‘still small voice of calm’ we sing of in one of our favourite hymns: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Listen for this voice. It may not be where, when or what we expect, but it is there. And once we hear it, once we begin to look at the situation within the realms of our faith the voice of God may get louder and more apparent. But this is only once we’ve taken the time to think about it.

It’s highly symbolic that the act of the breaking of the bread: communion was the act in which the living Christ was recognised. It is what I would like to refer to as a ‘touching point’. An act or experience that connected with those who were there to witness it – almost a light bulb moment in faith if you will. We all have them: it may be a particular reading, a prayer, a song, a place, an experience where we feel our faith is most alive. This is where I would encourage you to turn when sometimes you, like those on the road to Emmaus are unable to recognise or discern the face of God in a situation.

We are an Easter people. It is important that we remember this. The original purpose of the journey to Emmaus is very much one of retreat and return. Good Friday had happened – there was a despondence in the air. It was very much a case of go back to ‘how things were’. Bringing this into the experience we are currently surrounded by: maybe one thing we can all take from this time we have away from ‘normal life’ is to think and reflect and prevent ourselves from ‘going back to normal’ once life does resume somewhat as we know it. In the same way that the visitation from Jesus encouraged those Cleopas and his companion not to ‘give up’ and go back to normal – in this time is there something we can do, a resolution we can make to ensure that we don’t just ‘go back to normal’ when the time is right? We have an opportunity to better ourselves, build our faith and encourage ourselves in some way. Be the Easter people – inspired by the story of the resurrection moving forward with the greatest event in the church year – rather than simply ‘moving on’. Move forward WITH the risen Christ, don’t move on FROM the Easter story.

The risen Christ who was a stranger to those on the road to Emmaus is no stranger at all to us. He presents himself in the great work of the NHS, he presents himself in the hospital with the sick, he presents himself in our homes, he presents himself to the anxious, the fearful and the lonely. He may be unnoticed. He may not be the most obvious presence – but he is never absent. The risen Christ is the ‘cherry on the cake’ of the Easter story, the long awaited fruit borne by the plant which has been so long growing. So I encourage you today, and always going forward – know your Emmaus experience: know when you need to take stock and realise that through your faith the risen Christ is journeying with you. The risen Christ walks with YOU every day. This is a comforting thought which we should cherish as the pinnacle of our faith.

Amen.


An Easter Like No Other (12.04.2020)

Christ is Risen: Hallelujah! 

I take this opportunity to wish all a very Happy Easter!

I saw a newspaper article with a title advocating ‘sacrificing’ this Easter for the good of the country. I’m sure it’s not unintentional, or even coincidental that this ‘biblical’ parallel is being used here. It doesn’t take much intelligence to know that whilst most news stories are rooted at least in truth, they are adapted, enhanced and altered. Facts, statistics, quotations and ideas are often taken out of context to fit the main message of the article.

And straight away with a headline like that, I think this particular newspaper had missed the point.

We celebrate Easter. We don’t commiserate it. We don’t focus on the crucifixion as an end. If we did, then Easter would be a very dismal occasion indeed. But to celebrate a sacrifice almost seems like a paradox; two ideas we cannot logically put together?

Again, we’ve not quite reached the ‘point’ of Easter…. We all know that we celebrate the resurrection. One of the hymns in the hymn book (number 247) begins with the words: ‘Come and sing of the springtime God’s pledge of new birth’. This captures more aptly the true message of Easter. But it doesn’t end there – it’s the hope that this provides, the encouragement that we can take from this.

I’d like to overlay the news story I alluded to in my opening lines with this new message. Instead of ‘sacrificing your Easter’, let’s think about the waiting we are currently experiencing – the waiting for the rebirth of normal life. Things will return to normal. The current experience of having to remain at home will come to an end. We will meet together in church. We will socialise with friends. This is something to look forward to.

I appreciate that this outlook does seem exceptionally optimistic and perhaps naïve. It doesn’t take into account the suffering of some, any loss of loved ones experienced during this hard time. But these experiences are those which we have our faith for. We don’t simply look at ‘good’ situations and ‘bad’ situations. We have a faith which lifts us during the bad situations, it sees us through. Whilst it doesn’t make them feel any less heart wrenching or difficult, it does allow us to know that this terrible suffering is not the end. The story of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life reminds us that our faith does not meet an abrupt end at the foot of the cross. When we feel like we have reached that point. When we feel like there is no further to go in our journey, we can find hope.

I’d like to explore Jesus’ death on the cross and hopefully somewhere in this exploration of the image with which we are presented you may find at least some element of hope. Firstly, Jesus on the cross as often depicted was not alone.

Luke 23:33 reminds us: “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left”. Jesus’ suffering and pain was not solitary. Others surrounded him. May I suggest that when we suffer, when we experience loss, when we grieve… others experience feelings such as these also. We are not alone. One of the things I always advocate is our church family. We don’t call it a family because we have no other words to express the gathering. We are not a crowd at a festival, or on a packed tube carriage. We are a collection of people who share a faith. And through sharing that faith we open ourselves to each other – we acknowledge each other’s faults, each other’s hurting and each other’s jubilation. We want to share that with each other. So when grief and sorry come your way, do not suffer alone. We, together, are the embodiment of the faith that lifts us up through the bad times and back into the good.

Furthermore, even in death, Jesus was not alone. Neither are we. The finding of the empty tomb reminds us that Jesus was not outcast and forgotten by all. Luke 24:1 tells us: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb”. At the earliest opportunity, Jesus’ friends were there. We may not all be Jesus, but again, in our family of friends we have those who want to support us at our earliest opportunity. We are not forgotten and left to get on with it when the going gets tough. Remember that we are in others’ thoughts. Back to the idea – we are not a crowd of individuals gathered on a Sunday morning. When we pray together, when we have our notices we are told about others’ friends and families. We are among a group of people who care about us and those around us. This is a really lovely privilege. This is something we must not forget.

In both of these situations we are reminded that hope springs eternal. We are not left to suffer. Through our faith and through our enriched life in the church we have hope. It is this sentiment of joy that I would like to pass on to you today. Empower yourself, whatever your struggle may be, in the knowledge that we are not a body of people who allow each other to fall by the wayside and become forgotten. The parable of the lost sheep is a lovely story which illustrates this very point – not only are we all important to God, but also to each other – we are all shepherds and we are all sheep to illustrate in the same terms as the story.

Furthermore, during this time when things are extremely different to usual, we must not feel like our faith should be shut away and repressed a little like some are feeling because of physical restrictions on our movement. A church that I have some links with which normally gets a congregation of around 100 people on an average Sunday morning has been providing video link services during the current situation. Would you believe that it has had in excess of 400 people logging on to view the service? That’s quite a staggering number. Whether this is a result of some people who couldn’t usually attend church because of other commitments, frailty and mobile impairments being able to access the services, or even just people who are curious and want to ‘try’ church, this is still an encouraging reminder as to the potential of faith.

Returning to the original sentiments of sacrifice this Easter, the extremely well known verse: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24) reminds us that whilst there is a great message of hope and encouragement, it does come at some cost. Lent – the period of waiting and reflection that precedes Easter reminds us of this. The image of ‘before the rainbow must come the rain’ is a more general, perhaps more secular way to look at this. Whilst we have a lot to celebrate, look forward to and be thankful for; we must also be patient and understand that there is a transcending need to wait. Patience and even acceptance of a timescale outside of our control is important. Sacrifice is defined quite often with the sentiments of ‘giving up’ or ‘foregoing’. But again, let’s finish the picture. Let’s not leave it on the negative and ‘half empty’ precipice: by waiting, by ‘sacrificing’ now, we simply wait for the positive to come later. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t terminal. The resurrection story reminds us that the greatest sacrifice was not an ending, but a new beginning. The means leading to the new beginning may not have been the most obvious or the most likely. This is something of which we have to be mindful: the positive outcomes may not seem immediately clear or obvious from the experience we live.

Jesus’ dying words on the cross are powerful inspiration: ‘Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”’ (Luke 23: 34) and ‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last’ (Luke 23: 46). These are not cries of selfish despair. The first statement is a selfless call to a greater authority. Jesus calls to his father above at this moment of despair and suffering. He speaks of life beyond his impending death; of the life of others beyond his sacrifice. Jesus calls finally upon God and places his trust and his destiny in the hands of God the father. The creator, the life giver, the source of all power and knowledge in whom he trusts. And like this we can take comfort in this idea of a presence, a being which is beyond our understanding, but in which we can take refuge, comfort and strength. This is the power of a true faith; a faith which helps us through troubling times and sees us through to the future beyond that which we know and can see ourselves. Take comfort, find solace and rest in the knowledge that this is our faith. This is the faith that we hold onto in times of trouble and we trust will see us through to better times.

This Easter know that God is with you, now and always. Remember that Easter is about joy, hope, beginnings and the joy of life to come. On this Easter Day, an Easter like none known to us before and, for many, hopefully unlike any to come, we remember that our faith is more important now than ever. We take this time at the pinnacle of the Christian calendar to revitalise and be encouraged and inspired like never before. Take good care and remember to draw inspiration where needed from your faith, share with each other the positive experiences and thoughts that lift you and remain resilient looking forward to the time when we can all meet together again as a church family. Despite our physical separation we remain together in spirit.

Amen.


40 Days and 40 Nights (29.03.2020)

Luke 4:1-2 briefly introduces Jesus' time of solitude in the wilderness. This seems like a really appropriate place to start regarding our current situation. Jesus self-isolated! The difference is that Jesus didn't go and ransack ASDA, or supermarket sweep Sainsbury's. He wasn't instructed by the Prime Minister to remain home unless absolutely essential. He chose, autonomously to be on his own.

 

Everyone is in a different, yet similar, situation at present. Personally, I am in work some days on a rota basis as the guards I manage are considered 'key workers': they need to be on the trains for the trains to run as they operate the doors at stations and keep command of safety and customer service during the journey. But like everyone, I still cannot get out and visit friends. Like everyone else, I can't text / call someone and be out in London with them within 30mins. 'We are all in this together' is a fairly common mantra, and it is applicable here.

When I was teaching, we used to use a poem called ' Two Scavengers In A Truck And Two Beautiful People In A Mercedes'. by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In brief, the poem details a split moment in society: a red traffic light holds two binmen in their lorry parallel to a young couple in a Mercedes. The main and explicit point of this poem, which I would highly recommend you read, is that whilst you can alter so much in life, sometimes, regardless of your perceived 'class', financial state, occupation, gender (the list goes on)... you have to abide by the same rules as everyone else. You can then of course, take this analysis further and explore how the role of the binmen is actually vital and potentially supersedes that of those in the Mercedes, but that's for an English essay somewhere! The point is sometimes life as a way of reminding us that no one is any better than the other. A slightly more well known literary parallel is in Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1: Hamlet finds himself with a gravedigger sorting through skulls of the dead. In death everyone is at one; it is a levelling process. A person can be buried with jewels, riches and finery, another can be hurled into a mass unmarked grave. The result, the final conclusion, the state of being remains the same unanimously.

Returning to Jesus' time in the wilderness: this was a time of his own levelling. He didn't have the crowds shouting around him - whether it be messages of adoration and praise, or those we witness later in the gospels at Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion: shouts of hatred, anger and abhorrence. Jesus was on his own. He was able to clear his mind. He was able to 'take stock'. Maybe in this time of 'isolation' which we have had somewhat enforced upon us, we can use this time to take stock? That can mean anything. Whilst we are 'all in this together' people still remain individuals. We are all of our own preferences, our own beliefs, our own interests... for you 'taking stock' may mean cleaning your house. It may mean reading a book that you've been intending to read for some time. It could mean resuming that knitting you started 12 years ago when you had a bit of time to yourself for whatever reason.

 

Amongst this, however, I take this opportunity to remind you friends, that we have a faith. Our faith exists and is built upon times like now. We have so many resources available to us: YouTube is great for some of our favourite songs and hymns which may inspire us. One of my (many) favourite hymns has very pertinent and relevant opening lines:

 

"Lord for the years, your love has kept and guided,

urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:"

We are in a time when I would say we can really reap the rewards of our faith. It may be that a passage/s from the Bible are useful to you: take this time to read them, reflect on them and use them to help you. You may find some readings / prayers that urge and inspire you. Again, take a moment in quietness to use these resources presented to you by your faith. In current times that may feel like a 'wilderness', our faith provides nourishment. Hold on to this. 

Jesus' time in the wilderness, if it was 40 days and 40 nights, equates to just under 6 weeks. I very much hope that we are not going to be in this current situation for that long! But we will have to go by any guidance we are given. It is commonly suggested that '40 days and 40 nights' is a fairly arbitrary number. Essentially it's a way of saying "a very long time". I'm sure there wasn't an adjudicator with (the historical version of) a stop watch and notepad ensuring that Jesus was definitely there for 40 days and 40 nights. In the same way that we presently maybe do not have a definite 'everything will return to normal on *date*' guarantee. It's very human for us to want to know when this current situation will end. But again, we find ourselves in the Hamlet situation, the red traffic light situation - some things transcend our ability to control / understand / know. We simply have to 'go with it'. In the same way that Jesus didn't gather followers and tell them to call him out of the wilderness after exactly 40 days and 40 nights. Matthew 26: 36 - 36 details Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane happening during an undefined period of prayer. Some translations suggest an hour of prayer on the first occasion and then the time frames drop. No one really knows, and it doesn't really matter. Jesus knew by this point that it would come to an end and that was an inevitability. In the same way, albeit in a positive way, we know there will be an end to this current period of isolation: it doesn't matter when it comes. It will. There will soon be a time again when we can meet physically together as a church family in the presence of God. Do not be afraid friends; that time will come.

One of Jesus' frequent messages was one of reassurance and avoiding fear. One example of this is found in Isaiah 41:10 "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." The message is clear: God is with us. 

I finish by drawing together the main points I hope that you can take away and use to strengthen you at this time... Firstly: you are not alone. We are all in this together... and that is a message strengthened and made only more positive through the faith we share. Secondly: use the time you have to your benefit and finally: do not worry. You have a faith that amongst other key messages centres around the idea of reassurance and not having to face our trials alone, as much as it may seem that way. 

I leave you with our creed from the United Church of Canada (1968):

We are not alone,
    we live in God’s world.

 We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God. 

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.


Amen.




Young People



Some activities and ideas for our young people.


Activity 1: Bible Illustrated

Find 5 Bible verses which you like - they could be from stories that you have heard / read in church.

Write them onto a piece of paper and make them colourful and pretty with designs, patterns, pictures.

You could even make a cartoon strip of a well known Bible story.

We can then look at these when we come back together at church.


Activity 2: Balloon Bible Verses

Write or type a Bible verse on a sheet of paper, using fairly small print.

Cut the words or phrases apart.

Carefully roll or fold each word / phrase out and insert it into a balloon opening.

Blow up the balloons and tie them.

Place the balloons in a mixed up pile. 

Pop the balloons, get the words / phrases, and put them in order.


Activity 3: Bible Quiz 

Read through one of your favourite Bible stories and then create a 10 question quiz about the story. 

When we come back to church you can share your quiz with other people in Junior church, or even with the adults and test their knowledge!


Activity 4: Rainbow Verses 

It's become common for young people to spread encouragement through designing rainbows. Why not design a large rainbow, and in each colour segment, include a Bible verse of hope / encouragement? This will remind us of the love of God demonstrated in the Bible. 

Genesis 9: 13 - 17 would be a good passage to include above your rainbow! I'd love to see these when we get back to church, we could even create a display of rainbows so that we can see all the different verses that everyone has found. 


Activity 5: Bottle Flowers 

The other day when I was out walking, I walked past a local church. I was really confused as in the garden outside they had a lot of very tall flowers which looked beautiful... but they were not there the previous week. I took a closer look and they were actually made from bottles on sticks - they looked great.

Here's what to do: cut all the way around the bottom 3cm of a bottle and then paint it a bright colour of your choice. Do as many of these as you can. Make sure you paint both sides. Then fix a long stick to the part you have painted. You could write a Bible verse that praises God - our creator, our hope and our Heavenly Father. Let me know how you get on! We could collect them all together when we come back to church and have a lovely 'garden' of flowers with Bible verses.

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  • E17 6AR

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