Thoughts for the Week: Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain

The title I have chosen today takes me back to my Sunday School Club called Sunshine Corner which was run by Lesley Warner and for which my mother played the piano. That was the beginning of my learning about Jesus Christ and by the time I was ten years old I was teaching the younger children the stories of Jesus, often with songs like the one which started with the words “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain”. Moving on quite a long way I remembered another mountain event. By this time, I was in my youth and on a cycling holiday, part of which was in Switzerland. The map had been prepared for us and we reached the pass we had to take. I got on my bike and began to cycle but that’s not really true as I walked most of it and not only that, I also walked down the other side as I was too scared to cycle down sunshine mountain!
Turning now to the many times that mountains are used by God with his prophets for teaching and we go first to Isaiah telling the people that the mountains have been lade low because of people turning against God. Then we turn to Chapter 40, one of my favourite verses, “’Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘…her sins have been paid for”, meaning by the Messiah who God has promised when the mountains will be raised up. We will look at some more later as we are in the time of Lent and we think about a special time when Jesus went up to a high mountain and He wasn’t alone, for He took with Him three of His disciples, Peter, James and John.
Six days before this Jesus had been talking to all of His disciples about His soon to come death. I can imagine that as they made the climb they were deep in thought about what he had told them and that the three men with Him were chosen to teach the others later. As they reached the top, there was a bright light as Jesus was transfigured! How can we understand that the brilliant light was the face of Jesus, as bright as the sun, and His clothes became shining white? And that wasn’t all, they weren’t alone. Moses and Elijah appeared; I pause there for a moment!
Now all my books look at this in different ways, some question, others add thoughts but mine was to remember what the Angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God”. And to help, the three disciples with their faith and us with our faith. While Moses and Elijah were still on the mountain, God’s voice was heard saying, “This is my Son, whom I love – with Him I am well pleased, Listen to Him.” When Jesus saw how frightened Peter, James and John were, He came to them, touched them and said, “Do not be afraid”. And when they opened their eyes, Moses and Elijah were no longer there.
Later, when Peter wrote his second letter, he included what he had experienced when he went upon the Sacred Mountain [2Peter v.18].
A few more mountain verses: Beautiful – Psalm 48 v2; The mountains burst into song – Isaiah 55 v12; God’s love – Isaiah 54 v10; Righteousness like mighty mountains – Psalm 36 v6; “You will go out in Joy, and be lead forth in peace; and the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55 v 12.

PRAYERS

O Lord and heavenly Father who has given to us your people the true bread that comes down from Heaven, even your Son, Jesus Christ, grant that throughout this Lent our souls may be so fed by Him that we may continually live in Him and he in us; and that day by day we may be renewed in spirit by the power of His endless life, who gave Himself for us and now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
A children’s prayer by Fiona Braddock which is suitable for all:
Dear Lord,
Before I go on up to bed,
And on my pillow rest my head,
I thank you lord for the day I’ve had
All the good times and the bad,
Thank you for the things I’ve seen,
And all the places I have been,
Thank you for my friends and relations,
And the people in the different nations,
And as I come to the last verse,
I thank you for the Universe
AMEN.

Thoughts for the Week: More to Do

It was Wednesday 26th January and, as usual, I was listening to the morning news. Each day there had been bad news of what the virus was causing, but this was different; there was a deep sadness in the air. The two presenters were sitting on the red sofa as usual but behind them was a large number of faces and when one of the presenters did speak it was to say that 100,000 people had been lost to our country because of COVID-19, which meant that that number of families and even more family members and friends were grieving the loss of loved ones.
Before I began to write this week, I had paused and turned to God the Father and the Holy Spirit for help for the right words at this difficult time and the answer that had come to me was ‘MORE TO DO’. This made me pause again saying, “What more can I do when in Lockdown?” I looked at the photos which I could see had been taken when the people were happy and enjoying life, photos which would stay with their loved ones, photos to be proud of and to be special memories.
It was then while I was still looking at the photos that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, entered the room and Dan the presenter after thanking him for coming asked as I had, “What can we do to help the people?” Justin Welby was also grieving. He said that he too had lost loved ones, having lost his daughter some time ago and at the present time because of COVID-19 he had lost his very best friend, a Bishop. So, struggling himself, he said, “Each person is special to God, each person is loved by God” and he added that he finds hope in the Resurrection and then reiterated that there is hope in the Resurrection. I can’t recall all that he said but in talking about the Resurrection, we were thinking about God giving His own Son Jesus Christ who suffered and died and because of that there is a new and better life awaiting.
While I was still watching the programme, Dan asked for silence. Immediately, there was complete silence, not for long but it was a depth of silence that stayed with me the rest of the day. Later in the day, I realised that I had not had an answer to my question “What more can I do?” The answer that came to me was not something difficult. What could we do while we are following the rules about not going out? What have we left to use? The answer was to use the telephone. It might be that you haven’t spoken to someone for a while or you know someone on their own. Just pick up the phone and have a chat. It might be that will lighten the day for you both.

PRAYERS

Heavenly Father,
Today we give thanks Lord as we see a chink of light in the dark tunnel. Thank you, Lord, for the vaccines and for the people who have been given the ability and wisdom to produce the life-giving immunity against the virus. We have so much to thank you for Lord even though we are finding our present kind of living, that we feel has been forced upon us, very difficult. Almighty and powerful God, we know that there will be goodness from many people and that there are people who will not find good from others. Lord guide us in the way of your Son Jesus our saviour.
Today we pray for our Archbishop Justin Welby, a man of great faith who so many rely on to do and say what is right for us all. We ask your blessing on him for the words he says at the right time with the power of the Holy Spirit. Lord, help him as he helps all who he comes across. Almighty God, we pray too for the many Chaplains whose calling is to be on call when people are struggling for their lives.
Loving God of all, we ask that our prayers of love and compassion will reach each of those thousands of grieving people and all the church leaders who have been called to care for a flock. May they feel the strength of the Holy Spirit as they serve you Lord.
Lord Jesus Christ, help us to draw the grieving people to know you, to feel your healing touch and to follow your way of life. And Lord Jesus, please hear these prayers on behalf of the people of both Long Compton and Long Itchington Chapels and guide us to ways in which we can worship once again. All of the prayers are said in the blessed name of You, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thoughts for the Week: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Taken from the booklet for WPCU 2021

“The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 has been prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland. The theme that was chosen, “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”, is based on John 15:1-17 and expresses Grandchamp Community’s vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family.
The Grandchamp Community has its origins in Europe in the 1930s, when a group of women of the Reformed tradition sought to rediscover the importance of silence and listening to the Word of God. Today the community has fifty sisters, all women from different generations, Church traditions, countries and continents. In their diversity the sisters are a living parable of communion. They remain faithful to a life of prayer, life in community and the welcoming of guests. The sisters share the grace of their monastic life with visitors and volunteers who go to Grandchamp for a time of retreat, silence, healing or in search of meaning.
In producing the material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2021, the sisters are inviting churches across the world to enter into their tradition of prayer and silence that is rooted in the ancient traditions of the Church catholic.
Jesus said to the disciples, “abide in my love” (John 15:9). He abides in the love of the Father (John 15:10) and desires nothing other than to share this love with us: “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15b). Grafted into the vine, which is Jesus himself, the Father becomes our vinedresser who prunes us to make us grow. This describes what happens in prayer. The Father is the centre of our lives, who centres our lives. He prunes us and makes us whole, and whole human beings give glory to the Father.
Abiding in Christ is an inner attitude that takes root in us over time. It demands space to grow. It can be overtaken by the struggle for the necessities of life and it is threatened by the distractions, noise, activity and the challenges of life.
We live in a time that is both troubling and magnificent, an often dangerous time where we are challenged by pandemics, wars, violence, poverty, racism and climate change. Yet as Christians seeking reconciliation, justice and peace, we also know the full value of a spiritual life.
Though we, as Christians, abide in the love of Christ, we also live in a creation that groans as it waits to be set free (Romans 8). In the world we witness the evils of suffering and conflict. Through solidarity with those who suffer we allow the love of Christ to flow through us.”

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we bring to you the people of the Churches in our area who would have joined us for worship on this special day. We ask for healing for the Church leaders we know are ill: Rev. Jane of Holy Trinity Long Itchington; Rev Graham Cole of Cubbington and Rev Michael Haighton.
Father God, all your people are suffering for not being able to get together especially those who are on their own. We pray again for all who have lost loved ones and for those who wait to find out if their loved ones will come through. We ask for those who are working day and night to save people from their suffering. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen

Thoughts for the Week: Jesus is Our Cornerstone

The Burren
Stones feature in the Bible in a variety of ways. We all remember the story of the young boy who felled the giant with a stone from a sling. When David took on Goliath, no-one expected him to win, but that was because they left God out of the equation. David, in the power of God’s Spirit was able to do the impossible.
Many years ago, I visited County Clare in the west of Ireland as part of the Congregational Federation’s Children’s Work Board. In the north-west of the county there is an area of stone called The Burren. I was there in March and the area seemed to be covered in stone. It looked like a place where there was no life. The guide explained that cattle lived in the area throughout the winter and found sufficient food to keep going until the spring. Looking across the fields of stone, I could see nothing that resembled food for cattle and yet, as I looked closer, I could see that there were green shoots appearing between the stones. Apparently, instead of stones being cold, as we might have imagined, there was a warmth coming from them which germinated the seeds. It seemed that even from the stones there was life.
In the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, God said He could transplant a cold stone heart with a warm heart of flesh in which His Spirit would live. When God changed the hearts of people in such a way, it was to help them to be obedient to Him and to act with courage as David did and to do the impossible as God willed it.
The greatest illustrations of stones in the Bible is, I believe, found in 1 Peter chapter 2, which tells us how God sent His Son Jesus to be a cornerstone for us, the living stones. Christians are connected to the Saviour Jesus Christ in a spiritual building whereby He is the cornerstone which holds the rest together. It is through being joined in this way that we find the kind of courage that David had, the nurturing that was illustrated in The Burren, the warm loving hearts which are transplanted by God into us and the strength to act upon the will of God.
In all the illustrations we find that God makes the changes in us which we are unable to make or sustain in ourselves. Jesus reminded us Himself of this when He said, “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19 v26)

PRAYERS

This week’s prayers are taken from Psalm 118 and we begin with the theme which has much to say for this time. Confidence in God’s eternal love. God’s love is unchanging in the midst of changing situations. This gives us security.
“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures for ever.
Let those who fear the Lord say: His love endures forever.
In my anguish I cried out to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free, The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. The Lord is with me; He is my helper. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. Shouts of joy and victory, the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things.
Open the gates of righteousness, I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad in it.” Amen

Thoughts for the Week: Looking Forward in God’s Hope

Having wished many people all the best for the new year, we come to Epiphany. A new beginning? At times, it seems more like an ending, so I add in HOPE! It might be that the bells are not ringing anymore, the Christmas decorations have been put away, the cards are collected, and I am sure by now all the left-over food has been eaten or given to the birds. No doubt that this year more than any other that we have experienced is said with HOPE. Hope that with the vaccines, COVID-19 will be overcome, and a new year will have dawned. HOPE means looking forward and is a gift of God.
In some countries Epiphany will be celebrated by giving presents to one another in memory of the Magi who brought gifts that had special meanings – gifts with a purpose. The story is in Matthew’s Gospel 2 v1-12. Last week we looked at faith and now we turn to HOPE. Biblical hope is inseparable from faith in God because of what God did in the past, preparing for the coming of Christ, and what God is doing now through His Son Jesus Christ. HOPE on its own seems to be just a thing that is explained in many ways but with God it is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. Because of Christian’s having faith, they have an assurance that God’s promises are real and there is a list of people who have found it is just like that for themselves when God is with them in Hebrews 11 and HOPE from God never disappoints.
Going back to the reading about the visitation of the Magi. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. They had seen the star, followed the star, saved the child from Herod, all before they were certain that the star had brought them to the child who was the new king, the Messiah of God’s promise and the one they had brought the gifts for – a gift of gold for a king, frankincense for deity and myrrh for a special death. As we have seen the lights going out, we remember the promise that the Christ light never goes out and we have God’s HOPE and CHRIST’S HOPE forever.
As I was preparing this week’s THOUGHTS the news came that we had to go on Lockdown. This will mean difficulty for many people in all kinds of ways. Let us be aware of people who need help, especially those who will not ask.
Let us pray that the Lord will help us to recognise those people and in a gentle way, get to know them as a friend. That might be all that they need to help them through these days ahead of us.
Father God lead us in the right way to be like the good Samaritan, to act when we see a need and show by what we do the love of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen
At times like this it is good to have a laugh. I saw the following stories in a past Grace magazine.
Each Sunday the minister told the children a story. One day he brought a telephone to illustrate the idea of prayer.
“You talk to people but don’t see them on the other end of the line,” he began. The children nodded. “Well talking to God is like talking on the telephone. He’s on the other end, but you can’t see him. He’s listening though.” Just then a little boy piped up and asked, “What’s His number?”
A little girl became restless as the preacher’s sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mummy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”
There is the story of a preacher who got up one Sunday and announced to his congregation, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is, we have enough money to pay for our new building programme. The bad news is, it’s still in your pockets.”

Thoughts for the Week: The Blessing of Faith

My Thoughts this week have been about storms. As if we haven’t had enough with Lockdown and rules and regulations, Storm Bella hit the country causing floods for many people. This led me to think about one of the parables that Jesus used to teach people. With poetic licence: Jesus got into a fishing boat followed by his twelve disciples. Without warning a furious storm swept over the boat; well, not just their boat because the sea of Galilee was not a huge amount of water and according to Josephus, an ancient historian, there was usually 300 fishing boats on the water at any time. With so many there could have been a panic as the fishermen tried to pull the sails down for safety and, at the same time, keep rowing with the oars. Before they had set off, Jesus had been teaching and healing, after which He would go away into the countryside to pray but on this occasion, he had decided to cross the sea with His disciples, so it was no wonder that He had taken some time to have a short nap.
The storm got worse and worse until the waves were breaking over the boat and his sleep was broken by one of his disciples shouting out to him, “Lord save us, we are going to die!” To which Jesus reply might have seemed a bit sharp, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” We’ll look at that another time.
Just as I got up this morning, the news came from Oxford University that another vaccine had been approved which would be enough for the whole world. I suggest that COVID-19 was like a sudden storm to our lives and that some of us have said, “Lord save us” or “Lord help us” or “Where were you Lord?” In the Old Testament, God speaks through Isaiah about the future Redeemer who will take all our infirmities and carry all our sorrows and all our diseases. We could call it a response to prayer but again we would have to have faith that the whole world had been praying in the words of the disciples.
WHAT HAS JESUS BEEN SHOWING US ABOUT FAITH? Faith is an action based on belief in Jesus.
Faith is belief in the invisible God. Faith believes in God’s promises.
Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you afraid?” to his disciples because they had been quite recently chosen to be his disciples and they would eventually be His Apostles and would carry on His mission when He would leave the earth. To understand more about faith, turn to Hebrews 11. By the time you receive these notes it will be New Year 2021.
Thank you for my Christmas cards and for your support through the difficult year now over, and my prayers will be for you and your families. The future is in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ but…

Words to remember by Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582)

Christ has no body but yours
No hands, no feet, on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which he blesses this world
Yours are the feet, yours are the hands,
yours are the eyes, yours are his body
Christ has no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thoughts for the Week: Christmas: God, You Are With Us

Christmas! We are nearly there and despite those annoying tiers I believe that many people have made more of an effort to make this Christmas the real reason to have a celebration of God coming into the world. Firstly, at the beginning of Advent, if not slightly earlier, beautiful lights were appearing all over houses, shops and pubs. Lights which speak of Jesus, the light of the world. I know not everyone who has lightened their homes will say it is because of Jesus but it has made it easier for believers to talk about Him and to know that they are doing their best to do what God has asked of them which was, ‘The Gospel must be preached to all nations.’
Then there is the shopping which often was made difficult for two reasons – one the fear of being with too many people and secondly that the shops had been ordered to be closed. This has been disastrous for shop keepers and businesspeople who had hoped for the usual spending spree for the best time of the year to make their profit only to have it taken away from them. So many people have suffered in different ways through the Lockdown and the rules and restrictions and because of the loss of work the thought of Christmas coming has seemed to make the sadness caused by the Pandemic even sadder. However, it isn’t helpful to speak negatively; instead, we need to look in hope to a better future. Recently the vaccines have in a short time become available and although it will take some time to reach everyone it is a blessing which will save many lives. We must be aware of what it has cost in people power for us to be so near to being saved. The scientists who have worked day and night and sometimes with young students who have volunteered to give their time to help saving people. I agree that it is difficult to hold on to hopefulness for as I write there are floods in Hereford which I believe in the past two weeks will have felt safe from the virus as they were in tier no.1, only to have to cope with their homes at risk.
Our thoughts and prayers must continue to be with the suffering and grieving people, but I move on now to the closed churches and chapels. Was COVID-19 to be allowed to destroy our worshipping of God at the special time that is Christmas? Not at all. I am often reminded of Gerald Reeve, one of the Long Itchington Deacons, when stuck with a problem would say, ‘There’s always another way.’
I have seen more Nativity plays this Christmas than before and they’ve all been doing what God asked, to preach to all nations. One was in a local church with keen adults and a few children. Then a school Nativity of 250 children divided into classes sang in turn new songs specially written for the children to learn about the coming of Christ into the world. And close by, a family used the Bible to prepare their own Nativity to be acted for anyone who would be able to come to it. Moving from area to area, we would find many more plays about the Christmas story on ZOOM and YouTube and if we look around, we could see outdoor events to Celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world. We might see groups of people delivering boxes of food to others in need, others who give their time to spend with lonely people. Also, on our televisions we see people who walk beyond their expected ability, very elderly from 101 years to small children and those with special needs determined to raise large amounts of money often for hospitals.

PRAYERS

Almighty God, we began with the words ‘God, you are with us.’ Father we praise and thank you for always being close to us as we come with troubled minds and hearts. We are aware of the needs of people and of the fears of many. We try to help them to accept that you are with us and yet they struggle to understand that you are the one and only living God. Today Father we give thanks for all the children, their parents and teachers who show through Nativity plays that Jesus is the king of the world and that by acting and singing about Him they grow up with a gift of faith that will help them through their lives.
Now Lord we bring the needs of people to you. Through this time, we have all seen good and bad happening to people because of the virus. We pray today for women and children who are being abused by the adults who should be their carers and sometimes the men are the ones to be hurt. Lord, these people who cannot contain their anger are the ones that need to be taken away from those who are suffering because of them, and so our prayer is that they will be found and prevented to act in such a way. Our other prayers are for the scientists who have put themselves at risk while working all hours to help save others. We pray for more vaccine to be made to prevent people from getting seriously ill or dying before their time. Lord God, we pray in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen